A few days ago I have stumbled upon a tiny book at my friend’s place. This book was entitled “Don’ts for Wives”. Judging from the title, it focused exclusively on what not to do, so I knew straight away it was going to be a cheerful and inspirational read. I flipped through the pages and pretty soon it became clear that most of the tips were just variations of ”give him food and shut the fuck up”.
“What kind of a male chauvinist wrote this degrading, yet strangely curious book?!”, I wondered. I turned back to the title page to discover that this sexist jerk’s name was…Blanche Ebutt. The jerk was a she. The plot thickened. Just so you know, Blanche Ebutt is a world renowned author of such diverse books as “Don’ts for Wives”, “Don’ts for Husbands” and…those are the two. I haven’t read “Don’ts for Husbands”, but after skimming its “for Wives” counterpart I can safely conclude that the tips for husbands are along the lines of “don’t strangle your wife…too much”.
To be fair, “Don’ts for Wives” was written in 1913. If the content of the book is any indication, 1913 was a time when every household had at least one butler and every single woman was a housewife married to an excessively rich man. Seen in this light, the book must have been quite useful at the time, if only to regulate the amount of clothes women bought and the amount of words they spoke.
And now, without further ado, I’d like to bring you some of the very best Blanche Ebutt has to offer, with my running commentary. I even helpfully arrange the tips into identifiable themes, something Blanche didn’t bother with.
Theme One: Shut up
1. Don’t advise your husband on subjects of which you are, if anything, rather more ignorant than he.
2. Don’t argue with a stubborn husband. Drop the matter before argument leads to temper. You can generally gain your point in some other way.
3. Don’t attempt to dictate to your husband on any subject. He won’t stand it, and there will be trouble.
Blanche’s motto is “if you’re going to give terrible advice, make sure you make the same point in at least three different ways”. They are all slight tweaks of “don’t talk (back)” and two of them hint ominously at what happens if you do, namely “temper” and “trouble”.
I don’t know how things worked in 1913, because I was negative 68 years old at that time. If I’m to read between the lines I can only assume that all wives got regularly attacked for interrupting their husbands’ monologues.
Unless, of course, Blanche wasn’t giving tips to other women as much as she was writing down reminders to herself after every “trouble” with her husband:
“Dear Diary, today I’m going to give John some tips about trimming the garden…hi again, Diary, turns out I’m rather more ignorant about gardening than John, which my black eye so clearly illustrates. Note to self: ‘Don’t advise your husband on subjects of which you are, if anything, rather more ignorant than he…’”
Theme Two: Never rest
4. Don’t vegetate as you grow older if you live in the country. Some women are like cows, but there is really no need to stagnate. Keep both brain and body on the move.
Sounds like your brain has been on the move for a while, Blanche, and you were left behind. Seriously, WTF?! How did you come up with such specific advice? Does this apply only to women who live in the country? Or the ones who are “like cows”? You could have just said “exercise is important”, but I guess you’re trying to see how many of your readers you can alienate by calling them names.
5. Don’t spend half the morning in bed because there is ‘nothing to get up for’. The day is not long enough for all the things you might do if you liked.
Yeah, you lazy “some woman like cow”! Get up and get to work!
Theme Three: Be a pet
6. Don’t think it beneath you to put your husband’s slippers ready for him. On a cold evening, especially, it makes all the difference to his comfort if the soles are warmed through.
Pro tip: warming the soles by curling into a ball and lying on them will surely put a smile on your husband’s face when he comes home.
7. Don’t take any notice of people who tell you constantly that a wife’s place is in her husband’s home, darning socks and stockings as women did in the good old days. You can darn all the socks and stockings there are to be darned, and you can be at home whenever your husband is, and very often when he is not, and yet leave plenty of time for going out.
8. Don’t get the idea that all your husband wants is a housekeeper, or a decorative head of the table. He wants a companion and when he is at home he doesn’t want you to be always somewhere else.
9. Don’t be out if you can help it when your husband gets home after his day’s work.
I love how Blanche starts out tips 7 and 8 by boldly declaring that women should feel empowered, yet quickly transitions into “do your fucking housewife duties and be home whenever your husband is” by the end of each one.
Also, this is the second time she uses three separate tips to make pretty much the same point. Blanche, if you don’t have enough advice to fill a whole book, just own up to it and release a small pamphlet instead. You’re destroying trees and wasting your readers’ time when they could be darning socks and warming up slippers instead.
10. Don’t let him search the house for you. Listen for his latch-key and meet him on the threshold.
And if you find that your leash is so short that you can’t get all the way from the kitchen to the threshold, this would be the perfect opportunity to ask him for a longer one! (CONTINUE TO PAGE 2)