Most of my articles start out as a conversation with a friend. My latest Razing the Village piece started forming after a dinner conversation with Diane about a year ago, but I only mentioned the point that prompted my thoughts in it.
Diane and I agree on very little outside of rooting for the Longhorns. Over sushi and prior to whatever geeky movie had just come out, we were debating feminism, specifically the denigration of the housewife, when she asked me, “But would the women’s movement have been successful without the spurring from Friedan?”
At the time, I intuitively answered “Yes, only more slowly.” But now that I’ve spent hours thinking and researching, I can give a fuller answer.
Trashing the housewife wasn’t a necessary evil, and in fact, as I came to realize, it laid the foundations for the life long worker bee mindset that we have started to rebel against.
Women in the 60’s did have a strange stirring, a problem with no name. Post-war advances in technology and medicine had given them options outside of childbearing and domesticity for the first time, but the idea of women en masse, in peacetime, outside the home was so new, society wasn’t set up for it. An evolution about how we thought about women’s lives was undeniably necessary. But denigrating the old roles wasn’t.
Compare Friedan’s “comfortable concentration camp” rhetoric and calls for domestic rebellion to the advice offered in another lesser known work published a little after The Feminine Mystique. Advice to a Young Wife from and Old Mistress had a narrower scope than TFM, it focused on love and marriage, but the works had many topics in common: [rearranged to make sense in excerpts]
Life comes as daily usage even to heads of state and great artists; they too must have clean socks and a cup of coffee, and sometimes must provide it for themselves. But menial necessities are not a reason to be living, and energies tied down to such service are blinded from perceiving even that they are tied.
There is no need to make heavy weather of keeping house, or even raising children, and only a mind otherwise unengaged would whip up a storm around it. A wife does not need to be a career woman, but she needs to be a whole person with brains and hands.
In the nature of things, we meet and marry long before we are full-scale identities, but that is no excuse for staying incomplete. We love most those who make us fulfill whatever greatness lies in us, not those who induce us to resign it. Remember how it was at first, how you went around pouring out, and refill your reservoir from the same springs as before you met, for that is what brought love to your door.
We are all required at last to accept full responsibility for our own events and conditions, and only so long as we evade it, crying after some other arrangement, are we fragmented, lost, unquiet, and unloved. The men and women who see this fact without blinking, and set out to master it, are the most attractive people on earth. They will always be loved, whether they will it or not, because they have learned how.
Study something, learn something, risk more than you think you can, care something, become something–if in truth you wish to be loved.
One is born female, but being a woman is a personal accomplishment.
This advice did not provoke women to reject what they already had, but to add to it, to take responsibility and become something more than they assumed they could be.
We can never go back and test this what if. We can never prove, or disprove, that following Drury’s advice would have afforded women the same opportunities.
But we know that the housewife in the 60’s was restless. She was seeking…something, more. I speculate that Drury’s advice to become something more than you think you can be would have spurned women to seek education and endeavors outside the home just as much as Friedan’s did, only without the nasty backlash against motherhood or the single-minded devotion to paid employment.
And without those, where would we be now?