Wonder Women: Chapter 1

February 5, 2014 | NeW

This week, the Online Book Club is discussing Chapter 1 in Wonder Women: Sex, Power, and the Quest for Perfection. The young ladies of the 1960s era watched commercials on television featuring women mastering their marriage, children and careers.   By default they assumed  their lives would take a similar form.  However, this ideal significantly differed from the reality Spar’s mother and mothers of the era were experiencing.  Spar offers these statistics:

  • 1968: 62% of women expected to be housewives by 35
  • 1979: 20% of women expected to be housewives by 35
  • 1979: 43% of women expected to attain professional careers by 35

During the 1950s young women dreamed of a home, a husband, 2.5 children and a yard of their own.  While many mothers were satisfied with these accomplishments they wanted more for their young daughters.  Spar’s own mother encouraged her to strive for more.  Her mother recollects that she herself had wanted to go to law school, but knew it was never an option for her. The media also had a formative role in shaping women’s ideals about themselves.  As a young girl Spar enjoyed tuning into I Dream of Jeannie and The Brady Bunch, shows featuring the feminine, suburban, homemaker.  However, by the 1970s television shows such as Maude, Rhoda, and Charlie’s Angels featured strong willed women who dated, married, divorced, ran for Congress and even pulled firearms from their bikinis. The feminist movement transformed the identity of women.  Spar comments,

“As presented (and distorted) by the mainstream media, it was a feminism that was greedy to its core, proclaiming that women could have money and children and sex and power, along with fabulous shoes.  Like men, in other words, women could have it all.” (20)

Betty Friedan’s Feminine Mystique featured an evaluation of “the problem that has no name”.

“It was a strange stirring, a sense of dissatisfaction, a yearning that women suffered in the middle of the twentieth century in the United States.  Each suburban wife struggled with it alone.  As she made the beds, shopped for groceries, matched slipcover material…she was afraid to ask even of herself the silent question-‘Is this all?’” (21)

Friedan sold thousands of copies and received letters from women expressing their sense of relief from her writing.  As a result of her success, Friedan and 300 supporters established the National Organization of Women in an effort to assimilate women into American society. Spar later comments that while she was enjoying all the opportunities granted to her in part by the feminist movement, she continued to keep her distance from women’s liberation. She eventually realized from experience and observation that Wonder Woman does not exist.  The mothers and the media were wrong.  However, the feminists had asked all the right questions, encouraging women to evaluate what they desired and how to plan their roles throughout a lifetime.

 “Because feminism, after all, was about removing a fixed set of expectations from women, freeing them to be what they wanted and behave as they desired.  And yet, fifty years on, women find themselves laboring under an expanded and in many ways more cumbersome set of expectations: to be good wives and workers, sexy yet monogamous, devoted to their perfect children and their own perfect bodies.” (29)

Spar concludes that feminine perfection is unattainable and offers three possible solutions for women struggling with the quest: assume their role as solely homemaker and relinquish their career goals or work to break down the global male power structure.  Spar concludes with her personal choice,

 “I believe that women are entitled to be whatever they want, but that they can’t ever expect, any more than men, that they can have it all.” (30)

Discussion Questions:

1) What influence does the media have on your perception of yourself as a young woman in American society? 2) What does your version of “having it all” look like?  Are you a wife, mother, and career type or do you have different aspirations? 3) What is your opinion about the women’s issues within our culture today including access to contraception and abortion rights?  Do you believe the government should play a role in these issues?

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