The Feminine Mystique at Fifty

Monday, February 18, 2013

Fifty years ago this week, Betty Friedan published "The Feminine Mystique."  The groundbreaking feminist text proclaimed that the stalled rigidity of sexual roles was out of step with the other transformations taking place in the 20th century. It was a call to action.

 

Friedan’s revolutionary book is widely credited with bringing women’s issues to the attention of mainstream America. However, there were serious shortcomings in her analysis, especially as it pertained to women of color in the US. Marcia Ann Gillespie, the first African American editor in chief of Ms. Magazine and freelance journalist Anna Holmes, founder of the website Jezebel, explain how Friedan's book resonated with women of color and the ways in which it has influenced the feminist movement.
When Gillespie read "The Feminine Mystique" for the first time in the late 1960s, she found the book to be a powerful testament to the struggles of middles class and upper-middle class white women -- but not necessarily women of color.  "The world she was describing was not the world I knew," says Gillespie. "We come from a tradition in which we have always been here as workers. We were brought here to be workers."
Despite its shortcomings, Gillespie believes that aspects of "The Feminine Mystique" spoke to the gender inequality in the African American rights movement. According to her, the book served as a starting point for African American women to address those inequities. "Taking Friedan's message and reworking it-- putting it through the lens of our experience-- created our way of addressing those same issues," she says.
When freelance journalist Anna Holmes, founder of the website Jezebel, recently reread the book, she says even fifty years after its publication,  some of its concerns felt a little too familiar. "I was struck by how little had changed in some ways -- in terms of the ways that consumer culture shapes a narrative about women's worth; their sexuality, their fertility, this kind of cult of parenthood -- the ways in which women are blamed for being mother's that are not good enough or too good."
"The issues are still with us," echoes Ms. Gillespie, "Anything that gets women and men thinking about these issues of inequality as they relate to gender, that's important."

Friedan’s revolutionary book is widely credited with bringing women’s issues to the attention of mainstream America. However, there were serious shortcomings in her analysis, especially as it pertained to women of color in the US. Marcia Ann Gillespie, the first African American editor in chief of Ms. Magazine and freelance journalist Anna Holmes, founder of the website Jezebel, explain how Friedan's book resonated with women of color and the ways in which it has influenced the feminist movement.

When Gillespie read "The Feminine Mystique" for the first time in the late 1960s, she found the book to be a powerful testament to the struggles of middles class and upper-middle class white women -- but not necessarily women of color.  "The world she was describing was not the world I knew," says Gillespie. "We come from a tradition in which we have always been here as workers. We were brought here to be workers."

Despite its shortcomings, Gillespie believes that aspects of "The Feminine Mystique" spoke to the gender inequality in the African American rights movement. According to her, the book served as a starting point for African American women to address those inequities. "Taking Friedan's message and reworking it-- putting it through the lens of our experience-- created our way of addressing those same issues," she says.

When freelance journalist Anna Holmes, founder of the website Jezebel, recently reread the book, she says even fifty years after its publication,  some of its concerns felt a little too familiar. "I was struck by how little had changed in some ways -- in terms of the ways that consumer culture shapes a narrative about women's worth; their sexuality, their fertility, this kind of cult of parenthood -- the ways in which women are blamed for being mother's that are not good enough or too good."

"The issues are still with us," echoes Ms. Gillespie, "Anything that gets women and men thinking about these issues of inequality as they relate to gender, that's important."

 

Guests:

Marcia Ann Gillespie and Anna Holmes

Produced by:

Jen Poyant

Comments [1]

Justin Rudelson from Dallas, TX

Thank you for your brilliant show today. I am a devoted listener. I truly love your show. Thank you so much for everything you so.

I would like to clarify an essential point. Betty Goldstein Friedan was not a "white person." She was a Jew. Her life and work only make sense in that context. So too for Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Judy Chicago, and Gloria Steinem. Friedan was not "white" writ European- American Christian. The whitewashing of the Jew that took place after WWII and during the civil rights movement was in fact a European Christian movement to usurp the Jews' role as the Chosen Race and replace it by those who were central to American Exceptionalism's position as the new chosen people--The American White Christian. This was a new post-Holocaust movement to eliminate the Jews and make them simply "whites" who believe in Judaism rather than Christianity. Unfortunately, we Jews bought into this after WWII and the opening of universities and greater society to Jews. Furthermore, it can be argued that Jews that did employ African-Americans as nannies and housekeepers had a much more just relationship than did "white" Christians. For the most part since Jews were not responsible for the enslavement of African-Americans, we felt and still feel closer to African-Americans and have been at the forefront of US social justice movements. Being subsumed within the category of "white" is not only a "whitewashing" of 4,000 years of Jewish history but also "Racism." Perhaps you might consider doing a program on this.

Prof. Justin Rudelson, PhD.
Southern Methodist University
Master of Liberal Studies Program

Feb. 18 2013 01:41 PM

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