Gender Studies: 1950s - Present

Topics: Feminism, Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem Pages: 7 (2574 words) Published: June 28, 2012
In her book, The World Split Open: How the Modern Woman’s Movement Changed America, Rosen expounds a generational breakdown of feminism, commencing in the 1950s, with the well known unhappy housewives and the daughters who refused to follow in their footsteps. Rosen begins the book with an elaborate explanation of the “Feminine Mystique,” a belief system labeled by Betty Friedan and also the title of her book, which stands for the postwar opinion that women should limit their lives solely to the home and that of serving their husbands and rearing their children. The Feminine Mystique, published in 1963, opens with an introduction describing what Friedan called "the problem that has no name," which was the pervasive discontent of women in the 1950s and early 1960s. The Feminine Mystique discusses the lives of numerous housewives from all-around the United States who were unhappy despite living with the finer material items and being “happily” married with exceptional children. Friedan believed that restricting women to the home limited their possibilities and was ultimately a waste of potential. While this book received mix reactions from the public it certainly opened the eyes of many women in America regarding self-fulfillment. Friedan did suffer vast criticism because The Feminine Mystique solely focused on the difficulty of middle-class white women, and did not give enough attention to the differing situations women faced in less stable economical situations, or women of other races. She was also criticized for prejudice against homosexuality. However, The Feminine Mystique has generally been regarded as one of the most significant nonfiction books of the 20th century, and is generally accredited with triggering the beginning of second-wave feminism in the United States. Furthermore, the feminist movement expanded with legal victories such as the Equal Pay Act of 1963, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Griswold v. Connecticut Supreme Court ruling of 1965; and continued to expand in 1966 when Friedan found the National Organization for Women (Rosen 3-8).

During the postwar/Cold War era, women’s educational goals had shifted from graduating for a career to graduating with a diamond ring, such that early marriages were on the rise. This notion, according to Friedan, was due to the fact that the “mystique of feminine fulfillment,” through family and home, became the foundation of modern American culture. During the McCarthy era, thousands of Americans were accused of being Communists or communist sympathizers and as such were the subject of aggressive investigations and questioning before government committees and agencies. This scare tactic phenomenon was known as McCarthyism. At this time, it was the job of every American to help fight communism and anyone who pushed for women’s rights or any kind of change, something that was prevalent in the Soviet Union, was thought to be pushing for communism in America. During a meeting between Vice President Richard Nixon and Soviet Premier Nikita Khruschchev, the two argued over the comparative worth of American and Soviet appliances, not bombs, firepower, or government. American women used state of the art washing machines, among other appliances, to help make their jobs as housewives easier allowing for leisure time to rear their children and look beautiful while Soviet women were not housewives but were busy workers building an industrial society who neglected their children and lost their looks early. Convinced that the good life was in the United States, men and women of America followed suit placing racial, gender, social, and economic problems on the backburner. As marriage and child rearing became politicized, young couples married early and bore children which slowed the increase divorce rate of the time and reversed the decline in the fertility rate by producing the largest baby boom, peaking in 1957. Although it was not unheard of for women to work...
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