Feb 192018
 

On this date in 1963 W. W. Norton published The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan, which is widely credited with sparking the beginning of second-wave feminism in the United States.In 1957, Friedan was asked to conduct a survey of her former Smith College classmates for their 15th anniversary reunion. She found that many of them were unhappy with their lives as housewives which prompted her to begin research for The Feminine Mystique, conducting interviews with other suburban housewives, as well as researching psychology, media, and advertising. She originally intended to publish an article on the topic, not a book, but no magazine would publish her article.

During the year 1964, The Feminine Mystique became the bestselling nonfiction book with over one million copies sold. Friedan challenged the widely shared belief in 1950s that “fulfillment as a woman had only one definition for American women after 1949—the housewife-mother.”

The Feminine Mystique begins with an introduction describing what Friedan called “the problem that has no name”—the widespread unhappiness of women in the 1950s and early 1960s. It discusses the lives of several housewives from around the United States who were unhappy despite living in material comfort and being married with children. Furthermore, Friedan challenged women’s magazines, women’s education system, and advertisers for creating this widespread image of women. The detrimental effects induced by this image was that it narrowed women into the domestic sphere and led many women to lose their own identities.

In Chapter, 1 Friedan points out that the average age of marriage was dropping, the portion of women attending college was decreasing and the birthrate was increasing for women throughout the 1950s, yet the widespread trend of unhappy women persisted, although American culture insisted that fulfillment for women could be found in marriage and housewifery. Although aware of and sharing this dissatisfaction, women in the 1950s misinterpreted it as an individual problem and rarely talked about it with other women. As Friedan pointed out, “part of the strange newness of the problem is that it cannot be understood in terms of the age-old material problems of man: poverty, sickness, hunger, cold.” This chapter concludes by declaring “We can no longer ignore that voice within women that says: ‘I want something more than my husband and my children and my home.'”

Subsequent chapters go on to detail how the various organs of society – books, advertising, magazines, etc. – all perpetuated the narrative of the feminine mystique. Friedan also recalls her own decision to conform to society’s expectations by giving up her promising career in psychology to raise children, and shows that other young women still struggled with the same kind of decision. Many women dropped out of school early to marry, afraid that if they waited too long or became too educated, they would not be able to attract a husband. Friedan argues at the end of the chapter that although theorists discuss how men need to find their identity, women are expected to be self-sufficient, contained within a role set for them by society. She writes, “Anatomy is woman’s destiny, say the theorists of femininity; the identity of woman is determined by her biology.”

Here are more quotes:

Each suburban wife struggles with it alone. As she made the beds, shopped for groceries, matched slipcover material, ate peanut butter sandwiches with her children, chauffeured Cub Scouts and Brownies, lay beside her husband at night- she was afraid to ask even of herself the silent question– ‘Is this all?”

The way for a woman, as for a man, to find herself, to know herself as a person, is by creative work of her own.

In almost every professional field, in business and in the arts and sciences, women are still treated as second-class citizens. It would be a great service to tell girls who plan to work in society to expect this subtle, uncomfortable discrimination–tell them not to be quiet, and hope it will go away, but fight it. A girl should not expect special privileges because of her sex, but neither should she “adjust” to prejudice and discrimination.

Nowadays there are so many women who say, “I am not a feminist” without really understanding what they are saying. Do they mean that they want to live in the suburbs, cooking and cleaning the house, waiting on their husbands, and having no independent existence? I doubt it. There is still a long way to go before there is genuine equality between men and women, but things have come a long way since the 1950s and ‘60s.

In 1958, when my family moved to South Australia, we lived in a suburb where all the men went off to work in the morning, and all the women stayed home to clean and cook, and occasionally meet over tea in the afternoon. My mother barely tolerated this life for one year. She started taking the train to Adelaide to finish her secondary education, which she had not completed because of the war, and also began teacher training. It was an arduous task. She had to walk across a sheep pasture to get to a trestle train halt and flag down the train from Gawler to Adelaide. On the return she had to instruct the driver to stop at the halt, and then walk home across the pasture, often in the dark. She did this for 2 years and then began teaching at my school, first as a trainee, and then as a full-time teacher.  All the time she was studying, and then teaching, my father hardly lifted a finger. He cooked on Saturdays for lunch, but otherwise he expected to be waited upon. He was born in 1917 and my mother in 1921. That was the only life he knew, and the one that my mother was determined to break for herself – well before The Feminine Mystique.

I grew up in a house where the feminine mystique was already a thing of the past, so the idea of feminism is very simple for me. It is about equality – period. It does not mean that men and women have to be the same. It means that women should not be subordinate to men whether at home or at work. They should be on a par. Both should be free to make of themselves what they want, or what they can. The idea is simple; carrying it out is still a work in progress.

When looking for recipes to honor The Feminine Mystique I came across the article “Cooking With Betty Friedan … Yes, Betty Friedan” by Betty Friedan and published in the New York Times in 1977. You can find it here. http://www.nytimes.com/books/99/05/09/specials/friedan-cooking.html By 1977 Friedan had discovered the joy of cooking when it has ceased to be drudgery as part of a woman’s role in society – the way men had known for centuries. This excerpt gives the idea. She had just opened a can of Campbell’s soup and was heating it with some added mushrooms and sour cream when her son, Jonathan, arrived without notice:

So when Jonathan arrived here unexpectedly on his way to Israel, I sprang into action. I got green noodles — which I tell myself are less fattening if they are made out of artichokes or spinach — and eggplants, onions, mushrooms and capers and made a pasta sauce from scratch. I browned more mushrooms to add to the Campbell’s soup and we had the smoked salmon that Jonathan brought from his island. For desert we had the Sacher torte I bought back home from lecturing in Vienna, eating it with natural honey ice cream instead of schlag. My friend Alex came by to give the traveler tips on Israel and he watched with a strange sort of beaming expression as I stirred around in all those pots adding oregano and things and not really concentrating on what they were talking about.

I was having a wonderful time. I felt unabashed, overwhelming love for my son as he ate up every bit of green pasta with eggplant and caper sauce. I delighted with glee as my friend took a second helping of the mushroom soup, which next time I swear I’ll make from scratch. Then I put my mind to serious political discussion of the Middle East — which somehow I’d never done with my son before — and I took delight in the beautiful way his mind works.

I think now that I will cook when I feel like it, when I want to or need to, and even maybe mostly enjoy it. I will cook for people I love or even for myself, maybe, with a minimum of fuss, or with a lot of relaxed, communal fuss, if the occasion arises. No big deal. But why deprive myself of the joys of chicken soup, of any part of my basic roots as a woman, or even the refined sophistication of cooking as an art, which my men friends are free to enjoy?

We women had to liberate ourselves from the slavish necessities, the excessive drudgery and guilt related to cooking in order to be able to now liberate ourselves from an excessive need to react against it. As for me, I’ve come out the other end of women’s liberation — to make my own soup.

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