No Title or Status is Required for a Person to Make a Difference—Only Conviction

The problem lay buried, unspoken, for many years in the minds of American women. It was a strange stirring, a sense of dissatisfaction, a yearning that women suffered in the middle of the twentieth century in the United States. Each suburban wife struggled with it alone. As she made the beds, shopped for groceries … she was afraid to ask even of herself the silent question—’Is this all?’”

No one can deny our world is rapidly changing before our eyes. Uprisings in the Middle East as well as the ongoing fight for women’s/human rights remind me of the matriarchs of the women’s movement and their vision for gender equality. When you think of a movement, what comes to mind? For me, it is one very special woman who refused to settle for the status quo—a woman who dared to MisBehave.

Educator, author, lecturer, journalist, and activist Betty Friedan offers an example validating the axiom that no title or status is required for a person to make a difference or start a movement—only conviction. Graduating from Smith College in 1942, Friedan produced her groundbreaking work The Feminine Mystique in 1963, a title that is often credited with launching “Second Wave” feminism.

During a college reunion, she discovered that she was not the only woman who felt dissatisfied; several of her college classmates evidenced a similar discontentment. Friedan and her friends dubbed the phenomenon “the problem that has no name.”
Friedan noted that despite all the writing being done by and for women during the middle years of the twentieth century, no one was speaking about this unfulfilled yearning in the hearts of many women. Instead, women were being instructed and encouraged in how they might make their husbands and families happier and more successful; how they might make mealtimes more interesting; how they might cope with the myriad responsibilities of managing a household; how they might look, act, dress, and feel more feminine… how, in short, they might learn to glory in their womanhood and pity the unhappy, discontented women who wanted to have professional, artistic, or other careers that did not in some way depend on their prowess as wives and mothers.
As she gathered more and more evidence of how widespread was the suffering and dissatisfaction of middle-class American women, Friedan devised an in-depth questionnaire and administered it to her classmates from Smith College to see how they were using the education they had received and what level of satisfaction they had with the lives they had chosen. The responses from the survey were troubling to Friedan. While she had expected the women to describe their lives as well adjusted and state that they were satisfied with the paths they chose, many of the mostly white, middle-class women who responded stated instead that they were not using their education and were dissatisfied with their roles; they felt their lives were not fulfilling.

This knowledge, in turn, forced Friedan to confront the limitations of her own role as a woman and whether or not she was using her education to its full potential. Friedan began developing the results of her research into articles that she submitted to some of the women’s magazines for which she had been freelancing. But, she discovered:
…whatever I wrote was heretical. It offended the editors of the women’s magazines. So after I had about four versions of it turned down, I said, “Hey, what’s going on here?” Because I had never had an article turned down. And I realized that what I was saying was threatening, somehow, to the editors of these women’s magazines. That it threatened the very world they were trying to paint, what I then called the “feminine mystique.” And I would have to write it as a book, because I wasn’t going to get it in a magazine. And the rest is history.

Released in 1963, The Feminine Mystique became a bestseller. The book highlighted the results of the survey, documenting the dissatisfaction and loneliness these educated women felt in their roles as housewives and mothers. The Feminine Mystique was well received by many women who felt that there was more to life than being a wife and mother. It validated the deep-seated sentiments of many women who wanted more options than those American culture offered women at the time. For many women, Friedan’s book was life changing and transforming. They felt less isolated, realizing that other women felt as they did.

As a result of the success of her book, she became the voice and the face of the second wave of feminism. As one of the founders and the first president of the National Organization of Women, she campaigned for issues such as gender equality for women, affordable childcare through federally funded childcare centers, full enforcement of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act to end sex discrimination, and promoting women in politics in order to effect and change policies that impact the rights of women. The movement Friedan helped bring into being had as its objective “to take action to bring women into full participation in the mainstream of American society now, exercising all the privileges and responsibilities thereof in truly equal partnership with men.”

No one can deny her influence as well as her work championing the rights of women for which she received accolades, awards and honorary degrees. Perhaps she will always be known as the suburban housewife who started a revolution by writing The Feminine Mystique. It is certainly true that rarely has a single book been responsible for such sweeping, tumultuous, and continuing social transformation. By refusing to bow to those who would have kept her safely categorized as wife, mother, homemaker, and nothing else, Betty Friedan shifted the landscape of American law and society.

Betty Friedan is one of the women featured in MisBehave: Speak Truth to Power

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Does It Pay to Be Very Thin?

Does It Pay to be Very Thin?

According to a Wall Street Journal article, “For Women It Pays to be Very Thin”  based on a recent study, employers seem to treat women exactly the way the fashion industry does – by rewarding very thin women with higher pay (about 15K more), while penalizing average-weight women with smaller paychecks. It is very disturbing that we are still discriminating based on appearances. In this day and age, we should be paying based on qualifications, experience and performance.

Women are still fighting for equality in the workplace and having to worry about being paid fairly and equitably because of appearance is very discriminatory as well as disturbing.

What are your thoughts? Would you prefer to have someone that is competent on your team or someone that looks good appearance wise and can’t necessarily perform the essential functions of their job?

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Introduction to MisBehave: Speak Truth to Power

As a professional woman who had spent many years in the corporate workplace, I’d heard all the cautionary tales: how women would never be able to genuinely take a seat at the table with men; how strong women who wouldn’t display proper subservience to their male superiors—or peers—would eventually find themselves locked out of meaningful opportunities; how women—especially black women—almost always faced the choice of “playing nice” and being seen as unimaginative drones or standing up for their principles and being labeled uncooperative bitches. I had apparently landed in the latter category, and that was the reason I was now out of a job.

Was I the first woman in history who had found herself in a similar situation? As these new stories began to find their way to me, I learned that I most definitely was not alone in my predicament. In fact, I stood in a long line of women who “acted out”: who refused to be defined by the stereotypes assembled by their patriarchal societies; who decided that their own dreams were better and more worthwhile than the dreams the rest of the world told them to have; who broke the rules and violated expectations in order to shout to a world that refused to listen, “I matter more than you think I do, and nothing you can do to me can change that!”

Listening to these stories of the brave, pioneering women who have gone before me has changed the way I see my experience. These stories have taken me on a journey of self-discovery and reevaluation… a journey that has resulted in the writing of MisBehave: Speak Truth to Power.

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