Feminine mystique still fundamental 50 years later

by Sena Hughes

Last week marked the 50th anniversary of the publication of Betty Friedan’s classic book, ‘The Feminine Mystique’. Friedan took a hammer to the glass ceiling of her time, overtly acknowledging the cultural strain on women to be good wives, mothers and homemakers while being stripped of the opportunity to pursue their careers, goals and dreams.

The recognition of the “problem that has no name,” as Friedan coined it, was the shove that really got the ball of the women’s movement of the 1960s rolling. Younger women, single women, college students and even teenagers and pre-teens alike, were inspired by Friedan’s message. It was finally a call to action and permission to freedom. Some women, on the other hand, were livid that such a nontraditional and undermining ideology could catch like wildfire—literally. Bras were burned, protests were staged and some women walked out on families.

Fast forward half a century: I am studying at a private university, double-majoring, learning from female professors, reading books written by females, serving in a campus leadership position, writing a column for my student newspaper, playing intramurals, being supported by two working parents and wearing pants—as a woman. Many may be led to believe Friedan’s revolutionary message is quickly becoming a blurb in a history book. Women have absolutely made strides in society.

It’s remarkable when I consider the immense changes that have happened in such a short time in the scope of history. Most of the facts listed above were close to impossible just five decades ago. Though women have accomplished much, it’s not fair to say the problem has been solved. According to missrepresentation.org, women only hold three percent of the powerful positions in media, advertising and telecommunications today. The United States sits 90th on a worldwide list of women in the national legislature; a mere 17 percent of the U.S. House of Representatives is women. Three percent of Fortune 500 CEO’s are women. We still have a problem and it still has no name.

Having been raised in an era where I truly believe I can be anything, do anything and take advantage of any opportunity, it hurts to absorb these statistics. It hurts because I still understand reality and I understand that when words such as business, police officer, military, boss and coach, just to name a few, are thrown into everyday vernacular, too many minds still equate them with masculinity.

Just last month, I had the distinguished privilege of sitting with 11 other Whitworth students around a table, headed by Paula Kerger, president and CEO of the Public Broadcasting Service, about as high of a profile media has to offer. Kerger reminded us that there is still something wrong if we’re putting the word ‘woman’ in front of titles. Should Friedan’s words be fully integrated into society, Kerger would not be distinguished as a female president and CEO.

Female professors would be professors and female doctors, doctors. Until then, we still have a problem with no name

Contact Sena Hughes at shughes15@my.whitworth.edu

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