Family  /  Comparison

Reading Betty Friedan After the Fall of Roe

The problem no longer has no name, and yet we refuse to solve it.

But just like a corporate solution didn’t fix the problem for Friedan’s generation, neither will fleeing the office to be a trad wife with chickens save ours. As Moira Donegan, one of my favorite working feminist thinkers and writers, reminds people, “Housewives have bosses too.” And in a society that makes it harder to divorce than marry, those bosses are harder to escape. Also, it’s worth pointing out, that if that version of womanhood was so satisfying, then why did a generation of women reject it in one of the largest most organized feminist movements in America?

The answer is, because being a housewife it’s not easy work and it’s not fulfilling. One thing that struck me as I read Friedan, is when she pointed out that women, when they had something to do other than their chores, actually got through their chores faster. I recalled how I had seemingly spent my entire past life as a housewife trapped in an endless cycle of chores. And how now, as a divorced woman, I was freer and my house was a lot cleaner. And not only because I had fewer chores or because I was cleaning up after one less person. But because I was no longer expected to perform gender in the same way. I was to put it simply, free like a husband. This is backed up by studies that show that despite the image of the harried single mother, single mothers actually had more free time and spent more time sleeping than their married counterparts.

While studies show that married couples are more financially stable, single women are more happy. Even divorced women, who are more likely to suffer economically from a divorce, are less likely to remarry. It’s almost as if the money and the stability aren’t enough. And that freedom is not something you can put a price on.

Valenti sums it up, writing, “In addition to being more economically, professionally and socially vulnerable, stay-at-home moms are also much more likely to be depressed and anxious. We live in a country that is notoriously unsupportive to mothers and families, with a culture that tells moms they should be grateful to have the ‘most important job in the world’ even though it doesn’t pay and doesn’t come with time off. Studies also show that women are more likely to initiate divorces than men, that women tend to be happier than men post-divorce, and that marriage benefits men more than it does women.”

I read Friedan last winter in big desperate gulps, sometimes listening to the audiobook on walks with my dog. It was depressing how relevant Friedan was then. And how more prescient she became after the Dobbs ruling.

Much like during the world in which Friedan published the Feminine Mystique, we are living in an era where women have fewer rights than our mothers did. America has the highest maternal mortality rate of the developed nations and we are forcing women into birth. Which will in turn force them into marriages and lives of limitation – and not limited because of children and a husband, but limited because they weren’t given a choice. This choiceless life can seem appealing. But the reality is it wasn’t fulfilling for the women of Friedan’s generation and definitely is not for us. Behind every trad wife influencer with chickens is a husband throwing his laundry on the floor and a housecleaner.