Daze of Our Wives
Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique
by Beth Impson
When I first encountered Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique, at the height of its influence in the 1970s, I kept thinking, “Who are these women?” My mother and her friends were not “desperate housewives”: secret alcoholics and adulterers, trying to escape the boredom of their non-wage-earning lives. They did not spend all day cleaning house, nor did they smother us because they needed to live vicariously through our lives. Their own lives were rich and interesting and useful, and I wanted more than anything to be like them.
Later I wondered even more about the Friedan gospel: “Equality and human dignity are not possible for women if they are not able to earn,” she says in the epilogue to Mystique. Forced by circumstances to be the sole wage-earner for our six-, then seven-member family, all I knew was exhaustion, frustration, and guilt—despite the fact that my professional position made perfect use of my abilities. I wanted to use those abilities to teach my own children, not other people’s. Friedan seemed to be living in some parallel universe.
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Beth Impson is Professor of English at Bryan College (named for William Jennings Bryan) in Dayton, Tennessee, and the author of Called to Womanhood (Crossway). She and her husband have five children and eleven grandchildren and attend Grace Bible Church.
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