Chapter 12: Progressive Dehumanization: The Comfortable Concentration Camp

by Annemarie on June 2, 2011 · 7 comments

Chapter 12 contains no new information, simply the same point viewed from a different angle. It’s as if Friedan was stuck, she had her thesis but no branching out points. In this chapter, Fridan makes the point that being a stay-at-home mother is eventually dehumanizing and likened it to a German concentration camp:

All this seems terribly remote from the easy life of the American suburban housewife. But is her house in reality a comfortable concentration camp? Have not women who live in the image of the feminine mystique trapped themselves within the narrow walls of their homes? They have learned to ‘adjust’ to their biological role. They have become dependent, passive, childlike; they have given up their adult frame of reference to live at the lower human level of food and things. The work they do does not require adult capabilities; it is endless, monotonous, unrewarding. American women are not, of course, being readied for mass extermination, but they are suffering a slow death of mind and spirit.

As a reader it is exhausting to read another chapter on how awful it is to be a stay-at-home mother. Though it is obvious by her lack of data and reliable research that her conclusions are erroneous, it is mentally trying to be bored by the same point simply put another way.

I would like to ask out readers for feedback on whether or not you think being a stay-at-home mom is in any way dehumanizing? I think not, and have real life stories to prove it.

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

WhitneyGA June 2, 2011 at 10:09 am

My mother gave up a lucrative career as a geologist and I am forever grateful for her presence and guidance throughout my childhood, but as I look ahead I am anxious about the thought of financially depending solely upon my soon-to-be husband. Given my conservative views, that anxiety has surprised me and I’ve been thinking about it a lot. Our society – and DC especially – puts a lot of value on “what you do” and that almost always implies doing something for financial gain. As a die hard free marketeer, I think it also bugs me to not be directly contributing to the economy. Do these concerns make me less human? No, I think this is just part and parcel to the age old existential crisis humans inevitably face…which just makes questioning these things all the more human.

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Sarah HI June 2, 2011 at 1:33 pm

I think her language is rather extreme, but housework and childcare is very often rather boring and monotonous, in my experience. We don’t have to live the stay-at-home mother lifestyle of middle-class, suburban women of the 1950s, though. We can express our creative selves in new ways. I’ve also learned that different temperments thrive in different environments; and holding June Cleaver up as the ideal kills creative, social types like me. (In that case, mothering like June would kill my soul in less than a week.) I’ve had my crisis about it and am now mothering MY way. Move over June, Sarah’s here!

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L.Richardson June 2, 2011 at 10:32 pm

I’m fifty, a graduate of a liberal CA university in 1983, and childless, but I have somehow managed to escape reading a single paragraph of Betty’s book until this moment. Wow, wow, wow. So interesting! So interesting how she feels so free and entitled to paint all stay-at-home mothers with that level of base criticism. Calling women who stay at home with their children “dependent, passive, and childlike,” and saying they have “given up their adult frame of reference to live at a lower human level”, is an amazing description. Staying at home with one’s children doesn’t dehumanize. Betty is the one doing the dehumanizing, just like the Germans she’s referencing did in order to justify and excuse extermination. Thankfully she isn’t actually planning any extermination of mothers, as she is quick to reassure the reader.
Of course, there’s truth in the fact that social norms of any era can cause people to feel compelled to engage in behavior they’d rather not, with negative results. If that is what she meant, then that is what she should have said, and could have said, without denigrating all stay-at-home mothers everywhere. So interesting! And amazing. (I just wish women would stop doing that to each other.)

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Bob June 9, 2011 at 7:26 am

The “comfortable concentration camp”? How in the world can any sentient human being take Betty Friedan seriously or use her as a role model? The ugliest part of Betty Friedan was her pathetically soulless existence and her legacy is an emotional counterpart to the physical suffering caused by Typhoid Mary.

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Kara June 10, 2011 at 5:00 pm

I have been more and more frustrated with this book the farther I get into it. For the same reasons as you Annmarie. It is difficult to read what seems to be the same complaint written in a different form over and over. I have noticed this trend in a lot of these types of books. The Author can’t be satisfied by saying it only once.

I do not think there is ANYTHING more “human” than creating and raising a family. In fact it seems to me to be more inhuman to choose your financial and social status over your children. If we can’t regard some of life’s oldest traditions, how can we even pretend to know what it means to be “human?”

I really believe that it is a choice to be “trapped” by motherhood. I do not believe that any woman who embraces her role is ever trapped. I believe you are trapped when all you can see is what you can’t do. We should choose to see all that we can do!

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Florin October 1, 2013 at 8:32 am

I’m a guy. I had chores like washing, cleaning sometimes cooking and I even took care of my little sister while my parents were at work. Did this dehumanize me? Hell no. This made me a responsible adult. I’m happy I had so much work to do around the house, ’cause now I realize how important the chores were and what impact they had on my life.

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Alexis December 8, 2016 at 7:36 pm

This will sound odd but what page did that quote come from? I’m trying to find it and I can’t.

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