Thursday, March 31, 2011

Make No Mystique

now finished: The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan
now reading: Millard Fillmore: Biography of a President by Robert Rayback
(curiously spelled "Raybach" in many places, but I'm going with what's on the book itself)

I was thinking about changing the name of this blog to "Things You Should Be Reading Instead of Give Me a !@#$&* Break Heaven Is for Real." What do you think? Does that have a nice ring to it?

OK, OK, we'll stick with the Literary Supplement...

So, as I have mentioned previously, everyone should read The Feminine Mystique and those of us who have read it before should reread it. In March, I spent some time with Betty Friedan's feminist classic and remembered how essential it is. That's right, is.

If there's anything that's more annoying than when people say "I'm not a feminist, but..." it's when people say that 1960s/70s feminism was necessary but is now a)not b)over c)both. Actually, on second thought perhaps those are equally annoying. But I digress. Feminism is alive and relevant, and I am happy to report that so is The Feminine Mystique.

Like many people, I became vaguely aware of The Feminine Mystique as a teenager and finally actually checked it out of the library during college, a time when I was doing all sorts of interesting things like abandoning my religion wholesale, kissing girls, visiting Communist nations, and so forth. As it happens, reading The Feminine Mystique is not nearly as subversive as doing those other things. And yet it remains curiously necessary, because we have people posting reviews on Goodreads that say things like, "The women in this book are unhappy because they don't have the gospel and they don't homeschool their children." Um - wow.

I've already written about The Feminine Mystique here, as well as about Betty Friedan's survey that launched her Feminine Mystique project. I'm just going to reiterate today that when you delve back into it for a rereading you might be astonished at how dead on she was about so many ways the tale has been spun -- it's like a giant web of lies from magazines, suburbia, elementary schools, guidance counselors, business, advertising, universities, marriage, and pretty much every force in society, insidious or overt. They spin the lie that a woman's "role" - her divine role, in many cases - is to be a wife and mother. And they never, ever, ever, ever, ever spin the lie that a man's role, divine role or only role (or, a personal favorite, "most cherished role") is to be a husband and father.

Why? BECAUSE THEY ALL KNOW what should be so obvious to everyone: you can be a parent and a spouse and that's NOT YOUR ENTIRE IDENTITY. Your identity is you. Nearly fifty years later, we are still feeding the backlash b.s. in the media and in far too many women's (and little girls') lives. We are still arguing this crap notion of "having it all" and "motherhood versus career" which is the falsest dichotomy that just puts everyone right back into the thick of the problem. Hypocrisy abounds, Betty Friedan totally called it out, and woe unto us if we forget it.

Interesting chapter worth revisiting: I totally forgot that she has a chapter about autistic kids who identify as "things" instead of with normalized human connections. In that chapter, doctors who have researched these cases point out the serious danger in parenting so intensely that the child can't develop, which happens when the mother is not allowed to have her own identity in the first place and is instead shoved into marriage at, like, age 18 after years of being groomed to find a boy and not act too smart around him and never have any dreams of her own and all that nonsense. It was so interesting to read that in light of the whole increasing autism today and stuff.

It's funny that Betty and NOW (the National Organization for Women, and yes, you should know that) became the staid/liberal/establishment feminism as opposed to radical feminist theory that sought to take down patriarchal society, because Betty Friedan was a revolutionary. I love me some revolutionaries.

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