Femininity to most American women especially in the mid twentieth century was an adorable culture. Women were much preoccupied with their beauty and general qualities that defined their personalities at the expense of other important aspects of life. Being a woman sounded like more than enough to make one self-accomplished. That is why majority of American women of those days did not bother themselves with advancing in education or rather pursuing significant careers after their elementary studies. However, with time the same women could noticeably groan while in their comfort zones. They made lamentations almost unanimously about what was dubbed, “The problem that has no name”. They felt like they were not complete even though they had nearly everything that they had earlier hankered for. A good number made public their regrets as they shared with their friends with whom they thought perhaps found life a bit different. Eventually, American women had to painfully acknowledge that feminine mystique is not all that would define the destiny of a woman. At some point in time the American women had to come to the realization that they needed more than just love, husband, home and children. They had to jumpstart the process of rediscovering their true destinies. In seeking to uncover the root causes of “The problem that has no name”, to American women, Betty Freidan brought up a number of arguments in several chapters of her book, The Feminine Mystique. Based mainly on chapters one, two, three, seven, nine and fourteen of this book, this essay delineates the possible factors that determined the destiny of many American women and how they grappled with the problem in subsequent years. It discusses how feminine mystique thrived due to such factors as social atmosphere, public image or cultural identity, advertiser of production as well as prejudices and comfortable conventions.
American women had remained caged in a feminine cocoon for a long time despite many revolutionary activities that had characterized the country since independence. According to them, nothing seemed to matter so much in their lives than catching and keeping a man once they attained the age of about seventeen to twenty. It became almost a norm that ladies were socially accustomed in finding glory in their own femininity other than pursuing greater destinies.
According to chapter 1 of the ‘Feminine Mystique’ , Betty Freidan argues that in American then, “the feminine women were never concerned with their careers, pursuing of higher education apart from the ‘O Levels’, they also never expressed any interest in political rights independence or old fashioned opportunities which their fore fellow women had fought for.” This kind of notion made women especially young ladies who were graduating from high school to focus much on the roles that awaited them in the dream homes than what they could pursue in their higher institutions of learning. In fact a few of the ladies who were obliged by circumstance to join university of colleges for that matter did not go there to advance in their studies as such but rather to look for the right man to hook up with and later get married. In chapter seven, The sex-directed educators, Betty elucidates on a number of case studies involving women who quitted lucrative careers such as “Bacteriology and settled for feeble ones like home economics, which were inclined towards homemaking. They did that without a second thought simply because they felt that careers that were involving would deny them the joy of living a full social life which they dreamt of.” From childhood, lives of young women were much devoted in finding a husband and siring children, breast feeding them, conducting toilet training, coping with the rivalry among siblings as well as rebellion of adolescents.
As Betty put is in chapter 2, Happy housewife heroine, “the only good thing that an American woman was permitted, was the pursuit of a man.” All that the social atmosphere recognized was to see a lady in her home and fully occupied with home keeping. Similarly, a few of the women who were in careers also admitted that their main satisfaction was in finding their own homes. This is the reason why most women could not be entrusted with top positions at their places of work. They did little or nothing to demonstrate ability for those positions. That is why many positions that are challenging in most professions are men dominated. Women who pursued careers just settled for feeble positions such secretarial, clerical, teaching among others. These were views less demanding and could derail them from accomplishing their main duties which were actually in their homes. As Betty puts it in chapter 3, The Sex Directed Educators’, “The Crisis in woman’s Identity’, “any women never liked to be asked what they wanted to do. None of them even cared to think about it. She says that the ones who were to be married right away were the lucky.” In this case, Betty meant that the society did not appreciate the worth of women and was hysterical about the issues of professional training for women. According to the author this kind of notion that shackled many American women in the psychology of housekeeping till they realized that they actually lacked something more important when they had the fourth to the sixth child. The population of the country was also growing at a higher rate than that of India especially after the World War II.
The prime destiny of a woman was nowhere beyond a home where they could serve merely as housewives. In chapter 2, The happy housewife heroine, the author says, “The magazine is said to have published for over five million American women, almost all of whom had attained high school education and nearly half of them went through to college but could mention nothing about the world beyond home.”
Another factor that determined the destiny of women in America was that women valued femininity for cultural reasons. A woman cared so much about her feminine quality for safeguarding her public image. Customarily, women were expected to be beautiful all through so as to attract the best men to pair up with as their future husbands. This made young women to begin preparatory steps for this image right from their adolescence stage. It is said that some ladies as young as seventeen has already met their best halves ready to settled down as wives.
The high concern for the public image made women to always try fulfilling their own femininity as their highest value in the community and their only commitment. This is the reason why in the second chapter ‘the happy housewife heroine’ Betty argues that “culturally, women never portrayed any political interests unless what that was related immediate needs in their homes.” Perhaps this explains why there are hitherto fewer women in the political scenario in America. Women were never accustomed for these kinds of responsibilities other than managers of their matrimonial homes. However this notion became contemptible with time when the vary women discovered that whatever they in fact believed would be fit for them was not at all satisfactory. Gradually one by one they began to complain about the lives they were living. A number of elderly women who were already completely settled in their marriages were heard expressing their reservations regarding the quality of lives they lived. Normally, women in America are the ones who live life that associated with great luxury and comfort around the world. It almost sounded ridiculous to hear a woman of such classes complain.
Naturally, everybody has innate abilities which are unique from each other and which ought to be utilized to make constructive contribution to the society. It is unfortunate that the culture overshadowed this fact and fixed most American women in the lives where they could make little out of their inherent potential. This fact is however never foreseen when women are still in their tender ages as Betty puts it in her personal reflection of her life, chapter 3, The Crisis In The Woman’s Identity, “most women in tender ages never saw themselves living the frustrated lives like what their own mothers went through. They always felt they would succeed where their mothers failed and would fulfill themselves as women.” Betty admits devaluing all kinds of questions other than ‘love’ when she was a minor. Even the question of her career did not seem significant to her despite the fact that she had demonstrated enormous potency of pursuing a course as a professional psychologist. Her imagination about the future only diminished at the level of completing school, going to college then finding a husband. To any woman, the husband was the one believed to fill up the remaining part of her life. Betty would later get married to a medical doctor and lived according to her feminine mystique within the suburban just like other women. No sooner had she settled down in her marital home than she noticed that she lived a life that was not purpose driven. Whatever she imagined she could get in life was never a reality and never found peace. She however made up her mind at the age of thirty six to begin working out her own answer to this ‘problem that had no name’. She recalled how their mothers strived to give them a better life than whatever life they themselves lived. She also admits that during their childhood they never wished to live like their mothers even if they loved them greatly. Nonetheless, this was before they could become much obsessed with the feminine mystique which blew their reams out of proportion.
Owing to this case study, it is ostensible that a number of American women lived in regrets even after getting their most desired dream of a home, husband, love and children. They realized that a woman’s life needed more than those and for that reason many picked themselves up and began chasing their ultimate dreams of maximizing their inherent potential as women.
The commercial sector is another entity that is largely responsible for perpetuation of feminine mystique. According to Betty Freidan’s argument in chapter 9 (The sexual sell), “the continual growth of feminine mystique and housewifery made a lot of sense especially when one realized that women were the chief customers of the businesses in America.” It was believed that women bought more of the home keeping appliances and other domestic needs when they were kept in the underused nameless yearning state of being housewives. This is what made the advertising agencies not to portray women as careers champions but rather use them in beauty pageantry and as brand promoters. The corporate entities barred advertisers from using women in promoting career businesses with fear of losing their market realm.
It is said that women’s attitude was inclined so much on the side of home making and housekeeping. This is why they would be so much preoccupied with making shopping all time to make changes about the looks in their homes, houses, garments for the children, and other appliances such as washing machines, lawn mowers, among others. As compared with those women who were in career, house wives constituted a greater percentage of the market for home keeping appliances because they understood clearly the requirement of home keeping. Those in career would in most cases prefer to hire services such as laundry, mending of garments, or even mowing the lawns. They cannot think of purchasing their own appliances because first, they do not do know whether those appliances exist for lack of time to do shopping. Secondly, they do not have time to use them so they would rather hire services. This kind of situation in the long run delimits women to one role, one position and one occupation; home keeping.
However, after women would have set everything in place, thy often found that they still lacked something that would make them complete. This ‘problem that has no name’, never seemed to stop haunting American women. They discovered it had nothing to do with the diet, company, sex, comfort, luxury, children, just to name but a few. It was simply the affinity something more and which had something to do with their inner satisfaction. Women are said to possess a peculiar characteristic which men were denied. This is the emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is that which empowers them to possess sound judgment which can perfectly warrant them leadership. Despite that, women are said to be the source of intelligence which every child inherits from their left brains. It is unfortunate that in spite of these rare and vital attributes still women could not rise to the occasion and claim their rightful positions in the society; instead they settled for frivolous occupations which do not demand any expertise and which anyone can just manage.
The worst thing is that they realized that they had this ‘problem that had no name’ when it was almost late. Men; who naturally are deficient of emotional intelligence had worked extremely hard to occupy nearly all the prominent positions in the formal sector. The women’s adoring spirit towards men also made men possess male chauvinism to an extent that irreversible. The quest for equality between men and women has therefore been a steep hill for the American to clamber especially at this point when everything in life has become commercialized and thy have already become objects of advertisement. Take for instance the manner in which women are portrayed on magazines. Nearly all magazines around the world are emphatic about a woman’s femininity. It has become almost certain that magazines which paint women in this manner record overwhelming sales than those which paint a woman in terms of career.
The final factor which promoted feminine mystique is prejudices as well as comfortable conventions. The society then had particular attitudes concerning women. Women, especially those in careers were viewed with contempt by the general public and would not be appreciated. This is because they were formal and posed a threat to men in equal ranks. It is also proven that women were perfectionists especially at places of work and are less compromising when it comes to adherence to work ethics. This is contrary to their male counterparts who are sometimes implicated in a number of irregularities and can sometimes compromise their integrity to accommodate their own interests as well their friends. Owing to this reality, women in careers became like adversaries of men. A number of men are usually uncomfortable working alongside women because the exceptional qualities which all women possess. Because of this fact, men would often put women under pressure to minimize their space of rising into greater positions.
Besides, men naturally view women as conformists and should walk behind men. This notion is nonetheless contrary to the scientific belief that most women are reformists and perfectionists. Because of these misplaced perceptions, men have delimited women within family and domestic roles as they take keen interest in leadership positions. This is the reason as to why for long men have thrived in top leadership positions at the expense of women. They have also ensured that they make literally difficult for the women to rise to prominent positions because of fear for the unknown. Although women have realized that they need to fight for themselves, as hinted by Betty in chapter 14, New life plan for women, “On the many women she talked to in the suburbs and cities, some were just beginning to face the problem, others were well on their way to solving it and for still others it was no longer a problem.” Although this may be seen as a threat to a few chauvinistic men, majority of the society have so welcomed the initiatives that women have put in place to ensure that they optimize their inborn abilities irrespective of the circumstances they find themselves in.
Most women are denouncing whatever the society had caged them in as ‘comfortable conventions’ as house wives and have been pursuing emancipation through utilizing their competency skills to compete their male counterparts in competitive fields. Long ago, women used to dodge courses such as law, engineering, aviation, among others and settled for those that demanded feeble qualifications such as teacher and alike. Nonetheless, that has become a thing of the past since women and men are just at par with each other. Due to this revolution, the number of the women who are still falling for housekeeping role as their first priority has since become insignificant. The spirit of ambition among the contemporary women is just amazing as compared to the American women in mid twentieth century. Consequently, marriage life has also become quite elusive as many women having attained their realistic statuses in life are opting not to live a life of confinement anymore. Rates of single marital statuses, single parenthood and gay families are increasing pervasive than it used to be in those days when all that women were good at was to pursue PhT (Putting Husbands Through).
It is evident that feminine mystique delimited American women and shackled them in domestic cages for a long time. Despite the fact that America has risen and sustained its renowned status as a super power nation in the world, it is sad that the American women have not portrayed the essence of belonging to a country of such status. This can be seen clearly in the blatant gap that exists between American men and women in top leadership positions in all sectors. However the impressive reality is that American women of today have woken up to the fact that they had indeed stooped too low working only to satisfy their social interests, through which they stumbled on this problem that has no name. They have realized that actually their ideal destiny was not just in seeking the cultural identity which they strived for a long time to get; housewifery. The pace at which the women are competing men is a clear indication that they are equally meant for competitive places in the society. They have demonstrated massive capacities to make a positive contribution in the society without being dictated by downgrading circumstances and feeble enticements such as being used merely as advertisers of productions. This has elucidated hopes that soon the gap between men and women in leadership shall be narrowed and indeed this confounding nameless problem shall be a thing of the past. Women will challenge prejudices and comfortable conventions by claiming their rightful positions in which they will be enabled to share their immense emotional intelligence with the entire world. It is only through these strategies that thy will surmount the ‘problem that has no name’.