That question made Betty Friedan (along with several others) incredibly uncomfortable:
“Growing up, many of us could not see ourselves beyond the age of twenty-one. We had no image of our own future, of ourselves as women…I came to a frightening dead end in my own vision of the future.”
To Freidan and many other women of her time, education was something that they had fully attained (bachelor’s degrees, doctorates, etc.), but the problem was that many women simply couldn’t use them to their fullest. Friedan interviews some of her post-grad colleagues, and quotes:
The tragedy was, nobody ever looked us in the eye and said you have to decide what you want to do with your life, besides being your husband’s wife and children’s mother. I never thought it through until I was thirty-six, and my husband was so busy with his practice that he couldn’t entertain me every night. The three boys were in school all day. I kept on trying to have babies despite an Rh discrepancy. After two miscarriages, they said I must stop. I thought that my own growth and evolution were over. I always know as a child I was going to grow up and go to college, and then get married and that’s as far as a girl has to think. After that, your husband determines and fills your life.
To Freidan and her interviewees, the so-called “Problem with no name” / “Feminine mystique” is that women who were able to get educations and move up the academic ladder were in a sense denied the chance to embrace their identities as adults. While they may have studied psychology, business, philosophy, etc. – they were too bound in the social standards of the time of being married. After that, their identities as educated women, students, or future employees disappeared. Instead, they became wives of their husbands, and mothers of their children:
The feminine mystique permits, even encourages, women to ignore the question of their identity. The mystique says they can answer the question “Who am I?” by saying “Tom’s wife…Mary’s mother.” But I dont think the mystique would have such power over American women if they did not fear to face this terrifying blank which makes them unable to see themselves after twenty-one. The truth is… an American woman no longer has a private image to tell her who she is, or can be, or wants to be.”
Throughout her research project, Freidan links this lack of a real, self-defined identity to an overall disappointment with life and feeling of being unfulfilled – self-actualization (one of the most foundational elements in one’s own happiness) is, in other words, an unattainable dream, and had affected women throughout American boundaries for decades, perhaps even longer.
Ever heard of the feminine mystique? It was a book written by Betty Friedan, about the idea of the “happy housewife.” She talks about the importance of women in the domestic sphere and how they should be allowed to break out of this traditional role of housewife and mother, and be able to really enjoy their lives and be able to be sexual and happy and not confined to the domestic sphere. She took a survey of women and the results were that many of them were unhappy with their lives as housewives. She wanted to write an article about it, but no magazine would publish something so controversial. She did not let that stop her though. She wrote an entire book and made sure it was published, so that way people would begin to notice the atrocities in our societal norms.
Today I was looking around and found some really good information on Gloria Steinem. Steinem was a quintessentiall feminist during the 20th century, and continues her efforts today. She’s been tightly linked with movements concerning the equality of wages, availability of contraception, legality of abortion, etc. She founded her own magazine focused on feminist issues, titled Ms.
Oh. She also worked as a Playboy bunny in the 1960s.
That’s right – not exactly what you’d expect.
I’ve attached the link to a PBS interview with her below – in it, she talks about her thought processes before coming to learn of the feminist movement during her time at Smith College – essentially, that “to be normal”, one had to get married and have children. Along with that, she discusses the future of feminism and what it means to be a feminist today. It’s a pretty interesting look at a very extraordinary woman.
Something that I’d like to discuss, however, is an article that she wrote in the 1960s – I Was a Playboy Bunnie. In this extended gonzo-fashioned piece of journalism, Steinem recounts her experience going “undercover” (i.e. with a false name and not revealing that she’d be publishing a piece on it) into one of New York City’s Playboy Penthouses. The entire piece exposes the darker underbelly of the adult entertainment scene during the mid-20th century, which includes massive sexual exploitation of women in desperate need of money, as well as a false image of happiness and contentment for the Playboy bunnies. Throughout her experience, she witnesses how women are completely objectified in their roles as Bunnies – not only by clubgoers (as is predictable), but even by their employers.
How does this relate to our topic, though?
I viewed her story as an example of an educated woman’s experience in a “traditional”/”non-educated” woman’s shoes. The feelings of pity, horror, and simple shock that her tale evokes are all worth mentioning.
Here’s a link to the interview as well as the article I refer to:
I sit across from you in the dining room
You’ve given us so much,
Lighting the lovely lines lying
across your own face,
I whine for nor want no weak role in it.
I am ultimately unfulfilled.
I married you because it was normal.
My mother married you,
Her mother married you,
Her mother’s mother married you,
And so on.
How else am I to scrape out a living in this world?
Powerless, yet not sexless
God save me, my children, and our souls.
Their pink Bunny ears, placed neatly over my head.
Their Electric Blue miniskirt, so tight that I can’t bend over.
A soggy, wrinkled five dollar bill extended from the patron’s arm.
The pack of cigarettes he wants me to buy for and bring to him.
The journal I’m reporting all of this for,
The college degree sitting atop my cupboard door.
All these poor, young things
That one over there, no more than eighteen years old
She sat by her uncle’s home phone for twelve hours a few weeks back
Waiting for the call that would let her into this dark, damp place
And I’m supposed to write about her? How?
Is she not happy? “A bunny –
Like a Playboy playmate – is beautiful, desirable. We’ll do
Everything in our power to make you – the Bunny – the most envied girl
In America, with the most exciting career.
How can I save this poor, pitiable soul?
Two people face eachother,
Coffee table serves
As a border or highway divider between the two.
One’s face is extraordinarily bland – confused, sacred, intent
A mix of all the above. The dim light highlights her
Features as she listens so intently on the other’s monologue.
The speaker leans forward, talking intently, explaining
How things are the way they are,
You can’t change them.
You won’t change them.
Listen to me.
Things’ll go better – easier – this way.
While her face remains focus, a sense of confusion – fear, even –
Runs across her face.
Can things possibly be so simple as he describes?
He gets up from his chair – dead fish eyes stuck into his face.
Serious. She stares at him with a sense of awe and panic.
Maybe there’s something to be heard from all this.
He leaves the room.
The first time they touched me, their fingers burned
slaps searing like the coffee I refused to relinquish
Engineer or engineered differently?
Should my breasts be bared to validate my womanhood?
Male hands check for me, my back meeting the lab table for the first time
sharply smacking the surface I stand behind proudly in the daylight
Four letters. One plea. You say slut when you hear help from me
if I waved a pure, white flag, would you spot it red?
I eat a cheeseburger, it crawls its way back up; it’s OK.
it wouldn’t have helped to fill the curves you say don’t exist anyway
My plastic safety glasses catch liquid from inside
I leave my hair down, not as femininity, but to shelter me from your breath behind
My teeth rip blood from my lip, mocking what you say you will do to my hymen
Suck it up. Stuttered breaths with no air are all I will suck in.
“Girls in engineering aren’t ‘real’ girls,” you say.
Fake girls can be raped.
-BV, Poem 2
I came across an article written Anne-Marie Slaughter, who is a professor of politics and international affairs at Princeton University called “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All,” when I saw the name of Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg. Anne-Marie Slaughter had referenced her TedTalk and I was interested in hearing what she had to say about why there are so few women in leadership positions today. The talk is very inspiring and offers a strong message to women to stay in the labor force, even with the difficulties of having children. One of the most interesting parts Sheryl talks about is the study that a researcher at Colombia University implemented [7:33-8:58]. Essentially, he took the case of Heidi Rosen, who was a very accomplished women, and changed her name on the case to say the name Howard. It shows that when students had to choose who to work for, given that Heidi and Howard each had the same qualifications, and the fact that Howard didn’t even exist, Howard was chosen as the person they wanted to work for. Heidi seemed “too selfish, assertive, and highly political.” It’s so interesting to see the bias that still exists today in the 21st century. Perceptions have a powerful impact into how we think and and act and this “belief barrier” that Heidi is seen as “selfish, assertive, political,” has implications that have a huge impact on women and their ability to progress through all levels of society. While America loves assertive and dominant men as leaders, if women possess such qualities, they are seen and depicted in a negative light. It’s not fair and shows how gender stereotypes still persist in our society today.
Furthermore, I think that Anne-Marie Slaughter is right in her article when she states that in this day and age, women just really can’t seem to have it all. She talks about how the company culture in America is “always on,” as a mode of working. She talks about how to be in a senior position, “it is expected that you be available more than five days a week… and available 24-7 with no visible caring responsibilities.” This has made it difficult for women to reach top leadership roles. In fact, her research shows that women have been having kids in their late 30’s or choosing to freeze their eggs because they do not want to lose out on promotions or be forgotten when they are on maternity leave. The work culture in America does not allow for an even balance between being a mother and being in the workforce as I have mentioned in my Nordic Countries Vs. USA blog.
I think that if women want to have a family, then they should have one whenever they want, and not have to put that on hold because of career choices. I think that they should be able to have a family and still have the career they desire. Anne-Marie Slaughter addresses that if more women could “strike this balance” then there would be more women in leadership positions, yet we still live in a society where we believe that good mothers are always with their children. Of course, Anne and Sheryl would have to disagree with this since they are both working mothers who are very successful and powerful women, but they do admit that it is difficult to balance work and family life.
Here is a link to Anne-Marie Slaughter’s article on “Why Women Can’t Have It All,” it is a very interesting read! http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/07/why-women-still-cant-have-it-all/309020/6/