Today marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of Betty Friedan’s Feminine Mystique.
Friedan “wrote about the period between WWII and 1960, when women married young, abandoned their ambitions, had large families that fueled the baby boom, moved to the suburbs, and valued femininity above all else.” (Janet Maslin, NYT 2/18/13, “Looking Back at a Domestic Cri de Coeur”)
Blessed with two daughters, I can easily see a disconnect with the Ozzie and Harriet mentality of the 1950 and 1960s, the years cultivating the book’s origin and publication. Women equality? On the surface, today’s young women do not see an issue. One daughter studies science, the other is an account director and their friends are accountants, doctors, lawyers, and engineers. The past, viewed through entertaining films and television shows such as Mad Men, offers a giggling glimpse to a women’s struggling and defining past. To quote one of Betty Friedan many truisms,
“It is a cliche of our own time, that women spent half a century fighting for ‘rights,’ and the next half wondering whether they wanted them at all. ‘Rights’ have a dull sound to people who have grown up after they have been won.”
In the 90s, feminist redefined and rebranded around choice. But today, choice is an elite option. Stephanie Coontz argues in her New York Times Op-Ed column (“Why Gender Equality Stalled,” 2/17/13) and in her new book, “A Strange Stirring: The Feminine Mystique and American Women at the Dawn of the 1960s,” that the impediment blocking women today is based upon the economic and structural facts. Some may argue, that this is no longer a women’s issue, but rather an American Family issue.
In a 2010 Pew pol, 72% of men and women expressed that the best marriage is “one in which husband and wife must work and both take care of the house.” According to Jody Heymann, dean of the school of public health at University of California, Los Angeles in her book “Children’s Chances:How Countries Can Move From Surviving to Thriving,”
“180 countries now offer guaranteed paid leave to new mothers, and 81 offer paid leave to fathers. They found that 175 countries mandate paid annual leave for workers, and 162 limit the maximum length of the workweek. The US offers none of these protections.”
So how will American families manage? How will women manage? We’ll have to see how history writes itself.
By Cheryl Machat Dorskind