Chapter 4:The Passionate Journey of The Feminine Mystique

April 4, 2011 | Annemarie

Chapter 4 is an extensive history of the battles fought by the first feminists. Friedan points out that before the first feminists women were often treated as less-than and lacked the basic human rights to vote and own property. The first feminists fought to earn women equality and a voice in our society. Friedan quotes M. Carey Thomas the first president of Bryn Mawr:

Women are on-half the world, but until a century ago . . . women lived a twilight life, a half life apart, and looked out and saw men as shadows walking. it was a man’s world. The laws were men’s laws, the government a man’s government, the country a man’s country. Now women have won the right to higher education and economic independence. the right to become citizens of the state is the next and inevitable consequence of education and work outside the home. We have gone so far; we must go farther. We cannot go back.

As modern women, we are truly blessed to live in a time when we can vote, we have the right to own and sell property, we can pursue higher education, we can hold jobs in the work place. Modern women are truly valued and honored in out society.

Chapter 4 is partially a tribute to the first feminists, a recounting of their sufferings and victories as they fought for equality for women. Chapter 4 is also Friedan’s soap box, her spin on why women need to leave the home, how women are de-humanized when they stay at home and tend the hearth. Chapter 4 is a distorting take on the battles the first feminists fought for. According to Friedan a woman cannot be happy working at home, in fact Friedan encourages the behavior of Nora, the heroine of a play who abandons husband and children to find herself:

Not very many women then, or even now, dared to leave the only security they knew–dared to turn their backs on their homes and husbands to begin Nora’s search. But a great many, then as now, must have found their existence as housewives so empty that they could no longer savor the love of husband and children.

What moral compass does Friedan use? When is it right for any person to leave their chosen responsibilities in order to pursue their own selfish agenda? As a culture we frown upon the men who marry, have children and then abandon wife and family. According to Friedan, in the case of women this is perfectly acceptable. If Friedan truly believes in equality with men then logically women must be held to the same moral standards.

Friedan closes the chapter with this final thought:

The real joke that history played on American women is not the one that makes people snigger, with cheap Freudian sophistication, at the dead feminists. It is the joke that Freudian thought played on living women, twisting the memory of the feminists into the man-eating phantom of the feminine mystique, shriveling the very wish to be more than just a wife and mother. Encouraged by the mystique to evade their identity crisis, permitted to escape identity altogether in the name of sexual fulfillment, women once again are living with their feet bound in the old image of glorified femininity. And it is the same old image, despite its shiny new clothes, that trapped women for centuries and made the feminists rebel.

To our readers I pose the question: Why does Friedan minimalize the life of a stay-at-home mom, why does she compare a woman working at home to the practice of binding feet?

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