Under the guise of a “tribute,” columnist Kathleen Parker excoriates Betty Friedan, whose “Feminine Mystique” did not, in fact, merely plead the cause of “rich, educated women” (TNT, 2-13).
Parker is probably old enough to remember when girls couldn’t deliver newspapers, married women couldn’t be airline “stewardesses,” female medical students were steered into pediatrics/gynecology, and many a dad who bragged about his daughter’s academic accomplishments nevertheless arranged (as mine did) for her to study shorthand and typing as a “fallback.”
During an earlier era, women helped out on the farm and in family businesses. During World War II, many were trained as welders, auto mechanics and streetcar conductors – until the men came back from the war and needed those jobs! Then, suddenly, housework became the path to feminine “fulfillment.” Friedan pointed out what an aberration this was.
Friedan’s “mystique” refers to the organized propaganda effort of the late 1940s and ’50s, calculated to get women out of the workplace and into the kitchen. Many, like my college-educated mother, turned to drink as an escape from the boredom of housewifery. She had left a career as a journalist (Parker’s field, open to women within certain narrow limits), where she could put her education and brains to work. She had the “disease without a name” that Friedan so expertly pinpointed.
No, this didn’t apply to every woman in America. But it applied to a large coterie of women who could have made significant contributions to the larger economy, but were discouraged from doing so.