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[Opinion] Betty Friedan’s ‘Feminine Mystique’

Posted February. 07, 2006 04:10,   


Female graduates look dignified appearance during graduation ceremonies. How will they change after 15 years? Betty Friedan’s “The Feminine Mystique,” the feminist groundbreaking work, originated from the above curiosity.

In 1942, Friedan got all A’s in her 1942 Smith College graduating class. After graduation, she was fired from her job as a reporter because she required maternity leave for her second baby. Most female graduates in her same class became good wives and wise mothers who cleaned their homes in residential suburbs. Was this all female graduates had to look forward to for their lives?

”The feminine mystique denies women the opportunity to develop their own identities,” the book says. The Feminine Mystique was first published in the United States in 1963. It exploded into the American consciousness, and changed women’s lives. This book strongly urged women to find something valuable without confining themselves to the narrow roles of housewife and mother.

Throughout the world, 2.6 million volumes of the book have been sold. It was first translated into Korean in 1978, and became a must-read in women’s studies departments everywhere.

The writer said, “All I have done has become history.” Women’s studies leaders have recorded her struggles for gender equality in wages and promotion in workplaces, the fight to decriminalize abortion, and to expand the nurturing of children.

Last year, 42 years after her book appeared, The New York Times published an article saying, “Elite women students are opting for motherhood instead of work.” A number of females from prestigious Yale University chose to be housewives and mothers instead of working. “Betty Friedan described the house as a concentration camp for living in comfort in her book, but in this day and age, women don’t think so,” said Maureen Dowd, a newspaper columnist. She says that shrewd women descended from feminists enjoy having a free ride to men’s fortune and positions thanks to their looks and beauty.

Can we say that daughters arguing, “I do not want to live like my mom any more” will live the lives of housewives as described in “The Feminine Mystique?” It depends on whether we view it as biological difference or responsibility for women to work and nurture their children. From that viewpoint of the above, the attitude for life and the feminist line become different. Clearly, unlike the past, women can choose working or housework, or both. Of course, it is up to them to deal with the regrets about the roads not taken. I pray for Betty Friedan, a revolutionist who ushered in an era of women being able to choose their lives.

Kim Sun-deok, Editorial Writer, yuri@donga.com