Friedan, Feminism and Fulfillment

In his “Writer’s Almanac” for today, Garrison Keillor talks about Betty Friedan who wrote The Feminine Mystique in 1963. Keillor says:

Friedan wrote about what she called ‘the problem that has no name,’ found particularly among educated suburban women in the years after the end of World War II, women who were leading ostensibly idyllic domestic lives as busy housewives and mothers and yet who felt inexplicably unfulfilled, unhappy, and restless.

She wrote:

‘The problem lay buried, unspoken, for many years in the minds of American women. It was a strange stirring, a sense of dissatisfaction, a yearning that women suffered in the middle of the twentieth century in the United States. Each suburban wife struggled with it alone. As she made the beds, shopped for groceries, matched slipcover material, ate peanut butter sandwiches with her children, chauffeured Cub Scouts and Brownies, lay beside her husband at night — she was afraid to ask even of herself the silent question — ‘Is this all?’

I’m sure it’s true that many wives and mothers then and now felt unfulfilled or suffocated at home. I would attribute this more to America’s affluence at the time – whereas in previous generations most women didn’t have the luxury of thinking about much beyond survival and the daily routine, in the post-WW II generation, the horizons expanded due to prosperity and the possibility of office work.

With that said, guess what: the secret is that men feel the exact same sense of ennui, despair and boredom at work that Friedan seems to locate in the home! Do you think it is somehow inherently exciting to get up at the same time five days a week, get in a car, commute to work listening to the same garbage on the radio, sit down at a desk and become a cog in the faceless corporate machine for 50 years? Or better yet, to mop floors, drive trucks, lay concrete, or whatever? Is this a life of dazzling fulfillment that men are conspiring to deny to women?

Far from it. And I think most women who get beyond college-age idealism find out the hard way that this is the case. I say the hard way, because by the time they realize this, it is often too late. They are hemmed in by college debts that need to be repaid, a kid or two at home and the built-in financial demands of a two-income lifestyle. Some find that when they have children they actually WANT to be at home with the kids, but now they can’t because of those same financial reasons. The expectation of college and career contributes to the delay in marriage. Women and men get married older and by the time they get around to having kids, it becomes more of a strain to bear them and raise them. Guess what? You don’t have as much energy to deal with screaming toddlers when you are 35 as opposed to 20 or 18. That might be one reason why God designed us for maximum reproductive potential at those younger ages!

With widespread abortion, birth control, and the expectation of wealthy, comfortable lives, I don’t expect the pattern of women working rather than mothering to change except in small pockets of resistance. At bottom, the idea that fulfillment is found in a sphere other than where we are is the classic “grass is greener” myth. Some jobs are inherently fulfilling, but not many in the big picture. The Christian ideal is that we find contentment in whatever role we are given, and sanctify the same. The Apostles tell us again and again to be content. This is not easy, it is the knife edge of sanctification, because jobs are tedious, hard, demanding and draining. Telling women that moving into corporate slavery is somehow a big advantage over raising kids and sitting at home is a lie. Unfortunately, it is a lie that we are now completely bought in to. Thanks, Betty Friedan.

Grant Lee

We went to see Grant Lee on Friday night. He played a nice set of really quality songs. He has great stage presence and is funny in between songs. We were able to talk to him briefly afterward as he mingled with the littles (like me).

I read that Lee’s dad was some sort of pastor. If true, this adds evidence to my thesis that a great many celebrities come from Christian backgrounds against which they are rebelling. I read about Meghan Fox the other day and it is the same thing with her – grew up Pentecostal and rebelled mightily against that upbringing. For some reason, many Christians ping-pong so radically to the other side that they become the worst offenders on the other side.

Observations while walking

I’ve been walking every day for about three months now. This has given me a wealth of insight into how my neck of the woods functions which I was not aware of when I was more housebound. Here are some of my observations:

* This is a “duh” observation, but being outside and seeing the world in ways that exceed walking to and from a big-box store, a restaurant, or your workplace, gives you a completely different feeling about reality. I’m sure that if I hiked or camped or hunted, this would go up another few orders of magnitude, but since I am an avid indoorsman, that won’t be happening. This is probably as much nature as I’m going to willingly experience. With that said, my subdivision is basically a big forest with lakes and creeks in the middle of it, and I see deer, turtles, vultures and other things as I walk, so this isn’t a heavily suburbanized area.

* Kids don’t play outside much, if at all in 2009. While I don’t want to overplay the “back when I was a kid” angle on things, I think that kids did play out way more back then, and that this number has been progressively declining since the advent of game systems. When I was a kid, I think that my brothers had played outside way more than I did a decade earlier when they lived in the city and did lots of stuff. I grew up in the burbs and was hardly playing outside all the time, BUT, I do remember playing variations of “go fish” with the neighborhood kids, riding bikes, exploring around my subdivision, and so on. When I walk, I almost never see kids of any age on the streets, running around, or anywhere. I don’t walk past our pool, and I know kids go there more than anything, but still, there doesn’t seem to be any version of neighborhood football, baseball or anything going on.

Additionally, lots of folks have big playground-type equipment in their own back yards. These include swings, slides, and that stuff. I have never once seen a single kid on these units. Of course, I’m only walking once a day, often at night, so maybe my timing is just off. But I find it hard to believe that kids are playing on these things all the time and I’m always missing it. I think that kids just can’t be bothered with this stuff and that parents buy it for nothing. The parents think it will be great and it ends up being a gathering place for wasps nests.

On a couple occasions I have seen some teens walking from one place to another, but that’s about it. I guess most little kids play inside, watch TV, play video games, or maybe play in their driveway. I don’t see the old neighborhood pack of kids around.

* I rarely see adults outside either. In most cases when I do see adults, they are working on their yard, working on a car, or messing around in the garage. I have seen some poker games going on in garages, some birthday party crowds, and an occasional porch-sitter, but overwhelmingly people are inside.

It is sometimes eerie how desolate it seems out there. I am walking by homes with people in them, but you almost wouldn’t know it. The streets are deserted, all I hear are bugs and birds, and it’s lonely in the middle of a bunch of houses. A contributing factor is that all the homes are built far back from the street and there are no sidewalks, so there is no sense of community, rather it is isolated homes that have trees between them. It is the quintessentially American idea of “leave me alone” that wants as much land as possible and as much distance from neighbors as possible. And since I know a bit about my neighbors, I can’t say that I disagree in reality with this approach, though it feels wrong.

Our Mad World, II

I just came across this article which further illustrates the madness of this age. I have been walking every day for the past five or so weeks, and I can confirm that very few people are ever on the streets or on the porch for any reason. Mostly what I see are TVs flickering on the wall – usually big flatscreens that are hung up high. Walking my neighborhood has given me a whole new insight into what we are like now. I used to be in an indoor bubble all the time, and most of us are. Anyway, here’s an extended quote from the article:

The sandlots and creek beds, the alleys and woodlands have been aban- doned in favor of a system of reservations—Chuck E. Cheese, the Jungle, the Discovery Zone: jolly internment centers mapped and planned by adults with no blank spots aside from doors marked staff only. When children roller-skate or ride their bikes, they go forth armored as for battle, and their parents typically stand nearby.

There are reasons for all of this. The helmeting and monitoring, the corralling of children into certified zones of safety, is in part the product of the Consumer Reports mentality, the generally increased consciousness, in America, of safety and danger. To this one might add the growing demands of insurance actuarials and the national pastime of torts. But the primary reason for this curtailing of adventure, this closing off of Wilderness, is the increased anxiety we all feel over the abduction of children by strangers; we fear the wolves in the Wilderness. This is not a rational fear; in 1999, for example, according to the Justice Department, the number of abductions by strangers in the United States was 115. Such crimes have always occurred at about the same rate; being a child is exactly no more and no less dangerous than it ever was. What has changed is that the horror is so much better known. At times it seems as if parents are being deliberately encouraged to fear for their children’s lives, though only a cynic would suggest there was money to be made in doing so.

The endangerment of children—that persistent theme of our lives, arts, and literature over the past twenty years—resonates so strongly because, as parents, as members of preceding generations, we look at the poisoned legacy of modern industrial society and its ills, at the world of strife and radioactivity, climatological disaster, overpopulation, and commodification, and feel guilty. As the national feeling of guilt over the extermination of the Indians led to the creation of a kind of cult of the Indian, so our children have become cult objects to us, too precious to be risked. At the same time they have become fetishes, the objects of an unhealthy and diseased fixation. And once something is fetishized, capitalism steps in and finds a way to sell it.

What is the impact of the closing down of the Wilderness on the development of children’s imaginations? This is what I worry about the most. I grew up with a freedom, a liberty that now seems breathtaking and almost impossible. Recently, my younger daughter, after the usual struggle and exhilaration, learned to ride her bicycle. Her joy at her achievement was rapidly followed by a creeping sense of puzzlement and disappointment as it became clear to both of us that there was nowhere for her to ride it—nowhere that I was willing to let her go. Should I send my children out to play?

There is a small grocery store around the corner, not over two hundred yards from our front door. Can I let her ride there alone to experience the singular pleasure of buying herself an ice cream on a hot summer day and eating it on the sidewalk, alone with her thoughts? Soon after she learned to ride, we went out together after dinner, she on her bike, with me following along at a safe distance behind. What struck me at once on that lovely summer evening, as we wandered the streets of our lovely residential neighborhood at that after-dinner hour that had once represented the peak moment, the magic hour of my own childhood, was that we didn’t encounter a single other child.

Even if I do send them out, will there be anyone to play with?