I’ve just finished reading The Feminine Mystique, by Betty Friedan. I know, I’m a bit late to discovering this powerhouse of a book, and it’s a big miss on my part. It was published sometime in the 1960s, I think, and launched the women’s movement in the US. Ms. Friedan went on to found the powerful National Organization for Women, which has been instrumental in shaping women’s place in American society.
The Feminine Mystique is a searing critique of how low the bar was set for American women in the 1950s, systematically limiting them to the role of housewife, which proved to be insufficiently demanding for the intellectual capabilities women actually had. It’s quite scary, how the media, education system, and entire culture justified and perpetuated this, forcing women to make themselves content with being defined as wives and mothers, with very unidimensional duties. they were taughtnot to have any further individual identity for themselves, not to develop into complex, complete human beings.
Fast forward 50-odd years to India, and I wonder if there are ideas or lessons to be applied from there. Approximately 80 percent of Indian women are housewives, or homemakers as they are now called. I’m wondering about a lot of things, including:
– is there any kind of parallel to be drawn from the American housewife of the 1950s to the Indian homemaker of the 21st century?
– are Indian girls encouraged to maximize their intellectual and emotional growth and development, or are they too being limited in their role in society?
– is the homemaker’s role different today or has it not changed over the last half century?
– what does this mean for the way we market to Indian women today? The way we portray them in tv serials, movies, magazines and books?
– are our aspirations for Indian girls and women high enough?
I’ll be thinking about these questions a lot over the next several weeks and more. I think times have changed, but I’m not sure if they’ve changed enough.
So many questions, so much to think about. Thank you, Ms. Friedan, for setting a clear example of just how high a woman can fly.
(If you haven’t read it, I really do encourage it. The Feminine Mystique will make you think and stretch your mind for sure.)