Life So Far, Betty Friedan’s memoir.
When I was in college, a Jesuit woman’s college mind you, I took it upon myself to write an article about Friedan for the school newspaper. I believe it was before I became head honcho, and I had to fight for the inclusion of a piece that wasn’t dedicated to spring break fashion or the popularity of raunchy internet communication. At the time I don’t think I realized the total importance of this woman, which may be why recently I was drawn to her memoir on a library shelf.
A good third of the way through the book so far, I am finding a deep well of inspiration. Despite her education at the prestigious Smith College, and all of the opportunities that Friedan earned as a young woman, she found herself lost in the sea of career possibilities, and then a lack thereof, early on. It was only once she found herself asking why she felt unfulfilled as a mother and a wife living in the suburbs (and how she ended up in that life) that she was able to confront her problems and actually embark on what came to be her true calling. Speaking about the time just as she started the creation of perhaps her most famous work, The Feminine Mystique: “It’s as if my whole life, including the mistakes, the pains, the paths not taken, had prepared me for this.”Betty was self-motivated and conducted her own research, not only for the ultimate goal of deciphering her situation, but also for helping countless other women frozen in situations like hers.
As Betty asserts in her memoir: “The book I actually wrote, though objective in its technique and search for evidence, came from my personal truth, my personal, objective-subjective participant-observation of my own and others’ experience, and from my repudiation of so-called accepted truth, social scientists’ truth, psychiatric truth, when it didn’t ring true to my own observations, my own following of clues to a new, larger truth about women.”
It’s comforting to discover that such a great character was, in a way, a late bloomer, and had to struggle before finding her place. I know I am far from the existence of Betty at the time of her great aha! moment, but I can relate to the desperate search to find where I belong. And much like Betty, I fear that my education has failed me in a sense, for either providing too much of a sophisticated intellectual platform (from which I stumbled off upon graduation, into the ‘real world’) or for not providing enough (most likely the latter). For example, never once in any of my courses did Betty’s name even arise – at a female college! Beyond not being introduced to great female thinkers, I can’t recall any effort being taken by professors to prepare us young women for true burdens of the real world, such as managing finances (FICO scores!) Maybe it’s my own fault for being an English major (lot of good that did me).
I’m glad at least that my passion for asking questions has yet to diminish, and that I am motivated as ever to continue to educate myself. If there is one thing I have learned in my 23 years (fast approaching 24), is that the only really impenetrable armor one can wear is education. And in this world a gal certainly needs to pile on the armor.