I was saddened to hear about the death of NOW co-founder and Feminine Mystique author Betty Friedan yesterday.
I didn’t really know why I felt sad. I did not know her. She was 85 years old. By all accounts, she had lived a very full and remarkable life.
It was author Ann Douglas who (as always) hit the nail on the head in her blog post. I think I felt sad because I realized that after all of the hard work of feminism, which the tributes written to Friedan chronicled, we are still having some of the same, tired conversations. We continue to be told that we need to be Happy Housewives just as we were 50 years ago. Only now, we also are expected to be Yummy Mummies and pilates ourselves into a pair of $400, size 0 jeans six weeks post-partum.
Sometimes I feel that there has been significant progress. Corporations are becoming more aware of work/life balance issues. There are laws to prevent gender discrimination in the workplace. Divorce courts often recognize the work of mothering in the division of marital assets. The much loved Dove Girls commercials, for example, finally (finally!) show us what real women look like (of course, Unilever, the company which markets Dove, also markets Axe cologne which has some of the most sexist ads out there).
But then, there is also this retrograde ‘come on girls, let’s put on our aprons and lipgloss and tell the feminists that they got it all wrong’ thing that is bubbling up in the mainstream media and threatens to tug at our heels like quicksand. There is this desire to revive the spectre of the Ugly Feminist and to dismiss all of the work that has been done on our behalf. Only now instead of hearing that feminists don’t get dates, we are now being told that feminists are anti-mom. I have just finished penning the first draft of my review of Happy Housewives, where Shine accuses organizations such as NOW and feminists in general as being somehow anti-mother. She seems to forget that many feminists, including Friedan, were mothers themselves.
I just feel sad, I guess, that we, as women, as mothers, seem to be a little stuck. Thanks, in part, to Friedan, we know that we are being played. That we are being fed a line so that we will want to Clean Our Homes (and buy the cleaning products) and Be Thin (and buy the weight loss products) and Be Perfect Moms (and buy things to alleviate our guilt and our stress when we invariably fall short). And yet, somehow, we still seem tempted to buy into it — at least, I know I do.
When I am reminded of the achievements of Friedan and her feminist sisters, I feel so grateful for all of that they did for our generation (to think that only 50 years ago women used to be fired when they grew old or got married or became pregnant.) But I guess I also feel a little worried. Worried that as feminists like Freidan die, we will lose sight of why they fought for what they fought for. I am worried that we will start to take feminist issues lightly. That we won’t get mad when people infantilize us, patronize us, dismiss us as Yummies or Happy Housewives or Hot Moms, somehow try to convince us that feminism isn’t feminine and tell us that Motherhood is just another arena where women can compete.
And that when our daughters reach our age, and have children of their own, they too will be stuck having the same tired, old conversations.