Last Updated on August 20, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 679
Life So Far highlights the complexity of second-wave feminism and how it often pitted feminist activists against one another, particularly with regards to what constitutes femininity and how women are meant to be represented in real life. If feminism was cultivated in order to provide a voice to the women who felt that they were constantly undermined and forced into silent submission, then what would compel various individuals within the women's liberation movement to seemingly turn on one another as they struggled to push for such drastic change in society?
Feminism, like so many other social movements that defied the status quo and pushed for disenfranchised minority groups to attain more power within their respective society, was developed by multifaceted human beings with their own individual life stories. Each life story is formulated by the experiences that a person faces in his or her lifetime; however, while it is plausible for people to experience similar negative or positive incidents or endure similar circumstances, there is no guarantee that every person will respond the exact same way to their given situation or possible plight.
On one level, Friedan's involvement in the women's rights movement stemmed from observations that she made of her own mother during her childhood. She noted that her mother abhorred the fact that she was Jewish and did not find her husband's diction or certain physical features to be appealing. Friedan also sensed that her mother was resentful of the fact that she couldn't earn some form of income in the same way that Friedan's father could, and so her mother would often exude sudden changes in her mood that would turn the atmosphere within the Friedan household into a rather unpleasant one. As Friedan continued to mature and endure frequent bias from her peers in high school and colleagues in the working world, she became afraid of being seen as a threat to the mainstream culture at the time and thus declined numerous opportunities that would have otherwise enabled her to reach her full potential. It was after she conversed with many women who were part of her college class that she learned they, just like her mother, had longed for a different life—in which they could be free to be who they really wanted to be, not blindly submit to what society expected.
Thus, Friedan came to view feminism as an attempt to unify and empower women by changing the public's perceptions on what women are truly capable of. She would go on to ensure that women would have a chance to enter professions and fields that were once only open to men, engage in a woman's march where she held hands with other participants as they walked in unison down the street, and establish organizations that promoted women's equality within American society, such as the National Women's Political Caucus. That being said, feminism is not interpreted in an identical fashion by all women, and Friedan became viewed as an antagonist from the perspective of other feminist activists, such as Gloria Steinem.
Steinem, who had climbed the ranks of the feminist movement to become one of its de facto leaders, believed that women should sacrifice their femininity; to her, to remain overtly feminine was to remain susceptible to sexism and discrimination from the almost exclusively male-dominant power structures of the time. Friedan, on the other hand, believed that women should not suppress their feminine traits in order to be seen on an equal footing as their male counterparts and engaged in frequent arguments with Steinem over this notion. Friedan even went as far as to suggest that Steinem was hypocritical for telling women to no longer use beauty products while Steinem herself continued to use beauty products in private in order to change the appearance of her hair.
Friedan's work in Life So Far depicts feminism by capturing the layered and sometimes contradictory nature of women—and by showing how disagreements on concepts such as femininity suggest that there is no singular way to identify as a feminist and act on one's feminist beliefs.
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