The New Feminism at 50:

Women Alone Fifty years ago Betty Friedan galvanized a movement by chronicling the angst of married women who felt trapped in middle-class suburban American motherhood and packaging it as The Feminine Mystique. Her genius was in conceptualizing that sense of ennui and alienation as “the problem without a name.” The “problem” actually had a name as old as time. The problem is a universal one: it is the quest for identity, meaning, and purpose. And far from being the sole moral property of women, misery, alienation, and discontent with one’s role in life are a human condition shared by both men and women. The challenge came not entirely in her diagnosis; it was the prescription that followed that was deeply flawed. After sketching out her assessment of widespread female discontent, Friedan concluded, “We can no longer ignore that voice within women that says:  ‘I want something more than my husband and my children and my home.’ ”1 And thus began the marginalization of the essential female role of motherhood. Feminist boosters would argue that this statement does not necessarily disparage mothering. Nevertheless, the ensuing “women’s rights” movement centered on establishing women as competitors in a professional workplace, with motherhood taking an incidental role. Motherhood increasingly became defined as the barrier to female achievement. Rather than a source of unique power, motherhood was the wellspring of oppression. Feminist philosopher Robin West, Professor of Law at Georgetown University, makes quite clear the direct philosophical line she sees between motherhood and stunted feminine growth: . . . many women can and do individuate, speak the truth, develop integrity, pursue personal projects, embody freedom, and attain an atomistic liberal individuality. Just as obviously, most women don’t. Most women are indeed forced into motherhood and heterosexuality. . . . the primary reason for the stunted nature of women’s li
Please subscribe or log in to read the rest of this content.