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!
Theme Four: “I ain’t saying she a gold digger…”
11. Don’t be satisfied to let your husband work overtime to earn money for frocks for you. Manage with fewer frocks.
Was this seriously a widespread problem back then? Excess of money and only frocks to spend it on? I guess it must have been if it deserved a separate tip.
Notice the use of the term “manage”. It’s as if stopping yourself from indiscriminately buying up frocks every moment you got enough cash was an almost insurmountable task for a woman in 1913. It’s like Blanche is saying: “Look, I know it’s difficult, but you can at least try to live without an extra frock. Marriage isn’t fair and we all have to make sacrifices”.
12. Don’t spend every penny you get, unless it is so little that you absolutely must. Try to put by for the proverbial “rainy day”.
13. Don’t spend all the best years of your life pinching and saving unnecessarily, until you are too old to get any pleasure out of your money.
I tried reading and reconciling tips 12 and 13, but after the fifth attempt my brain started slowly leaking out of my left ear and I had this insistent urge to shoot myself, so I had to stop. Blanche! How many women did you send into an early grave, you monster?!
14. Don’t forget that you have a right to some money to spend as you like; you earn it as wife, and mother, and housekeeper. Very likely you will spend it on the house or the children when you get it; but that doesn’t matter – it is yours to spend as you like.
Two of Blanche’s multiple personalities battle it out in the space of a few short lines: “It’s your money! You deserve it! But of course you won’t be spending it on yourself, now will you? Although remember, it’s yours!”
Theme Five: Feeding time
15. Don’t persist in having mushrooms on the table when you know they always make your husband ill. They may be your favourite dish, but is it worth it?
16. Don’t let your cook persist in frying steak when your husband likes it grilled, or in serving his eggs hard-boiled when he likes them milky.
17. Don’t give your husband stale bread if he prefers it new, nor new bread if it produces indigestion. Exercise a little thought in the matter.
Goddamnit, Blanche, this is the third fucking time you use three tips to say the same thing! I hate you!
Also, is your husband a total idiot? Does he automatically and indiscriminately consume anything in front of him, without evaluating what it is he’s eating? If that’s the case then feeding him stale bread is the least of your worries. You should be more concerned about all the surgeries to extract knives and warm slippers from his stomach. I hate you both!
Theme Six: Random hints of insanity
18. Don’t let your servants use paraffin for fire-lighting purposes, nor leave a newspaper fastened up in front of the fireplace to ‘ draw up’ the fire. If you do, they will probably have your house set on fire some time or other.
19. Don’t forget if he is ‘nervy’ to watch if the tea habit is getting too strong in him. Nerves are often due to too much tea as to too much worry.
That’s why tea is currently banned in 175 countries. People have had enough of celebrities overdosing on packets of Earl Grey and those bergamot-junkies robbing local tea houses.
20. Don’t try to excite your husband’s jealousy by flirting with other men. You may succeed better than you want to. It is like playing with tigers and edged tools and volcanoes all in one.
Now there’s an episode of Jackass I totally would watch!
Theme Seven: Blanche loses her mind (in way too many words)
21. Don’t bother your husband with a stream of senseless chatter if you can see that he is very fatigued. Help him to the tit-bits at dinner; modulate your voice; don’t remark on his silence. If you have any cheery little anecdote to relate, tell it with quiet humour, and by-and-by he will respond. But if you tackle him in the wrong way, the two of you will spend a miserable evening.
22. Don’t “fuss” your husband. Mistaken attentions often annoy a man dreadfully. If he comes home late after a busy day, and has a quiet little supper alone he doesn’t want you to jump up like a Jack-in-the-box with ‘would you like more pepper, darling?’ and present him with the cruet from the opposite end of the table, when he already has one in front of him. See that everything is conveniently placed for him and then leave the man alone until he has fed. Let him feel your sympathetic presence near him, but occupy yourself in reading or doing needlework; anyhow, don’t “fuss” him.
Unregulated stream of consciousness pours out of Blanche’s unravelled mind as she quietly pretends to read in the corner while her husband sits by the table chewing the tablecloth and pepper holders.
23. Don’t choose the very time your husband is at home to ‘see about’ all sorts of things in other parts of the house. Sit with him by the fire; smoke with him if it pleases you and him; read or be read to; sing or play cards with him, or chat with him about anything that interests him. It is your business to keep him amused in the evening.
…but don’t “fuss” him.
32 thoughts on “23 great tips from “Don’ts for Wives” (or marriage advice for sexists)”
Sadly this 1913 book was still admired in the 1950s when I was coming of age. It was good advice for the era, which I failed to take or appreciate. These days, I look back and am glad that others can see the sad humor in it all. It painted men as children to be humored and manipulated. It advised women to be devious and artful. I was born way too soon.
Very true. I loved the advises.
This post isn’t even remotely funny in it’s supposed attempt at feminist sarcasm, it lacks knowledge of the context of the time, and has the wit of a stick of butter with no offence intended to sticks of butter. You say it’s poking fun from a modern context but there’s no hint at an attempt at actual humor either in the title, the opening paragraph or the body of the post. If you’re going to take a shot at sarcasm at least try.
Thanks for your invaluable input, John.
I believe that you’re taking this woman’s advice in the wrong way. I’m not saying that everything she wrote was golden. Of course it wasn’t. How could it be? She was trying to give advice to a large amount of different couples with different relationships (other than the fact that she is quite obviously talking about middle or high class men and woman, not to even mention that she’s speaking to a different generation where staying home and being a mother was actually a pleasurable obligation compared to working), so her advice has to vary. Which I’d like to point out, is something you failed to recognize; that her advice varies from what you have presented. You have obviously presented your information selectively and in a particularly biased fashion.
I, too, have read this collection of advice, along with its twin “Don’ts For Husbands”, which you have judged without even actually reading it. A direct quote from the latter of the two: “Don’t runway with the idea that there’s nothing to do in a house, or that your wife should therefore never be busy or tired. You work for a few hours at the office and come right away from it until the next day. But, a woman’s work is never done until bedtime, and then she lies awake and thinks of something that she has left undone.” This paints a significantly different image than you assumed, instructing the husband to be aware of his wife’s responsibilities at home, and to not judge her for being exhausted from a long day of cooking, cleaning, and mothering. That’s doesn’t sound like anything but common, human respect.
And from the former: “Don’t interpret too literally the ‘obey’ of the marriage service. Your husband has no rights to control your individuality.” If that’s not empowering, I don’t know what is. She just said that their husband does not control them, and that they have every right to express themselves however they wish. And if you’re thinking that that’s the only one, here’s the “Don’ts For Husbands” again: “Don’t try to regulate every detail of your wife’s life. Even a wife is an individual, and must be allowed some scope.” Using the phrase, “Even a wife…” does imply that her advice may differ from the social norm. But, it’s also supposed to serve a purpose to scold anyone who believes just because a woman is a wife, she is now no longer an individual. She’s not using these phrases to be backward, she’s using them to scold those who are backward.
I’d also like to use some of the very same quotes you used. “Don’t try to excite your husband’s jealousy by flirting with other men. You may succeed better than you want to. It is like playing with tigers and edged tools and volcanoes all in one.” All I can ascertain is that you used this quote simply to make a cheap joke. All the quote states is that flirting with others can make your partner dangerously jealous and cause you much more trouble than you ever needed. It’s wise advice! There are much better ways to get attention, and flirting is unfair both ways. You wouldn’t have said anything if there was a quote for men saying, “Don’t flirt with other women for your wife’s attention. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned,” would you? For being someone talking about sexism…
I suggest that you actually reread the book. And read it with something other than a strict British nanny voice, accept that some things she says are poor, and that some things she says are useful. Reiterate them in more modern words if you must.
Also, I’d like to just say, nice shock at the fact that the author was a woman. Like a woman judging others is somehow messed up now that those “others” are the same sex.
Hey dude, thanks for the extended response.
For the record, this was a humor post. Like, it’s me taking jabs at a person by nitpicking at something I find ridiculous and generally being a bit of an ass. That’s the whole point. That’s pretty much what I do on this here blog. So for you to dive into a long-winded and somber explanation is a bit silly. I hope you don’t respond to the “why did chicken cross the road” joke with a long explanation as to why chickens are actually incapable of making deliberate decisions about road crossings due to their limited intelligence and lack of spatial awareness.
You don’t have to like my jokes, but please don’t assign any more significance to this post than was intended.
“…release a small pamphlet instead. You’re destroying trees…”- I know this is a little picky but I’m gonna get on my soapbox for a second. Although the book itself is completely ridiculoius, she isn’t “destroying trees” by using paper products. Common misconception about the use of paper products is that it is wasteful and kills trees… Trees are a RENEWABLE resource and should be USED to maintain healthy forests.
Save the trees – CUT THEM ALL DOWN!
Nice! This reminds me of something I once read that said something like, “Dealing with your husband’s problems is a small price to pay for his stimulating lectures.” I think Ann Landers had quoted a wifely guide from about that same time.
Ha, that’s a great one too – how could Blanchett miss out on turning it into an actionable “Don’t”?
If you look here: http://www.scribd.com/doc/33727307/Don-ts-for-Husbands-and-Wives-Words-of-Wisdom-For-a-Happy-Marriage you will see the companion piece “Don’ts for Husbands”. I believe 95% of the advice given in these small books is timely yet today for marriage. It’s really about give and take and thinking from your spouse’s perspective
Thanks for sharing Dave. I know about “Don’t’s for Husbands” and even mention it in my own post. I have no doubt that it made sense at the time. I was simply making fun of the book in the modern context!
“15. Don’t persist in having mushrooms on the table when you know they always make your husband ill.
16. Don’t let your cook persist in frying steak when your husband likes it grilled, or in serving his eggs hard-boiled when he likes them milky.
17. Don’t give your husband stale bread if he prefers it new, nor new bread if it produces indigestion.
Also, is your husband a retard? Does he automatically and indiscriminately consume anything in front of him, without evaluating what it is he’s eating?”
Because god forbid that a professional wife, who has maids, a cook, a fleet of nannies, who has a house and a never-ending stream of spending money, god forbid that she should actually have to do the one and only job that (arguably) earns her these things – managing the home.
Dude, you sound angry. I wish I had a time machine to transport you back to 1913, but alas, much like “professional wife”, that’s not a thing that exists.
“10. Don’t let him search the house for you. Listen for his latch-key and meet him on the threshold.”—I think Blanche forgot to add “wrapped only in Saran Wrap” to the end of that last sentence. 🙂
@Carrie Rubin Heheheee. Ah, but what if the Saran Wrap is used to keep his bread nice and stale for him?! But my favourite are the money saving tips…schizo much?!
Well, nice and stale bread should match a nice and stale wife. Which, after surviving these prehistoric rules for years, would be exactly what the wife would be. Of course, there’s always the chance she might meet Dear Hubby at the door with a loaded shotgun… 😉
NestExpressed Oh Boy! I might be wrong, or even out of line saying this, but personally, I think the insanity of Blanche’s day had much to do with what the Ebutts were smoking in front of the fireplace. Indications might be “a senseless stream of chatter,” “popping up like a Jack-in-the-box,” and, OMG, the irritating repetitive rambling. Clearly, Blanche was stoned then as she was when she wrote the “Frock” out of her book. Plus, there might have been something mysterious about the “mushrooms” that she liiked, he didn’t, that caused her warnings about not to “fuss” your husband. Maybe their favorite highs just were not compatible. Anyway, Blanche was wise enough to know that a woman simply cannot “dictate” or “advise” her husband while on mind altering substances. There will be “trouble.” Obviously Blanche’s state of (drug induced) mind worsened when she became jealous of the country girls, calling them “lazy cows” and such. Then Blanche seemed to succumb to “spending half the morning in bed,” with nothing to get up for. I think we can sum the whole deal up with one word: Withdrawals. Blanche needed a 1913 intervention that never came. I can’t help but wonder why women living in that era were not sharing secrets about how to quietly dispose of their chauvinist husbands, instead of thinking up stupid ways to pacify a man’s every longing. I could just pull my face off thinking about it! But times, they are-a-changing, or however that saying goes. :))
@BakedAlaskaInOr Hehehee wow, quite a thorough analysis of Blanche’s mental state! I have no doubt that there’s a great deal of truth in your assumptions. Poor Blanche, why did nobody help her?
As for “disposing of chauvinist husbands” books – something tells me those kind of books were, ahem, frowned upon? Also, very difficult to write a book like then when you’re busy warming your husband’s slippers.
Thanks for stopping by and commenting again!
OMG! Laughing out loud at this one! http://t.co/VaTwIMcs Don’ts for wifes Rt @NestExpressed
I believe the hatred aimed at poor Mrs.Ebutt maybe misguided. Mr.Ebutt sounds like a real ass, however, and despite very shaky evidence at best, I believe him to be the real influence behind this book. It is my belief that he forced Mrs.Ebutt to write both books and was in fact an abusive controlling Rat Bastard.(My favorite insult) After many years of such abuse as not being able to leave the house, warming slippers, nervously thinking what can I cook for that bastard that won’t get me knocked about, nervously listing for the sound of hubby’s footsteps; because she knows what happened last time she was late in answering the door, and being forced to decide if she should just shut the hell up or entertain the bastard, she was so brainwashed when Mr.ebutts suggested the book she had no choice but to do her husband’s bidding.
You know what? That must be it! You seem to have put a lot of thought into it and I can’t find any strong evidence that Mrs. Ebutt WASN’T brainwashed by her husband.
you ignorant feminism this book comes in a pair, Don’t for wives and Don’ts for husbands
@lk nfdsk Howdy! Congratulations, you’re my first hater ever! You win a personal response in the form of a post, enjoy: https://nest-expressed.com/hate-comment/
Sing and play cards with him??? Eh? Nice touch though. If I were a man I’d give her at least 2 extra points for the try! 😛
@VonDottie Especially if she could get the wife to sing, play cards and read to him simultaneously!
@Daniel Nest@VonDottie Exactément! Brings back the old “I dance and sing and do tricks” (or however that bit of pick up line is…)
@VonDottie “I dance and cook and bring you slippers”?
Thank God Blanche was nowhere near me when I was reading this otherwise I would have been thrown in prison for homicide. Freaking woman!
Loved the commentary and wish that crazy lady had someone to dole it out to her before her book got into print.
@RiaMajumdar Hehehe thanks, yeah it was an interesting window back into the world of 1913.
That’s one way of putting it. I would say *bleep*. Oops, looks like the censor board has cracked down on me!! 😉
@RiaMajumdar hahahaa, yeah, times aren’t easy for swearing on the Internet these days…