The Feminine Mystique: Ch. 10

feminine mystique

This is the 6th post in the series on The Feminine Mystique.

I’ve tired of Betty Friedan’s commentary, despite this book being on the list of books that helped shape America. Although I concede that she made a few valid arguments, this book grew increasingly redundant as it went on. I’m not sure if I’ll add any more posts to this series, mainly because the more I read, the more narrow Friedan’s analysis and study appears. I recognized early that her attempt to liberate “American women” had nothing to do with my mother or grandmothers for obvious reasons.

However, I now see it had very little to do with the mothers and grandmothers of my many friends from different backgrounds, ethnicities, and regions of this country. This book, as feminism has always done, speaks for a privileged and elite group of women. The fact that they propagandized their complaints well enough to trick the rest of us into believing that feminism was also about us does nothing to change the ultimate truth. Chapter 10, however, is an interesting one. It’s about a topic that interests me as well, so let’s explore it.

Chapter 10: Housewifery Expands to Fill the Time Available.

Mrs. Friedan discusses the ways which women -together with the educators, functionality experts and expert marketers- contrived to convert housekeeping from work that “can be capably handled by any eight-year-old child”, to a full-time occupation which takes 6 hours a day to complete. Friedan and one of her experts assert that the work is often incomplete by dinner  despite a wife working diligently all day to complete it:

But when the mystique of feminine fulfillment sent women back home again, housewifery had to expand into a full-time career. Sexual love and motherhood had to become all of life, had to use up, dispose of women’s creative energies. The very nature of family responsibility had to expand to take the place of responsibility to society. As this began to happen, each labor-saving appliance brought a labor-demanding elaboration of housework. Each scientific advance that might have freed women from the drudgery of cooking, cleaning, and washing, thereby giving her more time for other purposes, instead imposed new drudgery, until housework not only expanded to fill the time available, but could hardly be done in the available time. p. 286

Here, Friedan parks right alongside a good point. However, due to her adamance that a career was the answer to the disillusion women faced, she missed a valuable opportunity. Instead of denouncing the increasing materialism and isolation of suburban family life, she decided that what women really need is be more like men. Eight years ago a writer friend of mine took an excellent turn at expressing the problems that came with the increase of ‘labor saving” devices, the nuclear family as the center of life to the exclusion of broader community cohesiveness, with emphasis on the sexual domain as the sole purpose of a woman’s life. From her 2011 article, Return of the Washerwoman (link unavailable):

Yes, you have a washing machine in your basement, but you used to only have three changes of clothes per person, and many had their laundry washed for them. I know this for certain, as my aunt’s family used to run a laundry service and she swears that her family washed the laundry for the entire urban neighborhood. Women bought washing machines, which killed the washerwoman business, but then everyone’s wardrobes grew exponentially.

For all of the talk of “pioneer women”, they were a small minority of women and many tended to be dead before they hit 50. Most women 100 years ago were doing a similar level of housework and homeschooling as I am, but they didn’t have to take on the additional chauffeuring duties, they weren’t as isolated, and they weren’t expected to look like a lingerie model and turn tricks in the bedroom that would put some prostitutes to shame. The workdays were also shorter before cheap electric lighting and most people got more sleep.

In other words, Friedan was right about the evolution of the suburban housewife, and she was even right about the changing nature of the work women did in and around the home:

And yet, for the suburban and city housewife, the fact remains that more and more of the jobs that used to be performed in the home have been taken away: canning, baking bread, weaving cloth and making clothes, educating the young, nursing the sick, taking care of the aged. It is possible for women to reverse history- or kid themselves that they can reverse it-by baking their own bread, but the law doesn’t permit them to teach their own children at home, and few housewives would match their so-called generalist’s skills with the professional expertise of doctor and hospital to nurse a child through tonsillitis or pneumonia at home.

A lot has changed since this was written, as most of us can -many do- educate our children at home.  Even the brightest among us, however -and I know a lot of very bright women-find that we are helped immensely in that endeavor by educational support systems which include other women, a point which brings me to the overwhelming flaw in Mrs. Friedan’s conclusion. The flaw is assuming that being a housewife and contributing to the larger world are mutually exclusive endeavors.

Unfortunately, it’s also a trap that a lot of well meaning Christians mistakenly fall into, believing that we can bring back the good old days simply by doing things the ways our grandmothers did them in order to fill the days. Ask any woman who sews her own clothes how expensive it is to purchase high-quality woven fabrics and this notion is quickly disabused. Fortunately, it is possible to “be all you can be” as a woman without doing so on man’s terms nor pretending we can live a 1919 existence in 2019.

Women are supposed to be contributing to society outside of the four walls of our homes, we are supposed to be serving people besides our own immediate families, and we are  to use our gifts, creative energies and talents to the fullest. We should be volunteering in our churches. We should be active in our children’s schools. We should be visiting the elderly and extending ourselves to those in various states of need.

Life has provided me ample opportunities for intellectual stimulation,  to utilize my talents, and to contribute to society in ways I never imagined when I was a 23-year-old  housewife. I spent years living under the delusion that being at home might waste my talents. I realized early on that I could not have been more mistaken.

Mrs. Friedan’s assertion that the only way women contribute or exercise their potential is through careerism is wrong. The dissolution of community and the disappearance of engaged extended families has proven that her prescription, rather than freeing women, has only served to increase their burdens. Women who work, whether at subsistence jobs or in “fulfilling careers”, still have to endure the “drudgery” of housework. It’s just added on as a second shift, and they have to do it without much support.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

12 thoughts on “The Feminine Mystique: Ch. 10

  1. smkoseki says:

    This book, as feminism has always done, speaks for a privileged and elite group of women. The fact that they propagandized their complaints well enough to trick the rest of us into believing that feminism was also about us does nothing to change the ultimate truth.

    This is a great line. The really the sick part? “Feminists” rarely actually “act” on their feminism in their own lives. Hillary didn’t divorce her cheating husband. Most upper-class women won’t divorce, have abortions, and they keep a conservative family life. Meanwhile, poorer women who lack the foresight buy into it.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. smkoseki says:

    Unfortunately, it’s also a trap that a lot of well meaning Christians mistakenly fall into, believing that we can bring back the good old days simply by doing things the ways our grandmothers did them in order to fill the days. Ask any woman who sews her own clothes how expensive it is to purchase high-quality woven fabrics and this notion is quickly disabused. Fortunately, it is possible to “be all you can be” as a woman without doing so on man’s terms nor pretending we can live a 1919 existence in 2019.

    I’ve heard this argument so many times I think we should invent a new word for it. The “man’s terms” & “1919 life in 2019” & “bring back the good old days”. I’m on the other side of the fence, but I take a more Darwinian approach and don’t look to society but rather logic and history. Sadly, I don’t think many women will genetically make it to the other side of 3 generations without living well outside the box.

    But I do think this is probably the most important question for our culture today. Why I visit here; very few people are even asking the question anymore.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Elspeth says:

    The mistake you are making is thinking that my commentary is meant to denigrate the life of early 20th century women.

    I say this as a woman who bore more children than the average woman my age, homeschool, and is a radically submissive wife (not be confused with “perfect wife”). Who also bakes bread and has a garden out back.

    None of those things means I am living like 1919, and what’s more is that I couldn’t truly serve my husband as he desires (or anyone else) by trying to go back in time.

    It simply isn’t possible.

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  4. Bike Bubba says:

    On the light side, who’d want to live like 1919, the first year of Prohibition? Would probably even kill kombucha. :^) Never mind the lack of antibiotics and safe medicine–I’d have been dead twice before the age of one without that, and a few times afterwards, I think.

    Seriously, well said. Confronted with the consequences of materialism and an attendant breakdown of community, Friedan’s prescription is essentially “more of the same.” And then we are shocked–SHOCKED–to find that the result is also more of the same.

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  5. Elspeth says:

    You’re right up against the point I was making, Bike. Even trying to do everything you can to avoid the worst excesses of modernity (and I admit we haven’t been successful at that), there are still things about 1919 that simply cannot be reproduced.

    There are a lot of realities for a lot of people that many of us ignore. I think about the fact that it costs money to live in a decent zip code and raise children in an environment that is safe and where the dangers of crime and overtly horrible influences are minimal.

    This is true even if you don’t send your kids to school, but most people -we did it as well- pay a premium to live in a “good” school district. In a family where a man- no matter how smart or good- can’t earn enough to account for that, his wife is probably going to work at least part time.

    The cool thing about current norms is that she can be a virtual assistant, or do copy editing, or any number of jobs which are flexible and don’t demand that she leave her home for 8 hours a day.

    Of course, there is the Internet, suburban sprawl, and a whole lot of things that make counsel such as, “just do it the way they did in the good ol’ days” an incomplete or even ignorant answer to a lot of the things families deal with today.

    That’s not to say there is NOTHING we can pull with us from way back when. We certainly can. Learn not to be such nomads so our families can remain connected. Provide support to young couples starting out so they don’t feel as if they have to wait until they earn 100K a year to have a baby. That can take a while, eating up the chances of their having more than 2 kids. Hold to Biblical standard for how marriage, family, and church life. Stay away from toxic, processed food as much as we can. Eschew materialism, etc.

    And yes, medical , industrial, and technological advancements are among other things that have made these kinds of proclamations less realistic.

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  6. smkoseki says:

    I don’t do a good job of explaining my thoughts. I’m merely Darwinian and not making social arguments or having an “opinion” at all.

    Humans (every animal really) are in competition with one another genetically/culturally. This is just reality, how God built the world. So what does this mean? Change, change, change. We evolve to fit our changing environment, of which technology is the greatest driver. 1919 is a flat-out joke, that ship has sailed. Stay in 1919 culture you go extinct. The rules of the game are changing, non-stop. We have to do it far <i.better than 1919 to merely survive, because somebody else will do it if we don’t. And the final grade? Population growth.

    An example here: people of European cultural descent were 25% of world population in 1850 and growing rapidly due to their K-strategy genius (male investment in children and family due to Christianity and the obedience of faith). Well, that came to a screeching halt due to technological change that allowed for R-strategy gains so now people of European cultural descent are <10%, falling, and bluntly going extinct. Feminists are a response to this reality, and they are the dustbin of history like the whole West. Nobody will miss 'em.

    But forget feminists; anyone in the West, even those who hate feminists, are in the same trap. The whole deal of comparing modern culture to 1919 is flat-out silly. To merely survive we have to do everything we did in 1919 and more. Women must work much harder and much smarter just to survive. This isn’t my opinion; it’s a genetic reality looking at the birth rates. Because like Native Americans, Western culture is going extinct rapidly and it really doen’t matter what we want or think about it. Western women will change or die.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Elspeth says:

    @ smkoseki:

    Western culture is going extinct rapidly and it really doen’t matter what we want or think about it. Western women will change or die.

    I suspect many wold rather die than change, and I’m not being facetious. If you think very many of them are concerned at all about having great grandchildren (or even grandchildren!) you are sorely mistaken. Most hate the very idea of even BEING a grandmother because it reveals the truth of how old they are.

    I actually like hearing, “Really? I never would have guessed you have children that age!” So whatever…

    Of course that costs me something, like carbs and a decent investment in skin care…

    I do think your competition angle may be overstated, or at least in the case of Christians, it’s over stated a bit.

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  8. smkoseki says:

    I suspect many wold rather die than change, and I’m not being facetious. If you think very many of them are concerned at all about having great grandchildren (or even grandchildren!) you are sorely mistaken.

    Look, 99.999% of all species ever existing are already extinct. Humans will, very soon, also be extinct. This is the nature of things, how God built the world. Death is the norm, life the crazy exception. And what works for life today brings death tomorrow and we change or die as a species. But we all die in the end, period.

    I do think your competition angle may be overstated, or at least in the case of Christians, it’s over stated a bit.

    I think you misunderstand me. Hey, another way to look at it? Humans finally discovered God’s trickery thus aren’t dumb enough anymore to ruin our lives with kids. We’ve got God’s number now and seek fun instead before we die…the joke is on those dumb enough to still have kids. Heh.

    I use “competition” merely as a genetic tern, not a moral one. If you bring religious belief or morals into the discussion (outside of say logically consistent religious philosophy like Aristotle or Aquinas) all bets are off. I thus make no moral arguments here but merely plot the direction we are going.

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  9. Maea says:

    Then honestly Smkoseki, what’s the point of bothering? It seems you have a tendency to diminish viable solutions discussed, without presenting what you think will work. God did not build the world to go into death and extinction; that is the fruit of humanity’s disobedience in the Garden.

    People wonder why Millennials have largely checked out of marriage and family.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Elspeth says:

    God did not build the world to go into death and extinction; that is the fruit of humanity’s disobedience in the Garden.

    People wonder why Millennials have largely checked out of marriage and family.

    The truth is that we (the world and culture, I mean) are headed in the direction we are headed precisely because of omitting moral and theological arguments out of it. So much so that even true believers have adopted an approach to life which compartmentalizes faith making life functionally indistinguishable from the greater culture. And yes, it does lead to decreased investment in succeeding generations because people can see why it matters to look that far down the road.

    Now, I suppose if there were enough believers around raising sons so that I don’t have to consider that there literally may not be suitable, faithful prospective sons-in-law around, I could afford to ignore the religious and theological arguments. As it stands, I really can’t do that.

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  11. smkoseki says:

    M: Smkoseki, what’s the point of bothering? It seems you have a tendency to diminish viable solutions discussed, without presenting what you think will work.

    My viable solutions for the West? Simple: the obedience of faith aka: 1. Regular Church/Eucharist/Confession. 2. No birth control. 3. Eat right/Stay fit. 4. Fully reject materialism/media. 5. Homeschool. But why preach? Everyone knows the truth yet nobody is buying God anymore; we prefer to redefine God to better suit our desires.

    People wonder why Millennials checked out of marriage/family.

    Mills know it’s extinction time. They must heroically reject then rebuild their parent’s culture. Or just go extinct. And since the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree they will likely choose the latter.

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