Do we need another Feminine Mystique?

As Syreeta mentioned a few days ago in the Daily Feminist Cheat Sheet–the Feminine Mystique is turning 50. Fifty-years since the launch of this important, yet problematic book, and everyone is asking–how far have we really come? And where do we go from here? These are salient questions, even if they frustrate those of us post-gender theory nerds that fit squarely in the “it’s not just about women anymore” camp. Or those that have read about Friedan’s own disinterest in radical feminism.

In Room for Debate at the NYTimes, a few familiar names start the conversation. Courtney writes  that the old “soul-killing minutiae” of suburban life has been replaced with a new “superwoman” ethos, forcing women to attempt having it all and be thin and hot while doing it. Dani McClain says, we need to continue to push for a feminism that is flexible and inclusive and to look to women of color led movements such as reproductive justice as the next frontier of feminist activism. While Michael Kimmel and Michael Kaufmen talk about bringing men in as allies. All of these are important points to remember when thinking about where we are today is feminism, in how we see gender, what’s shifted and what still needs to be pushed, broken and dismantled.

But, would the Feminine Mystique make sense today?

Considering the changes in the economy, the suburban housewife and her discontents is hardly what is on people’s minds–instead worry about keeping mortgages and paying for college are issues that have taken center stage for American families. While culture has shifted, economic disparity has intensified–the site of a lot of gender based oppression.  Also, the ultimate model of the “housewife” is no longer a white women, but is instead First Lady Michelle Obama. This is to say, things have changed a lot since the 1950’s.

From a cultural standpoint, the question, “how far have we come?” forces upon itself a linear model of progression that assumes there was a shared starting point and a goal, some moment where a collective “we” would know we were equal. But that cultural moment was never set and fractured by our histories. And clearly we are still searching for the right answers and solutions for gender-based oppression.

For as much as I can’t relate to the Feminine Mystique and Friedan’s specific case for women’s rights, I can relate to this–as long as we continue to believe, in any way, the inequality we experience in our lives is natural, innate and unquestionable–we’re still not “there” yet. But if we start to ask the right questions, we just might be moving in the right directions.

Also, if you are in NYC–I’ll be speaking with some other great panelists at the Feminine Mystique at 50 symposium.

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