admin/ September 27, 2017/ Gender Politics/ 0 comments

Friedan criticizes theorists such as Margaret Mead for working within the framework set in place by Freudian psychology, which sets gender as destiny rather than a merely a matter of biology. She argues that by not challenging the notions of feebleness and envy that come with [this misinterpreted version of] Freud’s framework, such theorists are both accepting and legitimizing the limitations of gender inequity. But it seems her adamance about challenging social system’s legitimacy does not extend to challenging the racial hierarchy established in the U.S.

In her arguably narrow analysis of womanhood and femininity, Friedan’s sample size includes the most privileged among new-wave suffragists: bourgeoisie White women who had obtained college degrees and ‘wasted’ them. Despite the mission of the later established NOW network being to bring equity to all women, her own work does not reflect that desire. Rather, she takes ownership of the struggles of the working-class African American or Latina woman as those of the bourgeoisie White woman for shock value, without providing space in her analysis to discuss the very real differences between their livelihoods. While Friedan points to a ‘problem with no name’ (Friedan, 1, 14)  felt country-wide, she neglects to extend the idea of what that problem could be to be universal. As bell hooks points out in her analysis, when Friedan says “we can no longer ignore that voice within women that says: ‘I want something more than my husband and my children and my house” in reference to careers, she did not discuss who would be called in to take care of the children and maintain the home if more women like herself were freed from their house labor and given equal access with White men to the professions (hooks, 56). Friedan’s analysis assumes a posture of privilege in a social system she wishes not to challenge, because without the labor of working-class women of color being assumed as plentiful and easily accessible, the truth is that the dream of her narrow sample size could not be actualized.

The comfort found in acceptance of the racial social-system allows Friedan to push women like herself towards prestigious careers, while completely ignoring the existence of occupations such as babysitting, factory working, housekeeping, etc. No comparison is ever made between the jobs held primarily by African- American and Latina women and White women, because even in the mind of a social-change agent such as Friedan, there is a difference between a ‘woman’ and a ‘black woman’. Their ambitions, social circles, and potential were simply assumed to be different, which is the hypocrisy that bleeds this novel of some of it’s credibility. She uses the word ‘woman’ to be synonymous with ‘White woman’, and in doing so reaffirms the issues of sexism and feminism to be those toyed with by the upper echelons of society, not their servants or those stepped upon to reach their ‘full potential’. Furthermore, her separation of woman and woman of color further widens the gap between their struggles, and drove the need for movements such as Angela Davis’ ‘Womanism’, because the plight of the brown person was not acknowledged as feminine enough to be feminist. One could argue that it is Friedan’s ultra-liberal background that justifies her stance to allow some social systems to stay as fact and others to be challenged as unjust. After all, the liberal believes in groups of individuals with similar problems coming together to defend their interests. But I argue that her liberalism should have translated into taking the individual struggles of all women, despite racial background, to form a super-conglomerate of feminism, creating a multilateralism that could have stayed true to individualism while acknowledging that there were/ are drastically different levels of oppression that women face. But, just like the theorists and psychoanalysts she criticized, Friedan in 1963 could not see past the American system of racialized womanhood as she had been socialized to acknowledge it, and in turn devoted page after page to 1) the assumption of the availability and abundance of minority female labor for the advancement of those like herself, and 2) the reaffirmation of womanhood and feminine struggle being an educated White-woman’s issue.

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