In The feminine mystique, Betty Friedan tries to demystify the emptiness that engulfed most American women in 1950’s and 1960’s. Women were working hard for themselves, their children and husband. They did everything possible to keep their families intact including doing extra jobs to supplement their husband’s incomes. However, there was a strange feeling, a sense of emptiness. None of the activities they did seemed to fill the weird feeling they had. Freidan uses feminine mystique to refer to the problem that had no name but troubled most women at the time. In Becoming the Third Wave by Rebecca Walker, the oppression of women has been elevated by social constructs such as the position of men in the society. Women’s voice was not heard, and they had no influence over matters in the society. Besides, men are considered to be more important than females. The woman’s credibility and power are neither recognized nor defined in the society. Men seem to enjoy the idea of victimizing women and getting away with it. The society has given them an advantage over women hence they brag about their achievements of triumphing over women. Walker asserts that women should be angered by the way women are mistreated by men. In their anger, Walker claims that women should raise to the occasion and reclaim their position in the society in what she calls the third wave of feminism. The two texts express the position of women in the society and how they are oppressed in their society. In the texts, women are urged to be aggressive and seek what makes them important.
In both Friedan’s and Walker’s texts women are urged to be determined to explore their potentials and redefine their role in the family. By realizing the emptiness in them, they will be able to engage in a struggle for their rights as women. Besides, the women should be angered by the society’s detrimental perspective on them. Friedan’s book defines the void that needed to be exploited in the feminist struggle during the mid-20th century to achieve equity between men and women. The text exemplifies a viewpoint aimed at challenging how femininity is conceptualized, as a suburban American housewife. Feminists were driven by the urge to enable each woman in society to attain fulfilling roles, much more than merely being a housewife. Unfortunately, women held to be the wrong perspective that there was a standard way of life for a woman which made her feel important. Freidan states that women were mistaken in their comprehension when she states that, “femininity was engulfed into a feminine mystique that made women believe that becoming the ideal sub-urban housewife was all that a woman needed” (Friedan 3). A well-educated woman, able to get a job, would drop her job and go back home to be a happy housewife. Similarly, Walker uses the idea of the void existing in the achievements made by feminists to define the philosophy of third wave feminism. As of the late 20th-century, when Walker was writing her text, women had made significant gains in their struggle for equity. Walker asserts that even the opinion of women in power was not considered as important since the society believed that the influence of a woman cannot stand in the way of a man. She refers to the case of an influential woman who was sexually harassed by a black man. She states that “the case of Clarence Thomas who had been accused of sexually harassing an attorney, Anita Hills” (Walker 86). Hence, women in the America society had gained a lot, and they could go to school, study, get very competitive jobs, and even have a chance to be heard in a court of law. Nonetheless, Walker still notices the powerlessness in the feminist philosophy that women were still subjects to the exploitation of the patriarchal society. Worse, “even fellow women would be complicit in helping men to dominate women” (Walker 87). This perspective set her philosophy for a third wave to seal the void that existed during the second wave. These two texts, therefore, interact as both authors use gaps in the previous philosophical thinking to define the next feminist philosophy.
Women believed that the quest for material things that could bring about self-satisfaction. Freidan states that women belief was that if they had every good thing for their family, then they would feel important. Later, women realized that if they had careers, they could achieve self-satisfaction. Freidan states that women wanted their rights to be respected when she asserts that “respected as a full and equal partner to the man in his world” (Friedan 3). The mid-20th- century woman in the American society, realized that all she needed was a feeling of self-fulfillment in her femininity. The society had wrongly defined women’s role as that of being a mother and a housewife. Even though material satisfaction for women also accompanied what the society defined as an ideal feminine character, that is, living in a good house with children and a happy family, Friedan’s text presents these material things as irrelevant to feminism. She states that “The satisfaction in her role as a mother, and housewife with little ambitions when it came to careers, higher education, political rights—the independence and the opportunities that the old-fashioned feminists fought for” (Friedan 1). They were the immaterial elements that defined what feminism was all about, but, were also inadequate. The hollowness that the women felt was entirely centered on the pursuit of material goods and was not influenced by feminist ideologies. The most important immaterial thing that women wanted was an education that could propel them into their careers. Being employed and pursuing their careers alongside their families would fill the emptiness. Similarly, a look at the late 20th-century feminism, as exemplified by Walker’s text, exhibits the quest for immaterial goods. Despite the fact that women had equal opportunities to men, could go to school and pursue careers that were previously male dominated, the domineering nature of the male chauvinistic society became the basis of the feminists’ struggle. Women wanted to be treated equal to men in all aspects and to be respected by their male counterparts. From Walker’s perspective, “The woman struggled to achieve the practicality of power and credibility” (Walker 86). From the case study, Anita Hills’ experience of sexual harassment from Clarence Thomas, the woman’s credibility, and power was proved insufficient to challenge a man’s career. Therefore, the solution lays on the immaterial rights, which could give a woman the feeling of being equally credible and powerful as the man. The equal chance for material gains provided by equality in careers and other opportunities were insufficient to the feminist quest. Hence, the temporal interaction between these two texts reveals that immaterial goods are vital to the feminist’s struggle.
The two texts, however, differ in the manner in which they conceptualized the plight of women in the society. In the mid-20th Century, The feminine mystique overshadowed the bright feminism ideologies women had for redeeming themselves from the shackles of oppression. Society perpetuated the notion that ideal femininity was exemplified by the suburban American woman who found fulfillment in being a housewife and who resided in her home environment, unconcerned about the world outside the home. It was difficult, in this context, to conceptualize the plight of women and what defined feminism. Friedan captures this conceptual difficulty by noting the fundamental questions, “Just what was this problem that has no name? What were the words women used when they tried to express it? Sometimes a woman would say “I feel empty somehow . . . incomplete.” Or she would say, “I feel as if I don’t exist” (Friedan 2). She further notes that even the men themselves could not understand it. With the limitation of exposure and understanding, women’s quest for their redemption proved difficult, and what remained was an internal conflict between each woman and her conscience.
On a different perspective, the two texts show how the society’s reaction to women’s struggle for the position in the society was different and skewed. In the American society, both men and women actively participated in perpetuating the suburban woman as an ideal definition of femininity. Society accepted the idea of an ideal suburban, and it was the expectation of every woman to emulate. Therefore, the society willingly embraced The feminine mystique, which unfortunately eroded some of the dreams that of earlier feminists. Freidan mentions that women were “taught to pity the neurotic, unfeminine, unhappy women who wanted to be poets or physicists or presidents” (Friedan 1). The society even resorted to attaching some societal problems to the fact that a woman would pursue a career. The delinquency of a child was attached to a working mother, a detrimental notion that is meant to keep away women from pursuing their careers. Nonetheless, society reacted weirdly when women come out to champion for their rights. For instance, Anita Hill sought the respect for her rights to be protected by the society after she was sexually harassed by Clarence Thomas. As Walker notes, the society does not embrace this legitimate case, as it did with The feminine mystique that kept women at home. Society’s response to feminism embodies resentment and derision. Walker states that “The backlash against U.S. women is real. As the misconception of equality between the sexes becomes more ubiquitous, so does the attempt to restrict the boundaries of women’s personal and political power” (Walker 88). The two texts show that the society’s reaction impedes the struggle for redemption of women and deprives women of the rights.
There are different ways in which women are oppressed in the society. The notions that men are superior to women does more harm than good and impedes the women’s struggle for their rights. A comparison of The feminine mystique and Becoming the Third Wave show that the oppression of women can be approached from different perspectives. From the comparison, it emerges that women should be united in fighting for their rights. The material things cannot fill the emptiness felt by women, but education is the solution. Pursuing careers and having a stable source of income will place women in a better position to attain self-fulfillment. Further, women will become influential if they have education, career, and independence of mind.