As a female born on the cusp of Generations X and Y, I grew up firmly believing that women and men are equal. I’ve visited different countries and developed relationships with people who were not raised in in an environment that reinforced gender equality. Yet, I have always considered myself an advocate for women, never fully understanding why there would be any grey area on the issue.
Then, I started reading Betty Friedan’s The Feminist Mystique for a book club – thinking that this would be an interesting relic of the past – and it blew my mind. Here were interviews with real American women who truly believed that dropping out of high school or college to get married (half of whom were under age 20) fulfilled a major life goal.
After a brief hallelujah moment that I didn’t marry any of the guys that I dated as a teenager, I continued reading. The book paints a convoluted picture of American women with unequal say in homes that they were virtually imprisoned in, with little to do after their children were raised; a repetitive Groundhog Day of cooking and cleaning. This “home maker” was different than the empowered women who decided to stay home and raise their children in the generations after The Feminist Mystique was written – including my mother and mother-in-law – both of whom are strong equals in the household.
Later, while flipping through television channels, I happened across the old Bond film To Russia with Love, which coincidentally came out in the same year as The Feminist Mystique. True to the culture of the time, the Bond girl follows 007 around like a doe-eyed zombie chattering about marriage and children, complacent as he slaps her, asks her to model lingerie, and – unbelievably – throws her in the back of a pickup truck. The life of a 60’s era Bond girl does not seem very… fun.
I am not trying to insinuate that gender equality now exists in America. The right to use contraceptives to plan a family is still somehow a debate, and the culture of violence against women is disappointingly evident in incidents like the Steubenville rape case. However, among males and females raised in the generations after the women’s movement, there is a more pervasive sense of right and wrong on these issues. This mentality is clearly depicted in legislation, court cases, media coverage, and even articles in the same women’s magazines that Friedan critiqued in The Feminist Mystique.
Although we are still far from equal, it is important to note that we’ve come a long, long way.