Improving Literature for Women

Like every nice girl, I am constantly seeking to improve myself through edifying literature. My first real exposure to the genre (tragically “moral science” was not a part of my school curriculum) after the Ideal Boy/Girl posters was this set of scans from Dr. Harold Shryock’s classic On Becoming a Woman, from which I learnt of the dangers of fiction reading, the horror of masturbation, and the wholesomeness of female genital mutilation. This was followed by a present from Alie titled What Every Married Woman Should Know* a couple of years ago.
A recent trip to Daryaganj yielded, among other things, two books that looked most educational. Both were aimed at the young-ish female reader.

The first of these is titled Girls, You’re Important: Instructions for Catholic Girls. It is by the Reverend T.C Siekmann, and was published in the 1950s. The internet denies its existence. It’s divided into short chapters, and I will quote briefly from some of these:

Liberty and License
The thoughtful girl will not resent regulations meant to save her. She will accept them in the spirit of genuine kindness in which they are given. She will appreciate liberty by avoiding license.

Glamour and Modesty
There is one kind of character that the good girls should never imitate. That is the attractive girl who does not hesitate to be suggestive. She makes herself appealing in an enticing way that is nothing short of temptation. Much of her appeal comes not so much from her good looks as from her deliberate efforts to entice. She may be very winning and very coy, but her motive is bad. How unfortunate that she should, of direct purpose, set out to undermine the virtue of the weak.

Engaged persons, near to marriage, are permitted to kiss each other chastely out of true love, but even for them prolonged and passionate kissing is wrong. For the ordinary run of teenagers, not close to marriage, kissing between boy and girl is dangerous. If it does not amount to sin for the girl it may do so for the boy, and she would then be an occasion for his sin.

A good, clear-thinking girl will ever be respected by a boy. He will later on appreciate the reserve and good sense with which she guided him. Men are remarkably alike in this one thing and very young men are no exception: They need the help of women to keep them on the right track.

Cooking for Fun
The girl who is rapidly approaching womanhood should have a natural yearning to express herself in preparing food.

Other Hobbies
There are, of course, many hobbies for girls besides cooking and sewing.

Boy or Girl?
Although some activities of men and women or of boys and girls overlap, certain types of work or sport are out of place for one group or the other. The reason is simply that a boy is a boy and a girl is a girl and each is by nature and interest particularly devoted to certain fields. No amount of wishful thinking can make a real girl a boy or a real boy a girl.

A girl ought to be beautiful. She should use her beauty to make herself the most nearly perfect girl possible.

[Its] good effects are easy to see. We learn better English. We copy gracious mannerisms.

Keep Informed
Communism is the enemy behind which the enemy of Christ’s Church lurks today. It is a godless movement, a materialistic way of life that cannot stand the doctrines and practices of religion. Already seething in revolt for many years, this dangerous enemy is ready to strike whenever the opportunity seems ripe.

The Reading Habit
She will want to know the latest kinds of furniture and home decorations; she will find delight in discovering new recipes for exciting meals and snacks.

Other Vocations
The girl who trained for a career will often find her knowledge and skill highly useful later on in the home.

The Chance of a Lifetime
Many a non-Catholic girl is practically waiting for someone to introduce her to the Catholic Church. You can do her this favour.

The other book is by one R.Bajaj, and does not appear to have been edited at all. It is titled How to Impress Man. It is so execrable in its grammar that it ceases to be funny after the first couple of pages and I have thus been unable to read it. So I’ll just give you what it says on the back cover (unedited, of course) and hope someone volunteers to read it for me instead.

Woman has tender and emotional attributes. Education and cultural development lend grace and glamour to a woman. Physical beauty is skin-deep, mental, enrichment is everlasting. Artificiality is the bane of womanly acquirements. Simplicity, virtue and understanding, with make a woman universally valuable and respectable.
The book deals with woman’s inherent qualities which when properly tended and nurtured, will have soothing effects of humanity. A woman wins all by love and sympathy, and not by made-up behaviour. With enough of practical suggestions, guidance and episode the book is unique in its field.

*It deserves some extensive quoting, but my bookshelves are in chaos and I can’t find it. I am suitably ashamed.

14 Comments to “Improving Literature for Women”

  1. A girl ought to be beautiful. She should use her beauty to make herself the most nearly perfect girl possible
    And if she can’t, she should take advantage of the Miracle of the Knife.

    an occasion for his sin
    What a delightful turn of phrase. Truly. Shite context, but still.

  2. One word:

  3. Also, shouldn’t that title be “Improvement Literature…”? Or “Lit for Women Improvement”?

    Pedanticism rules, baby.

  4. I think ‘Improving Literature for Women’ is correct, actually. You would use it in the same way you would talk about reading improving books. That begs the queston, though, why we never speak of self-helping books. Hmm. Aishwarya?

    - Jabberjee

  5. ??! – Plastic Surgeons for Jesus! Agreed on the gloriousness of the phrase ‘an occasion for his sin’.

    Wild Iris – You mean it displeases you?

    ??! and Jabberjee – Yes, I was going for “improving” as an adjective. I think it’s acceptable grammatically. It does sound awkward though – like I’m starting a campaign for the betterment of chicklit.

    The only way self-help books could turn into self-helping books (in the tradition of self-raising flour) would be for them to become self-immolating books.

  6. Jabberjee/Aishw:
    No, no, no.

    As Aishwarya said – “Improving Literature for Women” implies that you’re Improving (the) literature (that’s meant) for Women”. Here we’re talking about the literature that’s meant to improve women. So it should be “Lit To Improve Women”, or “Lit for Women’s Improvement” (I correct my earlier suggestion).

    The Seventh-Day Siliconists! Attend our Cosmetic Mass, or melt in Hell.

  7. The 50s must have been so great for improving women!
    Sometimes I am sad I missed it ;)

    Maybe the book I sent you is hiding, out of shame?
    Which reminds me: have you ever read any dutch detective stories?

  8. Off-topic – just went back and say your comment about Elidor.

    Unfortunately, it’s somewhere in my collection in India. And I don’t expect anybody to be able to find it but me. So, as and when I take a trip back home, I could mail it to you.

  9. Quite hilarious. Too bad they forgot the parts about how she should pick up after men, serve them hand and foot and never ever raise her voice..

    You are tagged.

  10. ??! – Yep, that. Though, as I said, I don’t think it’s so much wrong as it is awkward. Also, I’d love it if you could look root out Elidor when you’re next in the country, thanks! :)

    Alie – I wouldn’t be surprised. Though it was actually less regressive than the ones I’ve quoted, in a way. Probably quite progressive for its time!
    And no, I haven’t read any Dutch detective stories. Should I?

    Lekhni – Oh, but that information is taken for granted.

  11. I notice that Herr Siekmann says nothing about boys kissing boys or girls kissing girls, implying a tacit acceptance of same-sex relationships. Why, one might ask, are heterosexuals subject to moral strictures while the Other is unrestricted? This is clearly a symptom of our decaying moral fabric. I blame truly monstrous moths.


  12. R – *grin*. I’m not sure what the Catholic Church’s stance on homosexuality was in the 50s (considering its presence stance one can hardly imagine it being tolerant) so possibly “gay-and-acting-on-it” and “Catholic” were simply mutually exclusive? Such perversities clearly never entered the reverend’s catholic mind.

    “Monstrous moths”. I’m tempted to ask if you’re a Mieville fan.

  13. I’d love it if you could look root out Elidor when you’re next in the country
    Consider it done. You’ll have to wait a half-year at the least, though. If you can’t wait that long though, and since Supriya is back in town, you could ask her to see if there’s a copy at the New and Secondhand Bookshop (I’ve been seeing one for years there).

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