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.

 

 

books for women, marriage and relationships, nonfiction, politics

The Politically Incorrect Guide to Women, Sex, and Feminism.

politically incorrect guide

The Politically Incorrect Guide to Women, Sex, and Feminism, by Carrie L. Lukas. Copyright 2006. Hardcover, 221 pages.

The wonderful thing about books and literature is that there are few subjects which haven’t been covered by someone at some time. I read The Politically Incorrect Guide to Women, Sex, and Feminism at least 5 years ago (maybe more), and I hadn’t thought much about the book in two or three. Whenever I purge our bookshelves, I keep it tucked away on a shelf because I want it to be available for my daughters to read.

After witnessing yesterday what can only be described as a national disgrace masquerading as a legal proceeding, I remembered a few things. The first was that in 47 years on the planet, I have somehow never managed to 1) get drunk or 2) attend a party where most of the attendees was getting drunk. This was true even when I was a teenager, and even during the years when I was walking contrary to the Christian faith in which I was raised. It’s amazing what can be avoided when you watch the company you keep.

Secondly, I remembered this book, and how much I appreciated the candor used and the unapologetic way that Carrie Lukas laid out unpalatable truths. A cursory glance at the reviews for the book on Amazon and Good reads demonstrates how offensive many women found the book. I on the other hand, thought it was very well written, filled with objective analysis of  the ways women are more vulnerable. It was filled with what used to be considered universally sound truth rather than attacked as politically incorrect ideology.

Unvarnished truth is a medicine that often tastes bad going down, but if we take it like adults, we just might find healing. At the end of chapter 2, on page 18 Lukas lists what she titled, “Top Ten Things Young Women Need to Know (that feminists won’t tell them)”. I’ll list them here, with the recommendation that you read the book even if you’re not as averse to feminist thought as I am, because the ideas are worth pondering.

The Top Ten Things

  • Flowers, candy, and opened doors aren’t weapons of oppression. Chivalrous gestures show a guy actually respects you and may be interested in a relationship.

  • You’re most fertile in your twenties. During your thirties, fertility declines and many women have trouble getting pregnant after age 35. Plan ahead! [some of this stuff is beyond a woman’s control, of course, but deliberate postponement of marriage is foolish]

  • Discrimination isn’t why women make less money than men. Women make different choices and have different priorities which results in them earning less.

  • Condoms are not a get-out-of-STD-free device; condoms do little or nothing to prevent the spread of several serious STDs.

  • Kids raised by their parents [Els’ translation: mothers] tend to have fewer emotional and behavioral problems than kids who spend long hours in day care.

  • Not everyone is doing it [emphasis mine]. Fewer of your peers than you think are engaging in casual sex- and those who are often regret it.

  • There’s no shame is aspiring to marry- married people tend to be happier, healthier, and better off financially.

  • Divorce doesn’t erase a marriage- it creates a new set of problems for you and your children.

  • You should make goals in your personal life just like you do in your career.

  • Being a woman doesn’t make you a victim. You have choices to make, and choices to live with. That’s what being liberated and independent is all about.

~ The Politically Incorrect Guide to Women, Sex , and Feminism, p. 18

5 out of 5 stars.

 

 

 

autobiographies, books for women, Christian, writing

One Beautiful Dream

One Beautiful Dream: The Rollicking Tale of Family Chaos, Personal Passions, and Saying Yes to Them Both by [Fulwiler, Jennifer]

One Beautiful Dream: The rollicking tale of family chaos, personal passions, and saying yes to them both, by Jennifer Fulwiler. Published May 2018. 240 pages.

As I got into this book then did a bit of digging, I realized that its author, Jennifer Fulwiler, is something of a Catholic Internet celebrity and as such, hardly as anonymous to the Catholic faithful as she was to me. I only heard of her because a paleo food blogger I happen to follow on Instagram heartily endorsed the book.

One Beautiful Dream is best characterized as a memoir chronicling Fulwiler’s journey as a mother of six very closely spaced children alongside the pursuit of her dream to make it as a writer. A dream which I hasten to interject, was heartily encouraged by her husband, who repeatedly implored her not to give it up. I instantly liked this woman. She has a wicked sense of humor and a way of expressing it that I thoroughly enjoyed reading.

I’ve said on numerous occasions that I am a slow reader. Nevertheless, I finished this book in two days. This was partly because the conversational tone makes it easy to read, and partly because rather than do my usual routine of bouncing between books when I have free time, I kept picking this one up, continuing to read it until the end. I found myself invested in seeing how Jennifer’s story would end even as I was turning the pages of its culmination.

There’s another, deeper reason that this book resonated with me, and it was that I appreciated this woman’s gut wrenching wrestling match between pursuing her passion and trying to be a good wife and mother, a juggling act she admittedly bungled more often than not. She often wavered, wondering whether it was fair to her kids or right for a mother to devote large amounts of time and energy to such endeavors.

That was, until she realized with the help of a wise priest’s counsel, that her insistence on compartmentalizing the segments of her life rather than cultivating an integrated life of wholeness was the root of her problem. Her life was chaotic (well, even more chaotic than a life with six kids under 10 is prone to be) because she failed to connect everything together. More than that, she needed to trust God that His will would be done in her life on His timetable.

After nearly a decade blogging in and alongside the Christian/biblical womanhood Internet community before finally realizing the folly of formulaic living, this book was for me, a breath of fresh air. Not because I agree with everything Jennifer Fulwiler believes, does and says –I am a raging Protestant after all- but because she hits at the heart of the matter: She did what she did with the full encouragement and enthusiastic coaching of her husband, the cheer-leading of her children and support of her extended family which meant she did exactly what she was supposed to do, regardless of whether it offends the sensibilities of the “this is the way to be the perfect Christian wife” crowd.

Did I mention that she has a wonderful sense of humor? Well she does, and one of my favorite laugh out loud passages is on page 125, because it is one of the best representations of her story telling prowess. It’s the story of what happened when she was given the opportunity to get a break and attend a ladies’ retreat offered by her church. She got more than she bargained for:

In my rush to get away, I had not looked into the details of this weekend before I signed up. And that, it now occurred to me, was a grave error.

In my defense, I had no idea that Catholics even did retreats like this. I had many Evangelical friends (again, “friends” meaning “people I talked to on my computer from the shadowy recesses of my home”) who described events at their churches as riotously fun gatherings where people sung and waved their hands and used the word fellowship as a verb. I had counted on my Catholic brethren to put together an emotionless, entirely cerebral retreat, and now it seems that they had failed me completely. p.125

When all is said and done, this is a good book because the author shared her story in a funny, relatable, truthful way. She didn’t pretend to be perfect or have it all figured out, but she learned and grew in grace along the way. Which is the best any of us can really hope for this side of Heaven.

4 out of 5 stars.

No content advisory necessary.

books for women, Culture, marriage and relationships, nonfiction

Otherhood.

Otherhood: Modern Women Finding a New Kind of Happiness, by Melanie Notkin. Originally published in 2014. 320 pages.

The cognitive dissonance is strong in this one. However, we’ll start with an overview of what the book is about as opposed to what it purports to be about, which is how the increasing number of childless women in our culture can live fulfilling lives of contribution.

Otherhood, a title I ran across while reading an article somewhere, piqued my curiosity for reasons that have little to do with being a modern woman longing for a new kind of happiness. Perfectly content with my old-fashioned kind of happiness, I sought this book out because of my intense interest in what it takes to build community across all lines. Community, of the real life, flesh and blood variety, is something I think a lot about.

In our current culture, where marriage rates are plummeting for all kinds of reasons, how can families integrate single, childless people into our lives seamlessly in ways that increase cohesiveness, and perhaps even create opportunities for people of like faith and values to meet and form families? The fact that this author is reportedly a devout traditional Jewish woman came back to bite me because the tone of the book was anything but that of a traditional religious woman.

This tome was a big, long lament about the treacherous and unfriendly water that the New York City sexual marketplace is for a single woman looking for love and marriage. True love of course, and nothing less, and how her refusal to marry a man she doesn’t want to have sex with after 20 years of looking makes her a victim of “circumstantial infertility”. Mind you, however, none of this means she is looking for a Prince Charming (language alert):

“I mean, is Prince Charming really the kind of man who seems like he knows how to have great sex? Because he doesn’t seem like that to me.” He seems like a great-looking guy who got lucky being born into royalty. I’m not attracted to lucky. I’m attracted to hard work. Hard work is much more f*ck-able than luck-able.”

Not being aware of the latest authority on cultural hot topics has come back to bite me on many occasions, and this was another one. If I had taken the time before reading this 300+ page whine-fest, I would have been fully aware of what I could expect from Otherhood and its author’s schtick.

Of the 28 chapters in this book, fully 19 of them were about the heartbreak and hazards of dating in NYC. Does the state of affairs in NYC surprise anyone besides the author and her friends who contributed stories to this book?

The only chapter which even began to touch on the subject I was interested in was near the end, titled “Savvy Aunties”. That particular chapter was about the ways that women whose maternal instinct was never allowed to give physical birth could be manifested in myriad ways to the children they know and love and even those they don’t who just need love.

To Notkin’s credit, she steadfastly refused to take the advice of her friends and colleagues who implored to either have a baby on her own, or marry a man with whom she had no desire to build a life whatsoever for the sake of having a baby. Unfortunately, she was so obsessed with first date chemistry that she dismissed a lot of men with whom she might have been able to build a beautiful traditional Jewish family.

In the end, despite all her protestations to the contrary, she wasn’t as traditional as she thought she was. And while I am fully convinced that there truly are women -and men!- out there who are “circumstantially infertile” in this culture does everything in its power to dissuade, marginalize, and isolate the very people who would be best equipped to pass on religious morals and values to the next generation, Notkin did not persuade me that she was among that number. She wasted a valuable opportunity.

Traditional Judaism with a side of Sex in the City is not a recipe that encourages family formation nor strong families.

Like said, the cognitive dissonance was strong in this one.

2 out of 5 stars.

content advisory: Smatterings of frank sex talk, but nothing overly graphic or over the top.

books for women, genres, tales from the local library

The anti-aging genre.

I ran across this cluster of books in our library’s featured titles section and was immediately struck by the implications. In the health section of that library, which is one of the smallest branches in our county, there are tens more of them. Given the explosion of books dedicated exclusive to cheating Father Time, I’d say anti-aging qualifies as its own genre separate from health and wellness. There is a distinction to be made between desiring wholeness and well-being, and a dogged pursuit of the fountain of youth.

The opposite of aging, for those unaware, is death. We either age or die, and we certainly cannot “age backwards”. So books with titles like these bother me, and here’s why:

Look at the psychological game the library tries to play here by marking these books as part of the ya category (young adult). Why would a young adult be interested in a book on looking younger? Conversely, what do these books’ target audience gain from the characterization of the books as young adult?

They are, after all, marketed directly to women like me. Namely, these are catnip for 40-something women, many of whom are in various stages of mini-crises. The crises range from sexual and relational, to career and motherhood and everything in between.

In our youth worshiping culture, a woman who is recently divorced, grappling with her rapidly changing body, or just watching a daughter blossom into everything she used to be, these titles are tempting. I find them sad. And yes, even I have read a book or two which focus on adding a little friction (okay, focus on adding a lot of friction) to what can feel like a fast downward slide. Usually they are –like this one- medical in scope.

One of the reasons I review the books I read about this season of life, even though I grappled at first with whether to do it, is that openness helps keep me tethered to the reality of where I am on life’s journey. It makes it possible to grow older gracefully* rather than give in to the pretense of stopping the inevitable or turning back the clock. There is no way we can be 25 again, or 35 again, no matter how well we eat and how far we go to pretend otherwise.

I recognize that my life has been touched by heaping measures of grace and love which make it easy (or easier, at least) for me to grow older gracefully. I’m not in the brutal postmodern dating market. My husband long ago lost all objectivity concerning my looks and desirability, which I embrace as the blessing that it is. I have adult children, but also relatively young children to raise yet as well. There are bits of residue and vestiges of younger years present in my daily life.

At the end of the day, however, 46 is 46 is 46. Age is not relative, and all any of us can do is take the best care of ourselves that we possibly can, enjoy where we are, and try to live in a way that brings comfort and solace during our twilight years. Fantasizing over books telling us we can “crack the aging code” are not helpful over the long run.

But since when has contentment sold any books?

*Disclosure: I am fully persuaded that my grandmother would vehemently disagree with my assertion that I am growing older gracefully with one perusal of one of my health receipts. She could stretch the dollars I spend on collagen peptides, bio-identical progesterone, make up and skin care over a fortnight with little effort. Hopefully the money I save on hair dye and anti-aging books makes up for it. A little.

book clubs, books for women, Christian, nonfiction

Unglued

Unglued: Making Wise Choices in the Midst of Raw Emotions, by Lisa TerKeurst. Originally published in 2012. Paperback, 208 pages.

I actually read this book for the first time three years ago as a part of a book study with several other homeschool mothers. Included in the discussions was Lysa TerKeurst’s teaching videos to accompany blocks of chapters. The book was infinitely more insightful than the videos, and several of the women reading it agreed that the videos were pretty useless. Skip those if you run across them.

I’m reviewing the book because I stumbled upon it on the bookshelf while deciding which books to purge and make space for new books. Memories of my initial reaction to the book were positive. However, since I am notoriously on the lookout for the areas in my life which merit tweaking, leading to inevitable evolutions of thoughts on one thing or  another, I skimmed it again to see if I’d view it the same way after a second pass through.

Short answer: I still think it’s a pretty good book. It’s the only book by Lysa TerKeurst that I have ever read, and despite the recent controversies surrounding her life and ministry, I have to say that on the main, it’s a helpful book for women who need a little help redirecting their thoughts and reactions in a positive direction.

There was a lot of things in the book that I’d worked out on my own through prayer, in relationshipss and a bit of honest introspection, as should be the case with any earnest, God-fearing women, especially those raising families. However, since we have all at some point experienced the incredulity and truama of encounters with women that mirror high school escapades, Lysa TerKeurst’s book is not beyond being useful. There are some good reminders in it, even for me.

For example, there was this much needed bit of counsel in our culture where women have been taught that our feelings are no less than the be all, end all of everything that matters in our lives:

“Feelings are indicators, not dictators. They can indicate where your heart is in the moment, but that doesn’t mean they have the right to dictate your behavior and boss you around. You are more than the sum total of your feelings and perfectly capable of that little gift . . . called self-control.”

Or this bit, which I’m not sure I’m interpreting quite the way she meant since I didn’t re-read the book in its entirety:

“Sip the shame so you won’t have to guzzle the regret.”

Using “perfect” as my subjective understanding of all things relational and theological, it’s not a perfect book. The error would be in expecting any person to perfectly mirror my thoughts and beliefs on an issue. In my opinion, what this book does right outweighs what it does wrong, so I deem overall as a positive book.

With chapters on everything from being cognizant of our reactions and what they mean to the awful tendency to project our thoughts, feelings and insecurities onto others without any real supporting evidence, Lysa TerKeurst did a decent job with this one.

 

3.5 out of 5 stars.

I’ve changing the rating system going forward because I think using 5 stars as the highest benchmark with 1 star as the lowest is a better gauge than letter grades.