by Darla Shine
Published by Regan Books/HarperCollins
214 pages, 2005
You Can't Judge a Book by its Cover
Reviewed by Mary Ward Menke
Based on the book jacket, I expected Happy Housewives to be a humorous, tongue-in-cheek response to television's very popular Desperate Housewives. I was only half right. It turns out that author Darla Shine is a woman on a serious mission. It's a mission to get stay-at-home moms to stop acting like desperate housewives and start realizing how good they've got it. Somehow, that makes the book even funnier.
Shine wrote Happy Housewives because she was tired of hearing women complain about "how hard they have it and how much more they want." The former television producer readily admits that at one time she was one of them. Like millions of other women, she had just signed a three-year, six-figure contract for a morning talk show when she learned she was pregnant. Although she realized the best thing for her baby would be to provide him with a full-time mommy, she resented having to make that decision. She grudgingly gave up her career to take on her new role, merely going through the motions (accompanied by a housekeeper and a baby-sitter), until she discovered a lump in her breast. Shine believes the non-cancerous tumor was her wake-up call -- divine intervention compelling her to stop feeling sorry for herself and appreciate just how lucky she was. She fired the sitter and housekeeper and made up her mind to become the best housewife and mother possible. Happy Housewives is her attempt at evangelizing her message: she wants other women to know that they, too, can be happy housewives.
Shine contends that Gloria Steinem and other misguided feminists sold women a bill of goods by encouraging them to seek careers instead of being content to create a home for their husband and children. She promotes a return to the good old days, noting that "... our grandmothers were happier than we are .... They knew their place was in the home and they took pride in that." (She conveniently neglects to mention that our grandmothers didn't have much choice, given the lack of career opportunities ... enter Gloria Steinem ... for women at the time.)
Shine insists that by following her 10-step program, today's housewives can also learn to accept and appreciate their lot in life.
Shine is quick to caution that being a housewife doesn't mean having to look like one. Book jacket illustration to the contrary, the days of the June Cleaver housedress and pearls are long gone. Today's housewives are sexy. In Shine's words, "We look cute, we're thin, we're in style, and we're hot mamas!" Her advice: Eat right, exercise, take vitamins and always wear makeup. T-shirts and jeans are fine ... as long as they are tight. And no tennis shoes, please. Sandals and mules are the order of the day for "hot mamas."
It goes without saying that hot mamas make their marriages a priority; they turn up the heat in the bedroom. Reminiscent of 1950's home economics textbooks, Shine says, "What your husband needs from you is for you to look good, be attentive, give him sex, be independent and be happy." Please don't expect him to pitch in with the housework. Why should he? It's the wife's job anyway, Shine says, and besides, with all the luxuries available today, a housewife's life is a breeze. Instead, she recommends that wives refine the art of manipulating their husbands (see above) to get what they want. It's not difficult: "Men are sooo easy ... if he's happy, you'll be happy ... you'll get everything you want."
Shine also advises women to "bond" with their homes and get back in the kitchen. A proponent of organic, healthful foods, she pulls no punches with those who don't share her ideals. Observing an overweight mother buying junk food, she says, "I wanted to shake her ... [I was] so angry I wanted to smash my cart into her big fat ass."
Friendships are an important component of the happy housewife. Shine insists that women keep their girlfriends, if for no other reason than to have someone to bitch and complain to. After all, men don't want to hear women whine. Friendships are important to coupledom, too: When choosing couples to be friends with, wives should make sure the men get along, and that the other couple's children are close in age to their own. Unless you have a baby, forget friends who do because, "If you don't have a baby, being around someone else's baby for more than a short time is just annoying."
Of course, all good mothers have to spend quality time with their kids. Shine advises getting down on the floor and playing with them every day. Interestingly, in the introduction, she notes that her four-year-old daughter is watching Doggie Daycare for the sixth time that day. Who needs a baby-sitter?
The biggest problem with Happy Housewives is that it is targeted to a select audience: women whose husbands earn enough to pay all the bills and have money left over for extras (like the Friday night dates that Shine and her husband, a senior VP at Fox News, regularly schedule). Unfortunately, this isn't the case for the average middle-class family. Instead of being concerned with whether the food they buy is organic, many stay-at-home moms worry about having enough food to last the week. They don't have housekeepers they can fire to save money, or high-paying careers they can put on hold. They agonize over quitting their jobs and whether they'll be able to find another if they find that their husband's paycheck isn't enough to cover food, clothing and shelter.
If only upscale, well-to-do mothers read Happy Housewives, Shine's advice may well have some merit. Women who have no choice but to continue working after they have children would be better off watching Desperate Housewives. At least it's entertaining. | November 2005
Mary Ward Menke is a contributing editor to January Magazine and the owner of WordAbilities, LLC, providing writing and editing services to businesses and individuals. Her work has been published in The Toastmaster, Dog Fancy and Science of Mind magazines, in the Suburban Journals (a weekly St. Louis community newspaper) and on STLtoday.com.