Monday, February 13, 2006

Pollitt on Friedan

Pollitt's latest column is about the late Betty Friedan
If you ever doubt how thoroughly dead the 1950s are, try teaching The Feminine Mystique to young women, as I did six years ago. You might as well be teaching Jane Austen. The way you'd have to explain about curates and Bath and entailed estates, you have to tell them how women dressed up to go to the market, how women's magazines obsessed about the fragile male ego and how dropping out of college to get married was indulgently viewed because you weren't going to use your education anyway. The vast American obliviousness that shrouds in a kind of Gothic mist everything that happened before last Tuesday has swallowed up the system of laws, social practices and cultural understandings Friedan described. My students felt a bit exasperated by Friedan's suburban wives, their low-level depression and seething dissatisfactions, their "problem that had no name." If they were so unhappy, why didn't they, you know, do something about it? None of my students planned to spend their days waxing the kitchen floor; even their mothers hadn't done that. But if they did, it would be--the magic word--their choice.

She also took the opportunity to address the serious problems of Linda Hirshman's December piece on feminism:
For Hirshman work is everything: She counts as slackers even new mothers who take a few years off or go part-time. And work means a high-paying career with a corner office in your sights: none of your poverty-wage, idealistic, do-good jobs for her, so eat your hearts out, Nation staffers. Hirshman wants feminists to assert that stay-home mothers waste their talents, buy into domestic subordination and perpetuate inequality in the public realm. Even if she's right in some abstract, theoretical way, and even if there were some central committee of feminism to issue these fatwas, it would be hard to think of a better recipe for political suicide: As if American women don't already feel attacked by the cartoon feminist in their heads!