Extra Credit: Surprises

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.