The Feminine Mystique: Ch 5-6

feminine mystique

This is the fourth post in a series on the Betty Friedan’s seminal feminist manifesto, The Feminine Mystique. The first post can be read here. Subsequent posts are here and here.

In chapters five and six, Friedan once again puts her fingers on the pulse of something real and true, then bungles the whole thing with a toxic antidote. Chapter 5 discusses at length the work and impact of Sigmund Freud on sexuality, sex roles, and analysis. Chapter 6 follows up with a critique of the social sciences as a whole and their failure in freeing women to be full and complete human beings.

Chapter 5: The Sexual Solipsism of Sigmund Freud

Before I get into the analysis, I have to admit that the title of this chapter, given what we know of Freud on even a cursory level, is funny and truthful. I will give Friedan credit for that. Freud’s own twisted view of sex at the center of any and everything we do or think in life was not only wrong, but has reverberated in ways that are still harmful when these subjects arise.

Friedan goes into great detail examining Freud’s life, work, and relationships as documented by by his family members and biographers. This paints a picture of a man who, no matter how brilliant, was quite unhinged on matters of sex. Nothing that I’ve read about Freud leads me to believe she was wrong about that.

She argues that Freud made every attempt to infantilize his wife, whose constitution turned out to be much stronger than he realized. It made, Friedan claimed, for a  difficult marriage which cemented Freud’s conclusions. He believed women incapable of being both feminine (interpreted as a focus on husband, hearth and offspring) and masculine (interpreted as being capable of accomplishing anything else). That in fact, trying to do both creates a neurosis in the female psyche of clinical proportions.

Of course, Friedan finds this highly offensive and this entire long chapter is a well worded screed against Freud and captivity it enabled woman to continue in during a season when she should be experiencing everything the world has to offer her.

I found this ironic. On the one hand, I agree that Freud was damaging to women, yet on the other, I think there is some veracity to the notion that women’s attempts to put energy into both family and career creates in us a neurosis. It ‘s a neurosis that men, for reasons I cannot begin to know, don’t seem to be burdened with while establishing careers and building a family simultaneously.

I didn’t say that I believe women are only suited to bread baking and baby bearing. I just think that 60 years of feminist progress has proven part of Freud’s assertion to be true. Friedan would argue that this neurosis happens because we’ve been made to feel guilty when we try to do both, but I disagree. There is something in the feminine psyche, a feminine mystique if you will, that doesn’t like being pulled in these two different directions.

Freud’s theory of “penis envy” is of course, patently absurd on its face. So much so that I cannot deign to discuss it and agree with Friedan that it only poisoned the well of what could have been a substantive conversation on the roots of “the female problem”. I chalk it up to being a daughter of Eve but this is not the discussion we’re having at the moment. I will end the discussion of chapter 5 with this quote, which I agree with Friedan much more than I’d care to admit, and I’ll explain why in the next portion on chapter 6:

It was as if Freud’s Victorian image of woman became more real than the twentieth-century women to whom it was applied. Freud’s theory of femininity was seized in America with such literalness that women today were considered no different than Victorian women. The real injustices life held for women a century ago, were dismissed as mere rationalizations of penis envy. And the real opportunities life offered to women now, compared to women then, were forbidden in the name of penis envy.

Chapter 6: The Functional Freeze, the Feminine Protest, and Margaret Mead

As I read this book I keep -you may notice- coming back around to the phrase, “finger on the pulse of a true problem while offering a toxic prescription”. I suspect that this is because my Christian worldview refuses to allow me to see anyone as a biological tool designed to function apart from the living soul which was breathed into us by the Creator of the universe. This brings me to Friedan’s continuing critique of the social sciences in chapter 6.

In chapter 6 Friedan makes the point that social scientists including Margaret Mead, piggybacked on Freud’s initial conclusions while trying to avoid his unscientific value judgements. They began to embrace what they referred to as functionalism:

In practice, functionalism was less a scientific movement than a scientific word-game. “The function is” was often translated “the function should be”; the social scientists did not recognize their own prejudices in functional disguise any more than the analysts recognized theirs in Freudian disguise. By giving an absolute meaning and a sanctimonious value to the term “woman’s role”, functionalism put American women into a kind of deep freeze- like Sleeping Beauties, waiting for a Prince Charming to waken them, while all around the magic circle the world moved on.

On the one hand, she has a point. Reducing any person, male or female to the sum total of their biological functions is an affront to the God who made us spirit, soul, and body. However, because it is clear that Friedan decided that the way to integrate all of these parts was to strive for worldly and career recognition rather than pour our energies into loving and serving our fellow man, she only gets half credit for her observation. As in math, missing one critical decimal point renders everything after it, including the solution, incorrect and useless.

It’s true that relegating woman to the sum total of her ovaries and uterus being put to use keeps women from growing up in ways that make them proper and valuable wives in other ways. Unfortunately, she doesn’t seem to be terribly concerned with that aspect of a woman’s growing up.

It’s too bad, because failure to acknowledge the true importance of being an effective wife and mother, of focusing on education and careers while dismissing biological realities and differences, has still left us with a generation of women who never grow up. She and her second wave sisters dropped the ball terribly. See today’s screechy, activist, empowered women for evidence.

I really enjoyed this quote while being struck by the overwhelming irony of it, so I’ll end with it:

But why would any social scientist, with godlike manipulative authority, take it upon himself -or herself- to protect women from the pains of growing up?

Why indeed? Of course, these “pains of growing up” necessarily include accepting reality, including biological realities.

Until next time…

 

 

 

22 thoughts on “The Feminine Mystique: Ch 5-6

  1. elspeth says:

    These two chapters were long and full of references. There really was no way I could possibly touch on everything she put in them. The quotes from functionalist social scientist books directed towards women were extensive. I wish I could have covered this better, but I hope I offered enough that y’all get the gist.

    I did just order “Marriage for Moderns” which was written in 1942. There were lots of quotes from that. Sounds like it might be an interesting read, a secular complementarian manifesto, if you will, LOL.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. smkoseki says:

    Wow, a lot to unpack here. I may have to come back.

    Reducing any person, male or female to the sum total of their biological functions is an affront to the God who made us spirit, soul, and body.

    I’ve never felt this way much. The materialist at least sticks to what he can “know”. May be just undeveloped. Perhaps even refreshingly humble. God’s probably more affronted by those who drag the basic human into the dark world opposed to God (like Freud & Friedan both clearly do to my mind). I’ve got a half-dozen more comments so I hope to be back. Happy Epiphany!

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  3. Bike Bubba says:

    It’s an interesting fact that Freud’s analysis of women–husband, hearth, offspring (Mann, Kueche, Kinder) more or less substitutes the husband for the church in the old (and sadly discredited by association with the Nazis) “Kinder, Kueche, Kirche”–children, kitchen, church. In other words, those who take Freud seriously might find that they’ve created that infamous “penis envy” by removing the legitimate outlet of faith from the woman’s set of roles, and replacing it the husband. Another form includes four words: “Kinder, Kammer, Kueche, Kirche”; children, bedroom, kitchen, church.

    Now being an agnostic of Jewish heritage, Friedan cannot undo the deletion of Freud without undermining her own worldview–and her infamously volatile relationship with her husband isn’t one that would lead her to accept Freud’s version, either. Hence she is trying desperately to “patch things up”, in my opinion.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Elspeth says:

    @smkoseki:

    Yes. Both Freud and Friedan do the same things just from different perspectives. They are “pot, meet kettle” personified.

    @Bike:

    Good thoughts. You know Friedan’s husband offered his take on their volatile marriage also.

    That all of these people were unable to see the transcendent omissions which blinded them to a full truth is too bad.

    That so many were unable to see through the smokescreen is even worse.

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  5. smkoseki says:

    women’s attempts…both family & career creates neurosis…men, for reasons I cannot begin to know don’t seem to be burdened..I didn’t say that I believe women are only suited to bread baking and baby bearing. I just think that 60 years of feminist progress has proven part of Freud’s assertion to be true.

    This part made me think. A lot. Oft men who don’t care much about “career” are still driven by their own demons into whatever obsession. Men may have a patriarchal approach to women/family/responsibility (but more cads than dads every year tho). I doubt the two correlate (except patriarchal men are driven to make more money to support family so may chase career). But I don’t see why any of this would lead to neurosis. The man would just be more driven.

    I’m very puzzled at the number of women who are less responsible than even their baby-daddy re: kids. I guess this is the anti-neurosis? Perhaps women lose interest in family if father has too many K-style traits? So the women feel comfortable their men (or the state) will pinch hit so it’s party-time? But I don’t see many women with this neurosis; they don’t seem interested in baby or career, rather vanity/sloth/excitement. Or perhaps they lack the skill set so so

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  6. hearthie says:

    SMK – consider this. Our culture HAMMERS us that being a housewife is for weaklings and beta females. You can make a (very poor) trade down in men by being flighty and stupid and partyhearty – but still get lots and lots of that attention, which you’ve been told is the coin of your value to the world.

    If attention is how you measure your worth – well, there are ways of getting attention. Being sensible at either baby or career is not the most effective pathway, particularly if you won’t put in the hours to get good at it.

    /shrug.

    And there’s not one of us who doesn’t know how to buy that attention. Just take a knife, and start cutting around your heart….

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Elspeth says:

    This part made me think. A lot. Oft men who don’t care much about “career” are still driven by their own demons into whatever obsession. Men may have a patriarchal approach to women/family/responsibility (but more cads than dads every year tho). I doubt the two correlate (except patriarchal men are driven to make more money to support family so may chase career). But I don’t see why any of this would lead to neurosis. The man would just be more driven.

    I refer to “neurosis” in the sense that men -even those who probably are workaholics- don’t feel any kind of perpetual guilt about working hard in their careers alongside being a husband and father. They see their work as part of their husband/father duties.

    Whereas motherhood, already being fraught with the tendency to induce guilt, doesn’t seem to be able to incorporate career activity without magnifying the guilt. I make a distinction between career types and women who are firmly convinced that if they don’t work their kids won’t eat. Different sets.

    Maybe it’s because of female psyche characteristics. I don’t know. It’s just rare to hear about father guilt from men are playing the game by the rules to the best of their ability.

    Friedan seems to think that this tug-of-war is due to cultural conditioning and that if we made careers and education part and parcel of a woman’s life alongside wife and motherhood, all would be well. She’s been proven wrong on a massive scale.

    Freud seemed to think it was just an innate problem within women that would be solved if she would just find a man and allow him to shape her into his *perfect* mate, since this is what women were born for, LOL?

    Well, he’s been proven wrong as well.

    Take Christ out of the equation, and all you’re left with is chaotic nonsense.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Elspeth says:

    The problem is that women are being sold a bill of good, Hearth. Basically, that we are only worth anything so long as we can command attention in the ways we were able to between the ages of 16 and 22.

    Too many women are trying foolishly and futilely to do just that. You’ve heard me see this before: We ladies could all just slit our wrists on our 34th birthdays and see how the folks like that.

    It’s one of the reasons I still get all kinds of wigged out when I do draw attention: that’s not supposed to happen, you know?

    Better to turn our hearts towards our Heavenly Father and obedience to our husbands if we have one, and leave these people who wouldn’t pee on us if we caught fire to their stupidity and folly.

    And that includes the religiously bossy ones who would say your husband is wrong for sending you to work part time or that mine is wrong for sending me back to school.

    Nerve touched, this subject does.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. hearthie says:

    I think it’s a misconception that we’re past the age of attention. We’re past the age of attention without cost from YOUNG men, but … what the heck would I want one of those for? Also, ew.

    But being the belle of the ball? No. That’s not for us. And it’s OKAY to say that women mature, just like men do – and that maybe the belle of the ball is fine for your daughters, but you’d rather have respect. I’d rather have respect.

    The bit where we’re supposed to choose between being a man with breasts or a woman caught in a time warp … it does damage us. It’s not biblical. At.All. But it is cultural.

    It’s worth pushing back on things that aren’t Biblical, IMO.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Elspeth says:

    I think it’s a misconception that we’re past the age of attention. We’re past the age of attention without cost from YOUNG men, but … what the heck would I want one of those for? Also, ew.

    Yes! Ew, indeed. The only thing a young guy can offer me is grand children, ;P

    and that maybe the belle of the ball is fine for your daughters, but you’d rather have respect. I’d rather have respect.

    Amen. Being the apple of my guy’s eye is worth more than being belle of a ball. And I’ve earned his respect. win-win.

    The bit where we’re supposed to choose between being a man with breasts or a woman caught in a time warp … it does damage us. It’s not biblical. At.All. But it is cultural.

    And EVERY one on EVERY side of the issue seems to be arguing for just that. Whether it’s competing in the market place (sexual or corporate) or pretending that being a good wife means you have no feelings or expectations of what marriage means for your life and womanhood, all I hear is a lot of opinionated people who are sincerely wrong.

    And we have daughters trying to navigate this craziness. Basically yeah, I’m saying we’re among the very few sane people out here, LOL!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. smkoseki says:

    H: If attention is how you measure your worth

    You nailed it I think. My weakness (in understanding women in particular). I honestly don’t care what anyone (esp women or society) think about me so can’t easily understand/predict normal people. My instinct is to do the opposite of my peers, and I stupidly project.

    Liked by 3 people

  12. Elspeth says:

    @ smkoseki:

    My weakness (in understanding women in particular). I honestly don’t care what anyone (esp women or society) think about me

    You’re a man, firstly. Women are different on the main. One thing is certain though. When you have a life filled with love and acceptance, your tendency (even as a woman) to care what other thinks gets less and less until it mostly fades away. I do care very deeply about my husband’s impressions of me, and that I am the woman those who love me see in me. They matter.

    think about me so can’t easily understand/predict normal people. My instinct is to do the opposite of my peers, and I stupidly project.

    Human nature is on the whole pretty predictable if you spend any amount of time around a lot of people. Very few of us are as special and snow flaky as we like to think we are.

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  13. Bike Bubba says:

    SMK, I hope I am dead wrong here, but I re-read your comment and thought “I can’t figure out whether he’s talking about being male, or about having some mild autism.” I dare suggest that if you are indeed often “stupidly projecting”, as you say, it might be wise to discuss the matter with someone who understands a whole lot more about such matters than do I. (I just get to interact with autistic kids in Sunday School and church youth activities….and the best I can say is that I often do quite well with them. Maybe it could be me too….)

    Liked by 2 people

  14. smkoseki says:

    E: A life with love & acceptance, care what other thinks less

    This is kinda what I meant regarding beta men encouraging unrestrained female behavior (hey Freud might have a point!). Many men “don’t care” (attractive male trait, alas not mine) and those who “care” may find the women in their lives throwing caution to the wind.

    B: if indeed often “stupidly projecting” might be wise to discuss

    Aww I’m plenty gregarious/political in real life, only autistic on the “why” of cloying behavior. It’s more like the shock of getting “hit on” by a male co-worker when gaydar isn’t working.

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  15. hearthie says:

    SMK – consider that creating/maintaining relational webs is one of the functions of women in society. It actually is important what people think of us. Which is annoying for real. (Things I am not good at, type 1 each).

    I could explain the “why” of cloying behavior thoroughly… do you have an hour? 😀

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  16. Elspeth says:

    @ Hearth:

    consider that creating/maintaining relational webs is one of the functions of women in society. It actually is important what people think of us.

    Yes, this is true, and yes. This can be annoying at times.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Bike Bubba says:

    SMK: glad to be wrong, and even gladder not to be the recipient of being hit on by homosexual co-workers. Or maybe I am, and I’m in the category of oblivious. :^)

    (seriously, I can think back to a number of occasions in my career when a lady said something where could be considered an “indication of attraction”, and I remember thinking “I’m just going to respond as if I totally don’t get it”. Obliviousness, real or feigned, can be a huge blessing)

    Liked by 1 person

  18. The Practical Conservative says:

    I’m now totally interested in the Marriage for Moderns guy, he wrote several books about marriage, including a Christian-focused one and gave talks and apparently nearly all of it is out of print, except Marriage for Moderns, which had at least 8 printings, into the late 1970s and even had an instructor’s guide. And yet the biographical information about him is scant online.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Elspeth says:

    When I couldn’t find much about him online, I chalked it up to ineptitude or insufficient effort on my part. If you couldn’t dig up anything, then his presence is simply obscure.

    Marriage for Moderns should be delivered to me sometime this weekend. I’m looking forward to reading it. And of course, I will review it!

    Liked by 1 person

  20. smkoseki says:

    H: creating/maintaining relational webs is one of the functions of women in society.

    Nailed it again I think. Why I believe women have pretty much destroyed western society (nearly independent of men; sort of Adam & Eve rediscovered) by abrogating this and so many other female roles to pursue male one. And why I find both F’s so interesting. I think they were both way wrong, but had a palpable recognition of the problem.

    B: gladder not to be the recipient of being hit on by homosexual co-workers.

    I have the worst gaydar on the planet so I’m probably missing the boat more than you. Poor gaydar is probably the best indicator of low-grade autism methinks. Wife actually laughs at me.

    Liked by 1 person

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