Towards the end of the nineteenth century and at the beginning of the twentieth century, there emerged a group of middle class women whose ideology and perception of things was unorthodox to the societal outlook on issues. These women championed the emancipation of other women in the society, they craved for an equal society and struggled to attain and secure the woman’s place in the society. They worked to have the rights of the women upheld and respected in regards to the norms that governed their society at the time. In the struggle, these women ended up being called rebellious, rude, misguided and sometimes even confused.
On the contrary, their struggle won them the liberty to partake higher education, the freedom to take part in manufacturing, own property, to have a say in the democratic society that theirs was through voting and to be employed as professionals. The changes they had advocated for were by far much more progressive compared to what the women in the other centuries had to bear or go through, and could have been a stepping stone towards social equity among the genders (Feinstein, 81). The celebration to this achievement was however short lived as there were disruptions in the social structure that were caused by the Second World War. This struggle was given a fresh impetus by the various feminists who never relented in their quest to have their freedoms granted. They pointed out the fact that though women had the traditional roles in the home, they were grounded by the stereotypes that had enslaved the society by placing women far much below their potentials. One of these feminists happened to be Betty Friedan (Bloom,166).
She was vocal with her thoughts on midwifery, how in as much as it was considered a job for women, it limited their potentials to mere house work. She urged that in totality, house work could be done in an hour’s time, leaving them idle for the rest of the day. Friedan claimed that this created boredom among these women. The boredom led to a problem among the American women which, according to her book is the unhappiness that came to be as a result of the boredom. She castigated the women who were comfortable with being house wives claiming that they were afraid of what life could offer beyond housewifery. She claimed they were sitting on their potentials and that whatever other women could do in the other professions, they could also do. They only had to change their mindsets about themselves and stop looking down upon themselves as servants to their households.
Through her work, she refers to this state of dissatisfaction that leads to the ‘unhappiness’ in the women’s life as ‘the problem that has no name’. She claims that the main causative agent for this dilemma among women is the fact that society has natured some ideology about the ideal feminist, this is what she calls the feminine mystique. Friedan goes ahead to stress the fact that society has created this perception about housewives that has confined them in their narrow cocoons as house wives and mothers to their children. In the process they negate any plans they may have about further schooling, their career objectives are put on hold. In the long run, the women end up without the knowledge of their full potentials as they are not able to follow up on their personal development. This can spell doom for them and their families.
In the book ‘Feminine Mystique’, Friedan explores the different lifestyles the women had before marriage and compares it to their present lifestyles in the marriage. The collective report she gives out from the sample of women she interviewed was that the women had issues in their marriage. She goes ahead to explain that the women in their marriages had problems; not real tangible cases that could be solved easily, but issues that tugged them wherever they were. They varied in their expressions of the plight, and this variance is what created the ‘problem without a name’.
Other women tried to explain it as a loss of something, an emptiness they feel inside and the yearning for something but they do not know what it really is. This happens in the backdrop of a successful marriage, a happy family, and a supportive husband. From a distance, these couples look perfect, like they really enjoy their lives together, but more often than not the woman has some unfulfilled desire for something she doesn’t even know. This sets them on a rollercoaster of thoughts and they even don’t paying attention to their children. This reaction of mixed feelings created emotional instability among other problems, but most of all was the resultant despondency, a state of unhappiness that only she could feel, but hardly explain. She goes further to investigate the possible solutions to this problem from a set of women groups. The result was indeed as varying as the problem itself. College tutors recommended that the housewife attends more discussion and focus groups to help the women in their anticipation to marriage life.
Other newspaper articles and psychiatric journals that sought to offer solutions to the problem mainly suggested sex as the remedy to the problem. A clique of individuals put forward the proposition that women should be totally exempted from the four years of university or college education. They claimed that they knowledge they attained in the college or university was irrelevant to her as a housewife, and that this same knowledge was very much needed by boys to advance their progress in the minuscule world. Other’s dismissed the problem by suggesting the possible solutions to the problem that could not be met, like compulsorily recruiting them to work as nurses’ aides in the hospitals or nursing homes, others attributed love to be the answer.
Some people approached the issue by jeering the woman, telling her how lucky she is and reminding her about her achievements. They also counted to her the benefits of being the house wife; she runs her own affairs herself, there’s nobody around to act as her boss, she has no time to beat, she doesn’t worry about being demoted or promoted or being fired at any time. They claimed that for this reasons she should be happy.
They shrugged her off by telling her to enjoy what she has and not focus her energies to attain the untenable solutions to her problems. Finally, there was a group of people who dismissed this through the assertion that there is no solution to the problem. They claimed that the American woman’s biggest problem is being discontented with herself and her roles in the household.
“Snapshots of a daughter in-law” is a poem written by one Mrs. Adrienne Rich. She was born of Dr. Arnold Rich and Mrs.
Helen Jones. They both stayed at Maryland with Adrienne’s two siblings. Professionally, her father happened to be a professor of medicine at John Hopkins University whiles her mother who aside from being a teacher and a domestic mother was a qualified pianist. Her father, though his profession was typically science oriented, had vast knowledge and passion about arts and he modeled Adrienne’s interest towards artistic things especially poems that had to do John Keats and Lord Tennyson (Marriner, 131). This poem is one among her many poetic works. The main idea about the whole poem as expressed by Rich is Feminism. She explains the many facets of the woman’s life and tries to bring out the same issues through the perspectives of the different women in the story.
In this poem though, she has dwelt upon the nature of the relationship between a mother in-law and her daughter in-law. Rich brings to focus the filth that surrounds the woman causing her sadness and the possibility of her son exploiting the daughter in-law. The heading to the poem also tries to paint us disorganized pictures of a relationship whose connection is the son, this is the relationship between the mother and the daughter in-law.
In the poem, both the mother and the daughter in law come under scrutiny. She flashes back to the mother’s younger years to remind her of her beauty then. She highlights the features that made her stand out in her beauty; she compares the texture and color of her hair as equivalent to henna, the tenderness and softness of her skin was akin to that of pitch bud. She then contrasts the beauty that she was then to the woman she has become through time. According to the persona, the mother in-law has gone through a lot, but age is washing it all away.
Her mind, according to her is holding so much that its being choked, it is full of experience that is totally useless, and in comparison to what she was then, it is loaded with loads of what life can offer-rumor and fantasy. On the other hand, the persona describes the daughter in law as reckless. She supports this by describing how she handles her affairs in the kitchen. She handles the plates roughly and bangs them against each other and other surfaces like the sink.
She is accommodative. She is able to listen to the antagonistic views and the misleading pieces of advice she is given. She is being advised to be insatiable and save only herself because she could not save everybody (Julian, 2004). The people advising her want to nurture a state of being egocentric in her. In that before she thinks of doing any good for anybody in the household, she takes care of her own needs first. The author has also portrayed the daughter in-law as one who harbors her own fantasies where she listens to angels and looks out the beautiful horizon that exists only in her world. It is clear that the daughter in-law is kind hearted, loving, caring and one who selfless.
This conclusion is supported by the fact that all her friends are advising her against these norms. The poetry expresses the consciousness of this problem by highlighting the many incidents in life where a woman gets to be given the wrong advice. She denounces the act of going against each other and stabbing each other in the back by using one’s weakness of the other to bring her down. Instead she recommends that they swallow their pride to work together to bring the best out of their gifts, and not let the gifts be the thorns in the friendship. She redefines womanhood by the degree to which a lady uses what she has to get where she is (Casey, 49).
She uses an example of a lady singing, she asserts that neither the lyrics in the song nor the music belong to her, but the hair that dances to the wind truly belongs to her. She suggests brevity and unity among the women. The unity would soften the stance on people who look down upon the women, even though it comes with struggle. They will be abused and called names, but as long as they remain steadfast, they will attain their deepest desires. All the two articles by both Adrienne Rich and Betty Friedan are from their own point of view, an effort to liberate the women from a bondage they create themselves. They confine themselves within this prison curtailing the ability of the mind to think outside the box, they tame it within the confines of the traditions that govern their lives.
They sought to redefine the woman in the society through empowering them, educating them and employing them to the same roles as their male counterparts. The result is that these women end up producing the same quality of job as their male counterparts; this kills boredom and explores their full potential as women.
Bloom, Howard. Contemporary American English; Poetry and dramatists. NY: New York Cambridge University press (2001). Casey, Daniel. Poetry review guide for teachers and students.
NY: New York. Oxford University press. (2003).
Feinstein, Steven. Poetic evolution from the 1920’s to date. London: Yale University press. (2006).
Julian, D., Mason, J., Wheatley P. Poetic review and analysis for scholars. London: Maxmillan publishers limited. (2004).
Marriner, Catherine. Literature for senior students. NJ: New Jersey. Insight publications Ltd. (2006).