How 'Femininity' Can Stop you From Feeling Fully Alive
Every woman should read The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan before attending college, or the history of women’s rights may be doomed to repeat itself.
Friedan, a 1960s housewife and news writer, coined the term feminine mystique in 1963 to describe the phenomena of glorifying the life of a housewife to hold women back even when the doors to society were open to them. The generation born to the Suffragettes had little trace of the ambition of their forebears. In the 1950s, the median marriage age fell to 20, and it wasn’t uncommon for an aspiring bacteriologist to opt for a major in home economics.
The reasoning behind this reversion in women’s rights was simple: women neglected to grow because they had a choice.
The definition of anxiety is abandoning security in hopes of fulfilling some human potential. In college, poised on the brink of a career with the intense pressure to remain feminine, countless women in the 1950s fled for the security of motherhood to escape the anxiety of choosing a career. They graduated from dependency on their parents to dependency on their husbands. Men didn’t have the same choice to revert to childhood.
Traveling the country, the only ‘fulfilled’ housewives Friedan met were those pursuing significant careers and interests outside the home. Others reported feeling depressed, empty, and even suicidal. Women of the time struggled with rampant mental and physical health problems despite being biologically more resistant to them because men fulfilled their humanity through growth and innovation while they were stuck in a child-like, subhuman state.
Psychiatrists link failure to grow up as a contributing factor to physical and mental health problems. Psychiatrist Andras Angyal identifies two symptoms of failure to grow - noncommitment and vicarious living - both of which are synonymous with how our society defines ‘femininity’. To be ‘feminine’ a woman must not commit to a career and instead live through her husband and children - an extremely unhealthy way of living.
Worse, when a woman depend on her children and husband for their identity, her husband (who has a life outside the home) resents her, while her children adopt her lack of identity as she gives them false goals to maintain some purpose. Women can not raise children with an identity if they do not have an identity themselves.
Friedan makes these bold claims without pausing for a second to consider whether full-time housewifery is ‘necessary’ or ‘practical.’ Its roots are in a cultural lie that destroys families - something that many of us need to be reminded of today.
Today, women in college can sometimes put too much emphasis on dating or opt for ‘more flexible’ careers in preparation to start a family (even if she hasn’t met someone yet!). Although less exaggerated, women are still yielding their identities, talents, and passions to the feminine mystique - the false idea that they will find their identity through a husband and family.
Further, women still exhibit dependency on husbands and fathers in astounding numbers. In Gen X couples, 60% of men claim to be the sole financial decision-makers in the family, and women are still expected to take less initiative than men in traveling or living alone after leaving their families.
The Feminine Mystique is a reminder for women to place ourselves on the brink of comfort (especially because we are frequently offered alternative options), and a wake-up call that the stay-at-home mom phenomena may not be a choice or even a practical decision, but a cultural role which needs to be broken for women and families to reach their full potential.