The Feminine Mystique at 50
In the National Post:
…People asked me why I hadn’t taken my husband’s name. When we met with a mortgage broker he wouldn’t look me in the eye or address me directly. Mail came to the house addressed to “Mrs. His First Name His Last Name” and “The His Last Name Household.” When I went to a job interview I was asked if, because I was recently married, I was planning on going on maternity leave. I would go to events and parties and people would always ask me where my husband was. These are small things, I know, most of which could be argued are not worthy of complaint — surely feminism has bigger things to worry about? But I saw them as tiny erasures of self, together carving out a loss. I could find no peace in this thing I had been told repeatedly by the mainstream was, next to mothering, the ultimate accomplishment for women. It is a question that Friedan herself articulates about her own life choices: “I felt a strange uneasiness; there was a question that I did not want to think about. Is this really what I want to be? The question shut me off, cold and alone …”
While my husband told me he was experiencing a new kind of respect, an increased trust from business associates because he wore a ring; I instead felt a disappearing of who I thought I was. There was a new burden to perform a role I wasn’t accustomed to, and perhaps didn’t even want — it was promoted by every piece of media I consumed, whether women’s magazine articles, filmic portraits of perfect families or well-coiffed wives Swiffering floors during the commercial break. It paralyzed me, this sudden preoccupation with wifely duties and responsibilities, bedding sets and baking pies, to be good at things I never cared about. And while everyone, including, of course, my husband, said, “Well, then don’t care about those things,” there was still an inexplicable push to perform as perfect, a nameless pressure I found impossible to articulate.
The worst of it was that being disappointed with these expectations, the opportunities of a new shiny life of blissful perfected domesticity, made me feel guilty, suggested I was ungrateful, that I was broken and sick of mind — much like Friedan’s subjects. One of them expresses well the feeling of marital floundering I felt, this idea that I could never fulfill the role properly: “I want so badly to feel like the other girls. I never get over this feeling of being a neophyte, not initiated. When I get up and have to cross a room, it’s like I’m a beginner, or have some terrible affliction, and I’ll never learn…”