Chapter 6: The Functional Freeze and Margaret Mead

by Annemarie on April 19, 2011 · 3 comments

Chapter 6 is Friedan’s dissertation on how Margaret Mead contributed to the Functional Freeze and ultimately failed the feminine movement. Friedan begins the chapter with her definition of the role “functionalism” played in American society:

By giving an absolute meaning and a sanctimonious value to the generic term ‘woman’s role,’ functionalism put American women into a kind of deep freeze like Sleeping Beauties, waiting for a Prince Charming to waken them, while all around the magic circle the world moved on.

Margaret Mead is later defined as a significant contributer to the women’s movement, however, according to Friedan not always a positive influence:

The most powerful influence on modern women, in term both of functionalism and the feminine protest, was Margaret Mead.

Friedan continues later in the chapter:

The role of Margaret Mead as the professional spokesman of femininity would have been less important if American women had taken the example of her own life, instead of listening to what she said in her books.

Friedan closes the chapter with Mead’s contribution to American women:

Apparently Margaret Mead does not acknowledge, or perhaps recognize her own role as a major architect of that ‘climate of opinion.’ Apparently she has overlooked much of her own work, which helped persuade several generations of able modern American women ‘in desperate cavewoman style, to devote their whole lives to narrow domesticity–first in schoolgirl dreaming and a search for roles which make them appealingly ignorant, then as mothers and then as grandmothers . . . restricting their activities to the preservation of their own private, and often boring existences.’

Regardless of Mead’s influence on The Functional Freeze it’s obvious that like Friedan, she believed that the job of a wife and mother was “narrow” and a “boring existence”. The above terminology is extremely disturbing and absolutely untrue. I agree that women have been gifted and talented just like men and should be allowed to pursue their interests and dreams. However, I strongly disagree that motherhood is insignificant, narrow and least of all a boring existence. Friedan invalidates her argument when she tries to tear down the very backbone of any functional society—the value and significance of mothers.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Kathleen April 20, 2011 at 9:33 pm

It’s interesting that both Meade and Friedan find that being a mother is ‘boring.’ It seems to me that once kids enter the picture, life is anything but boring! Perhaps the reason Friedan took such a radical stance in the book was to incite a reaction and generate a debate. Unfortunately, the reaction that unraveled over the last 45 years has polarized women to the point where there’s an expectation that a woman will be either a mother or career-oriented. There’s very little opportunity to be both. Rather than arguing about what’s the most fulfilling for women (each woman can decide that for herself), let’s advocate for the flexibility to pursue all three options: 1) mother, 2) career-oriented, 3) blend of both.

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Melissa April 21, 2011 at 9:34 am

Kathleen, I completely agree. One of the most disheartening things I find when talking with other young women is that many are ashamed of admitting that they hope to be mothers someday. They will gladly tell you their college major and indulge you in their career ambitions, yet display reservation when discussing their future dreams for a family. I feel that one of the most unfortunate results of Friedan’s work is that she has sparked a culture where women are embarrassed of embracing the role of motherhood. They feel that climbing to the very top of the corporate ladder is the only means to true fulfillment and any other dreams simply devalue their intelligence and ambition.

With Mother’s Day approaching, I have been thinking a lot about the hard work of my own mother. It is an unpaid job, filled with long hours and multiple demands; yet it also brings women some of the greatest, most rewarding moments of their lives. It takes a strong woman to be a mother. I hope that our generation of young women and future generations will look past the lack of paycheck and power suit, and recognize motherhood for the blessings, challenges, and fulfillment it brings many women.

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Diana Smith April 26, 2011 at 10:44 pm

Motherhood is anything but boring! It’s a 24/7; executive position with a job description to
rival any Fortune 500 CEO and I speak from 30 years of experience. Ms. Mead and Ms. Friedan
were obsessed with finding fault in the age old paths of family roles and responsibilities.
Too bad…..what indescribable joys they missed!
Diana Smith

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