Watch Out, Boy, She’ll Chew You Up

WarriorChapter Four: The Passionate Journey
Or, R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Friedan takes a chapter here to back up and pay respek to the lady warriors who came before her, namely those feminists of the First Wave who fought for rights like property ownership, higher education, and the vote, and the negative (and persistent) perception of those women.

From the 18th through the early 20th century, women who took up the feminist banner (or the unfortunately unflattering Bloomer dress) were labelled either penis-envying, man-eating spinsters or unholy harlots and adulteresses. (Sound familiar?) Friedan does a pretty amazing thing called fact checking, in which she finds most feminist leaders of the day were, in fact, neither, but instead happily loved and loving wives. (Except for Susan B. Anthony. Bless her heart, that bada$$ spinster mofo.) So, there’s always, you know, facts.

Feminists, Friedan argues, didn’t want to be men (or have their schlongs, for that matter); they just wanted to be fully free and self-realizing humans, and the only model for such at the time was (white) men. So, forgive those “manly” feminists for imitating in some respects, but there was kind of a lack of prototypes.

She also traces the roots of the feminist crusade to the anti-slavery movement—as many First Wave feminists were abolitionists—and then to later social movements, like labor reform.

Friedan reveals which in her Deck of Feminist Playing Cards she values most highly: Lucy Stone. She spends some time acquainting us with this fiery, pants-wearing, umbrella-wielding, “locomotive” rebel, who so disagreed with the legal, civil, and personal subsumption of a woman’s identity in marriage that she denied her lover her hand for years, finally acquiescing but writing her own vows, which asserted “the wife as an independent, rational being” and opposed those laws which “confer upon the husband an injurious and unnatural superiority.” (Eff your something blue.)

So how did we get from these firebrands to the Happy Housewife? “‘Rights’ have a dull sound to people who have grown up after they have been won,” Friedan writes. The First Wave tore down the old model, but what were young women of the ’30s and ’40s left with? Not the frustration and anger of their mothers, because they had the rights their mothers had yearned for. But they had no prototype to build on, other than the corrupted image of the loveless, angry, masculine feminist. Building a brand new model of being is scary and hard and potentially painful. So when the emerging new Feminine Mystique told young women they could evade this crisis by just going back home again—and how noble that was—well, you see where that brings us.

Back to that penis envy thing, the next chapter promises to be an interesting one: “The Sexual Solipsism of Sigmund Freud.” You might want to grab some popcorn.


Follow BNReads