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home : opinions : columns   February 6, 2016

12/5/2012 9:30:00 AM
Column: Outdated lessons from the past

Shannon Crawley Serpette
Putnam-Marshall Bureau Chief

While in grade school and high school, one of my favorite rainy day activities was to search through my mother’s bookcase, looking for something new and interesting to read. It was time well spent, until the day I picked up a book called, “Always Ask a Man: Arlene Dahl’s Key to Femininity.”
I’d never considered myself a feminist, but even in high school this book whipped me into a fury. In the past two decades my rage has subsided. I now try to think of it as a product of its time and every few years, for my amusement, I like to sneak a peak at it to see how I’m stacking up in the eyes of its author, American actress Arlene Dahl. The answer: I’m a horrifying example of a woman, at least by 1960’s standards.
Some nuggets of wisdom in the book include:
-The weight chart in the book has three different divisions: Small bones, medium bones and large bones. But the best part was that it listed height only in what women measured up to while wearing 2-inch heels. Apparently people never measured their height without their shoes back then.
-”It’s the obligation of every woman to do whatever she can to make herself look as beautiful as possible for the man in her life,” Dahl writes. Does that include when football games and Nascar races are on? I could walk by the television with my clothes on fire and I’m fairly certain my husband wouldn’t notice that, so I don’t think a new shade of lipstick will do the trick.
-Dahl name drops like crazy in this book. She quotes many old Hollywood names talking about women and beauty, including Cary Grant, Errol Flynn, Kirk Douglas and Robert Stack. Seeing what screen legends have to say about women might be the most entertaining aspect of the book.
-”Every head should be shampooed at least once a week,” Dahl writes. Finally, I have exceeded Dahl’s expectations by shampooing my hair daily. When I got to this portion of the book, I was feeling pretty smug, until I read further and learned Dahl recommends occasionally shampooing your hair with raw eggs. I can’t imagine any circumstance in which I would ever do this.
-Dahl also says it is essential to shampoo your hair when your husband isn’t around and that you should remain in hiding until your hair is dried and brushed out. Short of washing my hair in the middle of the night, I don’t see any practical way to accomplish this. Nor do I see any benefit in doing this.
-Turns out, after more than three decades of brushing my own hair, I’ve been doing it all wrong. How was I supposed to know that the best way to brush my hair was by using two brushes simultaneously? Holding one brush in each hand and alternating their usage seems like a fool-proof way for me to entangle both brushes in my hair at once. I’m fairly certain if I tried this, I’d need an emergency trip to the nearest salon to have both brushes cut from my hair.
-A woman should put on lipstick and perfume before presenting herself at the breakfast table, Dahl said. If I started doing this, my family would be more worried than impressed. They’d be convinced there was some sort of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” scenario going on.
-Women should not wear pants. Oops, there goes 99.7 percent of my wardrobe. By wearing pants, women put men “on guard psychologically,” she wrote. If that’s the case, my poor husband is probably close to a nervous breakdown after all my years of wearing pants.
-During a quiz to see what type of hair color best suits my personality, I was confused by one of the questions: “If circumstances made you the extra girl on a date, would you …” Extra girl on a date? I don’t even know what that means or how it could happen - it must be a generational thing. Girls with brown hair like me, according to Dahl, would politely excuse themselves.
-A man should not be allowed to come home from a hard day of work without great fanfare, according to Dahl. “If you have children, see that they are washed, tidy and good humored for his arrival,” the book states. Out of everything in the book, this sentence makes me laugh the hardest. If there wasn’t mild chaos or mass confusion and hysteria when my husband walked in the door, he’d probably think he’d entered the wrong house.
Shannon Crawley-Serpette may be reached at (309)364-2268.

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