The guilt of ‘not contributing’

I’ve been thinking about a post like this all weekend, but truth be told, I’ve been a little nervous about writing it. Nervous because it’s very personal, and yet it’s an issue I’ve been dealing with for the past month or two, and I think an important one.

What finally convinced me to get over my nerves was a post from one of the bloggers I regularly read, Jessie Knadler over at Rurally Screwed. In one of her latest posts, she talks about the future of her blog (I for one hope it doesn’t go away!), but also about the guilt of being a stay-at-home mom vs. being a working mom. Now, I’m not a mom, but this bit did touch a nerve:

I love being a stay-at-home mom for now even as I’m wracked with guilt for not producing. Isn’t that the way it goes? I feel guilty when making money because I’m not there for the girls.  I feel guilty when I’m not making money because I love to work (for money) and don’t feel like myself when I don’t have some kind of paycheck. See? You can’t win. Moral of the story, boys and girls: You can’t win.

It’s been about a month now since I left my old, full-time, salaried job at the bookstore. It was a good job, and I was able to gain some valuable management experience. It wasn’t a forever job, and it certainly wasn’t going to be my career – maybe it was the job to get me through grad school, but a job in the library world was always in my future. Then, I had to leave that job, and it wasn’t under the best of circumstances. Long story short, I really didn’t want to leave, but was given no choice.

While I don’t particularly miss the work (retail isn’t the most glamorous of industries), I do miss the paycheck. A lot. Now, J and I are fine financially. Plus, as J continually tells me, “I’m in school”, so it’s OK if I take a little time out from full-time work to focus on my studies. And I am. And I’m also really lucky to have found a great part-time job at one of the libraries on campus, where I’m gaining even more valuable experience, making important connections, and learning a lot.

But still, I really miss that paycheck. Especially now that we’re future home-buyers, and we have to pay triple attention to our bank accounts. Especially now that I’m forcing both of us to “be on a budget” – and not just a suggested budget, but a strict, real, budget-budget.

But I miss that paycheck because the simple fact is: I like working, and I like working for a paycheck. I like to “contribute”. I like to pay my own way. I like to provide for my family. I’ve never made a lot of money, neither when I was working for the bookstore or a reporter, but at least I made enough to contribute to our family income in a significant way.  And because both J and I had decent jobs and weren’t burdened by unreasonable credit card debt, we always felt financially free. Not rich or really “well off” by any standards, but we never had to worry.

And we don’t have to worry now, either, but still. Whatever income I have is just a tiny drop in the bucket – not the modest splash I’m used to – and it fills me with guilt. I feel guilty every time I remind J that, “Well, maybe you should think twice about going out to the bar with co-workers because, you know, budget.” I feel guilty every time I want a new pair of shoes or to have coffee, at a coffeehouse, with friends. I even feel guilty taking on the additional expense of a house even though we’re more than ready and gosh darn it, I want this more than anything.

But the guilt described by Knadler is still there. I think it’s tough for women to admit this guilt, just like it’s tough to admit that, as a woman, I like working for a paycheck. While I wouldn’t describe myself as, and I certainly don’t want to be, a workaholic, I do derive a real sense of identity and self-respect from working. Who am I? Well, I’m a reporter/bookseller/manager/librarian, and I believe in what I do, and I work hard at it. To be cut off from the working world, or just cut down to part-time, is difficult for me to admit is acceptable. And while I know it sounds goofy, and I don’t want to believe in it, if I’m being honest with myself, it is hard to feel like myself without that paycheck in the mail.

A big part of this is because I am, in one way, a workaholic – I always have to be doing something. Hence, this blog (and my other blog). Hence, my endless planning. The cleaning. The reading. I also have some big plans to help fill my time in the coming months: applications for internships and graduate assistantships, some academic writing, maybe some creative writing? I’ve considered getting another part-time job, and I do think I could make it work, but there’s a reason working two different jobs is difficult – two different bosses, managing two different schedules, lots of driving, even less free time than if you had one full-time job. I’ll do it, but if only if the right opportunity comes by.

Now, why is this a “woman’s issue”? I certainly don’t want to insinuate that it’s unusual for a woman to feel guilty when she doesn’t bring home the bacon. Quitting or being laid off from your job doesn’t have to be a “woman’s issue”, and the guilt associated with it affects men and women. But the fact of the matter is – and this is how it’s impacting me, personally – due to circumstances out of my control, I’ve been thrust into the part-time housewife position, and I’m not sure how I feel about it. Don’t get me wrong: I don’t mind spending the extra time I have at home cooking and cleaning – in fact, I enjoy it. One the key philosophies behind this blog is that there is no shame in enjoying these chores.

But I was forced into this situation, and I don’t like not having the ability to choose how I live my life. Similar to how I feel about a lot of women’s issues, choice is important. A woman can work 40+ hours a week, or she can be a stay-at-home mom, but she should have the right to choose. What I dislike is having that choice taken out of my hands. Now, I know that I didn’t leave my old job because I was a woman – I know there’s a difference, and like I said, losing your job isn’t a woman’s issue. But I still find myself in this position, and I’m not entirely comfortable with it yet.

Unfortunately, I can see this issue continuing to weigh heavily on my mind until, well, I graduate with my Master’s and find that full-time job as a librarian. Until then, I’ll continue to feel grateful that I married such a generous, loving person who insists, rather vehemently, that I do whatever is best for me and not feel guilty about it. Marriage, I’ve found, really is a partnership in this sense, and helps assuage just a little bit of that womanly guilt I feel. When I figure out how to get rid of the rest of it, I’ll let you know.

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Blaming the poor (and women) for poverty?

Lately, people have been talking about Katrina Gilbert, a single mom from Tennessee who is at the center of a new HBO documentary, Paycheck to Paycheck: The Life and Times of Katrina Gilbert. The documentary looks to be an inspiring one, with insights into the lives of the working poor, similar to those discussed in books like Nickel and Dimed, which I read a few years ago and loved. In simple terms, Katrina is a single mother of three, forced to live on her $9 an hour salary as a nursing assistant.

I don’t pretend to be an expert on the subject of poverty, though it interests me. However, while reading about the documentary in an article from NPR, what I found startling was the comment section. It amazes me what people will say when hiding behind anonymity, specifically commenters like this, who insist that Katrina herself should blame herself for her situation.

What some people seem to ignore is that life is a series of choices, those choices set you on a path to poverty or prosperity! No one wants to talk about this, because it leads back to personal responsibility. There is a lot of reasons why most of these women are below the poverty line, one is because they didn’t get a good education in a lucrative field, they decided to have kids without the means to take care of them, and they don’t choose their mates wisely, not to mention they have kids without getting married to their mate. Single parent hood is not a badge of horror, it’s actually a disgrace, we have made what use to be wrong right, and whats right wrong! Sad state we are in, and out solution is raise more taxes on the rich so we can help these people that make life choices, that makes them poor. Why are rich people responsible for my choices, why do they need to provide for my kids, why? If I made a choices that led to my life being not great, then I should live with that! Last year the federal government issued 250000 H1B visas so foreigners that are educated in the right field can come to the US to work in high paying IT jobs. There is not a pay gap, there is a skills gap. all you have to do it stop having babies get an education in a n in demand field, and you will be ok!

First of all, I accept that life IS a series of choices, and our fate is largely due to the choices we make throughout our life. Even if you are born into poverty, it is possible to work hard and focus on ways of lifting yourself from the mire that traps so many.

But there are so many things that suck about this statement:

“…they didn’t get a good education in a lucrative field…”

I wonder what this person thinks a “lucrative field” is anyway? Engineering? Business? Accounting? Namely, male-dominated fields that are only attainable by higher education? Education that single mothers can neither afford or have the time for? Plus, I thought nursing WAS considered growing field?

“…they decided to have kids without the means to take care of them…”

Yes, let’s just blame women for pregnancy. Because you know, it’s not like it takes two people to make a baby.

 “….they don’t choose their mates wisely, not to mention they have kids without getting married to their mate…”

Again, let’s just lay everything on a woman’s doorstep here. Let’s not hold men accountable for their behavior or actions. Men aren’t expected to better partners, husbands, and fathers. No, it’s simply the woman’s fault when she “picks” the wrong one, or when the one she picked and had children with turned out to be a bad egg. Stupid women.

“Single parent hood is not a badge of horror, it’s actually a disgrace”

Is this guy (I can’t only assume it’s a man) serious? I guess those parents whose partners pass away are a disgrace? Or, Katrina should be expected to raise her kids with their drug addict father…because that’s not shameful? Or, women should not have a choice in life partners, but simply settle for whoever knocks her up first?

Please.

The 10 worst bits from the Princeton mom’s book

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Readers of this blog that have been with me since the very beginning (like, the three of you), will know of my unrelenting frustration with the ‘Princeton mom’, aka, Susan Patton, and her advice for young women, as published in a letter to The Daily Princetonian in March 2013. To say that her advice is both regressive and harmful for young women – whether or not you call yourself a feminist – is an understatement. She makes my blood boil.

That being said, I’m glad she’s roundly mocked wherever she crops up on the Internet nowadays, and I like how the Huffington Post recently singled out the 10 Worst Pieces of Advice from her recently published book, Marry Smart: Advice for Finding the One. My favorite bits:

“If you’ve struggled with obesity through most of your teen years, then maybe surgical intervention is a good idea for you […] If you’re going to go the route of cosmetic surgery, do it early enough to feel comfortable in your new body before going away to school.”

Advising overweight, but not necessarily unhealthy, teenagers to get weight-loss surgery to slim down for the college dating market? That’s terrible advice both psychologically and medically.

“If you are too drunk to speak, then you may be incapable of saying no or warding off unwanted advances. And then it’s all on you.”

…Telling women that they are responsible for the crimes committed against them is not just terrible advice; it contributes to a culture in which rape victims are discouraged from reporting their assaults and even victimized further by judgmental friends, police, and college administrators.

“[U]ntil you find a spouse, I would advise you invest your effort and energy at least 75 percent in searching for a partner and 25 percent in professional development.”

Um, is this even possible? Assuming these women are still working 40 hours a week to support themselves, she’s recommending 120 hours a week be devoted to the husband hunt. … That means, per Patton, you should be frequenting your local house of worship for like-minded worshippers, harassing friends to set you up with single acquaintances, and emailing old college classmates to see if they’re successful and marriage-worthy yet. Don’t worry, this leaves you 8 hours of free time for the week. I recommend you spend them sleeping.

“Girl, lose the weight! I know it’s hard… just do it.”

Oh, okay. Guess it’s as simple as “just doing it.” Super helpful, thanks!

Femivores and DIY domesticity

Man, my tastes/interests are just so darn trendy (or, perhaps I tend to inadvertently follow trends…). While perusing the Internet the other day, I stumbled across this article by Emily Matchar on Salon. It’s actually an excerpt from Matchar’s newest book, Homeward Bound: Why Women Are Embracing the New Domesticity and it aligns perfect with what I’m interested in here.

Provocatively titled “Is Michael Pollan a sexist pig?”, you know I had to click on it. And while I’m not sure poor Mr. Pollan deserves that kind of slam, I found Matchar’s entire piece fascinating. I know what I’ll be reading once the book is released next week.

Check out my favorite parts:

First, this was a point raised during the “Makers” series on PBS, when they were discussing why young women today aren’t fighting for feminism and women’s rights.

Many smart, educated, progressive-minded people, people who in other eras would have been marching for abortion rights or against apartheid, are now immersed in grassroots food organizing, planting community gardens and turning their own homes into minifarms complete with chicken coops.

Second, as a devotee of books like The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Fast Food Nation, I strongly identify with this:

“The return to domesticity by young, intelligent, educated women like you see around here is a reaction against a broken food system in America,” says Marcie Cohen Ferris, a professor of American studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and an expert on food culture. “We’ve lost our connection to traditional handmade cuisine, kids could have shorter life spans than their parents [because of obesity and poor diet], there’s global warming. This new food culture is a response to an industrial model that’s not working.”

And thus, why today’s “modern homemaker” is far and apart from the housewives described in The Feminine Mystique:

For young stay-at-home parents, a deep involvement in cooking and sustainable food culture can be a very twenty-first-century way of avoiding the notorious “just a housewife” trap. In 2010, writer Peggy Orenstein coined the term “femivore” to describe a certain breed of stay-at-home mom whose commitment to providing the purest, most sustainable foods has become a full-fledged raison d’être. These are the women who raise backyard chickens, grow their own vegetables for their children’s salads, join raw-milk clubs to get illegal-but-allegedly-wholesome unpasteurized milk.

Now, Matchar makes a point (and I agree) that much of this “movement” is dominated by young, urban or suburban, well-off, white people. There are bandwagons, and young white people like to jump on them. Plus, it helps when you have the means to treat “domesticity” like a hobby or a second career.

But back to a portrait of a young stay-at-home mom:

But she realized that modern homemaking could be creatively fulfilling in a way she’d never imagined. Unlike previous generations of housewives, who Erika imagines were bored and dissatisfied, Erika says women her age treat the duties of the home as outlets for their creativity. “The fact that I’m not career driven makes some people say, ‘You’re crazy, you’re a lazy sellout,’” she says. “But they don’t realize how much work her DIY lifestyle is.

“Now to be a stay-at-home mom doesn’t just mean you’re playing with your kids all day and not fulfilling your passions,” she says.

I’m close to calling shenanigans on that one, though. As my recent reading of The Feminine Mystique taught me, housewives of the 1950’s and 1960’s were also told that homemaking was a way to “fulfill your passions.” I think the difference here is that this Erika is CHOOSING to stay at home after having a very successful career after finding that being at home – and being domestic – was more fulfilling FOR HER than her previous career.

Now, onto whether Michael Pollan is a sexist pig.

Here’s another quote: “[The appreciation of cooking was] a bit of wisdom that some American feminists thoughtlessly trampled in their rush to get women out of the kitchen.”

Flanagan again?

Nope, that’s Michael Pollan. Yes, that Michael Pollan, the demigod food writer and activist at whose feet so much of progressive America worships. “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” Pollan’s pro-local, pro-organic manifesto, spent years on the New York Times bestseller list, and Pollan’s motto of “eat food/not too much/mostly plants” can be heard murmured like a mantra in the aisles of local grocery co-ops nationwide.

Yet there he is again, in the New York Times Magazine, dismissing “The Feminine Mystique” as “the book that taught millions of American women to regard housework, cooking included, as drudgery, indeed as a form of oppression.” In the same magazine story, Pollan scolds that “American women now allow corporations to cook for them” and rues the fact that women have lost the “moral obligation to cook” they felt during his 1960s childhood.

Pollan is not alone in his assessment. Mireille Guiliano, author of the megabestselling diet book “French Women Don’t Get Fat,” ratchets up the guilt by blaming feminism both for ruining cooking and for making women fat: “[Women] don’t know how to deal with stress, and they eat when they’re not hungry and get fat. They don’t know how to cook, because feminism taught us that cooking was pooh-pooh,” she says.

Whoa, whoa, Michael. The Feminine Mystique did not TEACH women that housework was drudgery – it just told women that housework didn’t have to be EVERY woman’s vocation, the pinnacle of her life. This was an era when women were EXPECTED to stay at home, cook, clean and have babies because society told them they weren’t fit for anything else. The work (and real) world was for the men, the home was for women. If women had a moral obligation to cook for their families during the 1960’s, it was because they would be shamed as inadequate mothers and wives – nay, inadequate women – if they didn’t.

Now, I will admit that Friedan’s – and probably other feminists of her era – assessment of housework was a bit heavy handed. Keeping your house clean – and doing it without using  gallons of harmful, store-bought chemicals – is hard work, and does take time. Friedan does tend to brush this fact off rather flippantly. “Oh, it doesn’t take all day to clean a house.” “A working mother managed to keep her house just as clean as the stay-at-home mom, even though she only spent half the time cleaning!”

And yet, let’s not forget that this is the 1960’s. World War II is over and the market is flooded with dozens of new products meant to make life easier, more convenient, faster. Yes, women are going back to work again, and so the food industry rachets up its production of TV dinners and markets the hell out of them. We now know TV dinners are bad. But who’s to blame in this scenario? The food industry who knowingly produces crap and tries to tell us it’s good for us? Or women, who just wanted to get out of the kitchen, throw off centuries of stereotypes and get a semi-respectable job? Please.

But back to the article. Matchar makes an excellent point that sums up pretty much what I’ve said, but much better:

The food movement, with its insistence on how fun and fulfilling and morally correct cooking is, seems to have trouble imagining why women might not have wanted to spend all their time in front of the stove. Since scratch cooking today is largely a hobby or a personal choice of the middle class, many of us wish we could spend more time in the kitchen. But it’s important to remember that this was not always the case.

It’s easy to forget, in the face of today’s foodie culture, that cooking is not fun when it’s mandatory.

And finally, back off snobby foodies:

The term “foodie” was originally invented to describe people who really enjoy eating and cooking, which suggests that others do not. Yet today everyone is meant to have a deep and abiding appreciation for and fascination with pure, wholesome, delicious, seasonal, regional food. The expectation that cooking should be fulfilling for everyone is insidious, especially for women.

Feminism on overdrive

Man, I picked a really good time to read The Feminine Mystique. Earlier this week, I spent a valuable hour during one of my days off reading op-ed after op-ed on the problems facing modern feminism; namely, multiple responses to Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s new book, Lean In, a look at why more women aren’t in leadership positions and what they need to get there.

I’m still processing most of it, so here’s a smattering of some valuable reading on the very important topics of women in the workplace, work-life balance and what it means to be a mother and wife and a successful career woman.

Sheryl Sandberg’s valuable advice (Washington Post) – Ruth Marcus

Sandberg prods women to consider how their own attitudes and behavior unwittingly exacerbate the problem. “We hold ourselves back in ways both big and small,” she writes. “We lower our expectations of what we can achieve.”

Her advice is obvious, yet hard to execute. Sit at the table: Believe — or act like you believe — you have something valuable to say. Don’t leave before you leave, tailoring your ambitions (and constraining your future choices) because you fear, down the road, that you will be unable or unwilling to juggle the load.

Sheryl Sandberg isn’t the perfect feminist. So what? (Washington Post) – Jessica Valenti

The detractors underestimate how radical Sandberg’s messages are for a mainstream audience. When was the last time you heard someone with a platform as big as hers argue that women should insist that their partners do an equal share of domestic work and child care?

Why Women Still Can’t Have It All (The Atlantic) – Anne Marie Slaughter

I still strongly believe that women can “have it all” (and that men can too). I believe that we can “have it all at the same time.” But not today, not with the way America’s economy and society are currently structured. My experiences over the past three years have forced me to confront a number of uncomfortable facts that need to be widely acknowledged—and quickly changed.

However, I find the first opinion piece I read, written by Elsa Walsh, author of Divided Lives: The Public and Private Struggles of Three American Women, to be the most interesting and perhaps the one I identify with the most. I particularly like how in the first few paragraphs of her essay, Why women should embrace the good enough life, she points out the inherent flaws in much of the discourse that has surrounded the Sandberg discussion:

Yet, I find it to be a narrow conversation, centered largely on work, as though feminism is about nothing more than becoming a smart and productive employee and rising to the top.

Parenthood and family are much more central to our lives than this conversation lets on. The debate has become twisted and simplistic, as if we’re merely trying to figure out how women can become more like men. Instead, let’s ask: How can women have full lives, not just one squeezed around a career?

It helps to take a longer view of a woman’s life.

Walsh says she agrees with much of what Sandberg writes in Lean In, including that women should always demand a place at the table, and not be afraid to negotiate their salary. Why is it, after all, that men continue to be paid more than women?

And yet, Walsh says Sandberg’s argument lacks a few key details – details that I think are pretty important:

First, Sandberg does not seem to get just how hard it is to have a demanding job and a meaningful family life if you cannot afford child care and other help.

And third, I have to wonder if Sandberg does not realize that she is going to die someday. There is so little life and pleasure in her book outside of work. Even sex is framed as something that men will get more of if they pitch in and help their working wives.

Success, particularly the kind Sandberg calls for, requires ever more time at the office, ever more travel. It requires always being available, always a click away. Sandberg is almost giddy when she describes getting up at 5 a.m. to answer e-mails before her children wake up and getting back on her computer once they are asleep.

“Facebook is available 24/7 and for the most part, so am I,” she writes. “The days when I even think of unplugging for a weekend or a vacation are long gone.”

Imagine what that life looks like to a child. Imagine what it looks like to yourself when you are 80.

That is not how I want my daughter to live, and it is not how I want to live.

I agree with Walsh: that is not how I want to live either. I am currently moving into a new career field that will hopefully be less demanding of my time and energy, so that I can devote my life to my career but also my family, friends and other passions (traveling, writing, etc). I recently quit a job where the boss was only a quick phone call or text message away, whether that was 6:30 p.m. on a Wednesday or 2 a.m. on Saturday. I was exhausted and miserable, the “glamorous” part of the job not coming close to outweighing the imposition it made on my life. And I’m only 26. But because I’m 26, I was able to make the choice to change what made me unhappy, and then work on starting over (while, at the same time, not really starting over at all – just using my skills in a new way).

Still, I think Walsh – like all the women writing these op-eds – understands that no matter how many little things Sandberg gets wrong, there is one thing we modern feminists can all agree on: women need to have something for themselves, whether that’s a career or some other driving passion. As rewarding as motherhood can be, women deserve far more than just “the home life.”

I say this because these simple truths aren’t so simple to many women today, including many young women of my generation. Heavens knows what other Princeton moms are telling their daughters these days, but just this week, I came across this quote someone posted on Facebook. This girl graduated from high school with me and is, as you can see, pretty religious. But this pretty much sums up her worldview:

If you’re a mom, God has called you to mother those children. If you’re a wife, God has called you to bless and serve and fulfill the needs of your husband, to be a keeper of your home. That’s God’s calling. When you’re doing that, you’re serving the Lord. Don’t get distracted. – Nancy Leigh DeMoss

For this young woman, things like a career or any other passion outside the home as merely “distractions.” Yes, I know this is reflective of a conservative Christian sect, and yet, this is the message so many of my peers live by everyday. Do they even know Gloria Steinem? Do they care?

Instead, I love Walsh’s advice for her daughter:

I’ll also tell her to make time for herself. Unplug from the grid. Carve out space for solitude. Search for work you love that allows flexibility if you want to have children. And if you do, have them when you’re older, after you’ve reached that point in your career when you are good enough at what you do that you will feel comfortable dialing back for a while. Don’t wait until it’s too late to start planning, because no one else is going to do it for you. And don’t quit completely because, as wonderful as parenthood is, it cannot and will not be your whole life. Learn how to manage conflict, because the greater the level you can tolerate, the more freedom you will retain. Making compromises is a healthy approach to living.

For a woman to say she is searching for a “good enough” life is not failure — it is maturity and self-knowledge.

I’d also tell her, if she marries, to work hard on her relationship. It’s not only much easier than getting divorced, it’s more rewarding and more fun. Love. Full stop. That’s what matters.

I like to think Betty Friedan would agree.

Teaching our kids how to cook vs. Princeton mom

Right now, I’m reading the landmark feminist manifesto/outcry against the male-dominated power structure, The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan. It just so happens that everything I’m coming across on the internet these days seems to coincide with or spurs me to mull over feminist thoughts and the role of the modern woman, family and the role of ‘home.’ 

First, there was this great interview with my favorite food writer and sustainability advocate, Michael Pollan (author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma), who spoke with NPR about his newest book, Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation. During the interview, he speaks on how cooking left the kitchen sometime during the mid-20th century, as corporations began churning out processed, frozen meals for busier and busier families.

There was this really uncomfortable conversation taking place at kitchen tables all across America. Men and women were trying to renegotiate the division of labor in the household. And then the food industry recognized they had an opportunity. And they said ‘Don’t worry about it, we’ve got you covered. We’ll do the cooking.’ And KFC even took out a billboard with a big bucket of fried chicken and the slogan, ‘Women’s Liberation.’

This was during the 1970’s, Pollan says, when women were emerging from the relative “dark ages” of Friedan’s 1950’s and 1960’s, when being a woman was all about being in the kitchen (and being happy with it). Now, so many of us are moving back and embracing “hearth and home”; and not just women, but men as well. But this is less a movement dominated by cultural expectations and sexism (though that still exists), but one defined by a desire for sustainability, affordability and control over a world made up of processed meals, artificial ingredients and waste. I think this note by Pollan is particularly important:

I think the most important thing we can teach our kids for their long-term health and happiness is how to cook.

Now, let’s compare this with the noise coming from Susan A. Patton, otherwise known as the Princeton Mom who in fit of regressive retro fever, wrote to the Daily Princetonian, telling all the smart ladies who managed to get into Princeton that they’re pretty much doomed if they don’t find the man they’re going to marry by their freshman year.

For most of you, the cornerstone of your future and happiness will be inextricably linked to the man you marry, and you will never again have this concentration of men who are worthy of you.

Yeah… Poor Friedan is rolling over in her grave right now. I mean, seriously, paging 1950? This is the exact same message girls were being bombarded with 50 years ago, with everyone from sociologists to advertisers to their college professors telling girls they’re basically only fit for marriage and child-rearing. Flash forward to 2013 and here’s this loony society dame rehashing the same old sexist crap. Yay for progress!

And let’s not forget another comment from Ms. Patton, at another speech on the Princeton campus last week:

[Female college students] are receiving so much information about career planning, and they don’t need to hear any more of it.

Also from that speech: women in their 30’s are desperate and feminist are bullies who force poor housewife-wannabes into – dun, dun dun! – careers. Please.

While reading The Feminine Mystique, I have to remind myself that Friedan is responding to a totally different era and a totally different set of cultural biases. 2013 is not the world of The Feminist Mystique. Lucky young women such as myself have been given the freedom to pursue whatever passions or careers we want in life. In fact, girls are now doing better than boys in school. Personally, I was pushed to succeed as much as possible if only to fulfill what I was told was a limitless potential. The girls smart enough to get into Princeton are likely made up of the next generation of cancer researchers, diplomats, engineers and perhaps a president or two.

And so to hear comments like Patton’s while I’m reading Friedan, I sometimes get cultural whiplash: what year is this again? At the same time, I firmly believe that Pollan’s philosophies are completely separate from the June Cleaver-esque aspirations of Susan Patton. The idea of homemaking as espoused by Pollan – as part of his urging to return to the kitchen and simpler, healthier way of eating – is not about latent sexism or recreating the cultural norms of the 1950’s.  It’s about being mindful of who we are, taking care of ourselves, being better to the environment, and enjoying food that is not only better for you but tastes better too. Just because the processed food movement “liberated” women from housewifery and allowed them to have careers in the 1970’s and 1980’s, that doesn’t necessarily mean that processed food is good.

Patton, meanwhile, is basically telling girls to turn the clock back 60 years and just ignore all the amazing things women are capable of when they’re not husband-hunting. Also an important note: Pollan says everyone should return to the kitchen – not just women, but men and children as well. Patton’s message, meanwhile, is only for the ladies. No boys, go ahead and pursue your ambitious degrees at Princeton. It’s just the girls who need to concern themselves with matrimony.