reading: Friedan, Sontag, babies


The Feminine Mystique, Betty Friedan – I had only read excerpts of this up to now, and I wish I had read it in its entirety sooner. This book is interesting, relevant, elegantly structured, and–to me, and I think to all American women–important. Friedan explores the causes and repercussions of what she calls the feminine mystique, an American phenomenon bound up in the history of feminism in America. It is a story about our mothers, our grandmothers, our great-grandmothers, and that means it is a story about us.

“The feminine mystique says that the highest value and the only commitment for women is the fulfillment of their own femininity. It says that the great mistake of Western culture, through most of its history, has been the undervaluation of this femininity. It says this femininity is so mysterious and intuitive and close to the creation and origin of life that man-made science may never be able to understand it. But however special and different, it is in now way inferior to the nature of man; it may even in certain respects be superior. The mistake, says the mystique, the root of women’s troubles in the past is that women envied men, women tried to be like men, instead of accepting their own nature, which can find fulfillment only in sexual passivity, male domination, and nurturing maternal love.”

There is a lot more to it, and it is with great sincerity that I urge you– especially the women among you– to read the whole thing. At least read the wikipedia page. This was written in 1963 but the cultural pressures it chronicles have no small degree of influence today, as evidenced by the prevalence of and often rabid responses to articles about ‘having it all’ and ‘all the single ladies’.  (Coincidence that both the articles I’ve chosen as prime examples are from The Atlantic?) I suspect that any given reader would resonate with more of these 60s observations than they would expect. Man or woman, this history is influencing your life, whether you know about it or not. I think, in this case, it is good to know.

The Volcano Lover, Susan Sontag – I picked this up after watching this incredible Sontag interview, wherein she is so unabashedly contentious, so ungenerous to the interviewer (to whom she has taken a transparent dislike), so unexpected, that I took an immediately liking to her. How refreshing! How inspiring! I like her book, too! I don’t know who Camille Paglia is, either! [Or, I didn’t. There is an interview with Paglia in the link as well, which seems to demonstrate quite neatly that she is unhinged. Both interviews very entertaining in their way.]

The New Basics: A-to-Z Baby & Child Care for the Modern Parent, Michel Cohen – A sensible care guide from a French pediatrician, the gist of which is: don’t panic (try this instead). I don’t have a baby but I may someday, or may in some other capacity be called upon to know what to do with one. I like to know what to do. Also, babies and the cultural stuff surrounding them are interesting to me, just academically (why do I feel a need to defend myself? Perhaps because I mention it in the wake of Friedan…). I deem this eminently practical and thorough, with an excellent amount of detail (meaning, not too much) and the encouragement of a relaxed approach. If I did have a baby, I would keep it on hand.