Alone, Alone, Alone:

The Ultimate Social Meaning of Friedan’s Sovereign-Self Feminism Radiant with the hopes kindled in The Feminine Mystique, Betty Friedan concludes her landmark feminist manifesto with an optimistic question about the beckoning future: “Who knows what women can be when they are finally free to become themselves? . . . It has barely begun, the search of women for themselves. But the time is at hand when the voices of the feminine mystique can no longer drown out the inner voice that is driving women on to become complete.”1 Fifty years later, Americans—especially American women—have answers to Friedan’s question. Unfortunately, those answers are not ones Freidan anticipated. For a freedom rooted in nothing except the self—autonomous, questing, unencumbered—has stranded millions of American women in bitter isolation. For those trying to assess the half-century outcomes of the feministrevolution Friedan helped spark, the first reality demanding attentionis indeed simply the epidemic of female unhappiness in recent years.Despite all the glowing assurances Friedan and her allies gave, their effortsto make women free to “search . . . for themselves” has not made thosefreely questing female selves happy. A 2009 study conducted by WhartonSchool researchers Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers has concluded,on the basis of a very large longitudinal data set, that during the last 35years—a period of astonishing triumph for feminist activists—“women’shappiness has declined both absolutely and relative to men.” Indeed, the researchers report that although women reported higher levels of happinessthan men three-and-a-half decades ago, “women no longer reportbeing happier than men, and, in many instances, now report happinessthat is below that of men.”2 The declines in women’s happiness puzzle the Wharton scholars, whoremark, “Social changes that have occurred over the past four decades have increased the opportunities available to
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