New Series: Reading Dr Laura

Dr Laura and I have a history.

My mother, whom I have written about on this blog before and whom my senpai has repeatedly offered to punch in the face, was a huge fan of Dr Laura back in the day. She was also rather a fan of Dr Phil and Oprah around the same time; this was before I moved out, I believe she’s moved on from both of them to the Pearls and other evangelical leaders in the intervening years. But at the time, I was a teenager, and I remember hours spent trapped in moving vehicles while Dr Laura advised call-in guests to do horrible things to their kids for the crime of being like me.

(We didn’t often talk in the car by that point. Mom wanted to hear her show, and I was ungrateful enough for her driving me all the way to summer school and back every day that I didn’t dare push it. She knew my feelings on Dr Laura. I also knew her feelings on my bisexuality. It was a difficult time.)

The other day I was browsing the church’s bookstore, looking for research materials for my steampunk novel. The bright red cover jumped out at me immediately:

Image result for ten stupid things

It was hauntingly familiar; I can’t recall if I read it or if my mother just had a copy lying around constantly. I also intimately recall the covers of “Ten Stupid Things Couples Do To Mess Up Their Relationships” and of “Bad Childhood, Good Life”, both of which I believe my mother mailed to me in care packages over the years. The bold blocks of color, the refusal to uppercase the casing on the title… it sent instinctive anger and fear signals coursing through me.

“Is it bad to buy a book just to burn it?” I asked.

I did buy this book; it was on sale, and used, and I plan to revisit the text on this blog with you all. Starting with the back cover, which I will quote in its entirety a paragraph at a time:

Warning: this book is not for the faint of heart or psyche! If you really want to change, it can jump-start your journey to self-worth.

I’m already getting flashbacks. If you’re not familiar, Dr Laura has a perfect blend of aggressive, in-your-face shock statement with condescension and mockery. “If you really want to change, you won’t be so thin skinned,” she seems to be saying. “You’ll let me neg you into self-worth.”

Dr Laura Schlessinger is the incredibly popular and controversial psychotherapist who hosts the nationally syndicated, top-rated midday radio talk show.

Fun fact: the radio show came first. She got a certificate in marriage and family counseling before her show went big in the 90s, but after she started doing the radio relationship advice thing as a part of other people’s shows (in the 70s and 80s). I suspect she figured it would help her career to be able to say she was trained, rather than her really learning much from it.

Laura Schlessinger has very strong convictions, and he doesn’t hesitate to voice them to callers.

Convictions like “don’t marry outside your race” and “homosexuality is a biological error that inhibits you from relating normally to the opposite sex” and that gay people should be subject to “therapies which have been successful in helping a reasonable number of people become heterosexual”. Just so we’re clear what this copy means by “convictions”.

She urges women emphatically to lose a domineering jerk of a lover and pick one of the “good guys”, to stay home and parent the babies they’ve made, and to follow that dream rather than some dreamboat. Above all, Dr Laura exhorts women not to blame anybody or anything but themselves if they’re unhappy and their lives seem a mess.

So in case you thought MRA/Red Pill stuff came out of nowhere in the 2010s, recall that this book was published in 1994.

Ten Stupid Things Women Do to Mess Up Their Lives uses real-world examples from Dr Laura’s radio show and private practice to drive the message home.

I bet that was great for her patients, who likely expected confidentiality.

And the message is that our reticence to be bold and brave often makes us act like stupid, submissive victims.

Feminism!

Once we muster the courage to take responsibility for our own problems and to tolerate the discomforts of risk, the possibilities for personal growth and joy are limitless.

If you’re looking for an all-approving hand to hold, you won’t find it here. If you’re prepared to take a clear-eyed look at your self-diminishing behavior and make the move to a quality existence, there’s no one better than Dr Laura to keep you honest and to cheer you on. One thing’s for sure: you’ll never look at your relationships, behaviors, and decisions the same way after you’ve’ finished reading Ten Stupid Things Women Do to Mess Up Their Lives

Are you ready, dear readers? Because we’re doing this.

The book begins with a preface. As if we didn’t get enough warnings on the back cover copy, we open with a preface containing more of the same:

This book is going to be difficult for you to read — and maybe even hurtful to you — and you may get angry.

There are ten million exceptions to everything I say. Nonetheless, EVERYTHING I SAY IS TRUE!

So right off the bat we know what we’re dealing with: an egotistical narcissist who doesn’t care how the message is received so long as she can yell about how right she is. Why would anyone take advice from this clown?

In the introduction we get the offhand comment that led her to write this book: “You know, Laura, if you listen to your show long enough you begin to think women are stupid!” Again, we see how this works right away: she cannot be wrong, so if her show gives that impression, it must be true, and therefore she should write a book to show everyone how true it is.

An example: One of my callers, who was “having trouble” losing weight, claimed she had looked in every available self-help book for a scenario she could really relate to. She called because she was frustrated she hadn’t found it yet.

Oh great! In other words, until she finds herself in a book […] she has a perfect excuse for doing nothing

You see the immediate contempt for people in her tone, in her reaction. She’s sure that every caller is pulling a fast one on her, that every person who hasn’t already found an answer to their problem is stupid or lying to themselves, and in that way, she can feel superior. Add in a helping of right-wing politics:

In the Age of the Victim, nothing is anybody’s fault!

and some eve-blaming:

my father […] once remarked at dinner that men couldn’t get away with anything rotten, political, or personal, unless women let them. […] the ultimate power of women over men was their sexual acceptance and/or approval

and you get pretty much exactly the toxic cocktail we see today in our nightmares.

So feel free to hurl the fruit of my labors across the room or call it nasty names or just ignore it.

Don’t worry. I plan to.

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6 Responses to New Series: Reading Dr Laura

  1. Firedrake says:

    I’ve heard the name before, but never encountered the actuality – I don’t think Schlessinger has ever been particularly popular in the UK.

    Some of this at least does make sense in terms of the original context: an old-school agony aunt in the 1970s would have been saying “stay with your man at all costs, and try to make things better”, so it’s at least a step away from that.

    The Wikipedia page suggests she shifted from relationship advice to anti-gay propaganda in the early 2000s – though presumably it was there earlier and just not emphasised.

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  4. Silver Adept says:

    Oh, goodness. No wonder she became Focus On The Family’s pinup girl for so long.

  5. depizan77 says:

    There are ten million exceptions to everything I say. Nonetheless, EVERYTHING I SAY IS TRUE!

    If there are ten million exceptions, then we’re clearly dealing with a creative definition of truth. I think most of the time we call that lies. Or bullshit.

    But it does take a special kind of arrogance to admit she’s full of it, then turn around and tell you to listen to her anyway. In caps, no less.

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