Choice is an important concept. There are good choices and bad choices. Women make both kinds of choices daily as they lead their daily lives, plan their careers and deal with friends and family. I believe that it is the uniquely “American woman” who has historically made the difference in what the United States chooses as its course, especially when it comes to social issues. As the women go so to goes the nation.
French historian and political scientist Alexis de Tocqueville in Democracy in America wrote, “I have no hesitation in saying that although the American woman never leaves her domestic sphere and is in some respects very dependent within it, nowhere does she enjoy a higher station. And if anyone asks me what I think the chief cause of the extraordinary prosperity and growing power of this nation, I should answer that it is due to the superiority of their women.” During and after WW II women began leaving the “domestic sphere” and started venturing into other spheres.
Question: Do American woman “enjoy a higher station” today than she did when Tocqueville wrote his observation? If not, why not?
The social battleground today is focused on the family. During de Tocqueville’s travels across America that is what he observed – the American family. This family was made up, by enlarge, of a mother, father and their biological children. That has changed significantly since the 1940s and reached its peak during the 1960s with the growth of the feminist movement in America.
According to Tavaana:
In 1960, the world of American women was limited in almost every respect, from family life to the workplace. A woman was expected to follow one path: to marry in her early 20s, start a family quickly, and devote her life to homemaking. As one woman at the time put it, “The female doesn’t really expect a lot from life. She’s here as someone’s keeper — her husband’s or her children’s.”
As such, wives bore the full load of housekeeping and child care, spending an average of 55 hours a week on domestic chores. They were legally subject to their husbands via “head and master laws,” and they had no legal right to any of their husbands’ earnings or property, aside from a limited right to “proper support”; husbands, however, would control their wives’ property and earnings.
If the marriage deteriorated, divorce was difficult to obtain, as “no-fault” divorce was not an option, forcing women to prove wrongdoing on the part of their husbands in order to get divorced.
[ … ]
In 1962, Betty Friedan’s book The Feminine Mystique captured the frustration and even the despair of a generation of college-educated housewives who felt trapped and unfulfilled. As one said, “I’m desperate. I begin to feel I have no personality. I’m a server of food and a putter-on of pants and a bedmaker, somebody who can be called on when you want something. But who am I?”
Friedan stunned the nation by contradicting the accepted wisdom that housewives were content to serve their families and by calling on women to seek fulfillment in work outside the home.
While Friedan’s writing largely spoke to an audience of educated, upper-middle-class white women, her work had such an impact that it is credited with sparking the “second wave” of the American feminist movement. [Emphasis added]
Today these barriers have been torn down, but what has been torn down with them? As Friedan asked, “Who am I?”
Today’s American woman is, by all available metrics, worse off than she was before the 1960s. If she is a single mother she still is a “server of food and putter-on of pants and a bedmaker.” But today she is alone, without the financial, emotional and physical support of a husband and a father of her children. This is particularly evident in minority communities but is becoming more the rule rather than the exception in the white community.
Today women are faced with choices as never before the feminist movement took control in America. The choices are bad ones. The ideal of income equality has not been fully realized, as we see more unmarried women living in poverty with children. So many choose to become dependent on the government, which does not pay well nor does it give women the freedom they longed for. Abortion is choosing to kill their unborn child. The real choice is whether or not to become pregnant. That has always been the key choice to be made. Another choice is to be married to the father of their child. Even that choice has been taken from them as men have become less receptive to marriage. Marriage, the great societal bastion of safety of women, is being torn down by the gay movement in the name of equality. But who suffers most from the destruction of the traditional family? Why women.
Many argue that women know who they were when Friedan wrote her book. Today they are not who they were. Paradise has been lost for most of America’s women. They have made their beds and now they must sleep in them.