American history, books for women, Culture, nonfiction

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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Culture, Els' Rabbit Trails, Links worth a look

Rabbit Trail Through the Deep, Deep Woods: MLK Reflections.

Rabbit trails are categorization of posts which are not directly related to reading or book reviews. I believe the post I am re-posting today is in fact, highly related to education and its evolution in the developed West. However, recognizing the controversial nature of what I am posting, I decided fair warning was in order here.

This post is being ripped and republished in its entirety from Garvey’s Ghost*. It is probably the most concise and accurate representation of the farce that took place during the March for Life over the weekend leading up to the celebration of MLK Day.

Reflections On A King Day

I haven’t written anything for King Day for a long time because generally speaking I have come to the conclusion that the people talking about King and his legacy, particularly the “I Have A Dream” speech, don’t really believe in it. Today’s meditation will be an example of this hypocrisy.

During last week’s March for Life a group of mostly white, Catholic, MAGA hat wearing students took a trip to DC to participate. At the end of the trip, while they were waiting for their school bus they were verbally accosted by some “Black Hebrew Israelites” who among other things called them the result of incest and told one black student to “Get Out”. That was a reference to the flick where white people bid on black people’s bodies in order to live longer (and in some cases fulfill alleged sexual fantasies of white women).

The student made famous by the widely circulated video said that in response they decided to do their school cheers. At that point a group of Native American people who had also been doing some sort of protest decided to move towards the boys while beating their drums. One of them got right into the face of one of the MAGA hat shod student and banged his drum directly in his face. During that time the Native American told the student to “go back to Europe”.

When news of this broke, it was the Catholic school boys who were vilified and lied on as aggressors. Media personalities, left and right piled on about how those boys were the epitome of White Supremacy being inculcated in the next generation. How they had no respect for elders, etc. ad-nausea. As a result the families have been doxxed and received death threats. Even the school buckled and threw their students under the bus rather than at minimum saying that they were investigating and had nothing to say until all the evidence was in.

It is fitting that such an event happened so close to MLK day. Because it highlights the turnabout in racial actions that has happened in America since at least late 2015. Whereas in the past it was black people trying to go about their day without being harassed we are at a point where non-whites can harass whites (particularly males) with near impunity. And of course with these being children, that is the new low. As indicated it’s not just race. Gillette recently released an advertisement that insults men (who presumably are the target customers). The APA released a paper saying that masculinity is toxic. Etcetera. Etcetera. Et…cetera.

Going back to the kids though. Some are thinking that simply being a Trump supporter or wearing a MAGA hat is insulting and indicative of bad character in and of itself. Of course this is no different than saying a black kid in a hoodie must be a criminal but that’s another topic, eh? In the video, those MAGA wearing students showed more character and restraint than the people who were against them. If that hatred of all things Trump makes one fail to notice that, then maybe the real “hater” or hate filled person is looking right at you in the mirror. Take today to think on that.

 

 

*My agreement with a blogger or commentator on one or more issues does not constitute full agreement with that blogger or commentator on all issues. Please do not assume otherwise. Thank You.

Culture, Els' Rabbit Trails, joys of reading, Uncategorized

How well do you incorporate the ideas you read?

I am preparing to pre-order Cal Newport’s soon to be released Digital Minimalism. I don’t know for sure that there will be a whole lot inside that I haven’t considered at one point or another, but I like what he has to offer, and I like the idea of all of these considerations packaged into one book.

I’ve run the gamut as it relates to managing technology as a part of my life, going from way too much of it, to fasts of varying lengths, and everything in between. Even having reached what I think is a fairly balanced way of doing things (I’ll get to that in a minute), I still want to read his book.

Reading books which encourage me in the areas where I need or want to maintain improvement is vital for me. I can easily find myself getting overwhelmed or distracted by the stuff of life in ways that tempt me to resort to unhealthy or less productive ways of getting things done. By that I mean running in circles, feeling stressed, and demanding that everyone else join me in my madness so that “we get this stuff done already!” It’s a strategy, and I use that word loosely, which produces the exact opposite of what I want to accomplish.

Inspired in part by Hearth’s recent review of the book Boundaries, I thought a discussion of how books impact any changes we make might be interesting.  I’ll get the ball rolling by recounting a few of the ways books I’ve read have helped me make changes.

  • The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: I still struggle with this one occasionally, for reasons I explored in my original review.  I do purge quite regularly however, and the post-Christmas purge is underway right now. Usually, our -younger- children balk when I start discarding their things. However, inspired by their older sisters, who have been rather captivated my Marie Kondo’s broadcast version of her books, they’ve caught the purging bug as well. They did this without me standing over them to supervise like a drill sergeant:

konmari1

konmari2

 

  • Deep Work: I just realized that I never reviewed this book. Obviously, I’ve been influenced by the work of Cal Newport, and one of the biggest takeaways from his writing is the damaging effects of social media, particularly via use of smartphones:

“Once your brain has become accustomed to on-demand distraction, Nass discovered, it’s hard to shake the addiction even when you want to concentrate. To put this more concretely: If every moment of potential boredom in your life—say, having to wait five minutes in line or sit alone in a restaurant until a friend arrives—is relieved with a quick glance at your smartphone, then your brain has likely been rewired to a point where, like the “mental wrecks” in Nass’s research, it’s not ready for deep work—even if you regularly schedule time to practice this concentration.”

The biggest change I made to help improve my attention (scientists suspect humans are down to a highly debatable 8 seconds) and ability to be distracted is removing certain apps and notifications from my phone. After deleting Instagram and WordPress, relegating them to laptop use only (unless I am uploading content), I dramatically reduced my use of technology without having to do anything else. There is still -as always in life- some room for improvement, but I’m satisfied with the changes and the resulting uptick in productive use of my time both in work and at leisure.

  • Keto Clarity: I have never been able -for various reasons- to jump into the ketogenic lifestyle with both feet and never look back, mainly because I love fruit and baking, in that order. In fact if it wasn’t for the horror I felt at the idea of never eating apples in the fall or peaches, pears, or mangoes in the summer, I might have stuck in out. Alas, I am a tropical gal and I love my tropical fruits. I have however, once and for all accepted the reality of ditching grains from my diet. I dropped the ball over the holidays of course. In the two weeks since the new year began, the difference in my skin, eyes, sleep and appetite since cutting grains and processed sugar is -as usual- remarkable. I suppose It Starts With Food should be included here as well.
  • The Power of a Praying Wife: I used this is two ways. The first was referring it to a dear wife who could use some targeted direction in praying for a husband at a difficult time. Doing that was a good refresher for me of topics I could use to pray for my own husband. Given that he is in a transitory period right now, it was a great reminder for me.
  • Life Together and The Benedict Option: These are both books which, in different ways, highlight the importance of engaged, intimate, Christian community and how it enhances our lives. In our individualistic, increasing atomized and dysfunctional culture, these are important principles for Christians to remember.

How does your reading translate into life action or change? Does you reading translate into life action or change?

 

 

 

Uncategorized

I Study The Past So I Can Repeat It

I like Joshua Gibbs. That’s for new readers here. He gives me things to consider, so I’m interrupting regularly scheduled programming to share his most recent essay.

It is relevant not only because it dovetails with my current series of posts on The Feminine Mystique, but because it is intimately connected to the ways we teach, learn, and impart values to those coming behind us. Education, which encompasses all three of those, is a major secondary theme here at Reading in Between the Life.

In I Study the Past So I Can Repeat It, Gibbs writes:

The idea that the past is a thing which men are “condemned to repeat” is just about as progressive and atheistic as it gets. For the typical Roman, Greek, or Hebrew, the past was a thing to restore, because long ago, men walked with the gods. During the 17th and 18th century, however, the growing desire for a godless government prompted political philosophers to draft new mythologies for explaining society, and thus Hobbes or Rousseau’s “state of nature” became the canvas upon which later thinkers would sketch their political ideas. Unlike the Greeks and Hebrews, Enlightened thinkers denied that men formerly communed with the gods, and claimed, instead, that the past was brutal, primitive, and that there were simply no gods with whom men could walk. Government was an invention of man, and prior to government, the life of man was wild, chaotic, and violent. Before the Enlightenment, there is very little which resembles “the cave man” in Western thought, though the cave man is an obvious necessity of the Enlightened view of history. If things were very terrible in the past, then the paltry accomplishments of the Enlightenment seem far more impressive. Out of such prejudices, the atheist philosopher George Santayana coined the proverb, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Ouch. I’ve uttered that silly phrase myself, although I hope my offering just due to the good and godly values we have discarded makes up for it.

He continues later in the piece:

In this day and age, the danger of “idolizing the past” is a good bit like the danger of “works righteousness,” which is to say it is not much of a danger at all. Given the profound sloth, laziness, boredom, and ennui of the average American, we are flattering ourselves to pretend “works righteousness” is a sin to which we are actually tempted. Further, the omnipresence of banal, sensual, ephemeral popular culture has placed the possibility of idolizing the past on a very long hiatus. If this nation began making a conscious effort to worship the past, I suspect it would take all of us— working around the clock— more than fifty years of robust and tireless idol-making before a single instance of genuinely blasphemous love for the past was truly possible. We loathe the past. Even conservative Christians loathe the past. Spend an hour in Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790) and you will see that fewer than one in a thousand self-professed conservatives alive today has the respect for custom or tradition which served as the ante for conservative political philosophy at the end of the 19th century. The average modern “conservative” has more in common with Rachel Maddow than Edmund Burke.

You should really go read the whole thing.

Read, enjoy, think.

Happy Tuesday!

American history, books for women, Culture, nonfiction

The Feminine Mystique: Ch 5-6

feminine mystique

This is the fourth post in a series on the Betty Friedan’s seminal feminist manifesto, The Feminine Mystique. The first post can be read here. Subsequent posts are here and here.

In chapters five and six, Friedan once again puts her fingers on the pulse of something real and true, then bungles the whole thing with a toxic antidote. Chapter 5 discusses at length the work and impact of Sigmund Freud on sexuality, sex roles, and analysis. Chapter 6 follows up with a critique of the social sciences as a whole and their failure in freeing women to be full and complete human beings.

Chapter 5: The Sexual Solipsism of Sigmund Freud

Before I get into the analysis, I have to admit that the title of this chapter, given what we know of Freud on even a cursory level, is funny and truthful. I will give Friedan credit for that. Freud’s own twisted view of sex at the center of any and everything we do or think in life was not only wrong, but has reverberated in ways that are still harmful when these subjects arise.

Friedan goes into great detail examining Freud’s life, work, and relationships as documented by by his family members and biographers. This paints a picture of a man who, no matter how brilliant, was quite unhinged on matters of sex. Nothing that I’ve read about Freud leads me to believe she was wrong about that.

She argues that Freud made every attempt to infantilize his wife, whose constitution turned out to be much stronger than he realized. It made, Friedan claimed, for a  difficult marriage which cemented Freud’s conclusions. He believed women incapable of being both feminine (interpreted as a focus on husband, hearth and offspring) and masculine (interpreted as being capable of accomplishing anything else). That in fact, trying to do both creates a neurosis in the female psyche of clinical proportions.

Of course, Friedan finds this highly offensive and this entire long chapter is a well worded screed against Freud and captivity it enabled woman to continue in during a season when she should be experiencing everything the world has to offer her.

I found this ironic. On the one hand, I agree that Freud was damaging to women, yet on the other, I think there is some veracity to the notion that women’s attempts to put energy into both family and career creates in us a neurosis. It ‘s a neurosis that men, for reasons I cannot begin to know, don’t seem to be burdened with while establishing careers and building a family simultaneously.

I didn’t say that I believe women are only suited to bread baking and baby bearing. I just think that 60 years of feminist progress has proven part of Freud’s assertion to be true. Friedan would argue that this neurosis happens because we’ve been made to feel guilty when we try to do both, but I disagree. There is something in the feminine psyche, a feminine mystique if you will, that doesn’t like being pulled in these two different directions.

Freud’s theory of “penis envy” is of course, patently absurd on its face. So much so that I cannot deign to discuss it and agree with Friedan that it only poisoned the well of what could have been a substantive conversation on the roots of “the female problem”. I chalk it up to being a daughter of Eve but this is not the discussion we’re having at the moment. I will end the discussion of chapter 5 with this quote, which I agree with Friedan much more than I’d care to admit, and I’ll explain why in the next portion on chapter 6:

It was as if Freud’s Victorian image of woman became more real than the twentieth-century women to whom it was applied. Freud’s theory of femininity was seized in America with such literalness that women today were considered no different than Victorian women. The real injustices life held for women a century ago, were dismissed as mere rationalizations of penis envy. And the real opportunities life offered to women now, compared to women then, were forbidden in the name of penis envy.

Chapter 6: The Functional Freeze, the Feminine Protest, and Margaret Mead

As I read this book I keep -you may notice- coming back around to the phrase, “finger on the pulse of a true problem while offering a toxic prescription”. I suspect that this is because my Christian worldview refuses to allow me to see anyone as a biological tool designed to function apart from the living soul which was breathed into us by the Creator of the universe. This brings me to Friedan’s continuing critique of the social sciences in chapter 6.

In chapter 6 Friedan makes the point that social scientists including Margaret Mead, piggybacked on Freud’s initial conclusions while trying to avoid his unscientific value judgements. They began to embrace what they referred to as functionalism:

In practice, functionalism was less a scientific movement than a scientific word-game. “The function is” was often translated “the function should be”; the social scientists did not recognize their own prejudices in functional disguise any more than the analysts recognized theirs in Freudian disguise. By giving an absolute meaning and a sanctimonious value to the term “woman’s role”, functionalism put American women into a kind of deep freeze- like Sleeping Beauties, waiting for a Prince Charming to waken them, while all around the magic circle the world moved on.

On the one hand, she has a point. Reducing any person, male or female to the sum total of their biological functions is an affront to the God who made us spirit, soul, and body. However, because it is clear that Friedan decided that the way to integrate all of these parts was to strive for worldly and career recognition rather than pour our energies into loving and serving our fellow man, she only gets half credit for her observation. As in math, missing one critical decimal point renders everything after it, including the solution, incorrect and useless.

It’s true that relegating woman to the sum total of her ovaries and uterus being put to use keeps women from growing up in ways that make them proper and valuable wives in other ways. Unfortunately, she doesn’t seem to be terribly concerned with that aspect of a woman’s growing up.

It’s too bad, because failure to acknowledge the true importance of being an effective wife and mother, of focusing on education and careers while dismissing biological realities and differences, has still left us with a generation of women who never grow up. She and her second wave sisters dropped the ball terribly. See today’s screechy, activist, empowered women for evidence.

I really enjoyed this quote while being struck by the overwhelming irony of it, so I’ll end with it:

But why would any social scientist, with godlike manipulative authority, take it upon himself -or herself- to protect women from the pains of growing up?

Why indeed? Of course, these “pains of growing up” necessarily include accepting reality, including biological realities.

Until next time…

 

 

 

Uncategorized

2018 wrap up post.

As a general rule, I dislike posting my reading statistics. Almost every other book blogger I follow seems to read a minimum of a book a week, and many post reviews of several books per week. I fall woefully short of the adequate amount of reading required to be a credible book blogger, for several reasons.

The first is that I read fairly slowly. If I finish a 300-page book in a week, I have had a very good reading week. The second is that a significant percentage of the books I read are nonfiction books. Thirdly, when I read those books, I take notes as I read. That sounds like work to many people, but I genuinely enjoy doing it as it keeps me engaged in the book and note-taking helps cement the pertinent ideas permanently in my memory. Lastly, between homeschooling, homemaking, living life and preparing for the class I teach outside of our homeschooling time, I am not able to dedicate the time to reading that I would like.

The combination of above factors is probably an indication that I shouldn’t even have a book blog. Nevertheless, here I am, so I’m going to do the proper thing and post my stats for 2018, pitiful though they may be. On a positive note, when I went back through and tallied up the number of book reviews I wrote this year, it was indeed small, yet considerably more than I thought. Here goes:

  • January– 4 books read and reviewed
  • February– 3 books read and reviewed
  • March- 0 books reviewed as I logged offline for Lent
  • April– 6 books read and reviewed
  • May– 6 books read and reviewed
  • June– 2 books read and reviewed
  • July– 7 books read and reviewed (summertime!)
  • August– 2 books read and reviewed
  • September– 5 books read and reviewed
  • October– 1 book read and reviewed
  • November– 2 books read and reviewed
  • December– 3 books read and reviewed

The sum of the books read and reviewed is 41. Additionally, I estimated that I read 6-8 books that I chose not to review for various reasons, ranging from redundant and similar to another book, to the fact that they were classic literature assigned books that have been so widely read that I chose to skip a review, to the fact that in some instances, I just ran out of time.

Altogether, I read an estimated 48 books in 2018, which is far more than I thought I read, but short of my goal of 52 books, which would have made for one book per week. Obviously,  I have written far more than 41 posts in 2018, including posts on reading, the business of books, education, and various rabbit trail posts.

Well, that’s my wrap-up!

Here’s to a 2019 filled with a continued love of reading, learning, and living!

Happy New Year!