Chapter 1: The Problem That Has No Name

March 7, 2011 | Catherine

The Feminine Mystique is credited as having started the second wave of feminism in America. With this in the forefront of my mind this week, I tumbled through the first chapter of The Feminine Mystique. Uncertain as to what I would find when I started out, I was a bit astonished to find the ideas of this feminist hero a bit hyperbolic and too general to reach the conclusions that she does.

I want to get your take on it, though. So whether you’ve read it or not, read below and let me know what you think.

First of all, Betty Friedan defines “the problem that has no name” as “a strange stirring, a sense of dissatisfaction” which results in each suburban American housewife asking herself the silent question “Is this all?” as she does the daily chores, makes meals, drives the kids to and fro and then goes to sleep beside her husband at night.

Friedan also says “the problem” is seen in a mother of four who dropped out of college when she was nineteen and later told Friedan:

“I’ve tried everything women are supposed to do – hobbies, gardening, pickling, canning, being very social with my neighbor, joining committees, running PTA teas. I can do it all, and I like it, but it doesn’t leave you anything to think about – any feelings of who you are. I never had any career ambitions. All I wanted was to get married and have four children. I love the kids and Bob and my home. There’s no problem you can even put a name to. But I’m desperate. I begin to feel that I have no personality. I’m a server of food and a putter-on of pants and a bedmaker, somebody who can be called on when you want something. But who am I?”

The question this young mother asks is one ubiquitous in the minds of all women. One, I know which I have asked myself. Its a question that needs an answer, whether you’ve gone to college or not, had a career or not, or gotten married or not. This young mother is aware of her actions and seems to have struggled with the thought that if she is the sum of her total daily actions, she is a nobody and therefore, offers no significance or value to the world . . . seems indeed nightmarish.

This is exactly what Friedan wants young women to think – that we are what we do. That we are the sum of our total daily actions. If we go so far as to say yes, everyone is thus marginalized into the mundane deeds of their lives. Really, if a mother is just a putter-on of pants, a server of food, and a bedmaker, then any CEO or manager is just a signer of documents and a filler of a chair in meetings.

Such a generalization sounds absurd and laughable about a CEO – likewise, to me, it seems that it is absurdity to think that a wife and mother is only a putter-on of pants, a server of food, and a bedmaker.

We all know that a CEO does more than signs documents and sits in a chair in meetings. He or she leads a company or organization. He or she establishes a culture for a team to function in. He or she manages the team which has been entrusted to them by a board or founder. It is indeed a sobering position – that of a CEO.

Likewise, a mother does more than puts pants on their children, serves food, and makes the beds. In comparison to the “career” world, the work of a wife and mother is focused on people not percentages. Since I’m not a mother, I cannot speak from personal experience to all that a mother does.

If you read this and you are a mother, what do you do everyday? Do you feel that you are what you do? Or do you see it as the duty of a greater responsibility? And if it’s not to much to ask, why do you do what you do?

If you read this and you are not a mother, what does the position of mother seem to you? What does it mean to be a mother? Do you think they are only the maker of sandwiches and beds?

In the meantime, keep living the dream.

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