Five congressional secretaries in overalls, 1920. Credit: New York Times/Wiki Commons.
An excerpt from my op-ed in the Sunday New York Times:
THIS week is the 50th anniversary of the publication of Betty Friedan’s international best seller, “The Feminine Mystique,” which has been widely credited with igniting the women’s movement of the 1960s. Readers who return to this feminist classic today are often puzzled by the absence of concrete political proposals to change the status of women. But “The Feminine Mystique” had the impact it did because it focused on transforming women’s personal consciousness.
In 1963, most Americans did not yet believe that gender equality was possible or even desirable. Conventional wisdom held that a woman could not pursue a career and still be a fulfilled wife or successful mother. Normal women, psychiatrists proclaimed, renounced all aspirations outside the home to meet their feminine need for dependence. In 1962, more than two-thirds of the women surveyed by University of Michigan researchers agreed that most important family decisions “should be made by the man of the house.”
It was in this context that Friedan set out to transform the attitudes of women. Arguing that “the personal is political,” feminists urged women to challenge the assumption, at work and at home, that women should always be the ones who make the coffee, watch over the children, pick up after men and serve the meals.
Over the next 30 years this emphasis on equalizing gender roles at home as well as at work produced a revolutionary transformation in Americans’ attitudes. It was not instant. As late as 1977, two-thirds of Americans believed that it was “much better for everyone involved if the man is the achiever outside the home and the woman takes care of the home and family.” By 1994, two-thirds of Americans rejected this notion.
But during the second half of the 1990s and first few years of the 2000s, the equality revolution seemed to stall. Between 1994 and 2004, the percentage of Americans preferring the male breadwinner/female homemaker family model actually rose to 40 percent from 34 percent. Between 1997 and 2007, the number of full-time working mothers who said they would prefer to work part time increased to 60 percent from 48 percent. In 1997, a quarter of stay-at-home mothers said full-time work would be ideal. By 2007, only 16 percent of stay-at-home mothers wanted to work full time....
Read the rest here.