I came very late to The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan. But I suspect it affected me almost as strongly as it did its first readers–fifty years ago yesterday and ever since.
I grew up in a culture that had most of the attitudes toward women that Ms. Friedan described in her book. Except we had religion tacked onto that. Fortunately, I didn’t exist in the worst of the fundamentalist Christian religions in North America–yet I was taught many of the same things women in those branches of Christianity were taught:
- Women’s job was making babies and then staying home to raise them.
- Women’s other job was to stay home and clean and make meals, like a “housekeeper with benefits;” the men got a servant and sex too, what a deal! For the men.
- Women were to be subordinate to their husbands.
- Women’s other job was to do what their husbands told them and to support their husbands in everything they did.
- All this subordination (and let’s face it, oppression) was the women’s own fault, because we were all “guilty” for enticing Adam to eat the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. No, really.
Blah blah blah. Is it surprising that so many women were bored out of their minds, both being around children nonstop, all day long, without much adult companionship, and being treated like children themselves? What a terrible waste, restricting women’s lives only to those few things, when the whole world was open to the men! No wonder so many women were on tranquilizers!
When I was in Bible school, I bought into that role for women. I fully expected to marry a preacher or somebody, and to spend my life teaching Sunday school and raising babies. You know, to “support” my husband’s ministry. And for this reason, I did not go into the program to study classical and biblical Greek intensively–which I really wanted to do. Instead, I went into “General Christian Ministries,” and learned all the stuff I wasn’t interested in, like how to make games for children. When all along, I knew that I didn’t really want kids. But THAT WAS MY JOB.
Fortunately, I decided against that sort of life eventually. I decided it before I ever read The Feminine Mystique. But when I finally did read that book, thirty years or so after it was published, it described everything I knew I had dodged, and explained a few more things that I hadn’t thought about yet.
So even though I was late, I finally did read the book, and it was as great for me as it was for the earliest readers. So I’m very glad to hear that there are new editions coming out, in celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of its publication. Given the reams and reams and reams of anti-woman legislation currently being rammed up women’s vaginas by Republican state governments in the United States–it’s very clear that The Feminine Mystique is still very, very needed. We’ve got a whole new couple of generations of women who have been hoodwinked–again–and it’s time to set them free. Again.