Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The Feminine Mystique

"For the woman who lives according to the feminine mystique, there is no road to achievement, or status, or identity, except the sexual one: the achievement of sexual conquest, status as a desireable sex object, identity as a sexually sucessful wife and mother." (266)

Yes, I read The Feminine Mystique (1963), proving that you don't have to be sexual to be a masochist. You've probably heard of it-- it discusses why women are unhappy and trapped being "just housewives", and revived an interest in feminism during the second half of the 20th century. It's not a hard read, but at 395 pages, it's a cause in itself. The big question is: Still relevant?

Kind of. The author, Betty Friedan, definitely presents some ideas that are no longer accurate. She also goes to great lengths to convince us that feminists aren't man-hating spinsters (or, God forbid, lesbians!). But the lady, I fear, doth protest too much. Mystique won't seem revolutionary anymore, but it's interesting nonetheless. It made me realize how women are still much more sexualized than men. And of course, being asexual, I might notice this more than other people.

I still remember, many years ago, going to an amusement park with a (female) friend. She tried to buy a pretzel from a cart. The cart was technically closed, but the pretzel guy gave her a free one anyway. She told me, "Being a girl is great because we get free stuff!" My reaction at the time was, "But I never get free stuff!" (And ain't I a woman?) Reading Mystique brought this up in my mind. Because it still seems, even now, like men can transcend gender-- be human beings first and men second-- in a way that women (or any group that isn't part of the hegemony) can't. Why can't any friendly person get a free pretzel?

Why do people hold on so tightly to gender, even when it's harmful? What good have gender roles done for you lately?

Friedan argues that women need to seek identity outside the role of "woman" and to place their value beyond sex appeal. It's odd but understandable; I literally had no idea how much our culture values sex appeal until I realized I didn't need to have any. When I realized that I wasn't a part of the sexual marketplace, I could feel my worth to my culture plummeting. Most people never leave sexuality, so they don't see this. It's a strange privilege, you might say, to be able to do so.


Anonymous said...

I feel like I should read that now...

nothing of inportance to say besides 'read your post, gonna think on it for awhile.'

xDani(TheGirl from AVEN)

Ily said...

Hey Dani, good to see you over here!

Anonymous said...

"What good have gender roles done for you lately?" SERIOUSLY.

I think one of the real difficulties of not seeing yourself as part of the sexual marketplace is that it's incredibly difficult to convince other people you aren't "on the market" (so to speak.) short of, say, entering a convent, it's not easy to convince other people that your sense of yourself as not sexually marketable has less to do with a lack of self-esteem and more with, say, your desire *not* to be sexually marketed. I'm not sure if I'm making any sense, but your post had me thinking on this.

also, the line about not having to be sexual to be a masochist totally made me laugh out loud. it's so true. :)

Ily said...

True, lame as it is to reference myself, that really reminds me of this post:
about how hard it is for asexuals to NOT pass as sexual. I'd imagine that gender-conforming gay folks, and bi folks especially, might have a similar problem.
I don't worry so much about convincing people, but I do want to find others "like me", and it is hard to do that when the default is getting absorbed into the masses.

Superquail said...

I think that our culture links sexuality to power in a way that is really damaging. People want to be powerful and in control of their lives, and so often the response to this desire is "achieve your dreams sexually." For a woman to be truly powerful she has to have the kind of sex appeal that brings (heterosexual) men to their knees. She has to be able to get free stuff. She has to look good no matter what she's wearing.

For men I think a similar thing happens. Men are told that to be powerful they must be uber-virile, with a giant penis, giant muscles, and a giant wad of cum. All those spam ads for viagra and penis-enlarging pills in your spam box are not there by accident.