Chapter 7: The Sex-Directed Educators

April 28, 2011 | Catherine

Someone might need to tell Betty Friedan that education is not salvation. In Chapter 7 of The Feminine Mystique, Friedan discusses the trajectory of women in higher education.

In the 1950’s, Friedan declares that professors at Vassar and Smith and Barnard tried to arouse students’ interest in intellectual pursuit, but failed since. . .

“the girls seemed suddenly incapable of any ambition, any vision, any passion, except the pursuit of a wedding ring. In this pursuit they seemed almost desperate, as early as freshman year.”

Friedan however does not define her terms. What do ambition, vision, and passion mean to Friedan? She fails to explain and instead, attempts to construct a mutually exclusive relationship between a woman’s pursuit of ambition, vision, and passion and her desire to be married. According to Friedan, the desire to be married somehow sucks ambition, vision, and passion out of a woman. Interest in men and marriage is the fighting force against intellectual development.

To Friedan, thus, education is the solution; it can be woman’s salvation from marriage. However, the question then must be asked, do women need saved from marriage? It seems to me, that Friedan places so much glory on individuality that she would encourage every human to be a silo lest their “humanity” be diminished should they join in any kind of spiritual, emotional, or (worst of all) sexual relationship with anyone of the opposite sex.

I pity Friedan. She neglects to touch on the fact that women and men are social beings and as it has often been quipped neither “are an island.” Humans need other humans. Perhaps what Friedan meant to argue is that marriage is not necessary for happiness. If she had argued this, she would have been right. It is not necessary. However, it is an entirely unique relationship among humans and can be an attributing factor to happiness and fulfillment.

Nonetheless, Friedan is not won over. To her, marriage is still the great evil and education is the great savior. Toward the end of the chapter, Friedan asks this question:

“What is femininity, if it can be destroyed by an education which makes the mind grow, or induced by not letting the mind grow?”

What do you think? Can femininity be destroyed by education? Does education kill the desire for marriage? Why or why not?


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