American history, books for women, Culture, nonfiction

The Feminine Mystique: Chapters 1-2

feminine mystique

The first in a series of posts examining the seminal feminist manifesto in detail. The introductory post can be found here.

Chapter 1: The Problem That Has No Name

Friedan begins by describing a general sensation of malaise and disquietude in American women, particularly those who seem to have it all. She describes a level of discontent and unhappiness which, she determines, at its root can be encapsulated in one question: Is this all there is?

A crop of women who emerged from colleges harboring dreams of a future which resembled the the feminist ideal of the New Woman, were suddenly living the life of an ordinary woman. Unlike the New Woman, who was in control of her professional, economic, and social life, these women lived the exact opposite of the lives they’d dreamed of. The jarring realization that they were defined solely through the lens of wife and motherhood induced a psychological crisis as a result of being “just housewives”.

Suffering no material lack their lives were quite comfortable. Nevertheless they were, according to Friedan, turning to psychoanalysts in large numbers for help with this indescribable problem of emptiness and lives bereft of meaning.

My initial response was two-fold. The first is that most of these women were, in two words, spoiled and bored. There is no other way to describe being dissatisfied despite having everything you need and more besides.

That thought which followed was the fantastical notion of her narrative as normative. It certainly wasn’t any experience my grandmothers could have related to. The pampered home life, that Friedan described as the bane of the American woman’s existence was foreign to no less than 1/3 of women, including married women, and probably a larger percentage than that.

Few ordinary women lived lives of ease with no concerns of contributing to their family’s bottom line. Prior to the economic boom that followed WWII, this was not the experience of the average woman, and it had nothing to do with feminism. Proverbs 30: 8-9 was the standard mode of living for most families. Most married women, even when primarily focused on home and hearth, rarely had the privilege that came with being a housewife; at least not in the way we have been conditioned to view the station from the 1950s onward.

Chapter 2: The Happy Housewife Heroine

In this chapter, Friedan starts to make at least one cogent argument, even if she gets a lot of things wrong. But first it is here where she actually describes the so-called Feminine Mystique:

The feminine mystique says that the highest value and the only commitment for women is the fulfillment of their own femininity. It says that the great mistake of Western culture, through most of its history, has been the undervaluation of this femininity. It says this femininity is so mysterious and intuitive and close to the creation and origin of life that man-made science may never be able to understand it. But however special and different, it is in no way inferior to the nature of man;it may even in certain respects be superior. The mistake, says the mystique, the root of women’s troubles in the past is that women envied men, instead of accepting their own nature, which can find fulfillment only in sexual passivity, male domination, and nurturing maternal love. p.35

It bears noting that the whole point of this book is to rebut the very notion of this feminine mystique, and its irony is not lost on me. We do derive a large part of our identity through our femininity, but not in the way that Friedan describes. Those who, well-intentioned they may be, believe that this “feminine mystique” is an appropriate aspirational end for women also err, albeit too far in the other direction.

Friedan offers a surfeit of supporting evidence using content from ladies’ magazines, which was the dominant media directed at women during the 1950s. It was determined that women would read magazines, but not books so periodicals such as Redbook, McCall’s, and Ladies Home Journal grew hugely popular.

Prior to the post WWII boom, propelled by the gains women enjoyed due to the work of the women’s rights activists of the 1910s and 1920s, the media of the 1940s heavily featured aspects of the New Woman. The New Woman was independent, making her way in the world, and enjoying the benefits of new opportunities available to her in both work and politics. She was the feminist ideal encompassing all that women wanted to be, and was prominently featured by writers in the 30s and 40s.

Suddenly, in the 1950s, Friedan notes, magazines and the few books marketed to women switched on a dime with most featuring what she called the “happy housewife heroine”. Despite being a housewife myself, the excerpts and descriptions from the articles and stories she quoted left me scratching my head. What man worth anything would want such a vapid, incompetent woman for a wife? They made it far too easy for her ideas to catch fire.

As the chapter progressed an interesting dichotomy emerged. Friedan’s answer to mystery of how genuinely interesting news content and stories of adventurous, independent women of the 1940s gave way to the consumer drivel, beauty tips and the “happy housewife heroine” of the 1950s turned out not to be much of a mystery at all.

The authors of the1940s periodicals were mostly female, as the men in the country were fighting or recovering from the battles of WWII. After they returned home, replacing the women who went home to marry and start families in the aftermath of the war, the material they published revealed a starkly different image of ideal womanhood. It reflected the idea of woman as a place of solace, respite, and sex after the harsh war years.

Both ideals as presented were damaging and more than a little ridiculous, but we’ll get more into that as we move through the book. I hardly need to read further to see where the train went off the track, but for you guys, I’ll forge on. Who knows? I might be surprised and learn something.

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books for women, Culture, marriage and relationships, nonfiction, philosophy, politics, Uncategorized

Blogging through The Feminine Mystique

feminine mystique

The Feminine Mystique, by Betty Friedan. Originally published in 1963. Hardcover. 592 pages.

In an effort to be less inclined to have strong opinions about things I know little about yet have the ability to know more about, I have decided  there are a few books I should read for myself. These are the books that are referred to frequently by people for ideological reasons to promote their agendas. The kinds of books where the sum total of the view being presented is forever cemented in our minds based on the 10 well worn quotes that we’ve all read hundred of times over the years.

One book I decided to read -and blog through- is Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique. I don’t expect reading it to alter my perspective, conviction, or beliefs regarding feminism. In fact, I am certain that it won’t. The results on the experiment of radical feminism are in, and they speak for themselves.

What I am most interested in is dichotomous experiences to the women Friedan references (in her first two chapters, for instance) when compared to women in less pampered circumstances. I also want to see if Friedan noted how the Industrial Revolution, whatever it added standard of living in aggregate, drastically changed the nature of the domestic sphere and the intrinsic value it added to the bottom line in the years when our economy was more agrarian.

In other words, I want a full picture of the alignment of family life and life for women in the 1950s leading up to the time of the publication of The Feminine Mystique. Even a cursory bit of research reveals that family life for most Americans was a far cry from the television portrayal of The Andersons and The Cleavers. This was especially true for my parents and grandparents, yet we are constantly presented that narrative of the 1950s as indicative of mainstream America.

I have reasons for this interest which may or may not be revealed in 2019, but let’s see if there are any unheralded surprises -at least surprises to me- to be found in The Feminine Mystique.

 

 

Christian, Church history, Culture, nonfiction, philosophy, politics

Hippies of the Religious Right

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Hippies of the Religious Right: From the counter-culture of Jerry Garcia to the Subculture of Jerry Falwell. By Preston Shires. Originally published in 2007. 287 pages.

You can tell an awful a lot about a man based solely on when he was born. Or at least, that’s what I read somewhere once, although I can’t tell you where even though I just spent 5 minutes clicking about trying to find it. Nevertheless, I believe there is a large grain of truth to the sentiment, and it strikes at the heart of what Preston Shires discusses in his book, Hippies of the Religious Right.

If I understand him correctly, Shires is exploring the culture and expression of belief in the young generation of the 1960s, many of whom became the devoutly religious and politically active in what was referred to from the late 1980s and onward as the “religious right”. That spirit of activism, coupled with the importance of the individual  are ideas of the 1960s with its rebellion from stilted, politically correct, hypocritical religious practices, gave way to a generation of Christians determined to be open, authentic, and inclusive in their faith.

It’s normal to be liberal when you’re young and grow increasingly conservative as you age. I read that somewhere also, but having lived it and witnessed in others, I can safely attest to the veracity of the statement. Given that, it makes sense that as the hippies of the 60s who never really abandoned faith in Christianity as the one true way grew up, they would return to the fold bringing with them what *worked* from 60s activist culture.

In a nutshell, Shires contends that:

Ever since the coming of the Jesus Freaks, born of the generation gap and rebellion against the technocratic establishment, evangelicalism has been injected with an activist fervor that encompasses the whole of life. That activism and commitment stimulated and nurtured the Christian Right. p.209

He continues the thoughts:

The greatest irony of the traditional interpretation of the Christian Right as a negative reaction to the sixties’ counterculture is that most evangelicals agreed with such a definition in the late 1970s ans still agree with it today. And with this understanding, they confidently stand dismissive of the sixties’ counterculture. But if it had not been for the counterculture, there may never have been a Christian Right, because the counter culture gave to evangelicalism the rebellious spirit, the youthful activists, and the committed voters it so needed. p.210

In other words, large swaths of the mainstream church were lukewarm (like Laodicea, I suppose), lacking any kind of real fervor or alternative to the greater corrupted society. Enter sixties’ radicalism.

I appreciated the pains Shires went to to present his arguments with as little ideological interjection or pontificating as possible. He made it clear early on the book that he would not be doing so, and he kept his oath. He leaves it to the reader to make their own decision about the rightness or wrongness of the conclusions he has drawn.

I am of two minds on the matter myself. On the one hand, I agree completely that the seeds of the religious right as we have come to know it were not only planted by the 60’s counterculture, but were nurtured and watered by the young people most influenced by that culture. What I’m not sure of is whether that was ultimately a good thing. The potholes along that roadway as a means of spreading the gospel have proven to be wide and deep, disabling the journeys of many earnest Christ seekers along the way.

Preston Shires definitely gives his readers a lot to think about. It’s a good book, although the tone is very academic and studious. If you’re interested in reading it, be warned that it’s not a quick conversational read. It really is written for those of us who are sincerely interested in the topic.

4 out of 5 Stars

Related:

 

 

 

 

coming from where I'm from, Culture, educational, Els' Rabbit Trails, parenting, philosophy

Corrupting language and education is a political strategy.

Words, their meanings, evolution, and usage are a subject of endless interest to me. Hardly a day passes when I don’t hear or read a word used in ways that are not only incorrect, but defy the actual meaning of the word in insidious ways. The topic emerges with such frequency in conversations in our home that our 12-year-old has taken to making jokes about it at my expense. This is a story worth retelling, so I will.

I mentioned previously that we read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer as a part of this semester’s literature course. The kids mostly read the book independently, but at particular intervals, we’d sit together and use the chapters as an opportunity for them to listen to me read, with appropriate intonations and emphasis so that they could fully appreciate the story and language. While I read, they also read long in their personal copies of the book. Yes, we procure three copies of every book their literature teacher assigns them.

One of the things it is important to do while studying classic books is guard against those which are slightly abridged or in which the language has been tweaked to be easier on the modern ear. I am very careful of that, and as I read a particular passage where Mark Twain referred to females as a sex, our 12-year-old stopped me and said, “Wait. My book says gender”. When I asked her to read the passage for me from her version, she smiled and said, “Nah, it says ‘sex’, I was just messing with you.” Touché, young one.

This changing of language, and the redefining of words in ways that our grandparents wouldn’t recognize is common, normal and mostly seen as harmless. For most of my life, I thought so too. That was before I came to realize that the evolution of language has not only accelerated, but has rapidly watered down the desire to think critically rather than simply emoting. Because I am short on time and also desire to leave openings for you all to fill any gaping holes in my argument, here are just a few examples of linguistic evolution that are not only frequent in occurrence but also shockingly unquestioned, even among the sharpest tools in the shed.

  • Sex, which is most accurately and classically defined as one of the two biological classifications assigned to male and female creatures, has been shifted to reference coitus or sexual intercourse and it has been replaced by the word gender, which changes male and female from biological realities to subjective identifications. Even I have to make a conscious effort to avoid the ambiguous gender when I really mean sex.
  • A matriarch is a mother who is the head of her family, household or tribe, and a patriarch is a father who is the head of his family, household, or tribe, but patriarchy is suddenly “the patriarchy, defined as a system of society or government in which men hold the power and women are abused and excluded from power. Hmmm.
  • Health insurance, rather than understood as a type of insurance coverage which  covers medical and surgical expenses for a policy holder, has now been shifted and  defined as health care, which is more accurately and classically understood to mean doing the things which maintain and improve one’s physical and mental health. Ergo, you can be perfectly healthy, doing healthful things, but without health insurance, there is no health care*. Marginalized groups have higher percentages of members without “health care”. So we should look at what it means to be marginalized.
  •  Things and people which are marginalized are treated as insignificant or peripheral, and forgotten or abused as a result. At least, that’s the correct and accurate definition of marginalize. Today however, if you are a part of a minority group, you are hereby and forever labeled as marginalized because everyone is permanently slotted into the caste to which they belonged in 1950 America. This satisfies agendas of the current power brokers in education establishments and media. Even if you enjoy whole months of designated to your celebration, and every conceivable legislative policy is amended for your protection, you must be perpetually protected and elevated in status -by force if necessary. Marginalization has its privileges. The greater the number of marginalized groups you belong to, the more you need to be protected because….
  • Intersectionality. This one is so new my browser put the squiggly red line under it, even though it is ubiquitous in academia and grievance industry propaganda. I know how it works in practice, but I’m still working out the intricacies of its use so I’ll just offer the official definition. My dictionary defines intersectionality as “the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage.” Standard application of intersectionality means that my combination of race, sex, and class, categorizes me as part of a marginalized group with no privileges at all (using the class I was born in rather than the class my zip code and husband’s career has placed us in). There’s even a rubric to tell me how marginalized I am!  I’m in a bad way, let me tell you! It sounds ridiculous, but consider that this is how the majority of Americans are being educated. Which brings me to my last word for today.
  • Education, which long, long ago was defined as an enterprise of instruction and discipline which is intended to enlighten the understanding, correct the temper, form the manners and habits, and fit youths for usefulness in their future stations has now been reduced to mean to go to school*.  School has become a convenient place to check off countless arbitrary boxes for the purpose of securing corporate employment. Fitness for future stations such as citizen, volunteer, spouse, parent, mentor, clergy or even logical thinker, is no longer included in our definition of education although these are all future stations to which most people aspire. That one can attend school for a full 17 years and yet be uneducated in ways that truly matter hardly occurs to anyone before the age of 30, when the extent our ignorance rushes in like a flood.

Just a few thoughts on linguistic evolution and why we must be ever so careful of how we educate our children. The transitions of today have profound implications on not only the people they become, but the world they have to live in.

* I realize that health insurance and health care are considered strongly correlated, as are schooling and education. Rather than flippantly dismiss that with “correlation does not equal causation”, I’ll just note that often our definitions of “healthy” and “educated” are the real issues.

 

children's books, Christian, Classics, Culture, Els' Rabbit Trails, joys of reading, Uncategorized

In the Queue…

Today was a library run day. What started out as a quick trip to pick up a specific book, Thomas Sowell’s latest Discrimination and Disparities, ended with my checking out the Bible sized Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan.

Friedan’s seminal work is one of those books that I’ve read a lot about, and read a lot of excerpts from, while never actually reading the book to take in the entirety of Friedan’s arguments and the conclusions she drew. I don’t expect the reading to soften my disdain for the havoc she unleashed along with Simone de Beauvoir, author of The Second Sex.

However, I have learned over the years that many of the most notoriously damaging social thinkers and commentators in recent history had their fingers on the pulse of a real problem. It was their prescriptions which were toxic and culturally destructive. So I am reading The Feminine Mystique, but not until I finish with Thomas Sowell. Priorities!

I am also in the final stages of reading through Hippies of the Religious Right by Preston Shires. This is, so far a highly enlightening book and one that I look forward to exploring here.  In other words, there is some heavy reading going on here at present, but not all of the reading is heavy.

I also just finished The Adventures of Tom Sawyer with my kids, who had to read it for school. Whimsical, funny, and astute, it was a fun read and the perfect counter balance to all the weightier philosophical, cultural, and religious writings that have occupied my reading time. Because Tom Sawyer is such a well known and widely read work, I have decided not to review it here, but I will offer one of my favorite quotes from it:

“He had discovered a great law of human action, without knowing it—namely, that in order to make a man or a boy covet a thing, it is only necessary to make the thing difficult to attain. If he had been a great and wise philosopher, like the writer of this book, he would now have comprehended that Work consists of whatever a body is OBLIGED to do, and that Play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do.”

Lastly, Advent is upon us, beginning on Sunday December 2, and after much research and exploration, we have rested on Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s God is in a Manger as the devotional for this year. Reflecting as we commemorate the Advent of the Savior is important to us, and I am really looking forward to this devotional.

That’s what’s in my queue. Do tell:

What is in YOUR reading queue as the end of 2018 rushes upon us?

books for men, Culture, educational, nonfiction, politics, short stories

The Black Man’s Guide Out of Poverty

BM guide

The Black Man’s Guide Out of Poverty: for Black Men Who Demand Better, by Aaron Clarey, Kindle Edition. Published in 2015.

I ran across this book by accident doing tangentially related research, and decided to spend the $5 to purchase the Kindle edition. I was driven by curiosity more than an expectation that I’d find any new information in it, but I’m glad I took the time to give it a quick read. It is a very quick read.

Author Aaron Clarey says several things in his book with which I vehemently disagree. Those disagreements center mainly on the tenets of my Christian faith against his pretty strident stance of disbelief. However, because he makes it clear that this book is written with very clear and practical aims in mind, I made the decision early in to focus my attention on the steps he offers to black men which will lead them out of poverty, and to base my conclusions and review on whether or not his book does what he says it will do.

I can draw no other conclusion than yes, the lion’s share of the counsel Clarey offers here will help not only young black men, but any young men who would take the advice offered in it. I can speak to the veracity of his advice because much of it –though not all of it- is identical to the path my husband took on his journey to building a successful life and family. This is particularly true of the advice related to education and career choices.

Among the sage pieces of wisdom Clarey offers are things such as:

  • Don’t major in stupid degrees
  • Be suspicious of the education establishment while using it to your advantage
  • Stay out of debt
  • Budget
  • Live minimally
  • Critically gore the sacred cows which are taught in the black community to determine their value and level of truth
  • Be willing to abandon the tribalism and dysfunctional elements of black culture
  • Choose your wife (if you choose to marry) well
  • Don’t get a girl pregnant

There was a lot of sexual and dating advice in the book which many would find problematic at best, and misogynistic at worst. As a Christian, there was plenty there for me to take issue with. The frank talk regarding the nature of relationships, women, and the treacherous landscape created by the current marriage of sex and politics is not for the faint of heart nor clutchers of pearls. Clarey pulls no punches as he expresses his beliefs on those issues.

Conversely, there were elements in those sections that I couldn’t argue with. Even though they offended my sensibilities, the reality is that black men suffer a disproportionate amount of financial harm as a result of poor sexual and relationship choices. These self-inflicted injuries needed to be addressed in a direct and no nonsense fashion, and was also why this book was written for men, to men, by a man. I was just an eavesdropper passing by.

I appreciate that Clarey acknowledged something that isn’t acknowledged anywhere else in American culture in an obvious, unambiguous way. Namely, that for all the wailing and beating of the chest on behalf of so-called “marginalized” groups in this country, American black men are indeed the most marginalized people in our society. It’s not women, certainly not black women, and it isn’t immigrants. It’s certainly not the sexually degenerate fluid, who are celebrated everywhere we look. Last I checked, being celebrated is the exact opposite of being marginalized, which underscores how poorly educated our populace is, despite the fact that we experience more schooling than any other generation in history. It’s why you’ll find more and more commentary on the nature of a true education in the archives here. Clarey, to his credit, and using what shouldn’t even be keen skills of observation, got that part exactly right.

There were some definite areas in this book that could stand improvement. Firstly, I think it would have benefited greatly by having a ruthless editor. While the conversational tone made it an easy-flowing read, it also made for frequent errors more suited to a ninth grade composition student than an educated, successful author and consultant. Subject-verb disagreement, which commonly goes unnoticed in conversations, stands out more starkly in black and white.

In the Kindle edition, the charts and statistics which bolstered the arguments presented were not always easy to access and zoom in on. Also, there was profanity which was distracting at times. The latter note is just one more indication that the book wasn’t written with a Christian woman in mind as its audience.

Taken in its entirety, the book does what Clarey’s title says it does: Gives black men the tools and guidance they need to rise above the pack and build a successful life. Because of that, I think it’s worth the time to read it and worth purchasing. This is particularly true for black men who are grappling with the common handicaps and setbacks of being raised in the inner city or from the lowest rungs of the socioeconomic ladder.

4 out of 5 stars.

 

coming from where I'm from, Culture, Els' Rabbit Trails, family

On Beauty: Is Thanksgiving Worth The Money?

As I am currently in the kitchen slaving away over Thanksgiving preparations (yes, I note the irony), into my inbox comes Joshua Gibbs on why Thanksgiving is worth the expense and hassle:

Thanksgiving dinner is a repository of many hours, many dollars, much thought and preparation and inconvenience. Every man who has spent north of a hundred dollars on Thanksgiving— not to mention the hassle of bringing relatives in, finding enough chairs and place settings for everyone and decorating the table— has surely entertained the thought, “If everyone stayed home and just ordered a pizza, we could saved a bundle, and I might have spent that time and money fixing the shed.” In other words, what if he funneled all the money spent on useless things into useful things instead? After all, white bread, peanut butter, and frozen mixed vegetables will fill stomachs just the same as prime rib, but at a fraction of the cost. Of course, this same logic is used to construct purely functional buildings which treat the occupants as though they have no souls— buildings which ultimately inspire the bitterness and cynicism of the vandal. When the vandal spray paints graffiti on the side of an ugly he building, he is actually protesting, “This building is false. I do have a soul.” If we trade the uselessness of a beautiful meal for a purely functional one, for a meal which merely keeps us alive, what exactly are we living for? What are we staying alive to do? Life cannot give itself meaning. A wedding ring only has meaning if it stands for a marriage, something which transcends mere jewelry. If life itself is the wedding ring, what is the marriage it stands for?

Seeing as our Thanksgiving festivities this year went easily north of $200, two thoughts sprang to mind. The first is that I need to get in on Gibbs’ frugal Thanksgiving game. $100 would be a welcome hosting expense. Second is that as usual, he makes an excellent point.

Despite that 36 hours from now, the leftovers will be in containers, the serving ware will be washed and put away, and the house will look much as it did before extended family filed in and out, the memories will remain. The sense of family and connection to the same will be bolstered in ways that caused us to forget any spats or differences from earlier in the year, and the meaning of what transpired will overshadow the uselessness of it.

Happy Thanksgiving, all!