It’s been nearly 60 years since Betty Friedan’s revolutionary e book The Feminine Mystique got here out. Published in 1963, it turned a nationwide bestseller and launched second-wave feminism within the United States, the feminism of the sexual revolution and employment reform.
Today, most American girls say they establish with feminism. Why? Friedan’s e book was revolutionary, however had been her observations new? The historical past of American ambition and restlessness suggests they weren’t. In reality, these instincts are a permanent a part of the American character and may help us perceive American girls—and feminism’s attraction.
Friedan depicted the American housewife of the Fifties and ’60s. This girl is alleged to be stricken with the “problem that has no name,” which appears to mix emotions of loneliness, boredom, and restlessness. She finds home life insufficiently difficult and removed from fulfilling, particularly as youngsters get older and much less depending on their moms. Such girls are troubled by the prospect of underutilizing their abilities and time.
Some of those sensibilities could be attributed to occasions and developments specific to that period. Rosie the Riveter had met the decision of her nation, solely to be displaced (pretty or unfairly) by returning veterans. New applied sciences made house responsibilities much less burdensome and time-consuming. And the invention of the tv and the prevalence of promoting aimed toward girls inspired romanticism and consumerism. You can also appear to be pin-up Betty Grable, run away with a Fabio, and sustain with the Joneses—or so girls had been informed.
But not all of the anxieties Friedan described had been distinctive to mid-century American girls. More than 100 years earlier, Alexis de Tocqueville noticed a stressed and formidable spirit in Americans, born from a love of equality and made attainable by prosperity.
Belief in equality animates American attitudes towards work, Tocqueville stated. Democracies acknowledge no courses. Professions should not decided at beginning (although some select to observe the traditions of their fathers). All should earn a wage, so none really feel disgrace for its necessity. In trustworthy work, Americans discover a measure of dignity and goal. (Think of the recognition of Mike Rowe, who hosts Dirty Jobs and quips that, “opportunity usually shows up in overalls and looking like work.”) Moreover, such a society values earnings; as Tocqueville wrote: “Equality not only rehabilitates the idea of work, it boosts the idea of work that gains a profit.”
It is probably comprehensible then that American housewives of the ’50s felt some insecurity (as some nonetheless do right now) about not receiving a wage, although their work is invaluable. The outcomes are much less identifiable and tangible, not measured by a proportionate wage. A mom can change a diaper 5 instances a day and be left with the identical clear and wholesome toddler.
This perception in equality is a outstanding supply of American ambition and individualism. Americans aspire towards excellence and consider themselves able to attaining it. Our principal limitation is just not class however benefit. “An immense and easy career seems to open before the ambition of men,” Tocqueville wrote, “and they readily imagine that they are called to great destinies.” So, when Friedan urged girls to separate atoms, penetrate outer area, create artwork that illuminates human future, and be pioneers on the frontiers of society, her name resonated. It appealed to her viewers as Americans.
According to Tocqueville, this ambitiousness, together with our prosperity, makes us stressed. Americans will construct their dream home—and then promote it. We will grasp a occupation solely to alter jobs. Any quantity of leisure can’t be tolerated; an American will flee, in a hurried and abrupt method, from the quiet and the settled “to distract himself better from his happiness.”
To these descriptions, Friedan added the middle-class American housewife. She realizes her private desires: training, consolation, stability, leisure, and household. And these items depart her stressed. While there are similarities in Friedan’s and Tocqueville’s descriptions of the American character, their prognosis of its causes differ. Friedan attributes American girls’s restlessness to our womanhood, Tocqueville to our Americanism.
For Friedan, home life itself is the supply of ladies’s discontent. She inspired girls to pursue self-actualizing careers and ushered within the second wave of feminism and the sexual revolution. Her reply was for ladies to change into extra impartial and individualistic. There was some reality in her arguments and critiques.
But Tocqueville’s observations point out that the origins of our discontent could also be far more basic. The spirit of restlessness is sewn within the nature of democratic man (a spirit he maybe first noticed in males however has unfold to girls). Our prosperity cultivates a “taste for material enjoyment.” Our ambition makes us anxious to change into “illustrious” and discover consolation on this life earlier than departing to the subsequent. The ever-grasping fashionable American works in excessive finance to personal a luxurious automobile, dine on the trendiest eating places, and stay in an overpriced apartment in New York City. He is spurred by rivalry, and wage is a measure of success.
There is nothing improper with achievement or wanting affordable comforts. Excellence is the refined finish of competitors. Yet we change into stressed after we uncover that these temporal pleasures we strove so onerous to acquire should not sufficient. It is noble to ensure your loved ones is safe. But permitting work to rework you into an absent mom or father disrupts applicable priorities. The price is excessive when blind private ambition comes on the expense of practically every part else.
While American restlessness could be problematic, it can be channeled into and checked by self-sacrifice and public-spiritedness. Americans have at all times felt an obligation to make the most of their abilities to serve their nation and neighborhood, since a wealthy man, Tocqueville wrote, “would consider himself of bad reputation if he used his life only for living.” Instead, in ways in which distinguish the United States from many different nations, a citizen of America sacrifices his leisure for civic engagement. It appears grasping and slothful to hoard not solely materials wealth however private abilities. The succesful, gifted, and civic-minded are obliged to make sure the blessings of liberty not just for themselves, but in addition for posterity. In that, they discover their vocation.
A vocation channels private abilities within the service of others, furthering the perpetuation of one thing better than the person. Doing so doesn’t restrict our ambition. It directs and ennobles it. George Washington, for instance, was anxious to return to the comforts of Mount Vernon and personal life after his first tenure as president. But he served a second time period for his nation due to, his fellow patriots noticed, “a public spirit that reigned in [him] almost before there was any public to be spirited about.” His priorities weren’t the private and the fabric, however the freedom and safety of generations unborn.
Of course, many don’t discover their vocation in public life or a profession. Their sacrifice is of a unique variety, their greater goal grounded in household, a goal Friedan usually devalued. Men and girls will work in drudgery or tackle monotonous and menial duties for the sake of their youngsters. It is a dignified endeavor, requiring a gradual resolve born of essentially the most selfless love.
Parents envision the life they need for his or her youngsters and work to earn their youngsters’s future with their current sacrifices. A tedious job might imply the power to pay for a non-public training exterior of ideologically captured public colleges, serving to to guard and type youngsters’ characters. It might safe the monetary sources essential to maneuver elsewhere in pursuit of a good life. These should not trivial issues. They are choices that type the subsequent era of residents.
The American character is each the trigger and answer to the “problem that has no name.” Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique is just not about girls. It is about American girls. Restlessness and ambition are a part of who we’re as Americans.
But we’re additionally (or as soon as had been) public-spirited. That intuition urges us to deepen—not weaken—out commitments to nation and neighborhood, to household and faith, to the transcendent over the temporal. In recovering this facet of the American character, we discover a partial treatment for our restlessness and a pathway to cultural renewal.
Brenda M. Hafera is the assistant director and senior coverage analyst on the Simon Center for American Studies at The Heritage Foundation, a member of the Matthew J. Ryan Society of Villanova University, and was a Publius Fellow on the Claremont Institute.