“It is easier to live through someone else than to become complete yourself.”-Betty Friedan, The Feminine Mystique
When Betty Friedan published The Feminine Mystique in 1963, my parents weren’t even married. I wasn’t even conceived for over a decade after and yet I knew Ms. Friedan. I had heard her name mentioned many times in the context of political debates that ensued in my house. I wasn’t sure what to make of her either.
My mother chose to be a homemaker when it was decidedly unpopular and socially un-hip for women to opt to stay home and raise their children. And I sensed in her that unconscious desire to prove her worth in a society, which continually judged and unconsciously oppressed women who took on more traditional roles.
Even in elementary school, when I was looking at pictures of occupations for men and women, I was bombarded with images of female lawyers and doctors. I felt undue pressure to prove that my mom was just as good if not better than those women, when in truth I knew my mom was far better. After all, she was real. Still, I resented that I was made to feel that way. That a woman, like a mother, who graduated from a first-rate university and spoke 3 different languages fluently, and took on the most difficult job out there should be looked upon in any way that was less than respectable.
“Motherhood is the least appreciated job out there, Beth,” I remember her telling me. I heeded those words and in later years when I learned more about feminist pioneers like Betty Friedan, I came to understand that my mother was not only a rebel and pioneer in her own right, but indeed, a neo-feminist.
Just as Friedan was advocating on behalf of all those post-WWII women in the ‘50s who were home raising their families and being housewives, and who didn’t necessarily have choices (re: the opportunity to go out and work), my mother was exercising her right to choice. Both were going against grain and societal convention.
At its core, feminism is about empowering women through choice. It’s about our right to have choice. And to not take that for granted. In modern society, the offshoot is women having careers that may or may not take them away from their traditonal household roles, or perhaps staying single or marrying later, if they opt to marry at all.
The point is that it’s about realizing your own potential and worth outside of anyone else or a pre-existing context. It’s about sense of self. Betty Friedan gave that voice to so many women feeling that same sense of isolation and lack of fulfillment.
I argued with my father earlier today about Ms. Friedan. It’s what we do, my dad and I. We often don’t see eye-to-eye on feminist or social issues, but even so, I learn a lot from him at times when I least expect it. He was right in asserting that as social creatures, we can’t exist outside of our cultures. By definition, we are products of them and yet we are born with our own minds and with a certain self-determination.
Let’s face it: as long as a I have a mind of my own, I’m going to express my ideas. But, I’m also thankful to those like Friedan who paved the way for woman to exercise those liberties. Although, admittedly what I admire most about Friedan was her disposition. She was irreverent and saucy and made no apologies for who she was.
Mostly though I’m thankful to my mom. Just because all theorists aside, she was the best role model I could have asked for.