Feminine Essay, Research Paper

The Feminine Mystique

The Feminine Mystique is the title of a book written by Betty Friedan

who also founded The National Organization for Women (NOW) to help US women gain

equal rights. She describes the “feminine mystique” as the heightened awareness

of the expectations of women and how each woman has to fit a certain role as a

little girl, an uneducated and unemployed teenager, and finally as a wife and

mother who is to happily clean the kitchen and cook things all day. After World

War II, a lot of women’s organizations began to appear with the goal of bringing

the issues of equal rights into the limelight.

The stereotype even came down to the color of a woman’s hair. Many

women wished that they could be blonde because that was the ideal hair color.

In The Feminine Mystique, Friedan writes that “across America, three out of

every ten women dyed their hair blonde ” (Kerber/DeHart 514). This serves as

an example of how there was such a push for women to fit a certain mold which

was portrayed as the role of women. Blacks were naturally excluded from the

notion of ideal women and they suffered additional discrimination which was even

greater than that which the white women suffered from.

In addition to hair color, women often went to great lengths to achieve

a thin figure. The look that women were striving for was the look of the thin

model. Many women wore tight, uncomfortable clothing in order to create the

illusion of being thinner and some even took pills that were supposed to make

them lose weight.

The role of women was to find a husband to support the family that they

would raise. Many women dropped out of college or never went in the first place

because they were lead to believe that working outside of the home was for men

and that it would not be feminine for them to get jobs and be single without a

husband or children to take care of.

An enormous problem for women was the psychological stress of dealing

with this role that was presented to them. The happily married, perpetually

baking, eternally mopping, Donna Reed that lived in every house on the block

with her hard working husband and her twelve children that existed in the media

made women feel that there was something wrong with them if they didn’t enjoy

their housewife lifestyle. And it was not easy for women to deal with this

problem. As Betty Friedan writes in The Feminine Mystique, “For over fifteen

years women in America found it harder to talk about this problem than about sex.

(Kerber/DeHart 515).” Many psychiatrists were baffled and the problem was often

ignored with no known solution because everyone found it to not make any sense.

Women of low economic status also struggled a great deal because they

had to deal with the problems associated with a single income household which

could become very frustrating when she has every reason to get a job, but cannot.

It is also harder to raise children with a low income and provide for the

family as she was expected to.

It is interesting to apply the notion of the feminine mystique to modern

culture and see that it often still exists. Though there are many women who are

getting jobs, there are still a lot of families that fit the mold of the

traditional family with the breadwinner and the bread baker with bunch of kids

running around.

The benefits which arose from this oppression were that women began to

fight back. NOW activists began to use both traditional and non-traditional

means to push for social change. They have done and continue to do extensive

electoral and lobbying work in addition to organizing mass marches, rallies,

pickets, and counter-demonstrations. NOW re-instituted mass marches for women’s

rights in the face of conventional wisdom that marches were a technique that

died out with the 1960s. A march in support of the Equal Rights Amendment drew

more than 100,000 people to Washington, DC in 1978. NOW’s March for Women’s

Lives in 1992 became the largest protest ever in the capital.

One of the ways that women’s lives and experiences have been divided is

through discrimination based on sexual orientation. The 1960’s fueled a lot of

strong movements and the Gay Rights Movement was one of the many that came out

of this decade. Gaining a lot of momentum from the ideas of acceptance and

equality sparked by the Civil Rights Movement, the Gay Rights Movement set out

to achieve acceptance in the general population. A primary historical event

involving homosexuality is the Stonewall Riot which grew out of a police raid in

a gay bar in June of 1969. This event sparked a chain reaction which resulted

in the Gay Rights Movement. The effects of the Gay Rights Movement still exist

today with a wider acceptance of homosexuality and the existence of many

homosexual organizations which promote homosexual support.

The basic goals of the movement were to eliminate the laws which

prohibited homosexual activity, provide equal housing and employment

opportunities for homosexuals, and to create a wider acceptance among the

heterosexual community. Still there was a lot of opposition to those who

accepted homosexuality.

Still there was a lot of oppression felt by lesbian women, even among

the homosexual realm. In 1971 NOW became the first major national women’s

organization to support lesbian rights. It has been one of the organization’s

priority issues since 1975, and was the theme of national conferences in 1984

and 1988. Through the years, NOW activists have challenged anti-lesbian and gay

laws and ballot initiatives in many states. Over 15 years ago, NOW gave strong

support to a landmark 1979 case, Belmont v. Belmont, that defined lesbian

partners as a nurturing family and awarded a lesbian mother custody of her two

children. The plaintiff in that case, Rosemary Dempsey, is NOW’s Action Vice-


A lot of people still are afraid to show support for homosexual

organizations. Within the religious community lies the largest of debates

regarding the issue of homosexuality. The majority of the Christian leaders

reject homosexuality and define it as a sin that must be dealt with. Yet the

greatest debate exists between disagreeing Christian leaders. Some

denominations permit homosexual pastors to lead their churches, which is

offensive to those who are opposed to it, while others neither condone nor

reject the issue. This is especially important for lesbian women who wish to be

church leaders because they have to face those who claim that, not only should

they forbid homosexual pastors, but that women should not be allowed to take

leadership positions in the church.

When the era of the Gay Rights Movement is compared with the silence

that was required of homosexuals during the colonial period, it becomes apparent

that there have been great advances through history. Lesbian women were forced

to repress their sexuality and get married in order to live a “normal” life.

Even after homosexuality began it’s emergence in the 1970s, lesbianism

was often forgotten somewhere among the controversy. In the words of feminist

author Kate Millett in her book, Sexual Politics which was written in 1970,

“‘Lesbianism’ would appear to be so little a threat at the moment that it is

hardly ever mentioned… Whatever its potentiality in sexual politics, female

homosexuality is currently so dead an issue that while male homosexuality gains

a grudging tolerance, in women the event is observed in scorn or in silence (pt.

3, ch. 8).” There seems to be no distinction made between homosexual men and

homosexual women in the media and this causes another form of separation.

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