Why Are Women Still Unhappy?
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the 1963 publication of Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique, a book that served as the catalyst for the second wave of feminism in America. I still remember picking up this book in college after one of my professors challenged the women in the class to consider the doors that feminism had opened for women, especially in higher education. I really did not know a lot about feminism at that point in college other than the sense that I got that many Christians considered feminism contrary to their faith. So, I started investigating the movement of secular feminism on my own and began by reading Friedan’s book. I wanted to know why this book had served as a rallying cry for so many women in my mother’s generation.
Friedan was a college-educated woman in the Leave it to Beaver era who struggled to find happiness as a suburban housewife. In trying to voice the discontent she felt and noticed in other women in her stage of life, Friedan said, “Each suburban wife struggled with it alone…She was afraid to ask even of herself the silent question—‘Is this all?’” Her admission resonated with many women, and women began to rise up when Friedan challenged, “We can no longer ignore that voice within women that says: ‘I want something more than my husband and my children and my home.’”
In the ensuing 50 years, the culture changed dramatically both in positive and negative ways. Carolyn McCulley in her book Radical Womanhood has rightly noted that “Feminism is a given. We breathe it, we think it, watch it, read it. Whenever a concept so thoroughly permeates a culture, it’s hard to step back and notice it at work. Feminism has profoundly altered our culture’s concept of what it means to be a woman. We need to understand how this movement came about and what its goals have been because these are now our culture’s assumptions. We also need to acknowledge that there has been some good that has come out of it. There were some serious inequalities that were changed by the feminist movement. I’m grateful for the short-term gains, but the long-term consequences are profound and need to be examined in light of feminism’s worldview.”
So, how exactly has the world changed since the second wave of feminism marched onto the cultural landscape and what are some of the short-term gains and long term consequences that McCulley mentions? 
I have grown up in a world already impacted by Friedan’s feminism. I never had to wrestle with what Erika Jong described as, “graduating magna cum laude from Harvard and then being told to go to the typing pool.” There was never a time when I questioned whether or not I would pursue a college education; when I did, I never thought I might be barred because I was a woman. In fact, for most of my educational years, women have outnumbered men in colleges and graduate schools. So, I am thankful for feminists whose work opened doors for women in higher education.
However, even though I am thankful for some of the gains achieved by secular feminism and wish more Christians had fought for some of the things the feminist movement advocated, like equal work for equal pay and access for women to higher education, the truth is that the heart of this movement is antagonistic to God’s Word.
The worldview of feminism shuns God and exalts humanity, specifically women.
In my own journey learning more about feminism, I realized that while this movement had correctly identified some injustices, it did not always offer the proper solution. We see this in how our thinking has changed about the home.
Friedan’s work cast the role of the homemaker in a negative light. Whereas many women in my mother’s generation were probably proud to call themselves homemakers, women in my generation rarely admit when asked what they want to do with their life that they want to be a wife and mom. Friedan argued that in order for women to have their greatest happiness and impact they would have to be in the “public” sphere. A subtle shift occurred in the minds of many people that, in order for work to be valuable, it must earn a paycheck. Martha Stewart can make millions marketing the domestic arts, but the woman who chooses to stay at home and devote her primary energies to “look well to ways of her household” (Prov. 31:27) is belittled.
Friedan’s question, “Is this all?” is not a bad question. Truthfully, it is a question that I hope each woman asks at some point in her life. That emptiness Friedan experienced in trying to find fulfillment in her marriage and children is the same emptiness that many women today experience in trying to find fulfillment through their jobs.
Women who look for ultimate contentment in their home or in their work will eventually realize their lives are lacking something.
They are simply, as the writer of Ecclesiastes states, “striving after the wind.” True fulfillment, peace, and satisfaction can only be found in a relationship with Jesus Christ. Because God never entered into Friedan’s equation, her proposed solution for women missed the mark.
In October 2009, the cover of Time Magazine proclaimed that women are more powerful but less happy. After 50 years of feminism, women are in many ways just as unhappy as they were back in Friedan’s day. Danielle Crittendan admits in her book What Our Mothers Didn’t Tell Us: Why Happiness Eludes the Modern Woman, “For all the ripping down of barriers that has taken place over a generation, we may have inadvertently also smashed the foundations necessary for our happiness…American women have achieved the most egalitarian marriages in the history of the world. And yet they actually feel more oppressed in their marriages than their grandmothers did. How is this possible?”
It is possible because women will never find enduring happiness apart from a relationship with Jesus Christ. If the last 50 years of feminism have proven anything, it is that Friedan’s solution to women’s unhappiness has not brought lasting satisfaction.
Candi Finch serves as Assistant Professor of Theology in Women’s Studies at Southwestern and is nearing the end of her PhD studying systematic theology. She loves used book stores, getting to teach young women, and eating any food she doesn’t have to cook herself! Her secret ambition in life is to compete on Survivor or The Amazing Race. Connect with Candi on Facebook!
Betty Friedan, The Feminine Mystique: 50 Years (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2013), 1.
Carolyn McCulley, Radical Womanhood: Feminine Faith in a Feminist World (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2008), 28; italics added.
If you are interested in further study, I have written a brief chapter on the history and impact of the feminist movement, “The Impact of Feminism on the Home and Family,” in The Christian Homemaker’s Handbook (Wheaton: Crossway, 2013).
Cited in article by Claudia Wallis, “Onward Women!” Time (June 24, 2001).
Danielle Crittenden, What Our Mothers Didn’t Tell Us: Why Happiness Eludes the Modern Women (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1999), 25, 80.