This week, I finished Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique, which I talked about in my last post. At the end of her book, Friedan focuses on what causes the problem with no name and describes a way for women to overcome it. She explains that the problem with no name is caused by the inability of the housewife role to fulfill women and that it prevents them from finding their own identities. Because they are not able to realize their true selves, housewives begin to try to live vicariously through their husbands and children, causing more issues within the family unit. According to Friedan, women were too busy trying to force themselves to adopt the feminine characteristics popular in the 50’s and 60’s in order to fulfill society’s expectations of women as wives and mothers, causing many white middle-class housewives to suffer from depression and other psychological illnesses. She explains that the housewife role prevented women from growing as individuals and allowed them to avoid the pains and struggles that come along with self-realization. In the chapter titled “A New Life Plan for Women”, Friedan writes, “[o]nce she begins to see through the delusions of the feminine mystique–and realizes that neither her husband nor her children, nor the things in her house, nor sex, nor being like all the other women, can give her a self–she often finds the solution much easier than she anticipated” (408). She goes on to describe two ways for women to overcome the problem with no name: 1) reject the housewife image that says that women are meant to be only housewives and mothers who commit themselves solely to the domestic sphere, and 2) to overlook the glorification of marriage and motherhood promoted by the feminine mystique. According to Friedan, once women, “began to use their various abilities with a purpose of their own society, they not only spoke of a new feeling of ‘aliveness’ or ‘completeness’ in themselves, but of a new though hard to define, difference in the way they felt about their husbands and children” (413). Once they overcame the lies of the mystique, these women were able to mature and grow as individuals, bringing new purpose to their lives by dedicating themselves to activities or careers that aligned more with their own feelings and personalities. Friedan states that women can be both career women and mothers, which during the early 60’s was a revolutionary idea. My favorite quote in this chapter is towards the end where Friedan states that:
[w]hen their mothers’ fulfillment makes girls sure they want to be women, they will not have to ‘beat themselves down’ to be feminine; they can stretch and stretch until their own efforts will tell them who they are. they will not need the regard of boy or man to feel alive. And when women do not need to live through their husbands and children, men will not need to fear the love and strength of women, nor need another’s weakness to prove their own masculinity. They can finally see each other as they are. And this may be the next step in human evolution. (456)
Friedan ends her book with hope for the future of both genders overcoming their limiting gender roles. Unfortunately, I feel like we’re having the same debates and issues today. Okay, so it’s acceptable now for women to be career women and have families, but even this comes with limitations. Although women are allowed the freedom to enter the public domain and have lives outside of the domestic sphere, they are still expected to fulfill certain roles and traits that are deemed feminine. A post I responded to last week questioned whether or not there were gender specific personality traits. One of the traits mentioned was the maternal characteristic that all women are still believed to inherently posses which automatically make them natural caregivers. What about women that don’t want children and don’t feel like they are natural caregivers? Because they don’t fulfill the maternal role that women in our society are expected to fill, women that choose to be child-free are thought to be selfish, cold, and unnatural. For men, it’s the same. If a man wants to be a stay-at-home dad, he is considered unmanly and strange. To me, it seems like women, and men, are still being forced into their specific gender roles and traits, despite their individual personalities and opinions. The Feminine Mystique demonstrates just how detrimental gender roles really are in the fact that they limit and deny individuals the freedom to explore their true selves. I’d really love to hear from people who have read The Feminine Mystique and their opinions about it. Or, for those who haven’t read the book, what are your opinions about today’s gender roles? Do you consider gender roles to still be a major issue today? And have you ever experienced the pressure to conform to specific gender roles or traits?