A Woman's Work: Being Yourself

The Feminine Mystique is as important a text as perhaps any in terms of the feminist movement. For those unfamiliar with the work, I'll offer a little background from an unknown author...

Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique was first published in the United States in 1963. In the book, Friedan defines women's unhappiness as ‘‘the problem that has no name,’’ then she launches into a detailed exploration of what she believes causes this problem. Through her research—which includes many theories, statistics, and first-person accounts—Friedan pins the blame on an idealized image of femininity that she calls the feminine mystique. According to Friedan, women have been encouraged to confine themselves to the narrow roles of housewife and mother, foresaking education and career aspirations in the process. Friedan attempts to prove that the feminine mystique denies women the opportunity to develop their own identities, which can ultimately lead to problems for women and their families.

I very much agree with much of what Friedan has to say. However I have come to learn that their are others that disagree with me. Surely there are misogynists out there that would oppose women ever being free, equal, independent individuals, but what I find more interesting is the in-fighting between sects within the female gender itself. I am always puzzled by the career women vs. homemakers battle. It must be said that in life we all have more than one path that we can follow and many of us are walking down different paths all at once. Having a career is a terrifically rewarding experience that many women draw tremendous inspiration, satisfaction, and self worth from. Raising children, caring for one's significant other, and creating a comfortable and positive home environment for a family is also a very worthwhile part of life. I think a significant piece that has long been ignored in the feminist movement is that people derive satisfaction and self worth from differing pursuits. I have observed the toll it takes on women when they attempt to balance career and the roles of wife and mother. It is a near impossible task given the limitations of a twenty-four hour day. I think the most helpful thing that could be done is to reconceptualize our ideas and expectations about the roles partners have in a relationship, and the way we come to offer very limiting definitions of what it means to be a "good" wife or a "good" mother. A "good" spouse and/or parent can have a career, can stay at home, or can do both. The more we try and define roles for women that align themselves with one extreme or the other, the more we are doing the battle for equality a disservice.

I cannot deny that the constructs of society make it (in the words of James Brown) "a man's world"; however I think men and women alike would be well served to define their wants and needs as well as their roles in their relationships and careers and even their sexuality on their own terms rather than having society, religion, or fairytales dictate how these things should come to be. I think the most empowering thing that could be done to serve feminism is to simply remind women that it is not only OK, but preferred that they be themselves and to stop judging one another (particularly when judgments are made from only a masculine point-of-view); to lovingly remind women that they have a name and they are their own person; and that they be present as themselves and not always present in their roles as so-and-so's wife and/or XYZ's mother. I think when push comes to shove many women have had (and continue to have) trouble thinking beyond the traditional values that much of the feminist movement has spoken out so strongly against. Achieving a happy balance among the roles they wish to, and choose to, accept and feeling good about the person looking back at them when they look in the mirror (inside and out) is truly a woman's work. No one can define our path for us in life, we must choose it for ourselves... from what I can derive from thirty-one years of wisdom, this is the only thing that will lead to happiness and fulfillment. Being a feminist (in my mind at least) is simply supporting women as much as possible in this endeavor.

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