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Decades After 'The Feminine Mystique,' Many High-Achieving Women Find Satisfaction in Marriage

A new book explains why Betty Friedan might have paved the way for equal marriages by blowing the roof off the feminine mystique.

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W. Bradford Wilcox, sociology professor and director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, said there has been a generational recognition of the fact that it is easier to do well in life and to have one’s kids do well in a married household. He calls this new type of marriage a “soulmate” marriage and said this type of equal arrangement stems from the psychological revolution that took place among women in the 1970s.

Of course, as Coontz explains, Friedan seemed to know this all along. While many observers of the battle of the sexes predicted that women’s rise to independence would lead them away from the home, Friedan suspected that a sense of personal fulfillment would actually make women better partners.

This is hardly to say that we have entered some utopian phase in marriage. Statistics show that women still do more of the housework (approximately two times more, down from the four to five times more done by our grandmothers and many of our mothers) and earn less. There are far more stay-at-home moms than stay-at-home dads. (Of course, the argument stands that better maternity and daycare policies, and not necessarily better spouses, would relieve women of much of the burden that is keeping them behind their husbands.) Additionally, the dissolution of gender roles has led marriage into a Wild West territory, with couples making up rules and circumstances as they go along. Indeed, a commitment to equality comes with the burden of keeping score.

Nonetheless, we have moved much closer to parity than ever before, and young wives no longer ask themselves, as Friedan wrote, “Is this all?” If anything, we are faced with the problem of too much, and for that, in addition to occasionally feeling tired and perplexed, I feel very grateful. Thanks, Betty.

Elissa Strauss is a freelance writer who lives in Brooklyn, New York. She is a journalist, essayist and blogger. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications including Salon, the Village Voice, The American Prospect, the New York Daily News, Tablet, and the Forward, where she is also a contributing editor to the Sisterhood blog.

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