This is by far my favorite thrift store book find ever, beating out hundreds or possibly thousands of other titles. The author nails it with her 1965 gem Always Ask A Man: Arlene Dahl’s Key to Femininity. Were you wondering how to achieve total femininity and loveliness? Just check for approval with the nearest male! I have to say, though, that she has some wise words mixed up among her total submission to the man.
Please note that, despite my snarky tone, I don’t really have a problem with Ms. Dahl or her book. She was offering what she felt was good advice, and it made sense for many women in that era. I will say, however, that she seems to have some serious daddy issues.
Before I proceed, I should probably introduce you to Arlene. You might not be familiar with her, but per her book jacket, she is an “internationally-known film star and one of the world’s loveliest women”.
I did some research and apparently she is the mother of Lorenzo Lamas, and she’s been in some soap operas and movies in the past couple decades. She was married a whopping five times, so I guess she knows her shit!
Here’s the handwritten intro page – I’ve typed it out below because her flowy, feminine script is a little hard to read:
I like men. And I like men to like me – so I dress for them.
This I used to consider the normal attitude and approach, one I shared with all women.
Then not long ago a survey showed me that the average woman doesn’t dress to please men at all! She dresses to please herself or other women…
That fact shocked me into writing this book, “Always Ask a Man.”
Most women love to be beautiful. (At least the ones who write me for advice do.) Millions of dollars, the statisticians tell us, are spent yearly at beauty salons, cosmetics counters, gymnasiums, and dress shops in woman’s quest for beauty. But beauty for whom? The girls in the office? The women at the club? How can the world progress if women don’t consider men…the man…first?
Well said Arlene! Who wants to dress for themselves? That’s so silly. And shocking! We need to consider the man first and foremost for the world to progress. They’re terribly ignored and repressed by society on a daily basis. Her personal letter continues for two more pages, but my favorite part is when she clarifies exactly who this book is – and is not – for:
This book is not intended for women that want to be beautiful for beauty’s sake. Such beauty serves no purpose…other than self-satisfaction, if that can be considered a purpose. But if you are a woman that longs to be beautiful for and be loved by a man, I believe this book can help you.
Ladies, please don’t even consider reading the rest of this post if you want to be beautiful just for yourself. That’s selfish and Arlene wants no part of it!
As a child, I turned to my father for final approval in matters of beauty and fashion. If he didn’t like a new dress, it went straight back to the store. My father loved the smell of lavender soap, so I always made certain that I used it lavishly before I presented myself to him for a goodnight kiss. Now I seek the advice of “the man” in my life even about such matters as a change in hair style or the choice of a new fashion color.
Now, have you been wondering about the one essential quality that all feminine women share? I think you have! Arlene and George Hamilton have it all figured out:
All truly feminine women have one basic quality in common. They like men. Male company can make a woman feel warm and content, glamorous and exuberant, interested and interesting….George Hamilton believes that femininity is the most appealing quality in a woman. “She can get whatever she wants, not by being forceful, but by being feminine. A woman is often like a strip of film – obliterated, insignificant – until a man puts the light behind her.”
These next parts are where it gets especially awesome:
NEVER upstage a man. Don’t top his joke, even if you have to bite your tongue to keep from doing it. Never launch loudly into your own opinions on a subject – whether it’s petunias or politics. Instead, draw out his ideas to which you can gracefully add your footnotes from time to time…In a restaurant, let your mate or date do the ordering. It’s more fun to eat hot dogs with a man than caviar by yourself. You may know more about vintage wines than the wine steward, but if you’re smart you’ll let your man do the choosing and be ecstatic over his selection, even if it tastes like shampoo.
I much prefer hot dogs and shampoo to caviar and wine, don’t you? As long as he can be in the right, you should be happy with whatever swill and slop that he suggests.
I will say that her thoughts on weight are pretty rational. I mean, she thinks that overweight women are lazy and undisciplined and unfeminine, but she has a reasonable way of discussing it. And she devotes equal time to being underweight, which I appreciate. Her views on fashion are both logical and nonsensical at the same time. She explains, for instance, that men DO make passes at girls that wear glasses, but women in pants are crude and sloppy and destined to end up alone.
Arlene devotes one chapter to each hair color, and there’s a quiz to determine if you’re true to your hue. Just skip ahead to “The Wonderful World Of Blondes”, “The Brownette: An Enigma”, “It’s Fun To Be A Redhead!” or “Men Dote On Brunettes”. I’ve never heard of the term “brownette” (it truly was an enigma!) but in this book it means brown hair, and brunette means black hair.
Ms. Dahl also tackles issues of the bedroom, including flirting and intimacy. There’s a two page spread on how to flirt using hand fan signals, which I didn’t find all that useful since I don’t have a feathered fan. This is surely why I’m still single! Luckily, Arlene has a handy tip on how to flirt sans fans:
Be subtle: Don’t throw yourself at a man. They are essentially timid creatures and will break and run from a frontal attack. Men must be reassured and gentled before they are tamed.
I’m astonished at our country’s military accomplishments, because I think they must have involved timid men combatting frontal attacks instead of turning and running home. It’s a wonder we haven’t been taken over by the gentle Canadians by now!
Her advice on how married men and women should interact is another odd mix of progressive and antiquated ideals:
I believe that marriage is not the place for Victorian attitudes. Anything that a husband and wife share – interests or actions – which increases their enjoyment and understanding of each other, is right and good. There are no set rules. A woman should wish to please her man in all ways, and be able to do so.
I interpreted this as Arlene giving us all permission to be a freak in the sheets and a lady in the streets! FYI, there are no set rules, unless you want to do something for self pleasure, because that is definitely against the rules.
She follows this with a suggestion regarding Kegel exercises, although she just says to contract the “lazy internal muscles”. Lazy, weak vaginas aren’t going to get you a man! When, where, and why should you do this? “Do this whenever you can – sitting at the typewriter, before television, in a car, or reading. Developing these muscles will make it possible for you to be more responsive and pleasing to your husband.”
I wish that Arlene had included some info on why this is beneficial for the woman, too, but I suppose that wasn’t a huge priority back then. To close out her informative tome, Arlene has these final words of wisdom:
Enlarge your mental horizons by taking up new interests, new hobbies, new challenges. But never let your own interests override your husband’s. Let his job, his hobbies, his interests come first. There should be nothing that takes precedence in your day’s schedule over making yourself attractive and appealing for the man in your life. Service groups, bridge clubs, children’s activities, social events are all a part of the demands made upon a wife and mother, but nothing, nothing is more important than keeping your husband happy, interested and in love with you.
Do you hear that ladies – nothing, nothing is more important! I had no idea. Now that I’ve learned how to maximize my feminine appeal (which, btw, includes vinegar douching, “lubricating” [moisturizing] the skin and hair, and whittling the waistline) I’m on the road to becoming marriage material! And then I will finally be fulfilled, because thus far I haven’t lived my life to please any man and it’s been terribly lonely and boring. Have you made a similar mistake? Fix it by following Arlene Dahl’s advice – always ask a man!
I’m really glad it’s not 1965 anymore, and I really hope that the current government concern with women’s birth control and healthcare aren’t indicative of a return to that time.