Two books I’ve been reading these days are The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan and Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg.
Both books are very interesting reads, but it’s especially interesting to read them both side by side. Lean In was written about 50 years after The Feminine Mystique, and it’s interesting to see how times have changed for women, but also stayed the same. One of the topics Friedan rails about is that the progress made by women in her mother’s generation seems to be lost in her own generation. From the 1920s to the 1940s, women fought for the right to vote, have access to higher education, and get jobs in traditionally male-dominated areas; during the Great Depression and World War II, especially, women were needed in the workforce to bring in income for the family. However, when the ’50s rolled around, women became increasingly focused on the security of a home and a husband, preferring to be a housewife with a bunch of kids (hello, baby boomers!) than a doctor or journalist. Women seemed to be getting married earlier and earlier, dropping out of college or high school to start a family. This generation noticed that their mothers were unhappy in marriage, because they often had to give up their career ambitions to start a family. The girls blamed education and the career mindset for making their mothers dissatisfied with what should have been the ideal home life, with cute kids, hot husband, and modern conveniences. To avoid this, girls figured they would just get married early and be grateful for the housewife life.
(Interestingly, in an interview on Fresh Air, Terry Gross asked Lena Dunham about how young women referred to themselves nowadays – as “girls.” Terry said that when she was in her early twenties, they always called themselves “women.” “Girls” makes it sound like we don’t want to grow up, which I guess is pretty fitting of our generation. Even females who have long been adults call themselves girls. I’ve been legally an adult for a few years and I still cringe when someone calls me “ma’am.”)
Sandberg laments that women nowadays are outcompeting men in education, but the gender disparity at the top of the corporate ladder is still stubbornly male-dominated. One reason she cites is a lack of ambition in females. “Many of these girls watched their mothers try to ‘do it all’ and then decide that something had to give. That something was usually their careers” (Sandberg, 15).
I don’t know if I consider myself ambitious. I guess? As someone who was always taught to be the best at anything I attempted (but mostly math and science, let’s be real), how could I not aim as high as I could? (Succeeding is another story.)