Sunday, May 8, 2011

Motherhood, Housewifery, Social Status

Portia Sheen, M.D. - Photo from May 8, 2008

The social status of the American woman before Betty Friedan's "Feminine Mystique" was published in 1963, and after, was perceived quite differently.
After Betty Friedan published her 1963 best seller, “The Feminine Mystique,” which denigrated stay-at-home mothers, their standing in society has steadily diminished.
Before, in the words of Sophia Hawthorne, the wife of novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne, wives already exerted “a power which no king or conqueror can cope with.” Americans of the era believed in “the empire of the mother,” and grown sons were not embarrassed about rhapsodizing over their “darling mama,” carrying her picture with them to work or war.

Under the influence of Freudianism, Americans began to view public avowals of “Mother Love” as unmanly and redefined what used to be called “uplifting encouragement” as nagging. By the 1940s, educators, psychiatrists and popular opinion-makers were assailing the idealization of mothers; in their view, women should stop seeing themselves as guardians of societal and familial morality and content themselves with being, in the self-deprecating words of so many 1960s homemakers, “just a housewife.” You can read more details about this shift in social attitude by clicking here.

My own mother was out of step with her times. She was a practicing pediatrician, and the head of 1,000-bed hospital, while my father, the president of a top university of the country, was the stay-at-home dad. If there was one thing I learned from my mother, it was the blissful unawareness of popular opinions and trends along with the abject and pervasive social need to be politically correct, in order to be accepted in the community. On this Mother's Day, I want to say thank you, Mom, for teaching me the inner strength to survive the insanity of the times.

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