Thursday, April 11, 2013

The "Feminine Mystique" revisited in "The Aviator’s Wife" and other recent biographies (and Betty's Debut As A TC Reviewer!)

My sister introduced me to the book, Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh when I was in my early 40s.  The short essays developed around seashells as symbols had become a classic, a meditative guide for women, young and old, on ways to find tranquility in daily life.  Many women ‘gifted’ it to sisters and daughters as a guide to sources of inner strength, a reflection on the essence of ‘woman coming of age.’  The essays spoke to me as I struggled with similar demands.  Its popularity, ironically, coincided with the appearance of the controversial publication, The Feminine Mystique, a title that would expose contemporary treatment of women.  

What a shock it was to discover, in reading Melanie Benjamin’s newly released fictionalized biography, The Aviator’s Wife, that this same woman, Anne Lindbergh, spent most of her life in Charles Lindbergh’s shadow, grieving secretly after the tragic and highly publicized murder/kidnapping of their first son, bearing five more children with little of the support her
famous husband displayed to the world.  She was an accomplished aviatrix, a pioneering adventurer and a stalwart companion to her husband and, ironically, she accepted his tyrannical control over the household and even silently acquiesced to many of his unreasonable demands, including keeping family details secrets from their children.

Told in Anne’s voice, the story is sensitive and even courageous, in this telling, drawing the reader into an ever more inward spiral of domination and isolation.  Culminating with a heroic event and some small degree of come-uppance this depiction is filled with both a deep sense of helplessness and, on the other extreme exhilaration couched in the reserve required by upper class protocol.  

This famous wife of an American hero bore all of the limitations imposed by the gender gap. 

Coincidentally, it displays many similarities with two other recent depictions of wives of famous American artists, Loving Frank, (story of the wife of Frank Lloyd Wright) by Nancy Horan and The Paris Wife, (story of the Hadley Richardson, first wife of Ernest Hemingway) by Paula McLain.

These real-life examples are compelling stories illustrating the significance, once again, of the ‘feminine mystique’ so graphically depicted in the classic study by Betty Friedan.  Celebrating it’s 50th anniversary of publication this year,  The Feminine Mystique bears re-reading for its historical value and as a reminder of the role assigned to women evolving from the 1930s through the year of publication, 1963.   We are still realizing the consequences.


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