Betty Friedan's exposé on the "problem without a name" inaugurated a new era of consciousness about women and forged a new way to reexamine the issues impacting women on all fronts: their health, their well-being and their success and personal happiness. In short: Friedan had written, what they call in the business, a real humdinger. As a way to pay tribute to the fiftieth anniversary of The Feminine Mystique's publication, many writers and critics are weighing in on what made the mystique actually demystifying (The problem mentioned on page one, chaper one? Oh, it HAS a damn name!) and frustrating (Race? Class? Ain't nobody got time to discuss that!). Despite some of its dated aspects, the book remains a seminal text for students, scholars, cultural thinkers, writers and generally interested people the world over. In an effort to further its legacy and engage current generations, Mystique might benefit from a makeover. Yes, irony of term not lost here.
First, the title could use rejiggering. The Feminine Mystique sounds like a Dior fragrance. The book deserves a title that makes people sit up and take notice. After all, that was Friedan's ultimate goal. Possible titles to consider: We Could Yell All Day; It's Not Us Patriarchy, It's You; or Sexist Jerks You Just Made Our List of Things to Do Today. Much has been made in contemporary and historical writing about the Mystique regarding Friedan's anger and outrage. Why not capitalize on our current tell-it-like-it-is era and avoid consumer sugar coating? As Friedan would most likely agree, the only good thing to come out of sugar coating is NOTHING! NOW GET OUT OF THE KITCHEN, LADIES!
Of course, it goes without saying that the book's content would need significant updating. The issues already cited about the absent of class, race and economic orientation deserve inclusion. Unfortunately, for all the ways the original Mystique made women better equipped to deal with the barriers to their advancement, there are many new problems that necessitate naming. For example, we need to continue and deepen the conversation on media and its impacts on women's self-esteem and self-image. A chapter on women and the wage gap is essential. It would be useful to include thoughts on how women continue to pursue unrealistic ideals of domestic perfection thanks to Pinterest, social media and lifestyle enclaves like GOOP. Friedan, I suspect, would include a profanity-laced chapter about GOOP. "Gwyneth, hun," she'd write, "We all know what rhymes with GOOP." Burn. Other topic headings might include: The Clinton/Bachmann Paradox: One Cracks Glass Ceilings, the Other is On Crack and Celebrity Influence: Avoid Kar-dashian Your Hopes and Dreams.
Today, no good deed goes unmarketed. Fifty years ago, it was a group of Tupperware moms passing the book around from house to house on the sly helped its popularity. Here's your casserole dish, Midge, *wink.* Social and mobile media will fast-track the book to guest spots on "Anderson Cooper" and "The Colbert Report." Natural celebrity endorsements include Oprah, Beyonce, Maya Angelou and Bono to attract the hip, sensitive male demographic. The publisher might include additional imprints customized to attract the range of younger women to the book. Zooey Deschanel could endorse special copies of the book doodled up with unicorns, mushrooms and cat eyeglasses. Hey gang! Feminism is cool! Sexism is a drag. Let's dance like robots, like lady robots! Lena Dunham would, natch, take the pitch to her sexually beleaguered twentysomethings. She could even film a book trailer of herself reading the text in a bathtub surrounded by trays of cupcakes.
Finally, a contemporary book is not a book without being a movie. Such foundational work deserves the complete A-list treatment. Kathryne Bigelow will direct the gritty feminist epic of the nouveaux Mystique as told through the perspectives of three women. Or perhaps it would feature eight women, or wait, fifteen women spanning different historical time periods including one set in the year 2525. The film would definitely include somewhere between three and fifteen women's graphic portrayals of the themes and experiences that encapsulate the political and social pertinence of Friedan's enduring work. Adele will record the Grammy-winning sound track. James Franco will take credit for the screenplay, the costumes, Kraft services and the invention of film. I predict a complete Oscar sweep and a direct to Broadway adaptation staring Ellen, Oprah (she just can't get enough of the Mystique!) and Hugh Jackman.
With a little bit of work and some creative finesse, Betty Friedan's manifesto can retain its relevancy another fifty years into the future. Though, truthfully, by then, I hope we won't need it.
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