Beauty Destroys the Beast

beauty destroys the beast

Beauty Destroys the Beast, by Amy Fleming. Published June 7, 2019; 208 pages.

In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll start this review by acknowledging that the author of Beauty Destroys the Beast is a personal friend, and I read this book in its earliest iteration, from the first draft. This review is offered after a second reading of the completed, fully edited version, which you can purchase at the link above. Nevertheless, this is an honest review as I know the authoress would expect nothing less.

Beauty Destroys the Beast is Amy’s earnest contribution to recapture what women in general, and Christian women in particular, have lost since we’ve ceded the ground related to feminine beauty and physical adornment. Her argument is that we’ve relegated beauty to the purveyors of glamour, with the result that our appreciation for true Beauty has been lost.

Unlike her first book, Wardrobe Communication, which focuses more on how to maximize the colors, fabrics, and styles which most accentuate us individually, Beauty Destroys the Beast is a letter specifically to the Christian woman. As such, it necessarily begins with reminding us of the importance of cultivating beauty from the inside. If we don’t, all of our outward efforts are tantamount to following the world’s pattern of chasing glamour. But glamour isn’t beauty, Amy asserts, and there is nothing at all wrong with displaying beauty in our person as we represent our Savior to the world:

Right now, Beauty is wearing chains. She’s sitting behind enemy lines, watching Glamour take her place, and weeping. But every story begins with the heroine in distress, doesn’t it?

After a wonderfully presented analysis about the battle between Glamour and Beauty which we can see in our favorite fairy tales, the challenge is issued:

As Christian women, we’ve been so frightened of becoming like the evil queen that we’re afraid to poke our noses out of the basement. But that fear is just another way the enemy keeps us off the battle lines. He doesn’t want us out there, being lights for Christ- we’re dangerous. Delight? Joy? Love? Glamour doesn’t use any of those things, only Beauty does. When we use the gifts of the Spirit we’re safe from the temptations of the flesh. Look outside- the world is dark. We need every bit of light that can shine, shining. No more bushel baskets, please.

This is not the first time a woman of God has been asked to use beauty as a weapon. Do you remember Esther? What did she have that was different from all the other girls who were taken for the king’s harem? She had the touch of God.

Laying out her argument with Scriptural truth, practical admonitions, and homework at the end of each chapter to encourage the reader to think -and pray!- deeply, Amy makes a powerful argument in favor of each of us presenting ourselves with as much beauty -and dignity- as we can, remembering that our ultimate aim is not to draw attention to ourselves, but to draw others to us so that we might have the opportunity to introduce them to our Heavenly Father.

Because Amy and I have been bantering about this particular topic off and on for the better part of a decade, I didn’t expect to find any new information or challenging admonitions. I was wrong. This book challenged me in new ways to remember that the compliments I receive should not be about me, but rather, should be seen as opportunities to shine for God in every area of my life, including the way I care for myself.

There is a some practical information in the book as well, so for those looking for concrete information about clothes, color, self-care and other health and fashion tips, there is both advice offered and direction to more comprehensive resources. But make no mistake: that’s not at the heart of what this book is about. It’s a challenge, and one that is sorely needed in a church where women are torn between two opinions; frump masquerading as modesty or beauty reproved as immodesty. This leaves many women feeling the best option is to ignore the physical and focus on being super spiritual, which defaults to something near slovenliness.  Beauty Destroys the Beast asks us to take a stand for Beauty because it is good.

Although I enjoyed the book, there were sections where the writing felt abrupt, places where I felt like a little more expounding would have smoothed an edge here or there, but the message connects nonetheless. Amy’s natural voice is very matter of fact, so I was able to decipher those parts, but a new reader will find that the best portions are those where her passion and excitement shined through. This is most evident in two areas. The first is when she’s explaining how we find our best colors. The second and most potent is when she implores us to be as beautiful as we can without feeling the pressure to be, have or do the things which may be assigned to our sister, but not necessarily to us:

No one woman can be all things beautiful. What we can be is ourselves, trusting God to use us for his purposes. Stop seeing your individuality as a flaw. You might be a rose, you might be a peony. One way or the other you’re offering beauty to the world. It’s the rose pretending to be a peony that looks ridiculous. Be who God made you to be.

Excellent advice, but you need to read the book to appreciate the full weight of this exhortation.

4 out of 5 stars

 

 

 

 

Coming Attractions: Beauty Destroys the Beast

I encourage everyone who reads this blog to click over to Hearthrose’s Ramblings to find out how to get your copy of Beauty Destroys the Beast, by Amy Fleming.  I haven’t read it yet, but I will be reading it soon, and can hardly wait to give it a proper review!

Hearthie is a dear friend of mine with a deep passion for helping women be all that we can be, not just for ourselves or our families, but ultimately so that we can fulfill our eternal purpose:

Are you like me? Like most women? Do you have an aching hole where the pain and confusion about physical beauty and its place in your spiritual life have eaten into your heart? Does that pain stop you from grabbing your sword and getting into battle – does it keep you from doing the things that you know you’re called to do in this life?

Do you want to address the hard questions about how to deal with this body you wear? Do you need some encouragement to be who God made you to be? I wrote this book for you, Christian sister. I wrote this book for those of us who are walking wounded, but ready to take back all that belongs to our King. For those of us who are tired of listen to fear and lies. It’s meant to change your life, and by changing your life, enabling you to change the lives of others around you.

Beauty can destroy the beast of lies – it’s time to set her free.

Seriously, click here to find out how you can get this book in your hands. It would be so great to be able to have a robust discussion of it with those of you who read here.

Hope you’re having a great weekend.

 

 

Girl, Wash Your Face

girl wash your face

Girl, Wash Your Face: Stop Believing the Lies About Who You Are So You Can Become Who You Were Meant to Be, by Rachel Hollis. Published in February, 2018. 240 pages.

This book is burning up the best seller’s list, and a dear friend of mine really liked it, so I decided to give it a read. I figured going in that anything being read in the numbers that this book is would be a fairly quick read, and I was right. I think I read it in about three days.

I did something with this book that I rarely do when I read, but I almost always do when I read something that is current, popular, and marked Christian. I read reviews from other sources, starting with Amazon, and ending with a couple of reviews from Christian websites. Before I delve anymore into the whys and wherefores of that, I’ll preface it and my review with a short description of the book and its author.

Rachel Hollis is a lifestyle blogger turned motivational speaker and guru who savvily used social media to propel her brand into the mainstream. She’s the wife of a Hollywood distributor who recently left that job to run her company, which exploded in 2015. She’s the mother of four children, and is well loved in Christian cricles for her real talk and vocal profession of faith.

Girl, Wash Your Face is equal parts memoir, motivational pep talks, and self help advice. It was published by Christian publishing giant Thomas Nelson. This last bit of information sent me looking for reviews from other sources even while I was reading this book, because despite the occasional nod to faith and one or two Scriptures here and there, I wasn’t getting what I was expecting to find from a book categorized by Amazon as “Christian Living”.

None of this is to say that I ddn’t enjoy the book. There were parts I enjoyed quite a lot. Hollis has a funny way of telling her stories and an enchanting tone. There are also a few pieces of advice that I strongly disagree with, but overall, it isn’t a bad book. The problem is that it isn’t, to my mind, a “Christian” book.

I believed Hollis’ Christian testimony, so that wasn’t the problem. Mostly, the problem was that fully 90% of the advice in this book was advice any secular self-help person would dole out, because it put so much of the onus for your success, as it were, in your ability to be the hero in your own story. That was unfortunate, because the lies that Hollis induced women to overcome in each corresponding chapter are actually pretty good lies to be rid of:

  • The lie: Something else will make me happy
  • The lie: I’ll start tomorrow
  • The lie: I’m not good enough
  • The lie: I’m better than you
  • The lie: Loving him is enough for me
  • The lie: No is the final answer
  • The lie: I’m bad at sex
  • The lie: I don’t know how to be a mom
  • The lie: I’m not a good mom
  • The lie: I should be further along by now
  • The lie: Other people’s kids are so much cleaner/better organized/more polite
  • The lie: I need to make myself smaller
  • The lie: I’m going to marry Matt Damon
  • The lie: I’m a terrible writer
  • The lie: I will never get past this
  • The lie: I can’t tell the truth
  • The lie: I am defined by my weight
  • The lie: I need a drink
  • The lie: There’s only one right way to be
  • The lie: I need a hero.

Because this is a memoir, each corresponding lie (chapter) begins with a story from the author’s life, relates it to the things many women similarly struggle with, and follows that with admonitions and advice. The advice is usually along the lines of:

“You, and only you, are ultimately responsible for who you become and how happy you are.”
Or:
“When you really want something, you will find a way. When you don’t really want something, you’ll find an excuse.”
And ultimately:

Your life is up to you.

If we can identify the core of our struggles while simultaneously understanding that we are truly in control of conquering them, then we can utterly change our trajectory.

God, your partner, your mama, and your best friends—none of them can make you into something (good or bad) without your help.

You need to prove to yourself that you can do it. You need to prove to yourself you are capable of anything you set your mind to. You have the power.

Being a gal who leans more towards duty and a perpetual battle to learn selflessness, it might just be that I was reading the whole thing from a wrong perspective, and I acknowldge that. However you cut it, this falls woefully short of Christian counsel. That isn’t to say there are no gems tucked away in this book, because there are. For instance, this was one of my favorites:

“Someone else’s opinion of you is none of your business.” Let me say that again for the people in the cheap seats.”

And this made me laugh:

“Our society makes plenty of room for complacency or laziness; we’re rarely surrounded by accountability. We’re also rarely surrounded by sugar-free vanilla lattes, but when I really want one, I somehow find a way to get one.”

As far as light reading goes, this was a nice diversion and in some cases, served as a humorous reminder of things I already know. But nothing about it deepened my faith or propelled me to go deeper into the Scriptures. That was the crux of the very few negative reviews this book received; that whatever it is, it’s not a Christian book. Most of the review, however, were overwhelmingly positive which is why this baby is selling like hot cakes.

For entertainment value and cute story telling, I’ll give it:

3 out of 5 stars

My Final, Personal Conclusions of The Feminine Mystique

This is a more personal exposition, but because my Feminine Mystique posts may have been a jumble of ambiguity to those who wondered what I really think, I want to break it down a bit. I have learned the hard way that nothing goes without saying anymore. Everything which follows is offered from the perspective of my Christian worldview.

The book was pretty much what I expected. Liberals are quite predictable. They identify a thing that rightly needs to be addressed, and then offer a poison pill as the answer to the problem. Having had only secondary knowledge of the book mostly presented from the perspective of devoted feminists or devoted anti-feminists, I wanted to read it for myself. I’ve learned to mistrust the assertions of rabid ideologues.

What Friedan got right: It is silly and anti-Biblical to relegate women to a domain solely related to what they produce sexually. The notion that a woman is designed by God, filled with His Spirit, endowed with gifts, and no one except husband and kids is supposed to reap the benefit is nuts. When you look at Friedan’s source material, it’s easy to see that something had gone terrible wrong. After WWII, women reverted almost to a Disney Princess existence, where all of life -including attending college!- was about snagging a husband. Then upon marriage, nothing mattered but keeping the house perfectly clean and the husband perfectly happy. I’m all for clean houses and happy husbands, but stay with me.

What Friedan got terribly wrong -and feminists today, including Christian feminists get wrong- is this notion that women were unfulfilled at home because they were excluded from the greater world, and that the way to bridge that gap was to leave their homes and go to work. WRONG!

We can be homemakers, full time housewives, and make a difference in the world through the use of our gifts and talents. I will use my life as an example. I have been at home 24 years. When our older girls were in school, I volunteered at their school two mornings a week. I taught several struggling students how to read, offered them love and encouragement, and it only cost me three hours a week. My home was not neglected. This was before we entered the glorious years of homeschooling.

A Christian friend of mine from our neighborhood taught a parenting class in the school based on the book “Boundaries with Kids” and I helped facilitate it. I was on both the PTA and the SCA.  I served in the greeter’s ministry at our church two Sunday mornings per month, and authored and published the monthly newsletter for the helps ministry.

Later, our entire family, led by my husband, served in our city’s men’s homeless shelter twice a month for over 10 years. We cooked for those men, served them, prayed with those men, and our children from earliest ages were right there with us. When our 4th and 5th children arrived, my life slowed down tremendously, but we still worked with the homeless although my role moved farther into administrative stuff through the outreach ministry until the two youngest were tall enough and coordinated enough to fill ice glasses and roll silverware. They were 4 and 6.

During the slower years, I started taking my babies with me to visit a couple of elderly widows in our subdivision, and boy did they love being able to play with my cute little babies!

Now we homeschool, but we also utilize a classical group two days a week. I teach a literature and writing class there in exchange for a tuition break. Again, no career, but I am contributing to a community. Not to worry though. My house is clean and my husband is happy.

Who in their right mind would say I hadn’t contributed to the world outside of my home? Who would claim that my contributions would have been greater if they were offered in the form of a career? Friedan certainly would, but a decent chunk of traditional Christian teachers of women might argue that I dedicated too much energy outside of my home, even though I was doing exactly as my husband directed, and even though my kids and home were well taken care of. Americans, including Christians, have almost completely abandoned the role of women as community builders. What better way to use our gifts?

This is why I get disturbed by and perturbed with people on both sides of this argument. One wants woman to abandon her home and the other wants to imprison her in it. Neither is what God intended.

Currently, I am considering classes to prepare me for what I hope is a book that serves as a much better Christian approach to femininity for a group of women who are by and large, in a very tough spot on these issues. Many of my females relations and friends, even those who love me dearly, view me as either highly privileged or very weak for situating my life so fully dependent on my husband.

You see, we don’t have these “to stay at home or not to stay at home” debates among black women. It is largely accepted that most black women cannot stay home. I want to talk about how we can change that for our daughters’ generation besides simply saying, “Marry a man of a different race!” which is basically the prescription being offered to single, childless black women right now. When I write it, I want it to be readable, hence school.

I thought it was only fair when I reviewed the book to be honest about the fact that even a broken clock is right twice a day. Acknowledging that Betty Friedan raised some very good questions isn’t to say I think her conclusions or prescriptions were correct.

 

Because I don’t.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Black Girl’s Guide to Being Blissfully Feminine.

blissfully feminine

The Black Girl’s Guide to Being Blissfully Feminine, by Candace Adewole. Kindle edition. Originally published in July 2016.

This is a short book, one I was able to read from beginning to end in about two hours. Nonetheless, it’s full of thought-provoking, soul-stirring truisms that black women need to hear. It’s not perfect as no book is, but -and this is especially true for the non-religious woman- it’s the truest counsel I’ve ever read directed at black women. Ms. Adewole well expresses what it is going to take for black women to stop being considered, in the words of Zora Neale Hurston, “the mules of the world”.

Because it’s a short book, I’m going to keep this review short by using the bad news first/good news last approach. Thankfully, there is far more good news than bad.

The Bad News

  • It sometimes felt a little new-agey when the author ventured off into discussions of “black girl magic” and “feminine mystique”, not to be confused with the Betty Friedan school of thought.
  • Some of the sex advice went too far. The best way to figure out how to please your husband -in any area- is to ask him or read obvious context clues if he’s less given to saying what he wants.
  • Too extreme on the provisional aspect of a relationship in the dating stage: I get and completely agree with the overall principle that one of the things a man is charged to do is provide for his woman. However at the dating stage, I don’t think it is wise to advise that a woman should never split the bill or pick up the tab. My experience, old and limited though it may be, is that it is entirely possible to find the balance and still end up with a husband ready and willing to be the primary provider.
  • Too much emphasis on the value of travel, although I can appreciate her assertion that other cultures are more open to acknowledge the beauty of darker women than one finds here in America. It’s something I’ve heard expressed by various women throughout my life.

The Good News

  • Despite my discomfort with the sexual specifics, the sexual advice to women in the market for a husband was very conservative. In fact, the author advised women to refrain from sex at all until officially engaged and wedding plans in motion. No, it doesn’t go far enough to satisfy the tenets of my Christian faith, but it isn’t a Christian book and the author didn’t specify any religious faith.
  • Excellent advice on the value of silence and -if you must speak- doing so quietly with language free of any and all profanity. Truthfully, from what I have seen and heard, this is hardly advice only black women need to hear. It has nothing to do with prudishness, snobbishness, or religiosity (though that should be a consideration for some of us). It has everything to do with femininity and grace.
  •  Acknowledging the healing power of feminine touch. Although it was something the author learned via observation through marriage to a Latino man, being affectionate not only with our men but our friends and family members is important. We Americans tend to zealously guard our space bubbles, and the hypersexualization of the culture coupled with many black women’s penchant for wearing permanent armor makes this a hard hurdle to leap. But at least she put it out on the track.
  • The understanding that being comfortable in your own skin and with where you came from isn’t mutually exclusive to forming bonds with all kinds of people and meeting all kinds of men.
  • The importance of smiling, laughing, not going through life with a chip on your shoulder, and avoiding what is known as “resting bi*ch face“. There was also included the advice to use a gratitude journal if necessary to maintain a more positive outlook.
  • Emotional vulnerability: Mules can’t be emotionally vulnerable. When you are carrying your load, your kids’ load, your man’s load, and doing so without missing a beat, emotional vulnerability is an unaffordable luxury. Black women are expected to “hold it down” for everyone, and Adewole -rightly- calls B.S. on that. Many black women take on this role, swallow their feelings (literally and figuratively if our obesity rates are any indication), and wear the superhero cape with pride. That is, right up until they crash and burn (if mental illness and instability rates are any indication). Adewole address all of these issues with frankness and candor, understanding that rather than airing dirty laundry, she’s invoking the permission to heal and live a balanced life.
  • Acknowledgment that wanting to be loved and cherished is as acceptable for black women as any other women. She did a good job overall, so I’ll wrap this up with my favorite lines from the book:

I thoroughly detest being called a “strong” black woman for its masculine connotation, the underlying implication that I am somehow built for hard labor, like some animal, and that I am undeserving to be treated like a lady who needs (and wants) to be protected, cared for, adored, cherished, and treated gently.

She continues a bit further on:

I prefer to be called a feminine black woman or a resilient black woman because, although technically a synonym of the word “strong”, the meaning feels better and more feminine. Resilience and personal fortitude are what you must have mentally and emotionally to get through tough times. I don’t want to be “strong”. I DO need a man. I DO want help. I DO want to be taken care of and protected. I DO need community, and I wear dresses, not capes.

There was a some beauty and health advice in the book as well, but those chapters are all well tilled ground, unlike the parts I highlighted here. I stumbled upon this book and read it for the curiosity factor, having been spared a lot of these struggles through the presence of strong, protective men throughout my entire life and marriage. But I think it is well worth a read for the 70% of black women who have not been so blessed.

4 out of 5 stars

 

 

Feminine Mystique Ch. 7-9

feminine mystique

This is the fifth post exploring Betty Friedan’s Feminine Mystique. The first four posts are here, here, here, and here.

In chapters 7-9 of The Feminine Mystique, Betty Friedan goes deeper into unpacking the whys and wherefores that created the problem that has no name which she asserted was afflicting so many middle-class American women.

Chapter 7: The Sex-Directed Educators

Here, Friedan floats her hypothesis that one reason so many bright young college co-eds treated college as a boring necessity to appease parents on their way to the altar was that the professors and college administrators had swallowed Freud’s (and functionalist Margaret Mead’s) theories. Namely they accepted the analysis which presented women purely through the lens of their sexuality, and to encourage them towards any interest in the life of the mind was to corrupt them, rendering them useless in their roles as wives and mothers:

If the Freudians and the functionalists [like Margaret Mead] were right, educators were guilty of defeminizing American women, of dooming them to frustration as housewives and mothers, or to celibate careers, to life without orgasm. It was a damning indictment; many college presidents and educational theorists confessed their guilt without a murmur and fell into the sex-directed line. P. 180

I know that there are a lot of people who agree with this view, but I do not, and it’s not because I am a proponent of women en masse directing all of their youthful energy in the pursuit of education and careers. I disagree with it for the very question Friedan raises later on in this particular part of the chapter:

Why do the educators view girls, and only girls, in such completely sexual terms? P.191

I will elaborate on my thoughts in my discussion of chapter 8.

In essence this chapter attempts to make the case that the time after WWII was the death knell of the period of expanded opportunities for women that came occurred before the double tragedies of The Great Depression and WWII. And that the educators helped to facilitate that end in the lives of those women smart and talented enough to attend college.

Chapter 8: The Mistaken Choice

The mistaken choice is an astute and accurate title for the post because often women are offered a falsely dichotomous choice. We are told we must choose between a life devoted fully to hearth, husband and children with no interest in participating in or engaging in any activity outside of those scopes on the one hand. On the other, we’re told that the only way to be completely fulfilled in our gifts and talents is to combine our desire for home and family with a full time career.

Here is where Friedan makes an astute point but where she, and frankly many thinkers and commentators to the far right of her, get it all absolutely, completely wrong. But this is about Friedan, who mistakenly thinks that the answer to women’s problems is to be free to live as men, complete with competing against them in the marketplace. It’s a lose-lose for women because men are always going to be tempted to let women win, and too many of us will find out too late that we’re in over our heads, swimming out of our depths.

This is a mistaken choice, and there is a middle ground, but first, the reason why Friedan believes women chose the former, and in estimation, lesser of the two choices:

After the loneliness of the war and the unspeakableness of the bomb, against the frightening uncertainty, the cold immensity of the changing world, women as well as men sought the comforting reality of home. P. 213

She argues rightfully that it is a mistake for a woman to frame her life in such terms:

The needs of sex and love are undeniably real in men and in women, boys and girls, but why at this time did they seem to so many the only needs? P. 213

One of the things I appreciate my husband for, and this is especially true in recent years, is that he has always encouraged me to build relationships, take breaks when I need them, nurture my gifts and talents, and make an impact on the world around me in ways which are reasonable in the context of my vocation as a wife and mother. If too much time goes by and I haven’t gone to lunch with a friend, or taken time to write, or recently, followed through on my desire to return to school to study a particular thing, he reminds me to do those things. And of course, there is always the necessity to extend ourselves in service to others.

He is acutely in tune with the truth that a day could come prematurely when he is not here to be the center of my activity, no doubt because we have both experienced many deep losses at times that are out of step with the typical trajectory. He doesn’t want me to have a career, but neither does he want me to make a falsely dichotomous choice whereby I am failing as a woman if this house is not the center of my world, which just makes me want to take care better care of him, our home, and our children.

To treat women as though it is immoral not to be completely fulfilled by the activity done while confined within four walls is dehumanizing and burdensome.

There’s an interesting note in this chapter that often gets lost in our current culture (and one that is even glossed over glibly by many when reading Proverbs 31). We forget -or maybe we are simply ignorant of it- that there have always been times in history when it was entirely, expected, accepted, and traditional for women who could afford it to create a saner life for themselves by hiring out household chores to available women who needed the income and were available to do it. Suddenly, after the war, this became something women frowned on:

But in the years of postwar femininity, even women who could afford, and find, a full-time nurse or housekeeper chose to take care of the house and children [entirely] themselves. P.216

Chapter 9: The Sexual Sell

Chapter 9 is basically a deconstruction of Friedan’s belief that a large portion of the influence on women’s choice to abandon finding fulfillment in a life of the mind, intellect, and making a difference in the world can be lain at the feet of advertisers.

She spends a lot of time recalling what she says she learned from a man whose job was to study how to market and monetize the role of an American housewife. The consumerist juggernaut Friedan rightly condemns did what it does:

Why is it never said that the really crucial function, the really important role that women serve as housewives is to buy things for the house. In all the talk of femininity and women’s role, one forgets that the real business of America is business. P.243

I’ll wrap this up with a quote Friedan offers from the marketing magnate himself:

Properly manipulated (“if you are not afraid of that word”, he said), American housewives can be given the sense of identity, purpose, creativity, the self-realization, even the sexual joy they lack—by the buying of things. I suddenly realized the significance of the boast that women wield 75% of the purchasing power in America. P. 245

The irony is that advertisers are still raking in billions a year selling sexual power and security to ever dissatisfied American women, and this remains true regardless of their station in life.