Economic Equality Still Eludes Women as 'Feminine Mystique' Turns 50

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Betty Friedan leads a group of demonstrators outside a Congressional office in 1971 to show support for the E.R.A. (Wikipedia Commons)

Today, Betty Friedan's "The Feminine Mystique" -- the groundbreaking book credited for igniting the feminist movement of the 1960s -- celebrates its fiftieth anniversary of publication. Friedan's screed aimed to transform women's attitudes toward gender, challenging commonly-held assumptions about men and women at home and at work.

Stephanie Coontz, professor of family history at Evergreen State College and the author of "A Strange Stirring: The Feminine Mystique and American Women at the Dawn of the 1960s," argues that Friedan succeeded in revolutionizing American attitudes about gender.

"When she wrote it, there were still sex-segregated want ads," Coontz explains. "Help wanted female ads in The New York Times were able to say things like, 'you must be really beautiful to be hired for this job.' A woman with a college education, as late as 1970, earned less than a man with a high school education ... so these changes have been incredible."

Coontz contends that these changes are here to stay. "There really has been a change in attitude," she says. "Despite the recession, despite loss of men’s jobs and increases in women who have had to support their families, we don’t see any of the same resentment that we did in the depression.”

The feminist movement may have succeeded in changing American attitudes about gender, but concrete policy changes that enable equality -- particularly economic equality -- have stalled, Coontz argues. "For more than two decades the demands and hours of work have been intensifying, she says. "Yet progress in adopting family-friendly work practices and social policies has proceeded at a glacial pace."

Coontz advocates for policies to help men and women balance their work and family lives, similar to those enacted by many European countries over the last few decades. "Our society, our government, our political leaders have really failed to make any accommodation to the fact that not only do women have to work, but most women and men today would prefer to share both the breadwinning and the child-rearing," she says.


Stephanie Coontz

Produced by:

Jillian Weinberger

Comments [3]

Paul Janci from Portland, OR

Recognizing the need for work life balance is important, especially by employers. But it also falls to the individual. Sometimes we can get caught up in a victim mentality without looking at our role in a situation. Happiness is a choice. To the listener who "has a hard time keeping my house above 70*F"....yours is a first- world problem. There are plenty of people without that luxury. Wear a sweater and be happy.

Feb. 19 2013 02:00 PM
tim c from baltimore

It seems everytime this equality issue is brought up in media, the difference in wages for a similar job is never compared with the employee's exPERIENCE as well as education and the payrange for the job. The reason others may get more is b/c they've'bn doing the job longer & therefore have more to contribute. That said, when 'exactly able' employees vie for wages, gender should not be an considered (14th amend/EEOC).

Also, the focus on European style child-leave (which has been extended to substantial PATERnity leave elsewhere) is ill-fitted in a multicultural U.S. where fathers are continuing to be shoved out of the family structure by court abuses, PC-thought re-entrenching tender year doctrine, etc. The focus on maternity leave - let's be real, no feminist pushes for equality via PATERNITY leave - is a not-so-shadowy attempt to drive women to conceive with a knowing they can extort financial gain from fathers while pushing them outside the family home, all-the-while meeting their 'parental obligation' of mothering by paying an army of ad hoc sitters/family members (who just happen to not be the father).

Efforts along this path will collapse the US' family-based society in less than a decade as we continue to fight amongst ourselves/"eat our young" (to quote a cliche), oblivious to more ominous threats from a starving world. When pot-/drug-addled, pharmacist-prescribed doping, XBOX-playing children are 'lobotomized' for the good of society (in schools, courthouses,kickback-receiving-doctors-offices, dangerous playgrounds, etc.) it will be b/c of a generation who ignored long-term affects of ANYthing for the gains of "having it all", "getting mine", each day selfishly looking opposite those paths that are sustainable for 30 - 50 years.

It is not sustainable for the vast majority of Americans to have children AND each adult to have a career. While wages have leveled as we're wage-globalized, your NET income has decreased, lost paying for police, courts, emergency services b/c we don't have a society that has a long-term view...where you can unabashedly say to little Johnny & Jane, "I made a better world for you." Instead we proclaim, 'I get paid more than your daddy did. ' [ Google 'pride before the fall' dear lady. ]
One person was never supposed to "have it all"...we live in the United States of America, not the "315 Million Individuals of America". And let me tell you what you'll find at the end of that hallway....long hours, children complaining they never see you, & a corporate structure that aims as low as you did. And the reward? "Sorry Melissa, your job's being outsourced next week."

Feb. 19 2013 12:20 PM
Joe Sarneski from Fairfield, CT

Rather than work life balance of individual women and men, aka parents, should we not begin to discuss "family life balance".

Family = parents + children + grandparents + grandchildren + significant others (aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, neighbors among others).

As a society I believe that we need to move back to the concerned era of the "old days" when personal life mattered more than career. We cannot bring back the so-called "good old days" but we can learn something from those days and use the lessons that we received in growing up to our benefit today, I would hope.

Feb. 19 2013 09:47 AM

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