Let Inga Tell You: Thanks but no thanks, Ben

Benjamin Franklin’s reasons for why an “old” woman would make a better mistress don’t sit well with Inga.

It’s not only modern men in power positions who are clueless about women. If Ben Franklin were alive today, I’d love to whack him upside the head with my Susan B. Anthony T-shirt.

OK, I’ll give him credit for the lightning rod, bifocals, the Franklin stove and for helping lay the groundwork for the Declaration of Independence. But by many accounts, the guy was a serious womanizer.

In June 1745, Franklin wrote a letter to a friend about channeling the young man’s insatiable lust. The now-famous epistle, “Advice to a Friend on Choosing a Mistress,” did, to Mr. Franklin’s credit, suggest marriage as the best course of action. He noted that a woman is looking for a man’s “force of body and strength of reason.” For his part, a man really needs a woman’s “softness, sensibility and acute discernment.”

Reading this I had sudden déjà vu to my first marriage. At the time, I was attracted to my future husband for his cool composure under pressure and his decisiveness. He said he was initially attracted to me for my warmth and vulnerability. Describing those same characteristics at our 10th wedding anniversary, I think I called him “cold and controlling” and he called me “neurotic.” At our divorce, we agreed that he’d had enough of my vulnerability and I’d had enough of his decisiveness to last a lifetime.

But Mr. Franklin’s friend had clearly stated in a previous communication that he didn’t really want marriage. Just sex. So how best to get some without “ruining his health and fortune among mercenary prostitutes”? (Damn those mercenary prostitutes! Just in it for the money!) A mistress is the ticket, suggested Ben, who went on to list eight reasons why an “old” woman is better for this role than a young one.

Now let’s stop right here and note that in 1745, average life expectancy was 43.3 years for men. No one kept data on women because, like, who cared? They were women. So the “old” women Ben referred to were probably in their late 30s.

The eight reasons didn’t start too badly. Ben acknowledged that older women have “more knowledge of the world … their conversation more improving and most lastingly agreeable.”

But it’s downhill from there. Reason 2:

“When women cease to be handsome, they study to be good. To maintain their influence over men, they supply the diminution of beauty by an augmentation of utility. They learn to do 1,000 services small and great, and are the most tender and useful of all friends when you are sick.”

OK, what about when she’s sick? (OK, why am I even asking?)

Reason 5, possibly the most appalling description of the aging female form ever written, basically reduced women to “Slab of Beef with Aperture”: “The deficiency of the fluids that fill the muscles appears first in the highest part: The face first grows lank and wrinkled; then the neck; then the breast and arms; the lower parts continuing to the last as plump as ever. So that covering all above with a basket, and regarding only what is below the girdle, it is impossible of two women to know an old from a young one.”

Translation: Just put a bag over her head and you’ll never know the difference.

Given that Ben was only 39 when he wrote this letter, he seems to have already amassed considerable mistress experience, getting an early start by fathering a son out of wedlock when he was 24. He and his wife raised the child in their home.

It was Ben’s final and most compelling reason for taking an older woman as a mistress that put me over the edge:

“They are so grateful!”

Seriously, I had all 10 fingers down my throat reading this one. No, Ben, they’re not so grateful. That is Clueless Guy Think. Ben had a serious port-gut in his portraits and was bald on top. People magazine’s 1745 Sexiest Man Alive he’s not.

The poor mistress was probably thinking: “Geesh, what an ego on this one. Sure hope he and those other founding fathers can put a few clauses about women’s independence in all those documents they’re fighting about, because being unable to own property or vote, and precluded by sex from 98 percent of jobs in the Colonies is really slowing down my game. I’d dump this jerk in a heartbeat if I had more options.”

Yup, we definitely needed some founding mothers. Might we have avoided the epidemic of sexual harassment charges that are plaguing us today?

So thanks, Ben, for all the inventions and your witty sayings. The irony is, I think you intended older women to be flattered. I assure you, we aren’t.

Inga’s lighthearted looks at life appear regularly in the La Jolla Light. Reach her at ◆