The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan came out in February 1963; 50 years ago. The purpose of the book was to debunk the idealization of “The Feminine Mystique.” It is odd that the delegitimization of femininity would be the basis of so called “women’s rights.” Why would a woman supposedly speaking on behalf of women make it her primary purpose to try to destroy the honor and beauty and “mystique” women previously enjoyed? It is like a woman declaring that women are not beautiful, women are not precious, women are not to be admired, that there is nothing special and unique about being a woman. This then is “empowering” for women, to tear down everything that women uniquely possessed and were previously valued for. Furthermore any man that does not go along with the rejection of femininity is condemned as a “sexist.” A misogynist, according to feminists, is any man who values admires and wants to support femininity; the unique positive attributes of women.
There were those who recognized there was something wrong with feminism and feminists early on. There was a best selling book released in 1947 called Modern Woman – The Lost Sex authored by Marynia Farnham and Ferdinand Lundberg. Betty Friedan herself mentions this book as being very influential in The Feminine Mystique where she writes “The literal application of Freudian theory can be seen in these passages from Modern Woman: The Lost Sex, by the psychoanalyst Marynia Farnham and the sociologist Ferdinand Lundberg, which was paraphrased ad nauseam in the magazines and in marriage courses, until most of its statements became a part of the conventional, accepted truth of our time.”
There is a very interesting video of Dr. Farnham speaking on the problems of women working. It is from an early 1950s newsreel. Below is a transcript of the short newsreel:
“Announcer: The family was solidly founded on the father as patriarch and breadwinner and on the mother as cook, housekeeper, and nurse of the children. One of the trends of modern life which has been cited as most disruptive of marriage is the increasing economic independence of women. Today U.S. industry is employing hundreds of women who before the war were homemakers devoting their full time to their families and their families and their family responsibilities. Everywhere children of working parents are being left without adequate supervision or restraint. Today the woman with a position in business equal to a successful man’s is economically able to terminate her marriage if she is so minded since she is her own breadwinner. But are such women really better off? Strongly against careers for women is Dr. Marynia Farnham, noted physician and co-author of the bestseller Modern Woman: The Lost Sex.
Dr. Farnham: Catastrophic social forces have propelled American women away from femininity and into careers at terrific cost to themselves and to society. Abandoning their feminine role has made women unhappy because it has made them frustrated. It has made children unhappy because they do not have maternal love. And it has made their husbands unhappy because they do not have real women as partners; instead their wives have become their rivals.”
“Work that entices women out of their homes and provides them with prestige only at the price of feminine relinquishment involves a response to masculine strivings. The more importance outside work assumes the more are the masculine components of the woman’s nature enhanced and encouraged. In her home and in her relationship to her children, it is imperative that these strivings be at a minimum and that her femininity be available both for her own satisfaction and for the satisfaction of her children and husband. She is, therefore, in the dangerous position of having to live one part of her life on the masculine level, another on the feminine. It is hardly astonishing that few can do so with success. One of these tendencies must of necessity achieve dominance over the other. The plain fact is that increasingly we are observing the masculinization of women and with it enormously dangerous consequences to the home, the children (if any) dependent on it, and to the ability of the woman, as well as her husband, to obtain sexual gratification.”
I find it most interesting that in 1947, right at the beginning of life getting back to normal after World War II, that there was a major effort being made to argue against encroaching and newly emerging feminism and that the concept of femininity was a major part of the arguments on behalf of the traditional family. Those who prized the traditional family placed a high importance on the value of femininity and warned against the dangers of the masculinization of women while those who argued against the traditional family went out of their way to trash and de-emphasize femininity. The very title of Betty Friedan’s book, The Feminine Mystique, shows that what Friedan was attacking first and foremost was femininity, what the “Feminine Mystique” is referring to. Today you never hear mainstream social commentators talk about femininity, or masculinity for that matter. This is changing a little bit with the emergence of mainstream outlets talking about chivalry such as the recent article in The Atlantic titled “Let’s Give Chivalry Another Chance.” Bringing up the issue of chivalry is an indirect way of bringing up masculinity. It’s a first step even if it’s a tentative step. Talking about femininity and masculinity seems to be taboo. To actually value women as women and men as men is forbidden.
Caryl Rivers, a feminist journalist who contributes to many major newspapers, appeared in a roundtable discussion on the topic of “The 50th Anniversary of the Feminine Mystique.” She is pushing the idea that there is a “soft war on women” today. In the roundtable discussion she had some interesting things to say. I quote, going from 23:37 to 25:47 in the Youtube video:
Caryl Rivers: “Then there’s one of my favorites, the mommy tax. It’s interesting how you can be moving up the ladder and working and honored by your peers and suddenly! You have a child. Instantly your brain dies. People look at you and say, “You’re always going to be running home, you’re not going to be committed to work, you’re not going to be able to think, you’re not going to be able to focus.” And the interesting thing about the mommy tax is “What’s your lifetime loss of earnings in terms of the rest of your life?” In general a college educated woman who has a child, she will lose about a million dollars in lifetime earnings. A million bucks! That’s a lot. Interesting enough, there’s a fatherhood bonus. There’s a motherhood tax and a fatherhood bonus. And what that means is that while mothers are looked upon as brain dead, when a man has a child suddenly he’s looked upon as responsible; not running around to do sex, drugs, and rock’n roll, he’s going to be a wonderful employee. There’s a terrific study from Wall Street where mothers work 92% as many hours as fathers but they only earn 53% as much money. However the fathers, they work 90% as much as the childless men and guess what? They earn more; they earn 122% as much money as the childless man. So, there’s one of the differences you can look forward to.
Interesting stuff. Men get second chances when they make mistakes, women don’t. The idea with a man is “Yeah, he’s going to go out and he’s going to reach for it, he’s going to take risks and if he falls flat on his butt; dust him off, he’s a good guy, he’ll have another chance. If a woman does the same, then it’s like “She can’t do it, she can’t hack it, she hasn’t got the right stuff,” end of her promotions. She’s going to flatline. Men are promoted on promise and women are promoted on performance.”
Caryl Rivers is not talking about the past here in the bad ‘ole days of “discrimination against women,” she is talking about today. Rivers would probably attribute these disadvantages for women in the workforce to “gender stereotypes” and “discrimination” but I suspect employers are just responding to the reality of what is typical for women and what is typical for men in employment situations as employers have enough experience with male and female employees to know that fatherhood for men improves work performance while motherhood for women worsens work performance and that failure on a challenging project for a man is not necessarily indicative of long term poor performance while failure in a challenging environment for a woman is indeed a danger sign that the woman “doesn’t have what it takes.” These are fundamental differences between men and women that no amount of feminist ideology can overcome or alter. What these differences really indicate is that married women shouldn’t be in the workforce in the first place; that the workplace is not women’s natural area of strength.
In a Salon article titled “The soft war against women” Caryl Rivers said “Beneath the shiny veneer of the ‘You Go Girl!’ message is a more sinister reality. The culture is becoming extremely hostile to feminism’s goal of equality between the sexes.” I sure hope Rivers is right about that. One thing that is true; probably the strongest evidence that gender relations are starting to return to sanity; is that women’s participation in the labor force actually appears to be in long term decline after continually increasing from 1870, when statistics first started to be collected on this issue, until 2000. In April 2000 in the United States women’s labor force participation in the 25 to 54 age group peaked at 77.3%. In January 2013, the most recent month available, this figure stood at 74.0%. Even more impressive the last time women’s labor force participation was this low was in July 1991; more than 20 years ago.