The feminine mystique
In 1963, a book was published in America which was called as the feminine mystique written by Betty Friedan which exploded the collective consciousness of the Americans. This went on to become one of the most controversial best-sellers of that time and affected the life of millions of Americans. This book in fact gave the impetus for the 2nd wave of feminism in America and the world.
Betty Friedan did her masters in psychology but then opted out to live a life as a housewife instead of pursuing a career after college. But later she went on to write a book called as the feminine mystique after experiencing vast emptiness in her life and studying many others who showed similar tendencies. She called this emptiness as the “problem” that has no name and blamed it on the idealized image that the society had for the feminine and which was bombarded on the collective psyche of the women of that era.
She called this idealized image of the feminine as the feminine mystique. The feminine mystique was a term given by the author to the idealized feminine behaviour that was expected of women of that era where they were expected to be a housewife who looked after, cared and nurtured the family and nothing more. Everything else which became an obstacle to this idealized image like education and professional career was considered as unfeminine.
Women were indeed considered incapable of any pursuits outside her home be it in the arena of the social, the religious, the political, the economical , the artistic and the scientific structures of a patriarchal society. Women pursuing the unfeminine path were called neurotic and were ostricated from the traditional society in those days.
Now this book called as the feminine mystique was indeed a revolution against the idealised image of the feminine where women were just considered as a tool for making a perfect home and nothing more. This book that was written by Betty Friedan can be considered as a foundation stone that was placed for the 2nd wave of feminism that swept in America and across the world. It is a classic which touches upon the universal concepts such as the inner voice, the vast emptiness that is felt within a person and the larger purpose of life.
This book was written in an era when women were made to move back to the home to take up the traditional housewife role after the trauma of the World war-2 and it was written during a period when people lived under the fear of the atomic bomb and the cold war.
The Feminine Mystique: The Book
This book by Betty Friedan has the following chapters
1. The problem that has no name
The feminine mystique: Many faces of the 21st century working women
Now we need to understand that things have changed quite a bit from the times of 1950s and 1960s. In most of the parts of the world the role of women in the workplace is being appreciated and acknowledged. In this regard time has come to study the opportunities and problems faced by women at the work place. For this we need to analyze in depth the following
1. The 1950s to the 21st century: How Women’s role in the workplace has changed
Discussing about the opportunities it is imperative to touch upon issues related to holistic growth of women who manage their work life along with their personal life. Issues related to balance of family and professional life needs special emphasis. These include
1. Flexible work options
As most of the times women are managing both their professional and family life in tandem the challenges faced by women are also unique and they need to be adequately addressed. Some of the main challenges of working women are
1. Longer work hours
Keeping in mind the opportunities and challenges we need to work out suitable balance so that we don’t face a “stress out” situation where frustration among women can lead to an “opt-out” revolution.
The feminine mystique: Are we facing the “opt-out” revolution?
Now talking about the “opt-out” revolution, it is important to study whether women are giving up on their professional life because of the stress and frustration of managing both the home and the work front. Work life related competition and glass ceiling in the work place may be compounding the already aggravated problem. We don’t want the creation of the feminine mystique as that existed in 1950s or 1960s if we keep Betty Friedan’s work as reference. Therefore the need of the hour is for a genuine rethinking on the whole issue.
The feminine mystique: Rethinking among women and women leadership in work place
What are the options? Here women have to wear the rethinking cap and find solutions which are beneficial for both the family and professional life. Issues that needs to be addressed are essentially related to
1. Progress and frustration in family and work life
Managing home and professional life is not the sole responsibility of women. Here men should come forward and share the responsibilities in equal terms. It should be understood that family as a primary unit of the society can only function properly if both the partners in the family are appreciative and sensitive to each other’s growth and progress as they are to their own.
Let’s hope that we don’t end up bringing back the feminine mystique that was never a reality in true sense in any era of human existence and civilization.
Article by Sanjay Nair
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