The Retooling of Betty Friedan: The New Feminist Message?

AuthorKensicki, Marybeth

The Retooling of Betty Friedan: The New Feminist Message?

Years ago, before smoking was passe, Virginia Slims cigarettes had the marketing slogan: "You've come a long way baby." Have we? What have we learned throughout the last several decades, maybe even last two or three centuries? Who were/are the influencers who molded us to be the people we are today--2018? The educators of yesterday tried to make a difference when it was difficult to be heard; the story writers of yesterday tried to make a difference when perhaps no one listened. What did both groups tell us that we have taken into our bosoms and where and when did it go wrong?

In 1963 Betty Friedan completed her research and wrote the book The Feminine Mystique. It became the bible for women's rights. She highlights how the experts told women their "role was to seek fulfillment as wives and mothers" (Friedan, 1963, p. 1). One of the issues with the word feminist is the connotation; some people at least in the late sixties and seventies assumed that a feminist hated men. Betty Friedan's ex-husband said several years after their divorce that "Betty-she hates men ... Let's face it, they all do--all those activists in the women's lib movement" (Horowitz, 1998, p. 225). Many say, because of Friedan's book, women began to strive for more. However, in 1991, Susan Faludi wrote Backlash in which she states that marketers began a campaign to entice women back to the kitchen sink. As Friedan (1963) notes, "by the end of the nineteen-fifties, the average marriage age of women in America dropped to 20 and was still dropping into the teens" (2), (sounds like a winter forecast). Coincidentally, there could be a metaphor there because of the way the country looked at women and their roles was a bit frosty. Today the average marriage age is higher at 26 years old.

Happily, it should go without saying that women are very strong: we can basically do anything that we put our minds too: we give birth, we have careers, we do all sorts of things; the list is endless. Yet, we seem to be fostering "prostitots." This portmanteau is a combination of prostitutes and toddlers. It is post modernistic that the younger generation of women have seemed to cut the cord of all moralistic values and standards and have rendered themselves less than empowered. We must stop that destructive tide and tell the world once again that women are more than just "mattress dressing."

Women have realized there are many different avenues they can take for fulfilling lives. But the problem is the direction and paths they take to get there; something in the delivery of messages received unfortunately has been malfunctioning. The journey begins with determining who we are. Search for self is arduous. What really needs to be considered initially is how did we as individuals become who we are today? In 1983 author Alice Walker wrote a book of essays In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens. In the title essay, she references the author Jean Toomer who came to prominence during the Harlem Renaissance era of the 1920s. Walker notes one of his observations that black women with their intense spirituality were unaware of the richness they held because they were so used to being used and abused that they did not dare be mindful of their inner being. Walker writes that women thought of themselves as the "mule of the world" (1983, p. 237) Yes, her essay specifically mentions black women, but her words and cautions apply to all women--her message is universal. To get to an understanding of self, women must search their past and look at who came before. As we traverse through life, mothers and grandmothers are not the only people we encounter; the number of people who impact our lives is tremendous. We are products of those people. As we look at all those influencers, take note of their struggles and hardships and how they handled them. Were any of their dreams and aspirations thwarted? Can you imagine the utter frustration of being told you are not good enough? The creative spirit is not just the talent to draw/paint a picture, but to have the drive and ability to move forward and feel good about yourself.

The search for self has been ongoing for centuries, highlighted by the turbulent 1960s: people doing sit-ins, marching for civil and equal rights, marching for the end of Vietnam War, disrespecting police; people wanted and demanded change. Change they did get. The year 1968, as the media has been declaring, was the year that changed the world. Women no longer were satisfied to being window dressing in the home baking bread, cleaning toilets, and doing a myriad of other household duties. They wanted to earn a real paycheck and get promotions. Many things have changed since those days: women do have careers and get promotions. The fabulous message of the late sixties and seventies of empowerment and equality has somehow become distorted to our young women of today. Regrettably, the current woman's message seems to have swung the pendulum to the very far opposite corner. Somewhere along the way the communication to women got misconstrued and currently plays havoc with young women.

To understand how far we have come, a discussion of Friedan's research is essential. Friedan (1963) defines the feminine mystique as "the highest value and the only commitment for women is the fulfillment of their own femininity" (1963, p. 39). The feminine mystique is also defined as being dependent on a man: "she exists only for and through her husband and children" (1963, p. 44). One of Friedan's chapters is devoted to Freud's psychoanalytical thinking. Since Freud based much of his position on sex and gender roles, Friedan tries to have the reader comprehend Freud's theory of femininity. He claims that "it was woman's nature to be ruled by man, and her sickness to envy him" (as cited in Friedan, 1963, p. 101). He also thought "women were a strange, inferior, less-than-human species ... who existed to serve man" (1963, p. 101), giving her no voice of her own. Voice equals power. One cannot blame Freud, the man, one hundred percent because, according to Friedan, Freud (1856-1939) was a product of his culture, both the Victorian era and his Jewish religion, in which a man thanks the Lord that He hast not created him a woman (1963, p. 102). Therefore, women had a tremendous amount of pre-existing prejudice to overcome and, unfortunately, there was no mention of any aspect of empowerment.

Friedan also noted that, in 1942, Farnham and Lundberg wrote Modern Woman: The Lost Sex, which warned readers that "careers and higher education were leading to the 'masculinization of women with enormously dangerous consequences to the home, the children dependent on it and to the ability of the woman, as well as her husband, to obtain sexual gratification'" (as cited in Friedan, 1963, p. 39). Not much has changed with regard to the male ego and sexuality; "some men still see masculinity as a zero-sum game where gains in female achievements or power take something away from their [men] identity (Coontz, 2011, p. 175).

In the middle sixties, the tide shifted--enter Helen Gurley Brown, who became the voice of Cosmopolitan magazine and changed how the contemporary woman looked at herself. Brown's magazine gave a message that allowed women to have careers and be sexual beings. Every cover enticed women to make themselves happy in every aspect of life, love, and sex. Although, besides making themselves better people, Brown also encouraged women to make their husbands/boyfriends/lovers happy in bed. Each issue had, and continues to have, a scantily dressed female on the front proclaiming sexual satisfaction for all players. Under Brown's tutelage, Cosmopolitan changed how women viewed themselves; rather than the...

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