When a colleague recommended Betty Friedan’s ‘The Feminine Mystique’, I didn’t think it was going to shift my worldview. In the past couple of years, I’ve read a lot of feminist titles. I’m passionate about feminism. About equal rights for all. But ‘The Feminine Mystique’ deals with so much more than just sexism and oppression. It’s made me question everything about myself, everything that I’ve taken for granted.
Now I can’t stop asking myself: what DO I want to be when I grow up?
Whenever anyone asks me what I want to be in the future, my instinctive answer is always that.
I want to have children.
Over the past few years, I’ve watched people my age start families, and I’ve been filled with burning jealousy. They haven’t always been planned, but that just hurts even more: to watch people have the one thing I’m desperate for, and not even appreciate how special it is? It’s painful.
Yes, I know motherhood is difficult. Children are a huge commitment, and you have to put yourself second. The child always needs to be your priority, even if it means putting your life on hold while you focus on them. But I pride myself on being unselfish. I always put my friends first, and I always try to do as much as I can to help other people. Both of those qualities are essential in motherhood.
Keep in mind, I’m only 21. There is plenty of time for me to have children in the future! But I’ve been baby-crazy for the past five years, since I hit 16 and started sixth form. Perhaps this is because my mum had me when she was young.
The lack of age gap between us has made us firm friends, and I love our bond: the fact that we love the same TV shows and go to concerts together all of the time. I worry that if I wait to have children then we won’t have anything in common, and it will make our relationship strained.
This is part of the reason I’m so worried about my fertility. You don’t really know if you’re able to have kids until you start trying. What if it’s been my only aim for the entirety of my life so far, and it can never happen for me?
But what else?:
What does ‘The Feminine Mystique’ have to do with this?
Betty Friedan examined the lives of housewives across America who suffered with psychological problems. They dedicated themselves to their children and husband, neglecting to follow their own dreams. A lot of the housewives didn’t even have dreams of their own.
They failed to apply themselves in college. They didn’t push themselves, try to find their own hobbies, or dream of bigger and better things. Instead, they lived vicariously through their children, suffering from depression due to inactivity of both body and mind.
I was startled by the similarity between my dreams and those of the struggling housewives. I’d never thought of my plans for the future as problematic before, but suddenly the truth struck me. I don’t really have any goals, other than having a couple of children and giving them the perfect childhood.
That’s not all that I can be.
That’s not all that I WANT to be.
While reading ‘The Feminine Mystique’, I took a good hard look at myself. At the fact that I’ve always said I’d love to be a professional blogger, because it would mean I didn’t have to leave the house. What kind of life IS that?! (That doesn’t mean I love the blog any less, BTW, it just means that I want it to remain a hobby instead of my entire life.)
I thought about university. I’m off in September, for a three year course studying English literature with journalism. I’ve been refusing to get excited about it, in case I fail. I’m afraid. Instead of admitting that, I’ve been dismissive, saying it’s “just something to do” which means I don’t have to grow up and be an adult for a few more years.
I’ve been avoiding the future, while yearning for the future to hurry up and arrive. Isn’t that a sick and twisted catch-22?!
But now, I’ve decided. When I grow up, I want to be more than just a mother. I want to be the kind of mother that my children will be proud of, who has an exciting job that I look forward to going to. I’ve decided I’m going to apply myself – REALLY apply myself – at university, working so hard that it’ll be impossible for me to fail. In fact, I’ve already started researching jobs at publishing houses, something I’ve always been interested in but have said I wouldn’t be capable of achieving.
No one but you decides that you can’t do something. Now, I’m deciding that I can do whatever I want to in my future. Yes, I still want to be a mother eventually, but I’m determined that I can be much more than that. Instead of dismissing myself, I’m going to make it impossible for anyone to say no to me – especially myself.
Thank you, Betty Friedan. Despite the fact that your work is over fifty years old, it’s still helping people today. In fact, I think it’s safe to say that ‘The Feminine Mystique’ has changed my life.