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Practical Feminism: How to have a Successful Marriage. Tips from 1913.

Posted in Life & Love, Relationships, and Women's issues

6a0133edb86b84970b013485b94a48970c-pi I was at my favourite coffee spot the other day – which is attached to a bookshop – when I noticed these two little books that made me smile. “Don’ts for Wives” and “Don’ts for Husbands” were written by an English woman called Blanche Ebutt in 1913 and I flicked through them expecting to have a good old chuckle at her old-fashioned ways. Only to find that she was at heart a practical feminist.

A bit like Graca Machel.

Graca was the keynote speaker at a Women Inspiration and Enterprise event I attended. She is an Elder, Humanitarian, Author, UN Ambassador and Chancellor of Cape Town University. She has been married to the presidents of two countries. Lost one to assassination. Helped the other heal a country torn by apartheid.

Graca is also Nelson Mandela’s wife. The woman who created a home for him after his divorce from the firebrand that is Winnie. And the woman who instinctively knew the importance of keeping his children and grandchildren close. She also reminded us that her husband is not a saint. That he can be stubborn and pedantic and is a creature of habit, who loves nothing more than listening to a cricket match on the radio, cup of tea in hand – sitting happily his armchair.

Graca and Winnie holding hands
Graca and Winnie – notice their hands.

She spoke to us about being proactive in a world that seems to be engaged in a war against women. She told of her work with the Africa Progress Panel, and reminded us to take other women with us as we grow and prosper on this difficult and challenging continent of ours.

This, she said, is no time to be selfish.

Graca then apologised for not being able to attend the gala dinner that evening. She had received bad news just before stepping onto the podium. Her beloved brother had died – and she needed to return home to bury him. But she couldn’t have considered leaving us, without doing what she had come to do. What a lady.

That night, one of the Directors of the Graca Machel Trust spoke about her mentor. She told us how ‘Ma’ had always supported and encouraged the women in the family. How she would get them to see their challenges through the eyes of all involved, and how she was probably the reason that they were still married. Because, Ma Machel’s other gift, Zanele said, was that she understood the problems inherent in being a modern African woman – home and family versus work and ambition. Of living modern lives on a continent where men often view their women in more traditional roles. “She taught us that there is no such thing as a fight. Rather, you had an engaged conversation. One that stated the desired resolution before you even began. You did not leave your man behind you as you grew – he came with you, considered, informed and willing”.

Sage advice – even for the modern feminist. I remember my mother always greeting my father at the door – freshly lipsticked and smiling. They would head into their room, and, as he changed out of his suit and tie – we would hear her ask him about his day. Without him realising it, she was facilitating the change from Business Man to father and husband. Reframing his day. Very smart.

A good friend of mine’s wife – who runs her own business and is savvy and feisty, will always dish supper for her husband first. Or put together a plate of food for him at a buffet. He loves it – the gesture costs her nothing: but says everything. Again – very smart.

Given that we are in the midst of a retro week – where we are taking food, style and life advice from women who are of a different era; I thought a little old-fashioned relationship advice wouldn’t hurt either. And while I am not married, these easy civilities have their place in everyday interactions too.

So here are some of Blanche Ebutt’s marriage “Dont’s for Wives”. I think Graca would approve.

graca-machel-portrait-550px

Don’t interpret too literally the ‘obey’ of the Marriage Service. Your husband has no right to control your individuality.

Don’t forget to wish your husband good morning when he sets off to the office. He will feel the lack of your goodbye kiss all day.

Don’t check your husband’s high spirits. Let him sing at the top of his voice in the bathroom, and be thankful for a cheerful man about the house.

Don’t work yourself into a fever every time your husband omits to turn up at the expected time. He is in all probability neither run over by a motor-car, nor robbed and murdered on his way home, nor lying in a lonely land with a sprained ankle, nor in any other predicaments your imagination pictures. Probably he stopped at the bookstall to buy an evening paper, and so missed his train. So don’t greet him hysterically when he does arrive. 

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.

Don’t pile up money for your children. Give them the best education possible, and let them make their own way.

Don’t refuse to see your husband’s jokes. They may be pretty poor ones, but it won’t hurt you to smile at them.

Don’t object to your husband getting a motor-bicycle; merely insist that he shall buy a side-car for you at the same time.

Don’t take your husband on a laborious shopping expedition, and expect him to remain good-tempered throughout. If you want his advice on some special dress purchase, arrange to attend to that first, and then let him off. Men, as a rule, hate indiscriminate shopping.

Don’t keep the house so tidy that your husband is afraid to leave a newspaper lying about. Few men have such a sense of order as most women have, and they are naturally more careless…

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15 Comments

  1. Ann
    Ann

    You have shared some timeless tips for women in general. As I say to some friends Oldschool is the the best school.

    June 12, 2013
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  2. I constantly try to remind myself of things like this for The Wife. I try to treat her especially well, because I love her and the rest of her day probably didn’t go perfectly. I try to bring her flowers sometimes just because she likes flowers. I try to take on more chores that she doesn’t care for, that I don’t mind.
    I do these things because she’s special to me, and I think I would like someone to pay special attention to me. I know that she does things for me that I don’t readily notice because we all have a tendency to take things for granted. So I just keep doing my little things, and hope one day I’ll be able to slow down enough in this life to properly appreciate all the things she does for me.

    May 29, 2013
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  3. I just bumped today into your blog (the previous one actually, which redirected me here) and it’s fantastic! Great job, and thanks for sharing this delicious marriage tips from Downton’s Abbey era.

    May 24, 2013
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    • Welcome Leonor! I just checked out your (expat) blog and found so much we share. Thanks for joining our community.

      May 24, 2013
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  4. This inspired me. First – I love how you weave an odd little book into the story of hearing Graca Machel speak. This is how we learn. We see something, read something else, notice a conversation here or there, and they all tie together. Sometimes neatly, sometimes more of a Mosh Pit. I like the way you think. I referenced back to this in something I wrote today. Thank you.

    May 23, 2013
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  5. Wonderful post with good advice. I love serving my husband. And I am a feminist. I wear both titles, feminist and wife, with pride. IMHO feminism is about equality, not about rejecting the desire to do the “little things” for one’s spouse. I have a husband who serves me as much as I take care of him. I do think our positive interactions are largely influenced by conscious choices we make and repeat on a daily basis: a kiss to say hello and goodbye–always, no exceptions; no phones when catching up or talking about our day; I serve his food; he serves me tea. It’s a reciprocal relationship with a deep understanding that what is important to him may not be to me, and vice versa. But we pretend. We listen, lean in, and nod. And when we are done pretending, we watch a silly show on TV and play with our phones independently. I know everyone is different, but this works for us and makes us happy.

    May 23, 2013
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  6. Just lovely. As coincidence, I bought the “Don’t For Husbands” for mine as a stocking stuffer. Although maybe that was a big “Don’t For Wives”…

    Becca

    May 23, 2013
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  7. I love this so much! Thank you for sharing! It’s easy now days to want to avoid being like that traditional housewife persona, but I definitely agree that it is possible to achieve a balance similar to what you talked about. Again,wonderful post!

    May 22, 2013
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  8. alan
    alan

    good piece on a tough subject…..the very high divprce rate

    May 22, 2013
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  9. Lovely post darling! Love too the advice from Blanche Ebutt but I draw the line at putting his slippers out for him!!!! That’s why I have children.

    May 22, 2013
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  10. I was bought this little book when I got engaged. Yes, some of it is hilarious, sexist nonsense, but some of these little gems are just about kindness and ‘managing’ your home life in a clever and thoughtful way. I like the one about not checking his ‘high spirits’ – though it can be a hard one to stick to when he is roaring out his favourite Guns N Roses track… 🙂

    May 22, 2013
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  11. Oh I am laughing at the last one. It’s the other way around in our house.

    May 22, 2013
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  12. myLittleAstrology
    myLittleAstrology

    Beautiful ! Adorable ! Feminist ! Great writing ! Thank you for this !

    May 22, 2013
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  13. Love this!!! Thank you for sharing it. I hope if I ever remarry I remember this wonderful advice.
    Jenness

    May 22, 2013
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