Friday, February 15, 2013

On "the Problem that Has No Name"


On "the Problem that Has No Name": When Betty Friedan published The Feminine Mystique in 1963, she was reacting to a widespread feeling of "unhappiness" among women in the 1950s. Coming from a decade in which women were marrying young and having large families, many suburban housewives were feeling isolated and wanted more than just a "nuclear family" or material comfort. This collective yearning for more became known as "the problem that has no name." But Friedan also argued for a masculine mystique. In fact,  it was the men with long hair and sympathies for female reproductive rights who initially co-rode the "second-wave" of feminism in the 1960s. Yet by the 1970s, the masculine mystique had mostly dissipated, as a more radicalized strain of feminist thinking took hold. Led by Gloria Steinem and her Ms. magazine, she published the names of women who had abortions in the United States before Roe v. Wade. Ultimately, it was this radicalization which not only rode the Civil Rights Movement's coattails, but also exposed a fundamental contradiction in feminism, namely that feminists pushed for socioeconomic and political equality (Title IX, ERA, etc.) with men while also seeking special recognition of women's biological functions (birth control pill, abortion, etc.).

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