Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Feminine Mystique

This year marks the 45th anniversary of the publication of Betty Friedan's "The Feminine Mystique".

From The Guardian:
"Social conservatives are wrong to blame women's entry into work on feminism. But women who work are much more likely to adopt feminist-inspired agendas and to reject traditional ideas about marriage. And when women gain economic and political clout, traditional family life is, indeed, destabilised. In Western Europe and North America, divorce rates soared as married women poured into the workplace in the 1970s and 1980s, with women initiating most divorces. Although divorce rates levelled off in the 1990s, cohabitation and unwed childbearing have continued to rise.

Of course, marriage will never again be as stable or predictable as when women lacked alternatives. But even where family change continues apace, it has far less negative consequences when women have access to economic rights than when they do not.

Far from being a threat to family life, the further progress of women's rights may be our best hope for well-functioning families."

From The Taipei Times:
"Today, many social conservatives still blame Friedan and feminism for inducing women to abandon the home for the workplace, thus destabilizing families and placing their children at risk.

But feminism was always more of a response to women entering the labor force than its cause. In Western Europe and the US, early capitalism drew huge numbers of young, single women into industries like textiles. Mill owners often built dormitories to house young female workers. Many of these workers became early supporters of both the anti-slavery and the women’s rights movements, while middle-class women were energized by (and sometimes envious of) working women’s vigorous participation in the public sphere.

By the time Friedan’s book was published in 1963, capitalism was drawing married women into the expanding service, clerical and information sectors. Friedan’s ideas spoke to a generation of women who were starting to view paid work as something more than a temporary break between adolescence and marriage, and were frustrated by society’s insistence that the only source of meaning in their lives should be their role as housewives.

The dramatic decrease in laws and customs perpetuating female subordination over the past 40 years has been closely connected to women’s expanded participation in paid employment. Societies where women remain substantially under-represented in the labor market, such as in the Middle East, remain especially resistant to women’s rights.

As women gain collective rights, and especially as men accept women’s changed roles, many of the disruptive effects of family change are ameliorated. In the US, divorce rates for well-educated women are now much lower than for less-educated women, and women with good jobs or who have completed college are more likely than more traditional women to be married at age 35. In the past, when a stay-at-home wife went to work, the chance that her marriage would dissolve increased. Today, going to work decreases the chance of divorce. In families where the wife has been employed longer, men tend to do more and better child-care, with measurable payoffs in child outcomes."

This story also appeared in The Globe & Mail.

Further links:
Betty Friedan - National Women's Hall of Fame
Betty Friedan - wiki
The Mystique of Betty Friedan
The Feminine Mystique - Chapter One
The Feminine Mystique - Chapter Two
Betty Friedan - Works

No comments: