The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan. Well to be honest I'm currently reading the much later added epilogue , and finished reading the part published in 1962. That's right, 1962. So is it relevant today? Well for sheer thought provoking fun it's most certainly relevant. And to be honest, I don't think anyone can claim the slightest comprehension of the feminist movement without at the very least perusing some Cliff Notes. Many of her theories and opinions could easily be written for today's 21st century woman. And I have to say, as I sit here typing with the four year old screaming out about the injustice of her 14 year old brother being a hell of a lot stronger than she is, I can't help but wonder, WHERE THE HELL was this book when I was 18 ! Or 5 !
One of the major criticisms of this book, besides the obvious anti-feminist jibes of course, is that Friedan focused mainly on upper middle class, privileged white women. And I have to agree, Friedan just blows right by the simple fact that most Americans, male or female, just didn't have the means or weren't qualified to pursue her assumption that self actualization, hence contentment, hence sexual fulfillment hinged on having a socially acceptable, highly admired, professional career. Nope, a job just wouldn't cut it. So if you were/are a blue collar wage slave who managed a great family you were a stunted, ignorant hack wallowing in the misery of unrealized potential. Yea, you know who you are !
It's a fantastic journey through 20th century feminism, although the Freud chapter dragged , like I'd imagine psychotherapy would, it felt like I was reading that one chapter for weeks. She is dead on about the onslaught of marketing tools herding girls into the housewife role. Shop mommy shop ! I'd already read how prescient her theory was on consumerism and the happy housewife and that woman had a crystal ball. I won't quote but the gist is a housewife's main role is to buy stuff for the house. And since I, and this is a major deep, dark secret I rarely share, am a non-sorter of laundry ( that's right, mix those whites with colors baby ! tattle gray is going to be big one day I tell you), I loved the parts about how women tend to over complicate housework. And totally agree. This answers the age old mystery why men seem to take two minutes to do something that takes the wife an hour. I think you get the idea where this book goes, housewives just biding time uselessly until we die versus the career woman earning her self respect and leaving us in the dust, literally. Do I agree? Nope, but only because the world has evolved to accommodate the late female bloomer. I could see how much more depressed I'd be if it was 1962.
So why is a 40 year old lover of bras suddenly taking an interest in feminism? Well for the most obvious of reasons, her 4 year old daughter. I already have a 14 year old who delights in telling me my Italian pronunciation sucks and gee mom, we ARE trying to get my math grade to go up, right? So I'll be darned if my daughter is looking at me with contempt someday because not only am I lacking a JD or MD but don't even know why. "Mom? Really? Like, you just what, met daddy and decided to wait for the grim reaper at home?" Seriously, I'm really lacking in some basic textbook knowledge of this stuff. I read Reviving Ophelia around my eighth month of pregnancy and then stopped cold and bought a sewing machine right after her birth. Let me tell you, that sewing machine is lucky it survived chapter 5.
The best thing about reading this book? I lost my grandmother when I was 13. I wouldn't lose my mother for another 20 years but my grandmother was a much bigger influence than my mother in many ways. Reading this book gave her to me in a way that I'd never had before. She was a product of the roaring 20's, the nurse, turned wife, turned mother, turned army nurse, turned political wife, turned widow, turned frustrated grandma of three who dreamed of moving on but got stuck helping to raise three grandchildren. This book was like reading the trajectory of her life. And, despite my misgivings regarding some of her theories, for that I thank Betty Friedan with all my heart.