Sunday, February 20, 2011

Addendum to my thoughts on Betty Friedan

        It's been a while since I have posted.  This is largely caused by the fact that I had to send my computer in for repair.  I have been spending the past week, attempting to get the data on my hard drive backed up before I sent it in for repair.  I finally took care of that with some unexpected help from an extremely generous colleague.  Things should be back to normal soon enough. 
      I wanted to add a brief addendum to the largely positive comments I made in regards to Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique, which can be found here.  I wanted to add a set of cautionary notes that draw on the analysis of sentimental conventions produced by Lauren Berlant.  (For my notes, look here.)  The power of Friedan’s text largely arises through her rhetorical identification with the feminine mystique. That is to say, the power of her narrative is derived through her claim to be a housewife negotiating her way through this new form of domesticity. However, it is precisely this rhetorical claim to the conventional role of the housewife that causes a set of limitations to the text. To begin, Friedan’s censorship of her radical past leads to an erasure of the history of working class. Unlike many later radical feminists, Friedan’s claims about the mystique are limited to the post-war period, but her history of women’s activism is limited to the activities of the middle classes. Women’s union and radical activism is placed under erasure, which limits the forms of activism analyzed in the text, and perhaps more significantly, the types of activism that are imaginable from the framework of the text.  Additionally, Friedan’s critique is dependent on her engagement with the psychological conventions of her time. That engagement is often quite critical of the discipline’s complicity with the feminine mystique, but it also embraces the heteronormative impulse of psychology, arguing that homosexuality is a possible pathological response to the mystique. Friedan's critique of the rigidifying conventions of psychoanalysis, simultaneously accepts the homophobic framework introduced by the analytical work of Anna Freud and others. If Friedan strategically engages with these conventions to be heard, these conventions profoundly shape and limit the epistemological possibilities of the text.
      It's also notable that it is precisely these problematic conventions that allow for the text to move from the margins of societal discourse to its center.  There is an interesting new book on the reception history of The Feminine Mystique, written by Stephanie Coontz.  It doesn't really replace the important biographical work on Friedan produced by Daniel Horowitz, but its worth a glance.  Perhaps I will comment on it sometime in the future. 

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