'The Feminine Mystique' At 50: Are You Better Off Than Your Grandmother?

Are You Better Off Than Your Grandmother?

Rebecca Traister | Glamour

Believe it or not, it’s been 50 years since Betty Friedan’s "The Feminine Mystique" hit shelves. The book is credited with bringing second-wave feminism to the national spotlight, sparking women to rethink traditional gender roles. So how have women’s lives changed since then? Let’s take a look.

A few things that have gotten better for women…way better:

1. More reproductive control and sexual freedom allow us to enjoy safer sex with more partners—and to shape our careers and make more money without having to worry about an unintended pregnancy. Economists recently found that women with access to the Pill made 8 percent more money by the time they were 50 than women who lived in states that make it harder to buy the Pill.

2. Women’s participation in the workforce has increased dramatically, from nearly 40 percent in 1960 to over 60 percent today.. This translates, plainly, to more opportunity and greater chances for women to do more varied kinds of work—and earn money—than Friedan could have imagined a half century ago.

3. Women have made great strides politically. Hillary Clinton was (and just might be again) a serious presidential candidate, earning 18 million votes in the 2008 primary. We’ve had women as secretary of state and speaker of the House; 44 women have served in the Senate, 35 women have been state governors, and 4 women have served as Supreme Court justices.

4. Men are better dads, better colleagues, and better employees and more likely to cook dinner and do the dishes than they were in the ’60s—65 percent of men do some housework, according to recent labor statistics.

5. The Internet has helped end the social isolation of women that Friedan described. We don’t call it “consciousness-raising” anymore, but we have a place to go and share our lives, whether it be dog photos, divorces, or outrage over current events.

A few things that still haven’t changed…or have even gotten worse:

1. Women work more—but boy, is it hard sometimes. The United States lags embarrassingly far behind the rest of the world when it comes to guaranteeing paid maternity leave (i.e., we don’t have any, while women in other nations around the world, from Pakistan to Mexico to Canada, are guaranteed between 12 weeks and a year). We need paid leave for new mothers and fathers as well as quality subsidized child care so that when the 50 percent of families with two earners and the 26 percent of single parents need to get back to work, there are options available. Most important, we need to begin thinking of work-life balance not as a woman’s problem but as a human problem. Without that, we’ll never have as many women as men in politics, in boardrooms, in research labs, or in other important fields.

2. We’ve turned mothering into a competitive sport. Women are expected to research every aspect of parenting—strollers, naps, nutrition, sleep habits—from the moment they get pregnant. Researchers have found that today’s mothers—even the ones who work full time outside the home—now actually clock more hours with their kids than back in the days when Friedan wrote about the stranglehold of child care. Time for yourself? Forget it.

3. Our access to reproductive care is under siege. In states all over the country, lawmakers are trying to define life as beginning at conception—which would make many forms of birth control illegal—and to basically make abortion, which has been legal in all 50 states since 1973, unavailable. Our ability to control when and with whom we have a family is at the root of our ability to work, to earn money, to love, and to play on equal footing as men. When our reproductive freedom is compromised, so is our equality as citizens.

4. The wage gap persists. Today women earn 77 percent of what men do—up from 59 percent in 1963, it must be said—and the numbers are far worse for women of color. That wage gap and other factors—like the time women still spend doing unpaid caregiving and the interruption of earning for pregnancy—mean that American women of every race are more likely than men to live in poverty.

Rebecca Traister is the author of "Big Girls Don’t Cry: The Election That Changed Everything for American Women" and a forthcoming book about unmarried women.

This piece originally appeared on Glamour.com. Reprinted with permission.

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