Women’s History Month fun continues with our homage to 50s housewives, and seminal book that spoke of a problem that “has no name.” Fittingly, “The Feminine Mystique” also turned 50 earlier this year.
The Atlantic interviewed Gail Collins about its significance:
The goal of being a full-time housewife made so much sense earlier because you didn’t have the option of going to college and becoming a brain surgeon. The idea that you could be running your own shop was incredibly empowering. Women who did this full-time were a critical economic factor in their household, as important as their husbands. They manufactured most of the things the family needed.
Later, women who devoted their lives to the domestic arts didn’t get the respect that the farm wife had gotten because they had no economic role. That’s when they came up with a vision of the “total” woman, the woman celebrated in women’s magazines, the middle-class woman, the moral compass. Men were in the marketplace and no longer had time to be moral compasses. This job was elevated emotionally but didn’t have any economic point, so there was a loss of power and respect in a country where the economic role is everything. Betty Friedan was born into this era, in which women still had all those issues, but being a housewife, which used to be exhausting, wasn’t all that hard anymore. Raising children was hard but only lasted for a short chunk of a woman’s life. Friedan wasn’t only a housewife—she was a freelance writer and had other roles. But her complaints about that one role, the power of her own rage and dissatisfaction seemed to resonate amazingly.