Betty Friedan first sent shockwaves across America in 1960, with an article in Good Housekeeping titled, “Women Are People, Too!” It asked the essential question for women at that time: Is this all there is?
Image by Smithsonian Institution via Flickr
It is difficult for us, born some 30+ years after this article was published, to imagine what that world was like. It is extraordinary how much the world has changed in such a short time.
There are no words for this search in the millions of words written for women about women these past 20 years in columns, articles, and books by experts that tell us that our role as women is to seek fulfillment as wives and mothers. The voices of tradition and the voices of Freudian sophistication tell us that we can desire no greater destiny than to glory in our role as women, in our own femininity. They tell us how to catch a man and keep him; how to breast-feed children and handle toilet training, sibling rivalry, adolescent rebellion; how to buy a dishwasher, cook Grandmother’s bread and gourmet snails, build a swimming pool with our own hands; how to dress, look, and act more feminine, and make marriage more exciting; how to keep our husbands from dying young and our sons from growing into delinquents.
They tell us — the psychologists and psychoanalysts and sociologists who keep tracing the neuroses of child and man back to mother — that all our frustrations were caused by education and emancipation, the striving for independence and equality with men, which made American women unfeminine. They tell us that the truly feminine woman turns her back on the careers, the higher education, the political rights, the opportunity to shape the major decisions of society for which the old-fashioned feminists fought.
Now a thousand expert voices pay tribute to our devotion from earliest girlhood to finding the husband and bearing the children who will give us happiness. They tell us to pity the “neurotic,” “unfeminine,” “unhappy” women who once wanted to be poets or physicists or Presidents, or whatever they had it in them to be. For a woman to have such aspirations, interests, goals of her own, the experts keep telling us, impairs not only her ability to love her husband and children but her ability to achieve her own sexual fulfillment.
How can a woman shut her ears to all the voices of the experts and listen instead to the voice inside herself that tells her something else? This is the question women are asking themselves and seeking to answer all over the country. I know, because in the past few years I have interviewed thousands of them. Sometimes a woman says, “I feel empty, somehow,” or “useless,” or “incomplete,” or she says it is “as if I do not exist.”
Good Housekeeping has run the piece again in their September 2010 issue. With it are comments from their readers at the time.
read more »