Usually we read Elle magazine’s advice column “Ask E. Jean” with a sense of bemused horror. We imagine E. Jean sitting poolside sipping a Mai Tai, systematically rattling off terrible, cliche, and gender-stereotyped advice to a beleaguered assistant who’s forced to type up every word. You see, the women who write into E. Jean often have similar problems — the spark in their relationship has died, their husbands or boyfriends are now distant or disinterested. And without fail, E. Jean always recommends the same thing — “Oh honey, just whip up a steak dinner, put on some sexy lingerie and seduce your man back into the relationship.” In E. Jean’s world, we’re all just a sexy negligee away from solving all our relationship woes.
And then we read E. Jean’s advice to a woman who’s been married for four months and is still a virgin …“Save My Life” wrote:
I’ve been married four months, and I’m still a virgin. Every time I try to initiate something, my husband won’t allow me to take off my bra or panties. My job is to satisfy him with oral sex, and that’s it. I’ve tried showing him movies and books and talking to him. Nothing works. The one time I removed my bra, he asked why my breasts “sagged.” I’m considered by other people as beautiful, slim, fair, etc. We’re both from India, and we were married outside the United States. I’m in grad school here on a student visa, and he’s here training with an American company. I don’t want to suffer this way!
It’s pretty clear that “Save My Life” is not only in a loveless marriage, but in an abusive one — a relationship that makes her feel terrible about herself, and in which her needs are sublimated by her partner. And yet! Rather than agree that “Save My Life” need not suffer that way, E. Jean recommends that she, oh, you know, STICK IT OUT.
E. Jean consults with an Indian family lawyer who recommends that she not “jump the gun on the divorce. He sounds like he has problems, but he may turn out to be a perfectly good husband. Traditional Indian men may start out as repressed mama’s boys who have contempt for women who ask for intimacy, but they end up making very good, responsible husbands and fathers.” And, she continues, if she DOES choose to divorce, she shouldn’t return to India, because she’ll never find a husband there. (As if finding a husband — any husband — is this woman’s first concern).
We had hoped that given the veracity of “Save My Life”‘s claims — and the fact that she realizes her situation is dire enough that she chose “Save My Life” as a moniker — E. Jean would tell this woman to GET OUT NOW. But no, rather than questioning this line of totally antiquated thinking, E. Jean drops a napalm bomb of bad advice. “I guess if Brooks & Dunn can wait 20 years to split up, you can take a little time with an Indian counselor and ponder the next step.”
Well, if E. Jean won’t tell her, we will: You are in an abusive relationship with someone who makes you feel bad about yourself, and there is no negotiating with that. Leave now.