Before her death, Betty Friedan openly called herself a “bad-tempered bitch.” She was known for being abrasive, pig-headed and, well, acting “like a man.” In her generation and occasionally in the nostalgic discourse of American traditionalists, she is also known as the bitch who ruined marriage through her all-telling book “The Feminine Mystique.”
After the release of “The Feminine Mystique” revealed the unhappy condition of the majority of middle to upper class educated house wives, the world began to change. Women began to voice their discontent in the home, in the bedroom and in their lack-luster singular role as mothers. The second wave began and women began to demand equality in marriage; they often lost this fight, and divorce became the surrender cry around America.
But Betty never thought of herself as anti-marriage. In fact she once said, her tombstone should read: “She helped make women feel better about being women and therefore better able to freely and fully love men”
Almost four decades after the release of her wave-creating book, America is still grappling with the role of marriage and divorce and often still looking for a ghost of a scapegoat. But a new book by Stephanie Coontz, re-examines the role of “The Feminine Mystique” and Betty Friedan in the changing role of marriage in American society and looks to some other factors to the failure of marriage.
According to Coontz, marriage does not fail because women demanded to be equal and men disagreed; instead marriage often fails because both men and women want equal marriages but society denies them equality. In a society where two breadwinners are the norm, the nuclear family is often left to debate who will be the nurturer as well. When concessions from society aren’t made (think flexible work hours, day cares in workplaces, maternity leave for fathers), the family often breaks from the inflexibility.
Betty was right; happier women make happier marriages. But without some changes in our current social roles and norms, men aren’t the happiest they can be. Today’s crisis isn’t about bored housewives; it is about the pigeon-holed role of the man in society. What marriages needs in a third-wave of feminism or the first wave of meninism. It is time for men to take off the suit, tie and 60-hour work week and be allowed to be the fathers, husbands and friends they deserve to be.