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The Feminist Makeover

Saying goodbye to old-style feminists

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This article first appeared on the newly launched Slate women's site, Double X, as part of a group of answers to the following prompt: "In The Feminine Mystique, Betty Friedan argued that American women suffered from a malaise she called "the problem that had no name." Her critique of domestic ennui helped launch the second-wave feminist movement of the 1960s, leading to many of the advances women now take for granted. But not everything has changed. So we asked women to answer this question: If you had to pinpoint today's problem that had no name, what would it be?" Read the other responses here.

In 2006, at 25, I left a position as a researcher at the New York Times. As my boss and I boarded the elevator for my goodbye lunch, a successful middle-aged newspaperwoman joined us. When small talk revealed that we were headed to a meal in my honor, she politely inquired if it was Secretary's Day. Mortified, I rushed to explain that I was no secretary, but a Working Journalist, and we were heading to lunch because I was leaving the Times to follow my then-boyfriend (now-husband) to Boston, where he'd be starting business school in the fall. What would I be doing in Boston? she asked. I told her the truth: I didn't have a job lined up yet. She shook her head, the corners of her mouth curling downward, and snapped that the next relocation had better be for my career. Then she stepped briskly off the elevator.

Here was a woman who had fought the good fight, broken glass ceilings, made tough calls about work-life balance, and made a great success of herself. Yet somehow, when she looked at me, she didn't see a happy beneficiary of her labors, a young woman free to make professional and romantic choices in a far better world than when she herself had started out. She saw, first, a secretary, and second, an ungrateful wretch. I think she honestly believed that she was speaking a hard truth to me, one I might not hear anywhere else.

I was born in 1980. The ideas in The Feminine Mystique were conventional wisdom before I was a twinkle in my mother's contraceptive compact. We've had a revolution, a backlash, a rinse, and a repeat since Friedan wrote her zeitgeist-altering book. The choking, claustrophobic silence about the compromises women make, which Friedan documents so movingly, is long since eradicated. In fact, women pretty much won't shut up about this stuff.

Friedan's "problem with no name" now has more names than Eskimos have for snow, each one capturing a slightly different aspect of a single phenomenon. There hasn't been such a frenzy of naming since Genesis 2:20 (perhaps not coincidentally, the same passage where woman-as-helpmeet makes her debut). We endlessly discuss how to have it all, plus personal fulfillment, work-life balance, helicopter parenting, not knowing how she does it, freezing eggs, opting out, and yummy mummys. We will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

So if we're living in a post-post-Friedan utopia, why aren't women happier? Well, women make a lot of bad choices. But you know who else makes terrible choices? Men. Virtually all of my late-20s male friends are currently having career and/or life crises. They're depressed. They feel out-of-joint, disconnected from the life they wish they were leading in ways that are difficult to express, just like Friedan's housewives. Their crises aren't the same as my women friends'—men don't fret about the health of their gonads, for instance. But the New York Times 1963 review of The Feminine Mystique gets this about right for both sexes: "To paraphrase a famous line, 'The fault, dear Mrs. Friedan, is not in our culture, but in ourselves.'"

The same woman at the Times who snagged me in the elevator that day had done the same thing on an earlier occasion, to ask about a semi-spurious trend story published in the paper that day. It described Yale students and recent graduates (I'm one) who were planning to "opt out" for a year or two or five when they spawned. She was aghast to hear that I didn't have strong feelings either way, and warned me against dropping out of the workforce. God help my shallow self, as I stood there looking at her rumpled suit and dated hair and frown lines, I was overwhelmed with pity. Perhaps watching me breeze into the life she had so laboriously carved out for herself—or worse, stray from the hard line in a way that she and other feminists couldn't allow themselves to—felt to her like a bitter betrayal.

But it felt great to me.

Katherine Mangu-Ward is an associate editor at Reason magazine.

NEXT: Obama and Big Labor: Look for the Union Label

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  1. My aunt is a very correct feminist who worked all her life, and put her kids in day care from birth. She always continually berated my mom for staying home to raise us kids. (She once asked my mom how to get her kids to read. My mom: “Read to them.” My aunt “I don’t have time! You don’t understand! I work!”) Well, lo and behold, my cousins are all clusterfucked and my siblings and I (except me maybe) are well-adjusted, normalish, and not drug addicts.

    Once, during the best family visit EVAR, I heard my aunt tell my mom that she should have my mom’s kids, and my mom should have my aunt’s kids. After all, she worked! She did everything right! My mom did nothing but stay home! It’s not fair!

    From what I can tell, feminism is an intellectual excuse to be bitchy and resentful, with some unpleasant notions of gender solidarity thrown in. Fuck that noise.

  2. That reminds me — when does season 3 of Mad Men start? I want to see the next stages in the toughening of Peggy.

  3. I might contend that The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir is the start of the second wave of feminism….though really both books are consider critical to understanding modern feminist thought (whether you agree or disagree).

    Both books are good (or at least interesting) critiques of patriarchal society. However, the 2nd wave feminist movement just ended up advocating gender tribalism via domestic policy and become little better than those they attacked. Also, the 2nd wave had a bad habitat of picking stupid fucking fights (see the protest of Miss America pageants).

  4. My wife gleefully describes herself as post-femminist, which I guess is her way of saying that she feels no obligation to do anything for the benefit of other women. Or something. She’s not terribly clear or consistent on the subject, which seems to be her way of reminding me that she is, in fact, a woman. She insists that she is quite liberated.

    But, she also gets kind of annoyed that I’m a liberated man who would dare tell her to squash her own spiders or suggest that it might be her turn to cut the grass. The explanation for this seems to be that we uphold the highest double standards around here.

  5. Feministing on Double X

    Cute little note at the bottom: *As has been pointed out elsewhere, the name of the site is a reference to chromosomes – making how ‘woman’ is defined a tad problematic.

    My favorite battleaxe:

    SarahMC said:

    We were shocked and disgusted by Hirshman’s piece, but as the day progressed yesterday, I just became more and more angry.

    First, the name of the site.

    Then, the content. It’s a backlashy site masquerading as a woman-friendly one. Breslin is right; it isn’t a feminist site. It’s a shady Slate production that has so far defended rape culture and trash-talked feminism, specific feminists, and competing woman-centered websites. WTF?

    I won’t be rewarding their misogyny with any more pageviews.

  6. From what I can tell, feminism is an intellectual excuse to be bitchy and resentful, with some unpleasant notions of gender solidarity thrown in.

    You left out ugly.

  7. I can almost hear SarahMC harrumphing from here, SF.

  8. Presented without comment:

    [26+] bifemmefatale replied to BROWN TRASH PUNK! :
    Please don’t use the ableist term lame on a feminist site.

  9. SugarFree,

    But you should continue to scroll down the page. There is a amazing and insightful debate on the word “lame.”

    I puked a little when I saw the word ableist.

  10. [26+] bifemmefatale replied to BROWN TRASH PUNK! :
    Please don’t use the ableist term lame on a feminist site.

    Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant.

  11. Dammit Warty you beat me to it

  12. Someone once told me that Susan Faludi, author of Backlash: The Undeclared War against American Women, was married to a guy named Peter Small.

    But I haven’t been able to verify that on the web.

  13. K M-W,

    Was the woman in the elevator at the Times Maureen Dowd by chance?

    If so I have an open proposal to her in another thread. Please pass along?

  14. “Someone once told me that Susan Faludi, author of Backlash: The Undeclared War against American Women, was married to a guy named Peter Small.

    But I haven’t been able to verify that on the web.”

    That is funny. There is a certain type of corporate woman. This type is usually 30+ and even on her best day junior varsity; never beautiful but never ugly. They type of woman that if you saw her at a bar and there was nothing better to do you would hit on her and not feel bad about it. But you would never brag about bedding her to your friends.

    These women are usually married to the most dickless beta males imagineable. They have a sixth sense of which men in room have balls. And ruthless avoid or punish where possible such men. They also are like chinese fighting fish with other women. Somehow they end up in middle or upper middle management positions and surround themselves with a hareen of dickless men. And they generally make all normal people unfortuenate enough to have to deal with them miserable. And they are always hard core feminists.

  15. were planning to “opt out” for a year or two or five when they spawned.

    Doesn’t this kind of require… you know, marrying up? For instance, I didn’t marry up. Meaning that if I “opt out” for anything exceeding 4 weeks, someone’s going to be foreclosing on something.

  16. For those who could make it to the bottom of the thread:

    idiolect replied to Edgy1004:

    God, you were doing so good there at the beginning.

    No one is telling you to stop speaking. They just find a certain word offensive. Arguing over your right to use that word is not some key point in continuing the original discussion, all it does is distract and further offend someone who is already offended. So just say your “I’m sorry” and then return to the actual subject at hand.

    Edgy1004 replied to idiolect :

    The use of the word “God” as a curse is actually offensive to me. I am sure you would like to opportunity to apologize and not do it any more. You are welcome.

  17. It sounds like Feministing for the lipstick crowd.

  18. XXX is horrible. Baylzon and Lithwick are the two dumbest female writers in the media. They are just awful old hags.

  19. [2+] evann replied to Pantheon :
    “douche” as an insult has the exact opposite effect that you describe. Douches are used with the understanding that vaginas are gross and smelly and unnatural- and part of the patriarchy. So perfectly reflecting something that is stupid and innapropriate.
    As for “fuck you”? As others have pointed out, it does NOT address an oppressed class, so it is in NO way the same league as an ableist, sexist, or racist word. It is a matter of personal preference of the bloggers.

  20. It sounds like Feministing for the lipstick support hose crowd.

    FTFY

  21. You want to read some god awful stuff, read Baylzon’s collumns about her children. OMG. Those poor kids. It is like a parody of the neurotic PC liberal parent. OMG my little boy used a stick like a gun, does he need therapy? She has a whole collumn about how she lets her kids who are like 6 and 8 put up a list of grievences against each other on the refrigerator and every Saturday they have a sensing session to resolve them. It is just comical.

  22. The woman in the elevator forgot is that when you give people the power to choose, they often make choices that you disapprove of. And that’s what feminism is/was all about — letting women choose for themselves. Or at least, that’s what it should be about.

  23. with some unpleasant notions of gender solidarity thrown in.

    Gender solidarity. Makin’ me laugh. I work at a company almost entirely peopled by women. Including the management. My boss is a woman.

    Now ask me if any random two of these ladies can get along with eachother for more than five minutes? Never in my life have more arguments almost come to hair and Lee Nails flying. I love it. I’m treated extremely well and get along with everyone.

  24. “Now ask me if any random two of these ladies can get along with eachother for more than five minutes? Never in my life have more arguments almost come to hair and Lee Nails flying. I love it. I’m treated extremely well and get along with everyone.”

    I would bet there are at least a few that are of the type I describe in my 12:53 pm post.

  25. You want to read some god awful stuff, read Baylzon’s collumns about her children. OMG. Those poor kids. It is like a parody of the neurotic PC liberal parent. OMG my little boy used a stick like a gun, does he need therapy? She has a whole collumn about how she lets her kids who are like 6 and 8 put up a list of grievences against each other on the refrigerator and every Saturday they have a sensing session to resolve them. It is just comical.

    Is she the one who spent years deciding whether she’d let her son watch Star Wars?

  26. “Double XX did a four part feature of children’s drawings of Obama.

    Stomach-churning.”

    Sugerfree. You have to have a sense of humor about XX and Slate in general. That whole publication, sans Mickey Klaus and Emily Yoffe, is one big unintentional send up of PC educated liberals. Slate is to liberals what juanita’s posts are to drug warriors.

  27. “Is she the one who spent years deciding whether she’d let her son watch Star Wars?”

    I beleive so.

  28. John,

    In what industries do you meet these women? In my corporate life I’ve had a different experience – most of the women I know who make it to middle management or higher either have very successful husbands, or are married to loafers and sponges – who are hardly dickless beta males, they’re more like mean parasites. These women usually have a “harem” with a mix of dowdy non-threatening women and, often, much younger alpha male types who presumably are playing the eye candy role.

  29. John,

    I’ve always wondered about that. And I do like Yoffe at lot. The jobs series is the best thing on that site.

  30. “In what industries do you meet these women? In my corporate life I’ve had a different experience – most of the women I know who make it to middle management or higher either have very successful husbands, or are married to loafers and sponges – who are hardly dickless beta males, they’re more like mean parasites. These women usually have a “harem” with a mix of dowdy non-threatening women and, often, much younger alpha male types who presumably are playing the eye candy role.”

    The ones I meet are lawyers. And their husbands are not slackers. They have good jobs. They are just wimpy beta males. There is never any question who is in charge in the relationship.

  31. “John,

    I’ve always wondered about that. And I do like Yoffe at lot. The jobs series is the best thing on that site.”

    I had the pleasure of meeting Yoffe once. She is really a pleasent and funny woman. And she is a secret economic conservative.

  32. Having said all that about Slate etc, Susannah Breslin is pretty good, and she’s “sex-positive.”

  33. You guys do know that Slate is NPR’s sister publication, right?

  34. The ones I meet are lawyers.

    ’nuff said

  35. Slate’s daily picture feature is pretty cool to. They have some great photography in it.

  36. The woman in the elevator forgot is that when you give people the power to choose, they often make choices that you disapprove of.

    Hence, RC’z Fourth Iron Law:

    4. You aren’t free unless you are free to be wrong.

  37. SF, I have to thank you and behalf of a buddy of mine for turning us on to the Feministing site. It’s comedic gold. He does stand up and has gotten quite a bit of material from reading their.

  38. KJ,

    So your friend is a Dowdist? Or is he giving credit to Feministing commentators?

  39. Kyle,

    I’ve nominated Feministing for number of Web-Awards in the Humor category, but my suggestions have thus far fallen on deaf ears.

  40. “[26+] bifemmefatale replied to BROWN TRASH PUNK! :
    Please don’t use the ableist term lame on a feminist site.”

    My sister pulled that on me when she was majoring in women’s studies. I was like, oh come on!.

    Then she got an MBA, and now, if a car with handicapped plates is causing her BMW Z-3 convertible to go slower than she likes, she’ll yell, “Speed up or pull over ya worthless capper!”

    It’s hard to put a value on a good education.

  41. … on the feministing thread: eventually someone complains that the original objection to the use of the word lame had used the word “ableist,” a fancy twenty-dollar word that demonstrated condescension towards the unlettered, presumably informed by unconscious privilege.

    Cattiness over this lead to further concern about the safety of the thread space as the blogger has been delinquent in deleting emotionally hurtful comments.

    I’m simultaneously annoyed and delighted.

  42. It’s one thing to criticize the excises of modern academic feminism, but why all the hate for feminism as a whole. In particular, Warty’s belief that if a woman even thinks about trying to have a life outside of spawning, she has failed as a human being.

  43. From what I can tell, feminism is an intellectual excuse to be bitchy and resentful, with some unpleasant notions of gender solidarity thrown in. Fuck that noise.

    All feminism is is a politicization of personal failings. Most feminists, like most racists, are just ugly, miserable people who focus their energy on external targets like the dreaded “Patriarchy.”

    The elephant in the room in libertarian circles when discussing feminism is that feminism is a collectivist movement. Its very name even gives that away, and we are being lectured on introducing feminism into an anti-collectivist movement by twisting it into something that can fit. That raises the question of why a self-proclaimed female libertarian would find libertarianism insufficient to liberate women from actual tyranny.

    The real reason, is that feminists want to be liberated from responsibilities like sacrificing career choices for family (many men don’t have the luxury of doing what they love versus what pays well) and having to compromise with the men in their lives. As I wrote recently, family law is the only field in which the contract is treated with such scathing contempt by the courts and much of the public that if it were any other form of contract being so thoroughly abused, libertarians would be insane with rage. Most of those changes were made to “liberate” women, and yet they have caused serious destruction to the lives, liberty and property rights of men and children (who have no freedom to choose which parent they want to live with, among other deprivations of liberty).

    If you want to see the feminist entitlement mentality in action, and how it plays into politics, just politely tell a feminist that you could never see yourself in a relationship with a woman who has her life goals. Your polite dissociation will almost invariably be conflated with an actual deprivation of her liberties.

  44. In particular, Warty’s belief that if a woman even thinks about trying to have a life outside of spawning, she has failed as a human being.

    No, sweetie. I was saying that women should be free to do whatever they want. You’re not a gender-traitor if you decide not to put your career ahead of your family.

  45. In particular, Warty’s belief that if a woman even thinks about trying to have a life outside of spawning, she has failed as a human being.

    That’s not true. I encourage women to wear shoes.

  46. “I was born in 1980.”

    Who the fuck was born in 1980?

  47. Nick,

    RTFA, it is in there.

  48. “Lame” is a sexist word? And what the frak is “ableist”? No wonder feminists feel marginalized and left out: the don’t speak the same language!

  49. If you want to see the feminist entitlement mentality in action, and how it plays into politics, just politely tell a feminist that you could never see yourself in a relationship with a woman who has her life goals. Your polite dissociation will almost invariably be conflated with an actual deprivation of her liberties.

    I tend to ask women early on if they self-identify as a feminist. If they say yes, then I move along.

  50. It’s better to read ‘Double X’ as ‘Double Fisting’.

    Most of the chicks on that site could do with a good double fisting.

  51. I think we can all agree that everyone, whether male or female, is entitled to make their own decisions about their lives. That’s what feminism means to me. Don’t blame me for the fifty pounds of Marxist garbage added along the way.

  52. I think we can all agree that everyone, whether male or female, is entitled to make their own decisions about their lives. That’s what feminism means to me.

    I think this is what galls me the most about the current form of cyber-feminism. I agree with your statement 100%, but I could never be a feminist in their eyes because I call bullshit when I smell it.

    For example: ableist. Oh, noes! We can’t make being crippled a pejorative! You know what, I just found out that I have a tendon tear that cannot be surgically repaired. At best, I’ll only get about 85% of the function of that arm restored (maybe more with surgery.) Being crippled is a pejorative! It is non-optimal to be broken. I am non-optimal. I’m supposed to sit back now and whine about the privilege of people with working arms? Resentment is all I have left? Fuck that shit. I’ll just learn to punch people in the throat with my left hand and go about my life as before.

    “It’s better to be healthy” is not an oppressive mindset. It’s common goddamn sense.

  53. No wonder feminists feel marginalized and left out: the don’t speak the same language!

    No, the don’t.

  54. Please don’t use the ableist term lame on a feminist site.

    !!!!!!!

    Who the fuck has enough time on their hands to even think up shit like ableism, much less manage to be offended by it?

  55. SugarFree, you should work on your flexibility so your hook kicks can reach the throats of your enemies.

  56. It is ableist of you to assume I have feet, Warty. ABLEIST!

  57. It’s illiterist of you to assume I read your post, SugarFree.

  58. This is fucking awesome:

    An ableist society is said to be one that treats non-disabled individuals as the standard of ‘normal living’, which results in public and private places and services, education, and social work that are built to serve ‘standard’ people, thereby inherently excluding those with various disabilities.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ableism

  59. And what the frak is “ableist”?

    Ableist language is offensive to amputards everywhere.

  60. Old feminists never die, they just, queef away.

  61. “Who the fuck has enough time on their hands to even think up shit like ableism, much less manage to be offended by it?”

    I am so fucking fat!

  62. If a developmentally disabled individual makes it out of the womb OK, dodging the scissors and vacuum and saline solution, one absolutely mustn’t hurt its little feelings.

  63. “Double-X” as a woman’s website … rich. I suppose that “Y?” would be the corresponding men’s site.

    “Double-X” … the genius who came up with that should stand alongside those who tried to market the “Nova” car or “Colgate” toothpaste in Mexico.

  64. Who the fuck has enough time on their hands to even think up shit like ableism, much less manage to be offended by it?

    Written like a true abelist fascist!

  65. XX and Mexico at 3:51pm?

    Drink!

  66. I don’t get the Colgate toothpaste thing but the Nova story is an urban legend.

    However the Laputa is not. The Mazda exec who thought marketing a car with that name in Latin America was a genius…not.

  67. You know what I find odd (well, ONE of the things I find odd) about feminists, particularly the variety that post on Feministing and such? Their constant need to call themselves “feminists” at every opportunity, as though it might vanish if they don’t mention it enough.

    I mean, I never see democrats, republicans, libertarians, socialists, etc. refer to themselves by their political affiliation nearly that often, but with feminists it’s “feminists this” and “feminism that” and “as a feminist, I…” all the day long.

    After a while it begins to strike me as a severe insecurity issue.

  68. tekende,

    I actually don’t see it as insecurity. It is a conscious effort on two fronts:

    1. Constantly saying they are feminists is a way to encourage more people to self-identify as feminists. They are de-stigmatizing the word. (And vilifying anyone that doesn’t call themselves feminists, but they don’t like to talk about that.)

    2. Feminsism is actually more prone to civil war than even libertarianism. I shit you not. They are trying to establish their brand as predominate.

  69. “God help my shallow self, as I stood there looking at her rumpled suit and dated hair and frown lines, I was overwhelmed with pity. Perhaps watching me breeze into the life she had so laboriously carved out for herself-or worse, stray from the hard line in a way that she and other feminists couldn’t allow themselves to-felt to her like a bitter betrayal.”

    Katherine Anne Porter wrote a great story way, way back in the day about an encounter between a pre-WWI suffragist in sensible shoes and a Twenties flapper (smart, not stupid) ready to have a good time. That yin-yang thing keeps on workin’.

  70. Why does every newborn baby get spanked?

    Knock the dicks off the dumb ones!

    It’s not fair!

  71. See, I’m more of a sensitive New Millennium Man. When the woman suggests “opting out” for a couple of years because, you know, she wants to “have it all and maybe bear a child”, I’m more apt to say “uhh, yeah, that’s a nice dream… bills to pay here, now get out and have a fulfilling career… preferably a high-paying one.”

    You know, kind of like that New York Times reporter who thought his wife would be “more ambitious”.

  72. 2. Feminsism is actually more prone to civil war than even libertarianism. I shit you not. They are trying to establish their brand as predominate.

    Way more. Because there’s plenty of evidence that liberalism trumps feminism– and that provides plenty of fodder for internal cat fights.

  73. Constantly saying they are feminists is a way to encourage more people to self-identify as feminists.

    Sounds good to me. Just another easy way to filter out dumb bitches.

  74. The problem with feminism is that it’s so inanely gender specific.

    How am I being liberated from social constraints imposed on women by adopting an ideology that is specifically constructed around a particular gender? It’s just a different set of social conventions. A new female-oriented box, instead of the old female-oriented box. Only the new box comes with signs on the walls saying “you’re in a box!! hate the box!!”

  75. I’m not a big fan of Dahlia Lithwick, especially since she writes from a statist perspective on the legal system. Like many a media personality, she’s a Canadian, and not one, like Robin McNeil and even (eventually) Peter Jennings, obtained U.S. citizenship.

    Aren’t there enough brain-dead USAian statist media robots? Do we have to import them?

    I’m not anti-woman, nor anti-frostback. Frex, I like Wendy McElroy just fine.

    Kevin

  76. Ladies and Gents –

    The article could currently read as “My Life.” Just left an eight year 24/7 exec career that I loved, for someone (not something!) that I love even more. Moved from chic San Francisco to quaint mid-west America. To be honest with you….I LOVE IT! In fact, got out of the business entirely to work at Victoria’s Secret part-time and plan my wedding. Life’s pretty good right now!!! Ditching the BlackBerry and laptop was quite liberating!

  77. At last women are realising that the grass never was greener on the male side and all they have done is to exchange one disappointment expecting everything to go their way for another. It is still significant that much more likely the woman still gets the choice of a change from work to live a life outside than the man does. Ultimately, feminism has become a way of molding women to the traditional male pattern. It says the old female activities are worthless, men are the standard that women have to emulate to ‘become equal’ to their social superiors. What we need is less woman out of the home and far more man in it and less of a corporate cog.

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