Tags: betty friedan

9 Feb 2006, Comments Off on No woman gets an orgasm from polishing the SUV

No woman gets an orgasm from polishing the SUV

Author: Helen

Picture from www.picturehistory.com/find/p/14892/mcms.html

Betty Friedan‘s The Feminine Mystique is part of the remembered landscape of my childhood.

From the time I learned to read, the spine with The Feminine Mystique jumped out at me from the bookshelves. The interesting title gave it, well, mystique. I had a bad habit, back then, of guessing at what words meant from context, instead of going to the dictionary. I imagined the book would be about how women think– the mystery behind it. Because as Friedan herself pointed out in the book, Freudian cliches- such as “what do women want” – permeated society then, trivialised and distorted through the lens of popular culture. Hmmm, plus ca change… When I was old enough to read the book, I discovered something quite different.

My mum was a passionate, dreamy literature buff with an offbeat sense of humour. While my father populated the shelves with Walter Scott, Rudyard Kipling and nonfiction, my mother was the source of titles like Cold Comfort Farm, books by Ogden Nash, James Thurber, modern poetry and novels. In the way of the postwar period, she’d graduated with a BA in English Lit and then moved to the role of a faculty wife and stay-at-home mum.

An old friend described to me a visit to our house in about 1961, when my brother and I were very little. “There were dishes up to there,” she said “and your mum had forgotten we were coming. She was deep in a book at the time.

“You children were very much wanted – they just weren’t sure what to do with you when they had you.” A common situation, I think, in those days when motherhood was supposed to be “instinctive” and Dads weren’t supposed to be involved in working it all out.

I’m not saying her whole identity was subsumed by her domestic role; she was too spirited for that. But even as a kid I felt our mum needed something more than domestic science and sherry parties in her life. Betty Friedan spoke to people like her about that phenomenon: the problem that has no name. I wish I could talk to her now to ask her what she thought of it as she read, which ideas appealed to her.

My mum would have flowered in the Whitlam era. I imagine she might have returned to study and who knows what kind of employment. she would have regained her autonomy, not just as wife-of and mother-to, but something else: herself. But what you get from life isn’t necessarily what you deserve. In 1969, as the old patriarchal order began to crumble – at least around the edges – she died of an agressive cancer.

Betty may have been a flawed feminist (I’m sure she cringed in later life remembering the “lavender menace”) but her measured, authoriative writing did the job for me. We need to remember these older feminists with thanks. They really did change the world.

30 Nov 2004, Comments (0)

Berloody post feminists

Author: Helen

I’ll tell you why some of us blog – it’s out of sheer frustration at seeing people with no visible qualification being allocated space to mouth off on the editorial pages of our national broadsheets. (Not that I want to come across like Prince Charles or anything.)


Now I know generational name-calling is not only uncivil, but bullshit. Dina Ross however, who is described as a “writer and journalist”, is happy to title her AGE article “The gen X take on the failings of feminism“, so there you go. Like Virginia Hausegger and Fiona Stewart before her, she’s moaning about the Failures of (Twentieth century style, older women’s) FeminismTM. (“Feminism’s cruel fall-out has polarised mothers who do not work and those who do. The stay-at-home versus work debate has become a minefield of prejudice and antagonism…” etc, etc.)

And what is this feminism? Well, Dina Ross reckons feminism is Shirley Conran and Cosmopolitan!

Of course, if you start from this idiotic premise, feminism’s an easy target.. That’s like bemoaning the state of modern literature and only quoting Danielle Steel and FHM magazine. Hasn’t this woman heard of Simone de Beauvoir, Betty Friedan, Susan Brownmiller, Anne Summers, Katha Pollitt…? and I’m only scratching the surface here.

I googled Dina Ross. Nope, it wasn’t the one with the Supremes. She’s an OK writer– I didn’t mind this short story over here. But I found no sign of any actual credentials to lecture us on 20th century feminism. Is it too much to ask that these scribbler superstars read a book occasionally? Apart from Shirley Conran, that is?

OK, now for a bit of admitted anecdotalism. I really need to address this Gen-X myth that “feminists” are bullying them to get to work and neglect their kids. As a mum of 13 years standing (my feet are killing me), I have heard many a homily in my time from well-meaning people who think that childcare centres are run by the devil and staying at home is the only path to fulfilment. I have yet to experience a conversation where a working mum told a stay-at-home or part time mother she should get a paid job. This happens in postfeminists’ imaginations. (I know there are people who pester single stay at home mums to get a job for ideological reasons, but this is kind of a different angle.) Working women, and feminists, are simply not interested in lecturing SAHMs on their choices. However, they do not believe that all women should be bullied into thinking their lives will be ruined if they do not follow that choice.

Joanna Murray-Smith, a well known Australian playwright, has been disapproving of working mums for as long as I can remember. When I first read her thinkpieces in the ’90s, it was all about how we’re damaging our children by putting them into long day care, and we have to make the tough choice to stay home for them and forgo our selfish ambitions (no mention of the dads). This was no worse than Anne Manne and others who were pushing the same barrow around that time, but it was the hypocrisy of JM-S which made me jump up and down with rage; because she was a famous playwright and could just do her thing at home, so she DIDN”T HAVE TO CHOOSE. Unlike ordinary commuters like me, she could have her cake and bloody well eat it while flicking the crumbs at us and telling us how awful we are.

This time around she is a little more honest, ‘fessing up to the fact that she does, in fact, have a career, but she’s consumed, consumed! With guilt at even working at the computer at home. And still no mention of Dad.

There have been many responses in print to J M-Sís latest ñ mostly against. Liz Porter can’t resist pointing out that the post-feminist desire to make children into Little Emperors just might not be the best thing for them, and that mums have had to juggle tasks, and teach their children independence, throughout history.

It’s a salutary and necessary experience for children to learn that it is not a law of the universe that their immediate needs come first. They do, of course, when children are ill or unhappy. But not when “Batman’s scuba equipment” needs to be found and the mother in question is, as Murray-Smith puts it, on the computer trying to write a few sentences. There are a few handy replies for this situation, used by mothers of all classes. Depending on the age of the child, they are: “wait”, “you are able to get it yourself”, or “what did your last slave die of?”

Mpff. Sounds just like our house. And my kids, long daycare alumni as they are, are thriving.