Thursday, February 28, 2013

February 2013: 50th Anniversary of The Feminine Mystique



It was brought to my attention that this month marked the 50th anniversary of the publishing of Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique. To celebrate this outstanding piece of feminist writing, I was asked to write a blog about it. At first, I was excited because such an insightful work deserves praise; then nervous—The Feminine Mystique is a staple of the second-wave of feminism, how could I possible write a piece that would honor it appropriately, especially if I haven’t read it from beginning to end? But now, I realize that celebrating 50 years of The Feminine Mystique means so much more then honoring a motivating and eye opening piece of feminist writing. It means honoring the fearless woman who researched and authored the work, the feminist movement she helped re-inspire, and the feminist organization she helped find in 1966—the National Organization for Women.

The Feminine Mystique hit shelves February 25th in 1963. By the year 2000, more then 3 million copies were in circulation and were printed in multiple languages (Fox, 2006). The work revealed that “the problem with no name” was plaguing women across America. “The problem with no name,” or what Friedan later calls the “feminine mystique,” was a lack of fulfillment women felt in their lives in a society that said they should be happy in the roles of homemakers, mothers and wives. The mystique was an artificial idea of what femininity should be. Rather then discovering her own identity and potential, a woman should succumb to her femininity that prescribes fulfillment through “sexual passivity, male domination, and nurturing maternal love” (Friedan 1963, 92).

Through her research and writings, Friedan exposes complex ideas about women’s role in American society, identity, sexism in education, consumerism, sex, traditional ideas of motherhood, the feminine and marriage. She calls for changes in the focuses of higher education and societal structures so that women do not waste their college years; and suggests that education for women actually exemplifies the experience of motherhood. "The fact remains that the girl who wastes—as waste she does—her college years without acquiring serious interests, and wastes her early job yeas marking time until she finds a man, gambles with the possibilities for an identity of her own, as well as the possibilities for sexual fulfillment and wholly affirmed motherhood" (1963, 497).

Not only do we remember her work this month, but we also remember Betty Friedan herself. Betty Friedan died at the age of 85 in February 2006 from congestive heart failure (2006). She was a woman who motivated and inspired many feminist around the world to write, speak-out and become active in their communities. In 1966, Friedan co-found the National Organization for Women with 48 other women and men. Her writings and activism in the 1960s motivated the second-wave of feminism and provided feminist today an opportunity to keep “the problem that has no name” in the back of their heads as a reminder of what they can achieve for their own fulfillment. Her work, The Feminine Mystique, altered the perspective of gender roles in American society and labeled a problem that so many women felt, but could not describe. With the problem labeled, women today are more aware of their potential and options of discovery. Both education and motherhood are eagerly pursued by women who freely make the choice that they feel will best fulfill their desires.

That is not to say that The Feminine Mystique completely saved us from the traditional expectations of femininity from being shoved down our throats by society. While it exposes the limiting ideas of traditional femininity, it does not fix or eliminate “the problem with no name.” The problem still exists. What The Feminine Mystique does for us is name the problem. One of the first steps to finding a solution to a problem is being able to name it, which we as women have Betty Friedan to thank for. The next steps involve activism, conscious raising and education, which NOW strives to do every day. I feel that the rest is up to us—the feminist of the present—to keep the second-wave’s and Friedan’s legacy going. It is up to feminist today to reinforce Friedan’s ideas of education and equality to society so that it can be restructured to be equal for all people, no matter what.

References

Fox, Margalit. “Betty Friedan, Who Ignited Cause in ‘Feminine Mystique,’ Dies at 85.”
The New York Times (2006). <http://www.nytimes.com/2006/02/05/national
/05friedan.html?ex=1296795600&en=30472e5004a66ea3&ei=5090&_r=0>

Friedan, Betty. The Feminine Mystique. 1963. W.W. Norton & Company. New York.

“The Founding of NOW.” (2006). < http://www.now.org/history/the_founding.html>

Katie, Oakland/Macomb County NOW Communications Chair

Friday, February 22, 2013

Women In Combat


When the Pentagon and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta made the decision to lift previous policy of 1994 that banned women from combat positions, debate erupted. The previously instated policy banned women from engaging in positions such as artillery, armor, and infantry, or positions that put women on the ground, engaging in physical contact on enemy lines.

The conditions of the policy will take full effect by January of 2016. This allows meaningful discussion to take place before the policy materializes. Reports have been made that this decision stems from increased pressure to formally acknowledge the women who occupy combat positions, despite the loosely enforced ban. Additionally, the policy will give other women the choice to do the same.

With igniting conversational debate of the ‘should we, shouldn’t we’ persuasion, it is important to note that despite the minority occupancy of women in all branches of the military, women are an equally integral part of those committed to defending our nation. It is vital to acknowledge this.

Opposition to policy outlines their arguments in many of the following ways. Allowing women to participate in combat situations creates distractions for their male counterparts. Having females on the ground disrupts cohesion. The male cohorts are unable to trust women in the line of duty. The biological differences between men and women do not allow women to perform at wartime standards. Each explained reasoning sounds as though the opposition is uncomfortable with the progressiveness of gender roles that is taking place. This is an issue of gender role progressiveness.

Despite these positions, I argue that the physical standard should not change. I say this because by doing so, we implement combat positions that are separate, but equal in nature. In order to ensure equality in its truest form, we must keep the current physical standards in place. Women able to meet these standards will put to rest conversations of national security threats and questions about maintaining the high performance of our military branches (in theory, of course). If women are able to meet these physical standards, not only should they be eligible to participate, but also receive the recognition that comes with these standards as well.

Most obviously with the commitment to serve in the United States military comes the commitment to sacrifice, but with sacrifice comes reward. In the military, the majority of four or five star generals of any branch are those who serve or have served during combat situations. Given this, if women are not being formally recognized for their work, their chance of becoming four or five star generals in their respective branch depletes. The possibility for upward mobility in terms of rank is made possible through this policy.

Additionally, those in higher ranks, much like other occupations, earn higher salaries. If women are not able to make career advances, and those who have are not formally recognized, we find ourselves a glass ceiling of sorts. This issue can and should be looked at in terms of equal pay for equal work.

This policy is good news. The formal acknowledgement of women and opportunity for women to infiltrate a highly male-dominated profession marks necessary, and needed progress.

Tori Whitworth, NOW Intern

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

"V" is for "Vagina"


Why is the world afraid of the word “vagina?” It’s not a word that is traditionally heard in polite conversation unless the speaker is trying to be politically correct. When I was fifteen, I was fully aware of my vagina and not afraid to talk about it. In the shadows of George W. Bush’s election, I remember arguing in government class, as we discussed his policies on abortion, that “it’s my vagina and I’ll be damned if some man tells me what to do with it!” My teacher didn't correct my use of “damned” in his classroom. No. He told me “not to use the word vagina.” Well what else am I supposed to call it?

Pussy? Twat? Coochie? Cooter? Vajayjay? Pookie? Powder box? Vaj?

Uh no. I’m going to call it “vagina” because that’s what it is.

If that is what it is, then why does the word “vagina” make people uncomfortable? I think it is very simple. People are uncomfortable with women using the word “vagina” because it implies that she is comfortable with her sexuality. I don’t think there is anything that makes a male high school teacher more uncomfortable then one of his female students being openly comfortable with her sexuality. I wonder if my teacher would have objected to the boys in my class talking about their penises?

The fact is that “vagina” is just a word that describes a beautiful and mysterious part of the female body. Eve Ensler says in her monologue that she is “worried” about vaginas (The Vagina Monologues 1994). She is worried about “what we call them and what we don’t call them.” I understand why she is worried. When people refer to the vagina as a “pussy,” “twat,” “coochie,” “cooter,” or “vajayjay” they take away from the beauty, mystery and power that is embedded in female sexuality. When a woman uses the word “vagina” it suggest that she is comfortable with her sexuality and willing to talk about it in public. A woman who is willing to talk about her sexuality and vagina in public is a woman to be feared; it means she is sexually liberated. There is nothing more threatening to a patriarchal society then sexually liberated women.

I ask you to stand up for your vagina this V-Day (February 14th). I ask you to adopt the belief that “V” is for “vagina!” Embrace the beauty and power of our sex that vaginas represent. They really are a beautiful thing. Vaginas bring new life into the world. They provide pleasure and comfort.

Eve Ensler believed in the beauty and power of vaginas. She founded the grassroot organization V-Day on Valentine’s Day in 1998. To stop sexual violence against women and girls, she and other women in NYC, put on a production of The Vagina Monologues that raised $250,000. Now, after 15 years, V-Day has grown to hold over 5,800 events annually that allow women to share their experiences, raise consciousness, educate and change social attitudes about violence towards women and girls.

In February 2012, V-Day launched a new campaign called ONE BILLION RISING, which called for organizers and activists to “walk out, dance, rise up and demand,” a stop to violence against women and girls on February 14th 2013. The purpose of the movement is to create a social revolution that changes the social perspectives of violence against women. One Billion Rising is a “global strike…an invitation to dance…a call to men and women to refuse to participate in the status quo until rape and rape culture ends…an act of solidarity, demonstrating to women the commonality of their struggles and their power in numbers…a refusal to accept violence against women and girls as a given…a new time and a new way of being.” (http://www.onebillionrising.org/).

Tomorrow (February 14th 2013) there will be a local V-Day event hosted by HAVEN and sponsored by Oakland/Macomb NOW. Celebrate V-Day (and your vagina) as we RISE to stop violence against women in society by joining the dance party from 12-2pm at HAVEN (30400 Telegraph Rd Bingham Farms, MI). 

Happy V-Day!

Katie Curran, Oakland/Macomb NOW Communications Chair