Social Theory: The Multicultural and Classic Readings

By Charles Lemert | Go to book overview

violence be abolished and the institutions--local, national, international--that encourage nonviolence as a condition of conflict be developed.

These are our central values, in skeletal form. It remains vital to understand their denial or attainment in the context of the modern world.❖

Betty Friedan ( 1921-) was born and grew up in Illinois, where she experienced the marginalization of being Jewish in the provincial Midwest. She felt immediately liberated on entering Smith College, where she edited the school paper. She graduated in 1942. In 1963, Feminine Mystique became an immediate best-seller (well over one million copies were soon sold). Three years later, Friedan founded NOW, the National Organization for Women, based on the organizational ideals of the NAACP. Although NOW was soon considered too centrist as more radical feminisms emerged, it remains a powerful force in public politics. Today, Friedan is an influential speaker, writer, and activist on women's issues.


The Problem That Has No Name

Betty Friedan ( 1963)

The problem lay buried, unspoken, for many years in the minds of American women. It was a strange stirring, a sense of dissatisfaction, a yearning that women suffered in the middle of the twentieth century in the United States. Each suburban wife struggled 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?"

For over fifteen years there was no word of this yearning in the millions of words written about women, for women, in all the columns, books and articles by experts telling women their role was to seek fulfillment as wives and mothers. Over and over women heard in voices of tradition and of Freudian sophistication that they could desire no greater destiny than to glory in their own femininity. Experts told them how to catch a man and keep him, how to breastfeed children and handle their toilet training, how to cope with sibling rivalry and adolescent rebellion; how to buy a dishwasher, bake bread, cook gourmet snails, and build a swimming pool with their own hands; how to dress, look, and act more feminine and make marriage more exciting; how to keep their husbands from dying young and their sons from growing into delinquents. They were taught to pity the neurotic, unfeminine, unhappy women who wanted to be poets or physicists or presidents. They learned that truly feminine women do not want careers, higher education, political rights--the independence and the opportunities that the old-fashioned feminists fought for. Some women, in their forties and fifties, still remembered painfully giving up those dreams, but most of the younger women no longer even thought about them. A thousand expert voices applauded their femininity, their adjustment, their new maturity. All they had to do was devote their lives from earliest girlhood to finding a husband and bearing children.

____________________
Excerpt from The Feminine Mystique ( New York: W. W. Norton and Co., 1963), pp. 15-19, 32. Copyright 1963 by Betty Friedan. Reprinted by permission of W. W. Norton and Co. and Curtis Brown Ltd.

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