Friday, March 15, 2013

Feminism's Sisterhood of Silly Women: Part 1

Please note: I first published Parts 1 and 2 of Feminism's Sisterhood of Silly Women as a complete post on on November 19, 2004, under the title The Sisterhood of Silly Women. I have edited the piece and divided it into two parts for clarity's sake. Part 2 is found here.
Silly: weak in intellect, unwise, foolish” [1]
Image source: stock.xchng
“...Silly women laden with sins, ...ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” ~ II Timothy 3:1-7

As I strolled along with hands clasped behind my back skimming the faces of the library books on display, the word sisterhood in one of the titles caught my attention: The Sisterhood: The True Story of the Women Who Changed the World. [2]  

The title left me with so many unanswered question, I just had to check it out. For instance, who gave these "sisters" the right to change the world in which I would one day live and raise my children? And, what was it about their world they felt needed to be changed?

Perhaps it had something to do with how they were raised. Knowing that parents instill in their daughters a sense of who they are as women and that other cultural factors also influence this development, I felt it was imperative to investigate the backgrounds of these women who claimed to define womanhood for the rest of us. 

Having experienced firsthand the ill effects of the women’s movement in America throughout my own life, I was inclined to believe this was none other than a “sisterhood of silly women” as described in II Timothy 3:1-7. A closer look at their “true story” according to Marcia Cohen only confirmed this. And, it is a very sad story indeed.

You see, when I refer to feminists as silly women, I don't mean goofy, funny, or even crazy -- though, as you will see, Mrs. Friedan seems to imply such. When I say silly, I mean it in a biblical sense: lacking in knowledge of the whole truth and, therefore, such as act in unwise and foolish ways. 

Perhaps as you read the stories of the women who founded the modern feminist movement, you will be led to the knowledge of the truth. May it move you then to pray earnestly that God would grant a moving of His Spirit among the women of the world who are held captive by these lies.

Professing themselves to be wise,
they became fools. 
~ Romans 1:22

Betty Friedan: A Self-Proclaimed Neurotic

Betty Friedan, the first of these women to be covered in the book, has been called the Mother Superior to Women’s Lib after writing The Feminine Mystique in 1963. From Cohen's description I get the gist of the book: over-educated woman rues the day she traded her grandiose career potential for the day-in/day-out drudgery of caring for her husband, children, and household. Betty admitted when she attended her fifteenth college reunion, she was “rankled...because I hadn’t lived up to my brilliant possibilities.” [3] And, in an excerpt from The Feminine Mystique, she said,
It was a strange striving, a sense of dissatisfaction, a yearning that women suffered in the middle of the twentieth century in the United States. Each suburban wife struggled with it alone. As she made the beds, shopped for groceries, matched slipcover material, ate peanut butter sandwiches with her children [Note: I wonder what her children thought when they read that!], chauffeured Cub Scouts, and Brownies, lay beside her husband at night, she was afraid to ask even of herself the silent question -- Is this all? [4]
However, Cohen helps us identify Betty’s true problem when she says,
'The isolated suburban home,' [Friedan] wrote, was a ‘comfortable concentration camp,’ the women trapped within them cut off, like prisoners, from past adult interests and their own identities. It was a new neurosis, this modern ache, and you could read it in the hundreds of interviews and psychological tests she had accumulated.... [5]
So, what was the career Betty Friedan had trained for with such “brilliant possibilities?” A psychologist: how appropriate for someone suffering with a “neurosis.” She blamed everyone but herself, of course, for her dissatisfaction: Freud, educators, women’s magazines, and society at large. [6] Surprisingly, though, as psychologists often do, she never blamed her parents.

Friedan's Childhood Influences

[The Goldstein children] would all remember those cerebral exercises in the dining room... [which their] Father held forth with..questions...on math, or politics or something...
According to Friedan's sister, Amy, “The serious questions about what was going on in the world would always be directed at Betty and the frivolous ones at me. And in that way we began to build our sense of who we were.” [7]

Their father, Harry Goldstein, was a wealthy jewelry store owner, well respected in the affluent Jewish community of Peoria, Illinois. He provided his family with a fine home complete with maids and a butler/chauffeur. Miriam, Betty's mother, had been a physician’s daughter who was employed as a society reporter before she took on “the more respectable role of middle class matron....” She was especially gifted in the skills necessary to run such a household, “...decorating, entertaining, wearing clothes, at golf and tennis,...civic affairs, [and] a busy array of charity work.” [8]

Appearance was important to Miriam who, according to Amy, “always looked as if she stepped right out of [a fashionable clothing store] window.” Because of Betty’s lack of personal grooming, Miriam was critical of her and often compared her two daughters in destructive ways. She also scolded Betty for keeping the room she shared with her sister so messy the maid would not even touch it. [9]

“'Boy, when I grow up,’ she would announce, ‘I’m going to be rich so I can hire somebody to clean my room.’” [10]

Betty was not only an outcast at home but at school as well. When she reached high school, her upper-middle-class schoolmates went their separate ways joining sorority groups which excluded Jewish girls. [11] 
Being cast aside by both her mother and friends, Betty retreated into her books.
She read indiscriminately, almost anything she could get her hands on -- Little Women, ‘Nancy Drew’ -- but especially her beloved English fantasy books about children who went on sailboats and had all sorts of adventures. [12]
Eventually, however, she made new friends and sought an alternate escape in the movie theaters downtown. She watched “Myrna Loy pilot an airplane...[and] Joan Crawford with her glamorous shoulder pads capping her image of supreme competence...These heroines were...vital, accomplished.” [13]

The aspiring Betty Goldstein later became a star herself when she played the role of the mad woman in her high school play, Jane Eyre. How ironic she should go on to study behavioral science at Smith College in Washington, D.C.

"Brilliant Possibilities" Through Education

There is no doubt Betty’s idea of her own “brilliant possibilities” were bred in the success she found in academic pursuits. Nearly every summer of her college years was spent working in her chosen field with the country’s top social scientists. She even obtained an internship at a Westchester County, New York, mental institution. Amazingly, in addition to her curricular studies, she still managed to be the editor-in-chief of the college newspaper and managing editor of their magazine. 

After graduating valedictorian of her class with summa cum laude status, “she won a fellowship in psychology at the University of California at Berkeley and went off to study with the well-known analyst Erik Erikson. There she won another even more prestigious fellowship, this one with a large stipend which could easily carry her through to a professional career as a psychologist.” [14]

She turned down the grant, however, and turned her back on her own “brilliant possibilities” claiming it would threaten the relationship she had with her college lover, whom she pursued nearly as passionately as she did her studies. 

Communism and the Questionnaire

Yet, in the end, she left both them and her college sweetheart and fled to New York. Once there, a communist labor paper, The Federated Press, took her on as a regular writer. Then, after her marriage to Carl Friedan in 1967, they fired her when she became pregnant with their second child. Still, she managed to pull in a few dollars by doing freelance work from home.

During this time, Smith College asked her to compile a questionnaire for her fifteenth class reunion. She says she designed it to prove a point -- that “academic learning was so many psychologists were then implying, an actual hindrance to femininity.” [15]

At first, she refused to see education as a contributor to this “neurosis” of discontent, but later “found that the women who seemed the strongest [strong willed?] were not quite living this complete image of the housewife and feminine fulfillment. And that education had made them not willing to settle....” [16] [Emphasis mine.]

Yet, rather than vilify her only perceived success in life, her education, she “attacked the endless, monotonous, unrewarding housework [which the homemaking role] demanded [and] blasted the notion of vicarious living through husband and children....” [17]

Out of frustration and because of the survey results, she wrote an article for McCall’s magazine. Not surprisingly, it was rejected. However, Redbook took it up, but nearly rewrote it because, in their words, “it was a very angry piece.” The “neurosis” which had been festering in Friedan's mind for so long then became a book which would influence generations of women afterward to either neglect or abandon their primary roles as wives and mothers. [18]

Please continue to Feminism's Sisterhood of Silly Women: Part 2

[1] Webster, Noah. American Dictionary of the English Language (1828) (facsimile). San Francisco: Foundation for American Christian Education, 1995
[2] Cohen, Marcia. The Sisterhood: the True Story of the Women Who Changed the World. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1988.
[3] Ibid, p. 84.
[4] Friedan, Betty. The Feminine Mystique. New York: Norton, 1963.
[5] Cohen, Marcia. The Sisterhood: the True Story of the Women Who Changed the World. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1988, pg. 95.
[6] Ibid, p. 94.
[7] Ibid, p. 54, 55.
[8] Ibid, p. 58, 59.
[9] Ibid, p. 58-60.
[10] Ibid, p. 58.
[11] Ibid, p. 56.
[12] Ibid, p. 56, 57.
[13] Ibid, p. 61,62.
[14] Ibid, p. 63.
[15] Ibid, p. 89.
[16] Ibid, p. 90.
[17] Ibid.
[18] Ibid, p. 91-93.