Women 'should Love, Hoover and Obey'

US agony aunt Dr Laura, who advocates 'Stepford Wives' marital values, brings her campaign to Britain

It could be a handbook for the film, but without the irony. Later this month, the remake of The Stepford Wives opens in cinemas here, and just days later, British women will be on the receiving end of an astounding piece of apple-pie finger-wagging.

The most controversial self-help book of the year, The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands, by the conservative US radio agony aunt Laura Schlessinger, is about to hit UK bookshops.

The book will outrage British feminists, who have branded it dangerous and manipulative, claiming that it promotes the robotic female subservience satirised in the film, starring Nicole Kidman, and in the famous 1975 original.

"Dr Laura" is little-known in Britain but has millions of fans in America. This, her seventh and most provocative work, advocates that women who don't want to lose their men should supply them with sex and food on demand. The book has sold nearly one million copies since its publication six months ago. She outrages liberal America (she once described gays as "a biological faux pas") and the media launch for her new book was cancelled when no one accepted an invitation.

Dr Schlessinger, who describes herself as a "reformed feminist", believes that good men are simple creatures whose deepest yearning is to win female approval. Women, who are much more complex, no longer understand this and, as a result, mess up their relationships. The prime culprit is feminism, which has taught women to ignore that which will make them happy - to be at the centre of a loving and secure home - and to treat men as the enemy. She describes their actions as "gender abuse".

The answer is a change in female attitudes. Instead of moaning about what they're not getting or striving for independence, women should give more. The key is the three As - affection, acceptance and approval - which men need to feel loved. Specifically, this means no nagging, staying in shape, letting him go out with the boys, not being too neurotic, putting him before everything else in your life, cooking him a hot dinner every night and never saying no to sex. In return, Dr Schlessinger promises, you will receive all the love and adoration your heart could desire.

Predictably, the book - which also sees heterosexual marriage as the only acceptable partnership and favours stay-at-home mums - irritates many.

"What is there to say?," sighed the feminist writer and psychotherapist Susie Orbach. "In the attempt of men and women to make new kinds of ways to be intimate, some people are going to take the position that closeness and authenticity is impossible and offer a new version of 'Kinde, Küche, Kirche'. Lots of men don't want that, nor do most women, and both are interested in working out how to be close and yet keep a sense of your own identity."

Erin Pizzey, the author and founder of the first hostels for battered women in the UK, said: "There has never really been a healthy dialogue between the sexes. These kind of books are dangerous because they create huge backlashes and exacerbate tensions.

"Are we supposed to return to a heaving masochistic need to serve? Who wants a dishrag of a woman? The husband will just have a mistress on the side. I hope this book doesn't sell here. It's teaching women to manipulate men."

Despite this, Dr Schlessinger has a massive following in the US, where 17 million tune into her radio show. The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands is the latest in a string of self-help books preaching old-fashioned values that tap into a growing dissatisfaction among men and women exhausted by juggling work and home, depressed by escalating divorce rates or terrified that they will never find a stable relationship.

"The problem is that these books are based on an ideal that doesn't exist any more," said Denise Knowles, a relationship counsellor with Relate. "Many couples have to work to pay the mortgage, and many others appreciate the benefits that the woman working brings in terms of the relationship. But this means both partners have to be allowed to be exhausted and both have to be prepared to put the effort in."

Ms Knowles does acknowledge that some of Dr Schlessinger's suggestions would improve a relationship. "But it would be lovely to see a book about what men could do instead of it always being the woman."

THE WISDOM OF DR LAURA

"Men are borne and raised by women. The acceptance and love of a women is central to their whole lives."

"A good man is hard to find, not to keep."

"Now women have to contend with men taught to expect sexual favours as part of casual dating. As a result, women ignore their true nature to bond, and find themselves getting more and more hurt and bitter as they search for meaning."

"Most wives don't really want to deal with their husband's feelings."

"Most women who complain they are not getting what they want from their husbands should stop and look at how disrespectful and disdainful they are of them."

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