Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Gender in the 1980s - Women, Betty Friedan and Having It All

I choose Betty Freidan because if her relevance in the changing roles of women earlier in the Civil Rights movement and her continuing legacy through the 1980s up to today. As those of us who studied American Gothic in semester one of this year are aware, Betty Friedan published "The Femenine Mystique" in 1963 and is considered to be a key player in the beginning of the Women's Civil Right's movement. She also was the founder member of the National Organization for Women (see her obituary in the New York Times).

In 1981, Freidman published "The Second Stage", a book outlining the changes in the role of women, highlighting that as a result of the Civil Rights momvement, there was an increased need for Women to "have it all" and that women were becoming "trapped" into trying to still be a full time wife and mother as well as having a full time role in the workplace.

In an interview with the New York Times in 1981, Friedman described a 40 year old career women with young children who is tired becasue when she has finished her day at work, she has to go home to be a wife and mother. Friedman is basically highlighting that while as a result of second wave femanism, women had more freedom outside of the home, there was still an expectation that women must also fulfil their "first stage" duties. This sparked a number of debates around the expection that the "new men" should support women by a division of labour (New York Times) within the home as well as whether women should choose either to have a career or a family and not have both.

Onscreen, films such as "Fatal Attraction" produced later in the decade question whether career women can really ignore thier body clock, this debate about whether women can really just have a careers continues today. TV programmes such as "Sex and The City" in the late 1990s, while depicting women as strong independent indivuals with careers, chronicles the lives of four women looking for a mate. Perhaps most telling is that Miranda, arguably the character closest to the stereotypical 1980s career women, changes her work ethic, lifestyle and even the location of her home as she becoems a mother and a wife. More telling is that in the film (produced in 2008) Miranda is depicted as responsible for the demise of her marriage because of her overcommitment to work. Although with a less violent outcome, like Fatel Atttraction in the 1980s, Miranda's fate seems to serve as a wanring to women who concentrate too hard on their careers.

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