Modern marriage has taken its hits in the last couple of years. But if you’ve often thought, “nah, my marriage is great” you can thank a feminist for that.
Don’t believe me? Just ask Stephanie Coontz, writer and professor known for her sociological research on American families and marriage (she’s the author of “The Way We Never Were,” which turned the notion that June Cleaver housewifery used to be the standard).
Coontz’s latest book, A Strange Stirring: The Feminine Mystique and American Women at the Dawn of the 1960s, looks at the effect Betty Friedan’s book had on women, men and families.
Tracy Clark-Flory interviews Coontz about the book for Salon. They talk modern marriage, why feminism helped stem the tide of divorce and how the movement actually made women and men happier in marriage.
Though marriage and partnerships have dramatically changed in the 50 years since The Feminine Mystique was first published, certain other “feminine mystiques” have cropped up — in in the teen years and the other, wait for it, in motherhood (you already know what that mystique is going to be, don’t you?). Coontz explains:
One of [these new feminine mystiques] kicks in during the teen years, and that’s what I call “the hottie mystique.” The idea is that young women have to not only achieve in ways you were never expected to achieve before, but to compensate for that achievement they must show that they are completely hot, sexual and desirable. I think a lot of women grow out of it, but it can really derail some youngsters.
The other mystique, of course, is one that has been described by people like Judith Warner [in her book "Perfect Madness"], and that is “the motherhood mystique.” The idea is that you have to be there constantly to do everything for your kid. I think that’s been accelerated by our economic problems. As the gap between rich and poor has widened, and the middle class has hollowed out, parents are ever more concerned that their kids won’t do as well as they did. I think moms in particular feel this tremendous pressure to make every moment a teachable moment and get them into all the things that will help them succeed.
Clark-Flory and Coontz also talk about what Friedan got wrong, how marriage could continue to change and also what some are calling the “masculinity crisis.”
Now, if you’re one of the holdouts who won’t identify as a feminist, I want to leave you with this from the top of the interview. In it, Coontz describes the role women ascribed to themselves in surveys back around the time “The Feminine Mystique” came out.
Less than 50 years ago, just a month before an excerpt from “The Feminine Mystique” was first published in Lady’s Home Journal, the Saturday Evening Post did a big Gallup interview of housewives and they said over and over again, “A woman needs a master-slave relationship, the man must be the boss.” …
On the one hand, totally sad, I realize. On the other, through my 2011 lenses, it’s hard to feel the sadness when you can’t stop laughing. Can you imagine? My husband’s my master?!
Have you ever read “The Feminine Mystique” (no, really, I mean the book not just about the book)? Do you think feminism has anything to do with your happy (or crappy) marriage?