The feminine mystique says that the highest value and the only commitment for women is the fulfilment of their own femininity. It says that the great mistake of Western culture, through most of its history, has been the undervaluation of this femininity. It says that femininity is so mysterious and intuitive and close to the creation and origin of life that manmade science may never be able to understand it. But however special and different, it is in no way inferior to the nature of man; it may even in certain respects be superior. The mistake, says the mystique, the root of women’s troubles in the past is that women envied men, women tried to be like men, instead of accepting their own nature, which can find fulfilment only in sexual passivity, male domination and nuturing maternal love.
I read the Feminist Mystique again after a long time and this time less for feminist political study and more for my personal rediscovery of feminism and understanding of my sometimes identifiable ‘liberal feminist’ roots.
Being a 20 year old reading a book as groundbreaking, insightful, and still highly controversial like the Friedan’s work was restricted to the political feminism class I took during my undergraduate studies. It was a core text book from which to extract (feminist) political theory and regurgitate on the exam and cite for the mid-term paper. The issues discussed and the task at hand were linked only for the purpose of my finishing with a suitably sufficient grades- not for true understanding and growth like they advertise in university brochures. Ironically, at that time I had some of the same views that Friedan exemplifies throughout her book as women with The Problem. I couldn’t understand then why my ethos included a house with a white picket fence, a dog, my wearing an apron, baking cookies while I reminisce over the fact that I have a degree but I choose to fulfill my life as a mother instead.
Now at 26, having gone through a few years of self understanding and the too much quoted ‘path of self discovery’, and still knowing that many years lie ahead of me for a self induced and internalized dialectic, Friedan’s work has been highlighted in a new way that stands relevant to my life.
At 26 and on the brink of being a romantic social pariah for my singleness and lack of motivation to find a partner to satisfy my feminine existence, I stand spurned by my ethnic culture with a striking resemblance to the beast which drove most women of Friedan’s 50s to graduate with a posthaste degrees in matrimony. The same blinding crisis which caused women of Friedan’s era to stop seeing themselves at 21, was a bit delayed for my generation and instead we stopped to see ourselves past 30. Surely, by 30 ‘successful’ women will have entered their career, have a romantic partner, have sufficient possessions to warrant insurance, and concern herself mostly in relation to the partner and not as her individual self. For myself, a fortune teller a many fates- so I may be prepared for any one that actually happens- 30 has become my own ‘frightening dead end’. I have not planned, prepared or foresee myself achieving selfish goals independent of another. Each page turned and each new chapter begun in Friedan’s book read like a Siren prophecy, enticing me to take the simpler path but with a knowing end to personal destruction.
The Femimist Mystique was controversial and revealing in the 60s like phone-hacked sext messages of politicians are revealing today. They are embarrassing and make us squirm with uneasiness, and yet the subject reveals the true human nature of the subject no matter how yucky it may be to talk about it. It is revealing and surprising to me that it still makes me squirm to read some of it. The reason: we as a women’s collective have not yet resolved The Problem. We are still trying to ‘have it all’, ‘balance the best of both worlds’, ’embrace our femininity’, rather than escape the very thing that has confused, dissatisfied, and finally apathetic, we have tried to integrate it into our modern world. Our modern feminism has sufficiently identified the feminism which bound us, but we have not try to free ourselves from it, we have merely loosened the knot.
When then do we escape our cords? When we stop integrating the ‘feminine role’ with our post-modern goals, and see ourselves independent of any roles. At 26 I’m too young and ill-experienced to know or foresee if this is possible. It raises too many un-researched, poorly accredited theories on non-gender specific biology, sociology, and philosophy. Friedan’s conclusions are as undiscovered as mine, as undiscovered as our collective. Perhaps the purpose of completing this book a second time wasn’t to discover a solution, but to re-identify the issue as alive as it was in Friedan’s 50s.