The "feminine mystique" redux
Esther Kaplan printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Tue Feb 07, 2006 at 07:31:35 PM EST
Several of the obituaries marking Betty Friedan's death have quoted from her classic 1963 book, The Feminine Mystique. Some of its passages are quite stirring, in a retro kind of way, as she discusses the inchoate dissatisfaction felt by women convinced that they should find their isolated lives as suburban housewives fulfilling. But it was bizarre to reread this material in recent days and realize that the "mystique of feminine fulfillment" Friedan blasted apart 43 years ago is now being resurrected by the Christian right.
Here's a classic excerpt from Friedan's book:
The problem lay buried, unspoken, for many years in the minds of American women. It was a strange stirring, a sense of dissatisfaction, a yearning that women suffered in the middle of the twentieth century in the United States. Each suburban wife struggled with it alone. As she made the beds, shopped for groceries, matched slipcover material, ate peanut butter sandwiches with her children, chauffeured Cub Scouts and Brownies, lay beside her husband at night -- she was afraid to ask even of herself the silent question -- "Is this all?"

For over fifteen years there was no word of this yearning in the millions of words written about women, for women, in all the columns, books and articles by experts telling women their role was to seek fulfillment as wives and mothers. Over and over women heard in voices of tradition and of Freudian sophistication that they could desire no greater destiny than to glory in their own femininity. Experts told them how to catch a man and keep him, how to breastfeed children and handle their toilet training, how to cope with sibling rivalry and adolescent rebellion; how to buy a dishwasher, bake bread, cook gourmet snails, and build a swimming pool with their own hands; how to dress, look, and act more feminine and make marriage more exciting; how to keep their husbands from dying young and their sons from growing into delinquents.

In the fifteen years after World War II, this mystique of feminine fulfillment became the cherished and self-perpetuating core of contemporary American culture. Millions of women lived their lives in the image of those pretty pictures of the American suburban housewife, kissing their husbands goodbye in front of the picture window, depositing their stationwagonsful of children at school, and smiling as they ran the new electric waxer over the spotless kitchen floor. They baked their own bread, sewed their own and their children's clothes, kept their new washing machines and dryers running all day. They changed the sheets on the beds twice a week instead of once, took the rug-hooking class in adult education, and pitied their poor frustrated mothers, who had dreamed of having a career. Their only dream was to be perfect wives and mothers; their highest ambition to have five children and a beautiful house, their only fight to get and keep their husbands. They had no thought for the unfeminine problems of the world outside the home; they wanted the men to make the major decisions. They gloried in their role as women, and wrote proudly on the census blank: "Occupation: housewife."

That was then...and now there's a veritable cottage industry of books teaching women how to be "godly wives." The Excellent Wife, for example, by Martha Peace, teaches that "her husband should be the primary benefactor of his wife's time and energy," her "most important ministry." Peace holds herself up as a model, having given up a successful nursing career ("I had become a full blown feminist who was going to make my mark on the world") to become "the godly wife that He wants me to be." Joanna Weaver's How to Have a Mary Heart in a Martha World attributes housewifely dissatisfaction to women's failure to reserve time for spiritual practice in between vacuuming, laundry, and soccer practice for the kids--not, of course, to the overblown conservative evangelical expectation that women can find a life of meaning while cut off from the world of work and from any society beyond church and family. Throughout this literature, the buzzword is submission--submitting to Christ and husband. Anything shy of that is not self-assertion, or feminism, it's selfishness and ungodliness.

Many conservative Christian women rave about these books. One comment, posted in praise of Martha Peace's book--"It has been my experience that living in a Godly marriage - and that includes being submissive to my husband - is the happiest thing I've ever known on Earth"--reflects the conversations I've heard repeatedly among women at Christian right gatherings.

And yet the ennui that Friedan identified four decades ago still peeks through. As one Christian blogger posted some months ago, about her relationship with her husband, "He was going out and I was staying home and I was flat out envious. Yes, I'm the weird one. The girl who's annoyed because she's the wrong gender to go to the men's dinner. I came home annoyed and irritated and sat down at the computer and sulked..."

Friedan was hardly a universal hero within feminist circles--she was known for her inability to play well with others, for example--but it's stunning to realize that, in some circles, the critique offered in her 43-year-old Feminine Mystique is right on time.

"Prarie Muffins" - it seems - are above all graciously and demurely submissive, prostrate before God and man. The sex role gestalt is like the 1950's ideal but a bit more engaged in the physical world.  Barefoot, pregnant, wrapped in denim and burlap..... and yet such the quintessence of the Stepford Wife model, an industrial strength ideological product. "Prarie Muffins" know to shut up, suck it up, and to proudly accept their lot.

Yes, it's the 1950's with a vengeance.

"1) Prairie Muffins are committed to obeying God's law in every area of life, as they are aware of its application to their lives and circumstances.

  1. Prairie Muffins are helpmeets to their husbands, seeking creative and practical ways to further their husbands' callings and aid them in their dominion responsibilities.

  2. Prairie Muffins are aware that God is in control of their ability to conceive and bear children, and they are content to allow Him to bless them as He chooses in this area.

  3. Prairie Muffins seek to conform themselves to the image of God by not chafing at the trials and afflictions which He brings to them, but thankfully submitting to His loving providence as He makes them fit for heaven.

  4. Prairie Muffins improve their intellect and knowledge as they have opportunity, first by seeking wisdom from God's word, then by reading good books and other materials which help them to make informed opinions about a wide variety of subjects.

  5. Prairie Muffins dress modestly and in a feminine manner.

  6. Prairie Muffins protect the innocence of their children, until such a time their children are mature enough to be exposed to potentially-harmful cultural influences.

  7. Prairie Muffins are creative, learning new skills and working with their hands to provide items of beauty as well as utility for their families.

  8. Prairie Muffins do not reflect badly on their husbands by neglecting their appearance; they work with the clay God has given, molding it into an attractive package for the pleasure of their husbands.

  9. Prairie Muffins are patient and forbearing, not responding rashly to slights, perceived or real.

  10. Prairie Muffins own aprons and they know how to use them.

  11. Prairie Muffins prefer others above themselves, seeking to serve God by serving others, especially members of their own household.

  12. Prairie Muffins practice hospitality, graciously, even when their home is not as perfect as they would like.

  13. Prairie Muffins have a sense of humor, even in the midst of trials.

  14. Prairie Muffins do not become paralyzed by fears and worries; rather, they see God's loving hand in all their circumstances.

  15. Prairie Muffins are accomplished at organizing and delegating.

  16. Prairie Muffins place their husbands' needs and desires above other obligations, arranging their schedules and responsibilities so that they do not neglect the one who provides for and protects them and their children.

  17. Prairie Muffins are fiercely submissive to God and to their husbands.

  18. Prairie Muffins appreciate godly role models, such as Anne Bradstreet, Elizabeth Prentiss and Elisabeth Elliot. They do not idolize Laura Ingalls Wilder (Little House on the Prairie) or Louisa May Alcott (Little Women); while they may enjoy aspects of home life presented in their books, PMs understand that the latent humanism and feminism in these stories and in the lives of these women is not worthy of emulation.

  19. Prairie Muffins make significant economic contributions to their households in many ways. They are careful with the hard-earned money that their husbands bring home, wisely weighing expenditures to ensure that they stretch the dollars as far as they can go, without being parsimonious. They also may help their husbands in their husbands' callings or bring money into their households through homecentered business under their husbands' authority, as long as that activity does not detract from their very important homekeeping duties.

  20. Prairie Muffins recognize that all good gifts come from the Father of Lights (James 1:17) and they also realize their privileged position as "home despot," thus they are grateful to God and their husbands for enabling them to engage in the wonderful role of homekeeper.

  21. Prairie Muffins try to maintain a peaceful environment for their families by keeping their voices quiet and their tones gentle as much as possible.

  22. While Prairie Muffins seek to have a multitude of wise counselors, they are careful not to elevate mere men and women to a position where they are tempted to idolize those whom they admire. They also are aware that all have weaknesses, and they accept this reality without discarding the good teaching of those godly people who may occasionally stumble in their weakness or with whom we sometimes must disagree.

  23. It is not possible to fit Prairie Muffins into a box. They come in many shapes, sizes and flavors, they have a variety of talents and interests. All their pursuits, however, are weighed to see if they are pleasing to God and done in obedience to His will as revealed in His word.

  24. Prairie Muffins are tough on themselves, but forgiving of the faults and differences of others, without sacrificing their commitment to truth and righteousness. This is sometimes a difficult balance, but one which Prairie Muffins strive to keep.

  25. While they often may feel like they have split personalities because of the many hats they must wear, Prairie Muffins do have their feet firmly planted in two worlds: the now and the not yet. In the now, they must deal with the realities and disappointments of everyday life, praying for daily wisdom and walking by faith, not by sight, as God providentially directs their steps. In the not yet, they strive for the biblical ideals by which they determine the direction of their lives, understanding that they may fall short of these ideals as they struggle with their flesh and their circumstances, but trusting that God will honor their humble obedience with a more mature faith and the blessings that come from both the struggle and the obedience, in this life and in the next.

  26. The letter "P" at the beginning of their names should be the only similarity between Prairie Mufffins and Pharisees. Never should the Prairie Muffin haughtily pray, "Thank God I am not like that...(fill in the blank)." Rather, she should always say, "There, but for the grace of God, go I." This is not to say that obedience to God's law is not important, however. Prairie Muffins gratefully accept the yoke that Christ places on them, and they seek to have the mind of Christ with the godly perspective which sees the burdens of our Lord as truly light; He is the One who gives us strength to carry those burdens, and He is even the One who carries them.

  27. Prairie Muffins mind their own business. While that business may include encouraging other women "to love their husbands, to love their children, to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the word of God will not be dishonored," it most emphatically excludes encouraging other women to run ahead of or resist the authority of their husbands or elders in pursuit of any PM distinctive.

  28. Prairie Muffins are open to correction from proper authorities. They are responsible to submit to their own husbands, to their elders, and ultimately to God. If rebuked by these authorites a PM should receive such correction gracefully and gratefully. If rebuked by others, she should take the concern to her proper authorities.

  29. "Home, Sweet Home" is more than just a sentimental saying for the Prairie Muffin. Her home is the center of the Prairie Muffin's activities. Of course, she needs to occasionally go away from home to engage in various activities related to her calling, but her focus is on making home a haven for her husband and children and using it to glorify God in whatever ministry to others He may call her. She is content in her home and does not see it as a prison from which she constantly must escape. She wisely rules over her domain by keeping busy in her full-time calling as homekeeper. Chocolate bon-bons may be a rare indulgence, but Prairie Muffins don't have the time or inclination to waste their lives on soap operas or other inane and inappropriate entertainment.

  30. While Prairie Muffins try to be women who make plans and stick with them, so that they use their time wisely and reach the goals they and their Prairie Dawgs have determined for their families, they also know they must be flexible and be prepared to meet whatever circumstances fall into their laps, sometimes at a moment's notice, responding with grace and calm.

  31. Though we abhor the idea of women being involved in the military and fighting battles which men are commanded to fight, Prairie Muffins recognize that there is a real battle in which they are on the front lines: the battle of the seed of the woman against the seed of the serpent. In this most-important conflict, we gratefully serve King Jesus in the capacity He has given us, waving our wooden spoons and rallying our children to stand alongside us in the battle, training them to be mighty warriors in the defense and furthering of God's kingdom.

  32. Prairie Muffins are not clingy, they are clinging. There are many things in this world that it is tempting to grasp, even good things such as our homes, our marriages and our children. Our hands need to be firmly planted in the Savior's hand, not clinging to those things which are good gifts from Him, but clinging to His will for our lives. When those good things are sometimes taken away, we must accept what is better, knowing that our loving Father wants what is best for us.

34)A Prairie Muffin is generously affectionate with her children (and husband!), lavishing hugs and kisses on each one as a reminder of how precious they are to her.

  1. This society worships rugged individualists, and lone ranger Christians are often the rule rather than the exception. While we know that it is becoming more difficult to find family-friendly and biblically-based churches, Prairie Muffins reject the notion that commitment to a local church is optional. We affirm the importance of the church in our families' lives, and we willingly submit to its leaders. It is our desire to raise children who are life-long worshipers in the pew and future leaders of strong churches.

  2. Prairie Muffins are happy to be girls--they rejoice in the distinctives which God sovereignly bestowed on them which make them feminine. They are also happy that their husbands are masculine, and they do not diminish that masculinity by harping on habits which emanate from the fact that boys will be boys, even when they grow up. In addition, Prairie Muffins are careful not to use their feminine, hormotional weaknesses to excuse sinful attitudes and actions, but learn to depend more and more on God's grace and strength in the midst of any monthly trials.

  3. Prairie Muffins may go against the flow, but they also know how to roll with the flow. Living moment by moment, day by day, season by season, they don't depend on present circumstances to dictate their direction in life. Circumstances change constantly, so Prairie Muffins hang tightly onto the Father's hand while they ride out the waves of life that ebb and flow past their doors.

  4. The chief end of the Prairie Muffin is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. Because she is not her own, but belongs to her faithful Savior Jesus Christ, she understands her responsibility to please Him in all she does, looking to His holy, inerrant Word for guidance in everything pertaining to life and godliness. As a Berean, she measures all she reads and hears against that plumbline, and she purposes to gratefully obey God's law, in His strength, because Jesus, the second person of the Trinity, said, "If you love Me, keep my commandments" (John 14:15). We understand that nothing we do will merit our salvation--that is only given through the imputation of Christ's righteousness to us--but serving our Lord is part of our sanctification. The Bible has some very specific things to say to women regarding their God-given role, and Prairie Muffins take those divinely-ordained distinctions very seriously.

  5. Aware that they are being watched, rather than becoming paranoid--or annoyed--Prairie Muffins are employed* in setting a good example for those who have their eyes on them. We in no way wish to endorse adopting masks to hide the real "you," but we firmly believe that what is on the inside will show through, so we suggest remembering that there is no hiding the real you from those who know you best, i.e., your family. By God's grace we will continue to work on cleaning up our act, being that good example, knowing that "more attention our children pay to what we do than what we say."

  6. The women who will have the greatest impact on the world, those who will have the greatest influence on history, are those "well-behaved" women who faithfully serve God in their daily lives, seeking His approval rather than the world's admiration. Prairie Muffins know that while engaging in the kingdom-building work in their homes of loving, training and disciplining their children, the world may not express its approval, but it will be turned upside down.

  7. Self-fulfillment is not a motivation for the Prairie Muffin. As time flies by, she senses the urgency for living a "real" life, really living life for eternity. Our goal should be to please ourselves less and please God more: our pleasure should be pleasing God.

  8. We are reminded in Proverbs 10:19, "In the multitude of words sin is not lacking, but he who restrains his lips is wise." Prairie Muffins must refrain from being mouthy, including online. It is not our place to always set everyone straight or tell everything we know. In fact, Proverbs also warns us not to answer a fool according to his folly (Proverbs 26:4), so pray for wisdom before unleashing your opinions like any fool with a keyboard. This entreaty to restraint particularly applies to battles of which you have no part. She who has ears to hear, read carefully the admonitions of the great Puritan preacher, Matthew Poole, on the issue of detraction, an admonition that is never more timely though written hundreds of years ago. Then go back to Proverbs, starting with chapter one, because if you want to be a Proverbs 31 woman, then that's the place to begin.

by Bruce Wilson on Wed Feb 08, 2006 at 12:13:58 AM EST
I honestly thought that this was a spoof!  

I went to the website thinking that I would find this to be a bunch of stay-at-home moms who were making fun of what people think they are (but they really aren't) - since I have a few friends who joke about that...

But this Prairie Muffin bit is for real!

Oy! Oy! Oy!


by EmilyWynn8 on Wed Feb 08, 2006 at 06:18:38 PM EST

since I completely unfit to achieve the exalted position of "Prairie Muffin."

Where did you find this list?  I'd like to copy it and hand it out at our next Interfaith Alliance meeting but I don't have the information needed to reference it properly.  We wouldn't want miss the opportunity to credit the writer for this masterly treatise on Womanly Virtues and Aims, now would we?

by tikkun on Wed Feb 08, 2006 at 10:44:31 AM EST


by Bruce Wilson on Wed Feb 08, 2006 at 11:31:15 AM EST
Sorry, I didn't originally see the link.  I only just had my first cup of coffee.

by tikkun on Wed Feb 08, 2006 at 12:01:16 PM EST
is never comment before coffee!  

(I think I we may have to add that to the site guidelines;-)

by Frederick Clarkson on Wed Feb 08, 2006 at 01:00:10 PM EST

That manifesto is mind boggling.  There seems to be a Praire Muffin website as well, where Muffinistas can share recipes and whatnot.

by Esther Kaplan on Wed Feb 08, 2006 at 12:26:47 PM EST


by Bruce Wilson on Wed Feb 08, 2006 at 12:37:51 PM EST

I read "The Feminine Mystique" along with "The Second Sex", "The Female Eunuch" and other seminal feminist books in my early twenties. I wasn't in any kind of womens studies class in school, I did this on my own.

The ideas these women had became many of my own, and justified the life I chose to live: that of a non traditional, self-determined, single, free human being.

It made me shun most religion, too, because the ideal woman in many faiths is some version or another of the "Prairie Muffin". I did not wish to be someone like that.

I have a satisfying and meaningful life, free of submission to anything or anyone except my own discipline and free will. I am happy and healthy, and reasonably solvent. I have a circle of friends to look after me and enjoy, and two feline companions who are not 'child substitutes', no matter what the popular press should say.

It is because of Friedan and her kin that I am truly free.

by Lorie Johnson on Wed Feb 08, 2006 at 12:04:51 PM EST

book, Feminine Mystique, is that Ms. Friedan seemed to focus on the urban and suburban housewives.

Did farmer's housewives have the same depression or did their lot in life give them more of a sense of purpose?  

I was a farm wife at one time, but I also had a career so I can't speak from my experience, except for there were never enough hours in a day.

I always went to bed tired but content.  Maybe farming offers more opportunities for getting exercise out in the great outdoors - especially when you have horses to ride down a gravel road or up to the lake for a swim.  Splitting wood was a good stressbuster as well.

by Northstarlady on Sun Feb 12, 2006 at 12:29:30 PM EST

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