I was expecting a book on how to look glamorous, sexy, appealing to men. After all, it was called The Feminine Mystique. I was young and feminine and hoped to perfect my "mystique."
Imagine my surprise when Betty Friedan's book arrived in the mail and it wasn't about glamour and being sexually attractive to men.
It was about a whole new sense of empowerment, an inside job. It wasn't about beauty tricks and makeup skills.
I was a new immigrant from India and Japan. My Middle-Eastern parents expected me to look beautiful, marry a good man and have children. I came from a world where sexism was celebrated. A woman's power lay in her seductive charms.
I expected images of dreamy girl-women with "come hither" eyes and velvet lashes gracing glossy pages silky to the touch. That look was the "feminine mystique" I hoped to master between folding diapers and watching Dark Shadows.
Instead, Betty Friedan's interpretation of the feminine mystique raised my consciousness and released my mind. She told me what was missing.
I was deeply unhappy in my new life as a wife and mother; I blamed myself. What was wrong with me? I had achieved my two lifelong goals: to come to America and find a nice husband. A child was necessary before we were emotionally ready, to avoid Vietnam. I got pregnant just in time, and Mike was deferred. It should have been perfect.
But the fantasy wasn't working, I felt empty and didn't know why.
Deeply ingrained sexism and Catholic school beliefs judged me ungrateful. I had a healthy baby and a kind, hardworking husband. Neither he, nor my stay-at-home mom friends in the white, working-class neighborhood in the San Fernando Valley, understood my dissatisfaction. I wanted to go back to Japan, to go home. My parents told me to hang in and "adjust."
And the book arrived. In an instant, within a few pages, feelings I had no way of understanding were validated. Friedan's narrative on what was wrong with the life women were supposed to embrace saved mine.
You never forget "the first time," and this was a first time. I experienced my mind blown into a new paradigm. My consciousness was raised.
Betty Friedan was unequivocal: There was nothing wrong with me for being unhappy with what I had. Nothing!
It wasn't my fault, I wasn't supposed to be happy just watching soap operas and taking the baby to the park. It wasn't my fault I felt depressed.
I had to find a new neighborhood, a place where this "feminism" existed.
My husband and I moved to San Francisco where I went back to school. Something called "radical feminism" was sweeping the campus, and I took the flyer advertising an experimental class,"Women and Madness." "Why not," I thought, "I'm a woman and I am mad." I walked in.
Four feminists were teaching this class, two straight, two radical lesbians. My mind lit up that first day, and very soon my body caught fire as well. Luckily I didn't stand a chance with so many cute butches in the room. I was home.
"Mommy, are you ever going to wear makeups again?" My six-year-old daughter asked. "Yes." But then, at that time, I didn't think so
It was a time of overalls, Frye boots and aviator glasses. I met Judy, the woman I would spend the next 31 years with. She was a member of Olivia Records, a lesbian, feminist collective dedicated to making music by and for lesbians. I refused to give up my beloved Rolling Stones, Dylan or rock and roll,but Cris Williamson eventually found her way in amongst the boys.
Times changed, the collective broke up and Olivia Records eventually morphed into Olivia Travel. Home is a cruise ship or a Club Med beach resort infused with feminism and filled with women. Home is time with femmes, butches and no-label lesbians, straight and bi and trans-women together for a week or two at a time. Olivia was the icing we perfected on the cake.
The Feminine Mystique didn't give me any makeup tips, it gave me a new map, a new consciousness to explore.
It felt like a miracle when Betty Freidan landed in my mailbox, leading me back to school at a time where "Women and Madness" electrified classrooms.
To quote Jerry Garcia, "it's been a long, strange trip."
So many of us came together during a vital time of change during the '60s and '70s, growing out of old systems that were supposed to make us happy but left us empty. We raised our consciousness and created alternative ways to live.
I rarely wear my overalls today, and I love blush and eyeliner on my face. Yes, "makeups" and lesbian feminism are a powerful mystique indeed.