50 yrs after the Feminine Mystique: What’s Next for Women?

Binders Full of Women Costume
Binders Full of Women Costume

In 2013 we will reach the 50th Anniversary of the Feminine Mystique, the ground-breaking book by Betty Friedan. In those 50 years things have changed a lot, but the question by many is, have they changed enough?

This weekend, while attending the Boston Book Festival, I had the privilege of attending a panel with professor Anita Hill, former Vermont governor Madeleine Kunin, and author of The End of Men and the Rise of Women, Hanna Rosin. All three offered unique perspectives on where we are today in regards to women’s rights.

Kunin reminded us that “[Women are] most invisible at the tables where decisions are made about our lives.” Which means, as Kunin put it, “If you aren’t on the table you are on the menu.” Not having women as a part of the panels, around the boardroom, or in positions of power to make decisions severely impacts the ability of women to be able to advocate for women.

All three panelists talked about an interesting fact that I had not spent a lot of time thinking about up to that point. Women resumes are different than most men’s and “we can’t expect women to have similar life stories” said Kunin. If women take time off to have children, both men and other women almost always view those gaps as negative. However, when there are gaps, women can be involved in communities in other interest ways that help develop them further and make them even more valuable in the workforce.

When it comes to women in the workplace, Rosin and Hill spoke about women never asking for raises, and never ask for additional benefits. This means that in some places women are being passed over year after year and raises are given to men who ask. It takes confidence to ask for more money and believe you deserve it, and women need to learn how to take that step.

Similarly, women do not have the same confidence as men when it comes to running for public office. Kunin tells us, “Men look at themselves in the mirror and say I can run for governor. Women look in the mirror and say, “I need to take 3 more classes to run for school board.” Women are so focused on qualifications that we talk ourselves out of something before we try.

Rosin shared interesting research that had been done by Google as they were struggling to find more female applicants. They found that when they advertised a position with criteria, women were not applying. If they listed 10 requirements of the job, women were saying ‘I cant do #3 and #7’ and men look at it and say ‘I can do #4.’

While it was great to listen to these three strong women talk about their books and the state of women in this country (and how we compare to the Netherlands), it was disheartening to hear we have so much more work to be done. In a year where a presidential candidate has to be presented with “binders full of women” in order to bring enough women into his administration; at a time when legislation is being made taking away our rights, it means we need to be thoughtful about how we can both gain confidence in ourselves, and encourage our female students to be more than what they think they can be.

What do you think of what the panelest said?  How do you think we can develop the confidence women need?  What do you think is the “problem with no name”/The feminine mystique of today? 

50 yrs after the Feminine Mystique: What’s Next for Women?

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