“Is This Really What I want to Be?”

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.

 

-CI

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Gloria Steinem – “It’s not about integrating a not-so-good system, it’s about making it better.”

Howdy all,

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.

What?

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:

http://www.gloriasteinem.com/updates/2011/8/22/i-was-a-playboy-bunny.html

Women’s Progress After High School: The Figures

Hi All,

I’ve recently been doing some more digging into the actual history behind Women’s Education lately (my room is so filled to the brim with various books from the Hatcher library that its hard to open the door) and have found a very interesting interview online from a University of California professor, Margaret Nash. The link is below – please pardon the overly-enthusiastic host:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X1s-AzoKnQg

Anyways, the professor seems to mention two specific trends: the first being that initially (during the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries), women were actually more trending towards education in the sciences, whereas men were given more classical educations that focused on the ancient languages of Greek and Latin. As jobs and industries became more geared towards the sciences, however, the trends reversed themselves, with men taking more scientific educations and women being inclined to classical ones.

The second trend she mentions is that historically women have always had an upward trend concerning their post-high school educations.

Given that I’ve got all these books lying around, I decided to see the trend myself.

It turns out she’s absolutely right – here’s some figures:

If we look at 1947, only 4.7% of women 25 and older (of all races) had completed four years of college or more. One year later, however, in 1948, women make up a mere 22% of the entire labor force in the United States.

As we continue on throughout history, the amount of women who hold at least a Bachelor’s degree increase, and so do their participation rates in the labor force. The numbers progress through the 30 and 40th percentages throughout the 50s, 60s, and 70s, and end up at 55.8% in 1987. Not coincidentally, we find that the number of women with college degrees also rapidly increasesm starting at 4.7% in 1940, and ending up (with a very smooth increase) at 58.2% in 1972.

I have more details on what exactly this means for women’s lifestyles and outcomes in terms of well-being, but I’ll post that piece tomorrow.

 

-Charlie

Where do Men Fit In to This?

I’m not gonna lie to you – When I was put into a group with three girls who had chosen feminism as our blog’s overall topic, I wasn’t particularly excited. I felt so far removed from any feminist experience that I didn’t quite feel as though I had enough to draw from to contribute in any significant manner. I felt like I had nothing to do with feminism – that was a women’s issue, and a women’s progression. How many of you feel the same way I felt?

http://http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qfgxHKli9CU

Now take a look at the above video – in it, Betty Freidan makes the claim that the gender revolution that took place (or, was taking place during the time of that interview) was inherently dual-sexed. Both men and women shed off old, traditional ways of acting (men started growing longer hair, throwing off the traditional norm of the ‘tight-lipped, crew-cut man’), replacing them with characteristics that were traditionally associated with the opposite sex. Men became softer, and women became more assertive.

The way that we act in modern society, then, is generally much softer and more sensitive than even Friedan’s time. The day of the “bulging-muscled, bear-killing man”, Friedan states, is a thing of that past – it’s no longer necessary. Now, men tend to be much softer compared to their predecessors. Why? A product of the gender revolution!

What’s the past, and how do we remember it?

Hi again all,

Its a bit early, but lately I’ve been thinking about my childhood a bunch. I remember all the good things – dunkaroos, Rugrats, animaniacs, and playing kickball at recess during school.

I also didn’t remember a lot of the bad/non-optimal things that may have existed during those times, too – a lack of a constant link to my family via the internet or phone, inefficiency of actually checking out books in a library, some bullying, and my parent’s existence in a time where the housing bubble began to build up over false pretenses about the future value of homes.

But what’s interesting is that even at this point in my life – 21 years old, ready to graduate with a promising career as a teacher – I’m still sometimes thinking about how great it was “back then”.

Much of what’s going to be written on this blog is going to have to do with different frames of thought that existed a few decades ago (and even up until today in certain areas) – so, lets address what these stereotypes were, as well as how we perceive them today. In fact, here’s an article written by an online journal concerning the topic. Even our Betty Friedan (who’s going to come up quite a bit in the future) makes an appearance:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/womens-life/9900099/Why-is-the-1950s-housewife-making-a-comeback.html

I highly suggest you go through the piece, as its well-written an has a solid point to make. Incase you don’t have the time, I’ll summarize it: The article claims that by an large, the idea of becoming a “housewife” in the modern age has become rather unfashionable – women seek to move on to things that they and society might deem “bigger and better”. However, there seems to be some sort of a comeback into the fashion of it all. The writer cites examples of popular figures such as fashion designers who have created lines of products geared towards the reto, 1950’s-era style of housewives, and even Taylor Swift (a pretty large role model for the female youth in America) has been quoted as saying certain things that might hint at a desire to “lose” agency in relationships.Perhaps the most intriguing quote in the article came from Cal State’s women’s studies professor Shira Tarrant:

“Wearing kitschy aprons or a form-fitting Betty Draper frock can be fun, sexy, or even practical. But this fashion revival is also powerfully symbolic and political. At this very same moment when opportunities are expanding, there is a revived appeal of the 1950s middle-class housewife look, with all its domestic associations still held firmly in place. This timing is curious. Just when social and economic expectations are shifting, we go retro.”

I think much of this can speak to how we tend to romanticize the past – no matter how brutal or unappealing it may have actually been.

This can be seen in a bunch of ways, but particularly in, say, a conversation with one’s elders, who constantly gripe about the present, always wanting to head back to “the good ol’ days” – filled with always friendly neighbors, students respecting their teachers and never getting in trouble, and an 18-year old drinking age, which didn’t cause any harm to anyone ever, right?

Obviously, there are issues with all of the ways that we idealize the past that I’ve listed above – but those are just some things off the top of my head. I’m sure any older reader can pick out a few him/herself as well. Essentially, I’m trying to say that once we’re removed from an experience (i.e. childhood or a certain ‘comfort zone’) we tend to idealize certain aspects of it, which may not leave us with the most accurate rendition of it. This seems to certainly be the case with women’s fashion now, and the mid-20th century as a whole. Let’s not forget all the downsides of that era, ranging from higher violent crime rates, staunch anti-communist hatred, and racialized segregation.

Is the same thing happening on a societal level today that’s happening to the way I’m remembering my own past? Maybe. What do you think?

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I can tell you one thing that isn’t debatable, though – godlike Dunkaroos, man. Not the chocolate ones, though.

 

Opening & Starters

Hi all!

I’m gonna be the member of our group whose going to focus on the mid-20th century progress and struggles that women have encountered in history. I’m pretty new to the topic and am the only male in my group, but I’m pretty excited as to how things are gonna turn out. Much of my research for this topic is going to come from the extremely acclaimed book that was released in 1963, by Betty Friedan (pictured): “The Feminine Mystique”.

This book surfaced during a period of American history that many of us would consider extremely prosperous (for some, at least): the United States had just rolled out of the extremely healthy 1950s in which black workers had begun to migrate to urban centers, away from the southern countryside. Large industrial manufacturers also had gained steam during the era which helped provide jobs for the majority of Americans – things were looking good. Even Detroit – now both vilified and pitied for poverty, homelessness, crime, and joblessness – was a thriving urban area that was considered at the top of America’s social spaces.

So what was wrong?

ENTER: “The Problem With No Name” – a phenomenon that affected educated, middle-class housewives across America. I’ll be delving more into it later on in my posts, though. Keep reading!

-CRI

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