“The Problem”

.::. April 2011 .::. American Lit. II .::. Abigail Morris .::.

The “Problem”

            In the 1920s the fight for women’s rights made the journey from England to America. The women of both nations had begun raising their voices in determined, resentful, and angry tones. They had suffered more than enough through their place near the bottom of “civilized” society.  A male child held a higher value than his oppressed mother because he could at least become something in life. Women had to fight tradition, narrow-mindedness, and even religion to gain the vote, a right to higher education, any sense of gender equality, and enough freedom to finally discover who they were rather than being stuck with what they were—mother, wife, daughter. The onset of World War II eased the pain of daily life for many women who found themselves having to pick up the pieces of a nation suddenly emptied of its male workforce. The women were finally able to pursue non-domestic occupations without fear or regret. However, once the war had ended and the remaining men returned stateside the women were forced back into the homes they had only just escaped from.

            One would assume that over the course of the following thirty years society’s view of women’s rights, freedoms, and equality would have brought women back out of their houses and the ever-exhausting drudgery of their lives. Unfortunately, as Betty Friedan discovered in her research on the subject of what had become known as the problem without a name, she was not the only career-less, restless, depressed, exhausted, and agitated housewife-mom. She decided to run a survey by female graduates of Smith College to find out how common her own feelings of dissatisfaction were. She was only mildly surprised when the overwhelming majority responded in the affirmative. From her research she wrote a nation changing book. The Feminine Mystique brought about a new revolution in women’s rights that soon became known best as Women’s Lib(eration).

            The first chapter of The Feminine Mystique (which is all I had time to read) expressed the suffering that the “masses” were oblivious to. It addresses the essential question that perpetuated the “problem”; “Is this all?” (Friedan). By 1960 the enrollment rate for college-bound women had dropped, the average age of married girls had dropped, and life for females became a literal manhunt. The goal of “normal” and well-adjusted women was to be “perfect wives and mothers; their highest ambition to have five children and a beautiful house, their only fight to get and keep their husbands” (Friedan). In fact, the ladies of America had gone so far into  their desperation for a mate that they began eating Metrecal chalks to slim down to three or four sizes less than their predecessors, and even adolescents and preteens were wearing newly manufactured bras with foam rubber “false bosoms”. The only topics of conversation among the housewives were child-rearing, bedroom exploits, needlework, and household efficiency. Once the masses began taking notice of the “problem,” they immediately began blaming it on things like a higher education which had filled their little brains with “ideas.” Men and those women who were traditionalist or happy with their lot had been quick to point out how much easier, convenient, and pleasant their housewife lives were compared with less fortunate women elsewhere. However, as the “problem” persisted the nation was forced to begin asking what was happening to the unhappy women that had been able to prevent their being content with their own lots.

            The answer was simple. The women had been so hopelessly bored out of their minds by the daily drudgery that their lives had presented. Their existence hinged on what they did every day: cleaning, washing, drying, ironing, organizing, picking kids up, dropping kids off, cooking, and keeping their spouse pleased. Every day was identical to the last and next. The women felt as though they had no identity at all. The ease of their lives in their fancy, modern houses had left them even less occupied than previous generations of women had been. With so much less to keep them and their minds occupied, they suddenly felt a desperate need for something more.  They needed to find themselves and develop a personality that reflected self rather than obligation.

            The book was the spark needed to push the silent women hard enough to speak up and out for the sake of change and furthering the cause for women. Many women today hold prestigious positions all around the United States and the world. Women have seemingly ceased to view female physicists and mathematicians and writers as being malcontents or less feminine than any housewife. Indeed, women have come a long way since the 1960s and have learned that there is little reason to believe they are in any way less capable than males. Now, if we could just convince more men of our equally superior natures.

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