by Denyse O'Leary
I well remember Betty Friedan's book, The Feminine Mystique. I read it in 1964 (I was fourteen), and couldn't make much sense of it. The unhappy women described in the book had way higher incomes and more opportunities than we ever did.
When my mom got back from babysitting, she would often give me the money, to run to the grocery store and buy extra stuff for supper. Yet my mom later became one of the first graduates of the Quo Vadis nursing school in Toronto, which aimed to get older women, whose children were in their teens, to consider nursing as a late life career.
So if life was so oppressive for us in those days, why was she able to do this?
Ben Wiker comments:
As even her sympathetic biographer Daniel Horowitz notes, Friedan presented a distorted view of the real situation and feelings of suburban housewives in the 1950s, reporting anything that was negative and suppressing anything that was positive, kneading the data to fit her need for a crisis and ignoring (as Marx did) anything that contradicted her grand, abstract thesis. (p. 222)As a matter of simple fact, living conditions in the United States and Canada improved significantly during the 1950s and 1960s, with the further spread of electricity, refrigeration, et cetera. The spread of labour-saving technologies enabled women to consider jobs outside the home.
Still, Friedan's words (she died in 2006) were pretty powerful stuff at the time. In my own view, what made her book so powerful was the offer of an urban society where even the most privileged women could see themselves as victims and all could fashion any type of life they wanted. And that is pretty much the offer widely available now - for better or worse, due to increasingly branded lifestyles.
Overall, the influence on the intelligent design controversy of all the books Wiker identifies is this: They taught ways of thinking that promote materialism. Materialism is, thanks to their influence, so natural now to the popular science press that no one would think of questioning it, even when it does not conform to the evidence. This problem will take a long time to resolve.
There is room for a few good books in the world.
Further resources for Ben Wiker's Ten Books That Screwed Up the World:
Back to beginning: Ben Wiker picks 10 Books That Screwed Up the World and explains how
Toronto-based Canadian journalist Denyse O'Leary (www.designorchance.com) is the author of the multiple award-winning By Design or by Chance? (Augsburg Fortress 2004), an overview of the intelligent design controversy. She was named CBA Canada's Recommended Author of the Year in 2005 and is co-author, with Montreal neuroscientist Mario Beauregard, of The Spiritual Brain: A neuroscientist's case for the existence of the soul (Harper 2007).
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