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Friday, April 3, 2015

The Next Step in Women's Liberation is Actually Children's Liberation

I just finished The Feminine Mystique by Better Friedan, and though I am very grateful for all the things  Friedan did so that I was raised in a less sexist world, this book was pretty bad. Friedan writes emotionally rather than rationally. She does not appeal to my rational brain but rather attempts to manipulate me emotionally by painting a very dramatic portrait that pins every-problem-ever on women staying home with the kids. Friedan has to resort to this style of emotional fluff (that I find very boring) because of her failure to research more thoroughly her subject which led to her failure to grasp the bigger picture. She needed to study the history of women's rights for two thousand years, not one hundred. She needed to study the history of family life for at least a thousand years to understand why women are home with the kids. Then she would have written a much more interesting book.

Social roles are fascinating. Playing the part of "woman" or "man" rather than being yourself, the human propensity for living an inauthentic life based around trying to be someone else's idea of good, is a common human problem, not a female one. But Friedan doesn't address the human problem of role playing, she just attacks one role played by one group of people in one short time period. And even in her time period men suffered from the exact same inauthentic, self-less existence that comes from playing a role--their role was "breadwinner." Their role demanded that they be "strong" and never cry. They couldn't like pink or cuddling. A role is a role. It's damaging to the human psyche because it is a role--what the role dictates doesn't matter that much.

Friedan's failure to examine the big picture is perhaps why she ends up arguing (rather stupidly) that all satisfaction in life comes from working outside the home. For sure one's productive work is a huge part of one's life satisfaction, but there is a big difference between the work people do that they are intrinsically motivated to do and find deeply satisfying, and the work they do for their survival. Most people will never find a way to combine the two. Moreover, most people in most places in most of human history had to spend the majority of their time focused on their survival, and not soul-satisfying passion-work. That is life. To have milk--up until a hundred or so years ago--you had to milk a cow every day twice a day 365 days a year. You think that isn't drudgery?! Until very recently there weren't a million jobs from which to chose, most people were going to farm or hunt or gather. Learning how to deal with the basic drudgery of survival was a major life skill that everyone learned in childhood. And even in Friedan's time period I can't imagine that most men's work was super intellectually stimulating, that all men just hopped out of bed in the morning excited to go do their jobs.

But moving on to what I think is actually more interesting.

Even if all women worked outside the home someone has to take care of the kids. Friedan thinks it should be the government. She advocates state sponsored daycare. On moral grounds I cannot agree with that as that means I have a "right" to have as many babies as I want, and you have to pay for their babysitting. Moreover, state-sponsored daycare means the government is raising all the kids. No thank you.

There is also the problem of health. To maximize the health of our children, they should be spaced 4 to 5 years apart and breastfed for 3 to 5 years each. Pumping milk is largely a lie as it will cause decreased milk supply and lead to a failure to produce enough milk. What this means is that women in the workforce plus kids in daycare equals unhealthy kids. (And unhealthy women as women are also less likely to get cancer if they breastfeed for longer.) Only for a tiny amount of time in the history of the human race have babies been breastfed for only a few months. (In Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, Juliet nursed until 3!) Which is to say: it is not the "feminine mystique" that convinced me I should stay home with my children, it is reality. Because health is my highest value, I cannot choose otherwise but to "stay home" because that is the only option our society gives me.

And THAT is the problem.

If Friedan had looked back far enough, she would have noticed that in many places and times women did not have to stay home with the kids because the kids did not have to stay home. It wasn't until the Victorians decided that children needed to be removed from the world (so that they would never learn about sex, drinking, and gambling) that women got stuck in the house (because someone had to stay home to police the kids who had to stay home). Being stuck in the house SUCKS. For women and for children.

The woman's role with which Friedan has such a big problem was nothing more than a poor solution to the real problem--the removal of children from the world. I have a great lecture about this on YouTube:

The solution is not daycare and school and women in the workforce. The solution is a change in the way we live and especially in the way we think about children--a society and workforce designed for people of all ages. Fascinating to me that we make so many laws to make buildings accommodating for the handicapped but never children. In many Latin American malls it is simply assumed children will be there--breakables are kept on high shelves and every store has a box of toys. How strange to think of a world in which children are actually considered! And welcomed!

The next step in women's liberation is actually children's liberation. Because until children are liberated from their roles as pets and prisoners who need to spend all day being policed at home and in schools someone will have to do that policing. And that someone will have to be women if health is a primary value.

Other notes:
-Friedan's research led her to conclude that in the post-war period women got stupider. My research has shown me that ALL Americans got stupider, men too. Nutrition and physical degeneration could be to blame. But also our methods of schooling and parenting and also the mass media. The point is: I don't think it was just women that got stupider.
-Parenting is exhausting when done alone with no time off, not just when sexism is present.
-It's crazy to me that Friedan thinks all the bored housewives *must* go back to school for intellectual stimulation. I find school programs so restrictive compared the freedom of being able to study whatever grabs me! I get to chose my own reading list! And read for as long as I want on no one's schedule but mine! I have read 300 books since my son was born. I puzzle over huge philosophical issues all day while I am home. My husband was cracking up the other day because I gave him a lecture on how current neuroscience theories of consciousness apply to epistemology while I was cleaning the fridge. He is jealous of all the reading I have time for that he does not have time for.
-And it totally pissed me off when Friedan belittled classes in nutrition, cooking, child development, and communication skills for married couples. She just sounds insane. Raising children well is a skill. Good communication skills that keep your marriage a happy one is another skill. Staying healthy by taking care of your body is a skill. These are very valuable skills. Insane to me that Friedan thinks so little of the study of them. I personally think there is nothing more important to study….

Here is a link to a post I wrote on a different way to structure the raising of children in our society--