I just read the book Feminine Mystique. It’s a book that, growing up, I wouldn’t have cared about. It wasn’t about basketball? I didn’t care about it. It was over 200 pages? Way too long.
But thanks to my Uncle Mike, a few years ago I got into books. Really into books. Starting off with Kerouac’s “On the Road”, following that up with Alex Haley’s “Autobiography of Malcolm X”, devouring these books hasn’t stopped for me. Reading got me through the cold, dark nights in Sweden. It got me through the sunny, hot days in Argentina.
It now gets me through the long subway rides, where, if I’m not looking at a book, it seems someone is staring at me who I have to make eye-contact with. I’ve also realized that books calm me down, in a healthy way, like a constructive meditation. When I know that if I go a few days without reading anything, I need to get back to it. And once I start reading something… anything…I feel better.
So back to the Feminine Mystique. I’ve been reading a lot of works that I glossed over when I was younger. Books about the Civil War, the Reconstruction after slavery ended, the Revolutionary War, and other important historical events. And, of course, now, feminist books.
Why? I’m a man, right? Let me be honest and tell you that if I walked into any locker room in my basketball days with a copy of Feminist Mystique, I wouldn’t hear the end of the ridicule until the end of the season. Maybe after practice a teammate would say to me in hushed tones “Hey, that’s pretty cool man, how did you like it?”, but when everybody was together they’d give into the social pressures and be silent, or, worse, join in with the ridicule.
But now that I’m past all that and don’t have to give into social pressures, I knew one day I would read this book. And considering I’ve read other feminist literature in the past, I felt like I was ready for such a hallowed book.
And me, oh my, am I glad I read it.
If you know nothing about the book, it goes into deep detail about what middle and upper-middle class women were experiencing after World War 2 in the suburbs of America. The hopelessness, lack of purpose, and “problem that has no name.” This was the 1950s, right as men came back from war. And once the men came back the gender roles that had briefly been malleable instead solidified themselves in society like concrete.
Men made the money. Women stayed at home with the children. That’s it. The jobs that women had during the war? Once the men came back, the men took those jobs and women went back to the homes.
They then had kids. Then they started families. Materialism ran rampant. You had to keep up with the Joneses. Who had the newest refrigerator?? Who had the newest washing machine??
And I’m sure it was awesome at first. But, after a few years, what happened, from Betty Friedan’s (the author’s) perspective, is that housework got old. Staying in your house all day long cleaning and cleaning was monotonous. As the kids grew up, the mothers devoted all their time to these kids.
They were labeled great mothers if they did that. Selfless. They made dinner every night for her husband who came home at 6 PM? A saint, but required.
One of the most powerful things in reading this was the way society, the magazines, peer pressure, and guilt all combined to keep women from learning. To keep them from pushing themselves.
“Occupation: housewives” were supposed to know what a woman was supposed to know: how to clean the house, cook food, and get their kids to school. Then, once their kids were finished with school, they felt empty. When those kids went off to college, the mothers had no idea what to do with themselves. So they drank. They went to psychotherapy. They took pills and tranquilizers to dull their world. Some even attempted (and succeeded) in committing suicide.
Or they had more kids. After 3 or 4 children, Friedan would ask women what they wanted next. They couldn’t tell her. So they had another child, thinking that would fulfill them. And it did, for a bit, but then that child grows up and that emptiness returns.
What did these mothers do other than clean? They volunteered. They were part of the PTA council, Girl Scout leaders, community organizers. They did what they could. Were they running for office? Most likely not. Were they working full-time jobs? Absolutely not. Maybe a part-time job, but those roles were always as a secretary or something similar. Nothing major.
And the ones who did go against the grain and worked full-time jobs while they raised their kids? They were ostracized. Shunned. Once Friedan wrote the Mystique and it got around to all her “friends” and acquaintances she would hang out with, they stopped speaking to her. No longer was she invited to events in the neighborhood, community gatherings, or meetings. So what did she do? She moved to the city, where she hung out with other like-minded women and people.
While reading this it all sounded eerily familiar.
Like I’ve seen and heard this somewhere before.
Where have I heard this?
Oh yea… athletics.
Know one thing. Do it really well. Be selfless. Put the team ahead of yourself. Don’t worry about your points. Winning the game matters. Do it for the good of the school. Listen to your coach. Don’t have any interests outside of sports, or, if you do, don’t let it overlap with practice time. You’re learning poetry? That’s cute, we have a four-hour practice tomorrow and you have to cancel your tutoring session. Dude, you’re getting a scholarship, what else do you want? No way you should get paid, and if you do, you only deserve a little bit. Dude, you have a scholarship! Are you going to play pro? Are you going to be in the NBA? Dude I want to come to your games!
Know one thing. Do it really well. Be selfless. Put the family ahead of yourself. Don’t worry about your mental health. Their happiness matters. Do it for the good of the family. Listen to your husband. Don’t have any interests outside of the family, or if you do, don’t let it overlap with your duties. You’re a writer? That’s cute, but there’s dishes that need to be done. You have such a great, beautiful house in a nice, safe area! You are living the perfect life! You should be so happy! You can get a part-time job, but don’t deserve much money. Your role is in the house. Your family is beautiful! Are you going to have another child? Are you going to get a new refrigerator? How about a new vacuum cleaner? I want to see it!
It’s a mind-fuck. Why? Because when I was an athlete I couldn’t be who I was. At all. I was the athlete. I got decent grades, but I’m sure that stigma was there for every group I was in, or every paper I wrote, or every time that someone knew I was an athlete in school. That I was dumb, that I wouldn’t work hard, that I didn’t really care. Even though I did care. I wanted to prove myself.
But the athletes who I saw every day didn’t care about feminism. They didn’t care about the intricacies of society, of social issues, of money management, of finance, of human development, of career development, of psychology, of anything else that didn’t have to do with sports. The same with the “occupation: housewives” who were dumbed down through society because the editors of magazines, peers, and anybody who they came in contact with thought they couldn’t handle it. The editors of magazines who thought that these women couldn’t understand the world news, so they kept the prominent articles about the new cleaning equipment or recipes that they thought would make them/their families happy and help them forget about the “problem that has no name.”
And the “problem that had no name” was there, no matter what they read or what they did. Because the “problem that had no name” was just the fact that these women gave up their whole lives for their families (which is selfless and saint-like, no doubt), but who didn’t push themselves to their highest capacity. Cleaning the kitchen in the same way, in the same manner, and at the same time of day for the 498th day in a row is a mind-fuck.
So it was when women started to go against the grain… when they started to really, truly pursue what they wanted to do, deep in their hearts…that’s when things changed. That’s when the horrible thoughts went away. That’s when the emptiness was filled by a passion they began to pursue. When they realized that yes, they were housewives, but they were also more than that. They were writers. They were financial advisers. They were marketing geniuses.
Being a former athlete, I still struggle with this. I still look at myself as an athlete too much before anything else. Am I also a writer? Am I a marketer? Am I an entrepreneur? Yes, I guess I am. And I’m at a stage now where I can read feminine literature and have people think that’s cool, while also having discussions with other men about these issues.
Where for the first 30 years of my life, it’s been all ball. And that’s great. It got me where I needed to go. I met a ton of awesome people, traveled to a lot of great places, and did cool stuff.
But the world doesn’t stop. There’s more. There will always be more. After those housewives’ third, fourth, and fifth children, the world didn’t stop. Those women still had 40 years of their lives left. What would they do with it? They had no idea. But they needed to figure it out. Self-development was necessary.
And that’s the same with all of us. We need to keep pushing ourselves. We need to continue to be the best that we can be. Find a topic. Find a subject. Learn everything you can about it. We won’t be able to learn all there is to know about everything in the world, but instead of flying through your Facebook, Instagram, or Snapchat feeds, maybe use that time to expand your mind.
What’s something you’ve always wanted to learn but haven’t pursued? Maybe you’d feel nervous telling your boys that you like to knit, and you find it peaceful.
So do it.
You don’t have to tell them you’re knitting. Tell me. I’ll tell you it’s fucking awesome. I’ll tell you if it’s something you enjoy doing, there’s nothing else on this earth that you should be doing.
Societal pressures keep us back. It’s what kept me back from reading when I was younger and from what keeps a lot of athletes/women/men/humans from being “too smart or too ____” around their friends, peers, colleagues, or anybody else in their social sphere.
For athletes, our bodies took us to be about 22–25 years old. That’s it. For the rest of our lives, that’s where we need to use our minds. This is when our mind determines what we do and how we do it. And if we don’t treat the cultivation of our minds and our own self-growth like it’s the most important fucking thing on the face of this earth, then we are not fulfilling what we were meant to do, and what we were put here to do.
And if you want to tell me that you’re thinking of doing something but not sure if you should do it, let me know and I will talk you through it.