The “mystique” that Friedan spoke of was the image of the woman as mother, as wife, living through her husband, through her children, giving up her own dreams for that. She concluded: “The only way for a woman, as for a man, to find herself, to know herself as a person, is by creative work of her own.”
During the 1950s, women were expected to fill a structured societal and familial role which meant being submissive and subservient in a male dominated society. A typical life of a woman was to go through education but find a suitable man and tend to familial and husband needs. Her day would consist of managing the house appliances, cooking, cleaning, and only doing these tasks with no hope of self satisfaction through development in other areas such as education. Howard Zinn mentions Betty Friedan because she was also a household mom who experience this “silent” problem also with other housewives during this time period. This problem was very common with many housewives and served as a reminder of the gender inequality that society still holds.
There had always been prison riots. A wave of them in the 1920s ended with a riot at Clinton, New York, a prison of 1,600 inmates, which was suppressed with three prisoners killed. Between 1950 and 1953 more than fifty major riots occurred in American prisons.
The recent increase in riots in prisons shows the effect of the American System on society. The most “surprising” fact was that both the rich and poor committed crimes but only the rich were in jail. The recent prisoners showed the disparity between wealth as many of the rich people who broke laws were able to avoid prison because of money. Howard Zinn mentions this statistic because many of these riots signified this aspect. Rich people could higher better lawyers and be more favorably from judges. This led to an unfair advantage that Zinn needed to mention.
“Women are not more moral than men. We are only uncorrupted by power. But we do not want to imitate men, to join this country as it is, and I think our very participation will change it. Perhaps women elected leaders—and there will be many of them—will not be so likely to dominate black people or yellow or men; anybody who looks different from us.”
The 1970s were a tumultuous time. In some ways, the decade was a continuation of the 1960s. Women, African Americans, Native Americans, gays and lesbians and other marginalized people continued their fight for equality. Economic equality of the sexes still proved an elusive goal. Even as women moved into nontraditional jobs and many companies established new job‐training programs and opened day care centers for working mothers, disparities in pay for men and women doing the same job remained significant. Businesswomen pointed to the existence of a “glass ceiling,” meaning that women could go so far up the corporate ladder but no farther. At the same time, gender stereotyping began to diminish. The use of gender‐neutral terms for certain jobs became part of the American lexicon.
Women desperately sought equality in the workplace, and wanted to assume the same responsibilities and opportunities men have had for centuries.
One of the individuals that Howard Zinn focus on is the prisoner. Zinns introduces that “The prison was intended, through isolation, to produce repentance and salvation, but prisoners went insane and died in that isolation.” Original purpose of making prison is to help people who committed crime to relieve the sins, but it has made prisoner went crazy. In 1950s, there were more than 50 riots because prisoners could not stand the punishment and the condition of living in the prison. Eventually, the prisoners started rebellions, they took over the prison and took hostage. It was a chaos during that period. Howard Zinn mentions this because it was the beginning of prison system.
With such power in the hands of the courts, the poor, the black, the odd, the homosexual, the hippie, the radical are not likely to get equal treatment before judges who are almost uniformly white, upper middle class, orthodox.
Another individuals in the 1960s to 1970s is the judges. All the judges in that era were white people, and they are holding too much power. Different judges can decide a case totally differently. For example, there were 673 people drunk in public, and 531 people did not get punished by the decision of one judge. However, when transferring the case to another judge, there was only ONE person did not get punished with the same crime they committed. Moreover, the people who committed the crime were poor and low class. Even if the riches got caught and committed crime, they could still get out of it because they could use money to be bailed. Howard Zinn includes this history because different classes were treated so differently. In that period, if you have the money, you can be the King.
“There is increased activity over on the Indian side. There are disagreements, laughing, singing, outbursts of anger, and occasionally some planning…. Indians are gaining confidence and courage that their cause is right.
The struggle goes on. .. . Indians are gathering together to deliberate their destiny…”
– Mel Thorn
Native Americans were greatly ignored throughout the mid-20th century in the sense that United States never honored the treaty made with the Indians. Howard zinn mentions a quote by this young college graduated, Paiute Indian (who was the first president of National Indian Youth Council) to demonstrate that Native Indians were practically getting involved in their civil right movements and with such educated young leaders they would contribute greatly towards the betterment of Native Americans throughout the country.
“I am a Yakima and Cherokee Indian, and a man. For two years and four months, I’ve been a soldier in the United States Army. I served in combat in Vietnam-until critically wounded…. I hereby renounce further obligation in service or duty to the United States Army.
My first obligation now lies with the Indian People fighting for the lawful Treaty to fish in usual and accustomed water of the Nisqualiy, Columbia and other rivers of the Pacific Northwest, and in serving them in this fight in any way possible. …
My decision is influenced by the fact that we have already buried Indian fishermen returned dead from Vietnam, while Indian fishermen live here without protection and under steady attack… .
Just three years ago today, on October 13, 1965, 19 women and children were brutalized by more than 45 armed agents of the State of Washington at Frank’s Landing on the Nisqually river in a vicious, unwarranted attack. …
Interestingly, the oldest human skeletal remains ever found in the Western Hemisphere were recently uncovered on the banks of the Columbia River-the remains of Indian fishermen. What kind of government or society would spend millions of dollars to pick upon our bones, restore our ancestral life patterns, and protect our ancient remains from damage-while at the same time eating upon the flesh of our living People . . . ?
We will fight for our rights.”
– Sid Mills
The United States tradition of not honoring the treaties signed with Native Americans continued with treaties such as the treaty signed with the Iroquois that gave all rights of that specific land to seneka nation, but kennedy violated the treaty by building a dam on that land. In his book Howard Zinn mentions this quote by a Native American who had served in Vietnam war, Sid Mills (who was arrested fishing illegally at Nisqually river) to show that in general the Indians were disappointed by the fact that United States was not acknowledging their contributions towards the betterment of the country.
“… a man’s wife is the show window where he exhibits the measure of his achievement… . The biggest deals are put across over luncheon tables;… we meet at dinner the people who can push our fortunes… . The woman who cultivates a circle of worthwhile people, who belongs to clubs, who makes herself interesting and agreeable … is a help to her husband.”
As housewives, women in 1950s had a “fantastic” lives often depicted as ” Perfect American housewives.” They were presented as loving and caring mothers and wives hoping for suburban houses and life with many children. Women had very simplified lives with the of feeding the family, cleaning the house, cooking and taking care of a family. They were pretty much fulfilling the role of being “woman” and a “housewife” which at that time, socially constructed, meant devoting their lives only to a family, but thinking outside of the home life was very much restricted by the dominance of men.
One group of individuals Zinn talks about is woman. (By 1969, women were 40% of the entire labor force of the United States, but a sustainable number of these were secretaries, cleaning women, elementary school teachers, sales women, waitresses and nurses. One out of every three working women had a husband earning less than $5000 a year.” (506) Women were making a push into the labor force and even though it did not seem like much little by little they making the leap from the role of housewife. Zinn included them in this chapter because they were making a big social change to how things were done. They use to be expected to stay and be only mothers and housewives, now they were starting to get jobs and help provide for the family.
Another group of people coming out were the homosexuals, they were admitting who they are and not hiding it anymore. The need to hide their homosexuality was not considered as socially unacceptable as it use to be, however was still deemed disgusting by many and many still looked at it as a sickness/disease. “Homosexuality was no longer concealed. “Gay” men and “gay” women- lesbians-organized to combat discrimination against them, to give themselves a sense of community, to overcome shame and isolation.” (537) Zinn included them in this chapter because they were another group coming out and trying to change old way of homosexuality having to be hidden.
In Howard Zinn’s chapter labeled Surprises, various social and racial groups are discussed but he places a lot of emphasis on women. His opening statements are all about women and their inferior position to men. To help enhance his argument, he uses quotes from two important individuals to the women’s rights movement: Dorothy Dix and Betty Friedan.
Dorothy Dix wrote an advice column that hit newspapers across the nation after women got the vote describing the current situation. “The woman who cultivates a circle of worthwhile people, who belongs to clubs, who makes herself interesting and agreeable … is a help to her husband”. The reason Zinn opens with this quote is because he wants the first image that you associate women in the 1950’s with, is a sidekick, an assistant. Women at the time very rarely held positions with any power, like managers or executives, but instead had to either fulfill the role of housewife, or a demeaning job in a factory.
The second individual that Zinn draws on to support his argument is Betty Friedan, the author of The Feminine Mystique. Her novel describes as situation that women were beginning to face as the Age of Affluence set in. She describes an instance in which she “heard a mother of four, having coffee with four other mothers in a suburban development fifteen miles from New York, say in a tone of quiet desperation, “the problem.” And the others knew, without words, that she was not talking about a problem with her husband, or her children, or her home. Suddenly they realized they all shared the same problem, the problem that has no name”. This issue was powerful in that it was widespread, affecting countless women living in suburbs. Zinn brings both of these individuals up because they described very real situations, very bluntly, and were able to stand up and express what they saw was wrong with society.
This is a quote from Gloria Steinem from February of 1972. She was speaking on women’s oppression and how equality did not exist. She is specifically saying in this quote that women were treated as second class citizens whose only function is to have children. The society at this time had not yet accepted women’s equality and women were still thought to be incapable of self governance hence the need for male dominance. Steinem is try to explain just how short sighted that mentality is and how unfair it is. She simply wants “social cohesion”, as Howard Zinn’s book calls it, she wants women to have equal opportunity and treatment. In this era women were rising against injustice but much like the civil rights movement it would take time before women would be accepted and integrated. Steinem herself was a woman so she knew and saw the unjustified treatment of women. She is not, however, trying to forward some radical agenda like WITCH, but rather she is using common sense to show why women should have social equality. She is a woman in a man’s world and that is just not fair to her.
P.S. Though originally posted on December 7th it didn’t appear. This is a copied and pasted repost so excuse me if there are two of the same posts.
I am going to devote this post on talking about women’s rights.
Helen Keller said,” We vote? What does that mean?” in 1922. In early 1930, beauty business were starting to take off and a writer (He didn’t have a name but I thought this was an important to be bought up to show the differences) said, “American women are not yet spending even one-fifth of he amount necessary to improve their appearance.”
I think Zinn brought up these to people to show how hard it is to change a social status and gender rules. It takes more then one big new law made.
In 1911 women weren’t voting yet but it look positive that will happen. Many of women were just excited of the fact they will have the same right as men and everything will be fair and squire. Helen Keller saw it through she already knew just because they can vote it is going to automatically change everything. After World War 1 and due to indispensable work done by women, they were voting alright but then what happens in 1930? They put back in where they were with better clothes but hey at least they vote now!
For any event that has happened before our time, we have very little knowledge about. That is why primary resources are important: we get to see glimpse of what is was like in the past. Women’s Rights Movement is certainly one of those things. We know that women did not have the same rights as men did. Women’s gender role was very much set, and anything outside of that was considered ludicrous. But even after reading many different texts related to the issue, one cannot help but wonder, “how bad was it, really?” That is why Johnnie Tillmon’s quote in Howard Zinn’s book is important. Tillmon was a black woman, who she described herself as poor, fat, and middle-aged.
‘Welfare’s like a traffic accident. It can happen to anybody, but especially it happens to women. And that is why welfare is a women’s issue. For a lot of middle-class women in this country, Women’s Liberation is a matter of concern. For women on welfare it’s a matter of survival.’
Her fight for Women’s Liberation was not a fight to achieve an ideal. It was a matter of survival. As Zinn states in the book, the question was even more immediate for some women.
Evan Haney was an Oklahoma Indian who served in the military during the Vietnam War. From his testimony at the “Winder Soldier Investigations”, we get to see the change within the Indian society regarding their roots and identity.
‘I got to know the Vietnamese people and I learned they were just like us…. There were no books on Indian history, not even in the library…. But I knew something was wrong. I started reading and learning my own culture…. I saw the Indian people at their happiest when they went to Alcatraz or to Washington to defend their fishing rights. They at last felt like human beings.’
Did the U.S. government intentionally run programs to make the Indians forget about their roots? If so, it was definitely for their selfish interest, just like the Vietnam War. From Haney’s testimony, we can see how the U.S. government have not changed in some ways, and how Indians started to gain more awareness of their roots and rights.