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Over the last century, women have made incredible progress in their
struggle to claim their equal rights and humanity; however, many issues
presented in the “Declaration of Sentiments” are still prevalent in today’s society.
Even after developing laws and regulations that sanction women’s rights,
something even larger continues to oppress women, keeping them from true
As one reads from the “Declaration of Sentiments” the list of injustices that
women dealt with daily in the nineteenth century seem almost endless. As the
Declaration says, “The history of mankind is a history of repeated injuries and
usurpations on the part of man toward woman, having in direct object the
establishment of an absolute tyranny over her.” The Seneca Falls Women’s
Rights Convention of 1848 outlined the ways in which women lived politically,
economically, and socially dependent on men.
The political and economic injustices that women faced were extensive.
First, women were not granted the right to vote. Women were expected to obey
laws in which they had no say in developing. Also, women had no representation
in legislation. The male-dominated government profited off single women who
owned land through unfair taxation. Men monopolized employment and
prevented women from becoming involved in fields of law, medicine, or theology.
Socially, women were encouraged to marry; however, in doing so they lost merely
all their civil rights. As noted in the Declaration, “In the covenant of marriage, she
is compelled to promise obedience to her husband, he becoming, to all intents
and purposes, her master--the law giving him power to deprive her of liberty, and
to administer chastisement.” Women also lost the right to own property, the right
to divorce, the right to guardianship of children after divorce, the right to go to
college, and the right to unlimited involvement within her church.
Though women have made immense progress within the last century,
many issues recognized in the “Declaration of Sentiment” still appear today.
Eventually, women realized that encompassing these struggles is an even larger
problem: “the problem that has no name,” as Betty Friedan begin referring to it.
In the 1960s the problem that has no name infected numerous women throughout
the nation. The problem left women with a feeling of emptiness and
dissatisfaction. Some described it as waking up in the morning and having
nothing to look forward to. Women found themselves saying, “I feel empty
somehow... incomplete.” Others described it was simply not feeling alive.
Many attempted to explain the cause of the epidemic that affected so
many women, most of whom were housewives. Some felt that women weren’t
involved in the right hobbies; some felt that college didn’t prepare women properly
to become housewives; some felt that women lacked sexual fulfillment; and some
felt that it was a reaction to not being able to handle making both family and
political decisions. To cure the problem that has no name, many thought women
should stop going to college, should have kids, and should silence their political
voices. Betty Friedan said:
“...those who faced [the problem that has no name] honestly knew
that all the superficial remedies, the sympathetic advice, the
scolding words and the cheering words were somehow drowning
the problem in unreality. A bitter laugh was beginning to be heard
from American women. They were admired, envied, pitied,
theorized over until they were sick of it, offered drastic solutions or
silly choices that no one could take seriously.”
To terminate the problem that has no name, women must first identify their
anger and unhappiness. Women must make it clear if they are unhappy with
their place in society. They must escape their expected roles of housewives and
minorities. Women need to voice their unhappiness. Betty Friedan recalls that,
“Most [women] adjusted to their role and suffered or ignored the problem that has
no name. It can be less painful, for a woman, not to hear the strange, dissatisfied
voice stirring within her.” It is, in fact, not less painful for women to ignore their
internal anger. If women do not find fulfillment in their lifestyles, they must find
ways to alter their ways of living. If women continuously reject their expected
roles and placement in society, they will eventually not be faced with it. Through
this, the idea of equality among sexes will become internalized. True liberation
will result from the internalization of men and women’s equality.
Category: Social Issues
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Counterculture of the 1960s, Feminism, Betty Friedan, The Feminine Mystique, Declaration of Sentiments, Feminist movement
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