Sisterhood Blog

Leave Friedan and Dunham Alone

By Elissa Strauss

  • Print
  • Share Share
Getty Images
Lena Dunham

The 50th anniversary of the publication Betty Friedan’s “The Feminine Mystique” has inspired many to reconsider the book, warts and all. One of the abiding criticisms of Friedan’s book over the past few days is that it was limited to the worldview of an upper-middle class white woman.

Today, Lena Dunham, who very well might be the most high-profile feminist around, has received similar criticisms. On her HBO show “Girls,” she portrays the, eh, struggles, of four upper-middle class white women figuring out stuff (and by stuff, I mean mostly sex and sometimes work) in Brooklyn.

But critiquing Friedan, and now Dunham, for their specificity is a mostly a waste of our time.

In order for a story to have impact, emotionally and intellectually, it must be grounded in specifics. Writers know that it is hard to produce something powerful and compelling if it isn’t rooted in real, lived-in details. The twist is that often the more narrow the scope of a story, the more it can say about the human condition. (Yes, “The Feminine Mystique” wasn’t narrative-based as a TV comedy like “Girls,” but it still relied upon the nearly mythic character of the frustrated housewife.) If Friedan and Dunham had decided to be more inclusive from the get-go, their works would have likely lost some of their punch. I probably wouldn’t be writing about them here.

I think part of the reason both “The Feminine Mystique” and “Girls” became such criticism-magnets is because they basically flicked the light switch on in a big, messy room in our collective conscious that we had long been ignoring. The need for a book like Friedan’s and a show like Dunham’s far outweighed what they could express in the confines of their mediums. This is often the case for groups that lack representation in pop culture, so much rides on every move.

What everyone wants, Friedan, Dunham, white upper-middle class women, all women, all people, etc. is a sense of fulfillment. And this is what Friedan and Dunham write about — the quest for fulfillment. Personally, I think sometimes it is best to sit back and watch how one person, even if they only represent a small portion, goes about striving for and achieving fulfillment. Even if their path isn’t mine, I will no doubt learn something from their personal struggle. And don’t forget, as the second-wavers taught us, the personal is the political.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: sisterhood, lena dunham, jewish women, girls, betty friedan, the feminine mystique

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • "What I didn’t realize before my trip was that I would leave Uganda with a powerful mandate on my shoulders — almost as if I had personally left Egypt."
  • Is it better to have a young, fresh rabbi, or a rabbi who stays with the same congregation for a long time? What do you think?
  • Why does the leader of Israel's social protest movement now work in a beauty parlor instead of the Knesset?
  • What's it like to be Chagall's granddaughter?
  • Is pot kosher for Passover. The rabbis say no, especially for Ashkenazi Jews. And it doesn't matter if its the unofficial Pot Day of April 20.
  • A Ukrainian rabbi says he thinks the leaflets ordering Jews in restive Donetsk to 'register' were a hoax. But the disturbing story still won't die.
  • Some snacks to help you get through the second half of Passover.
  • You wouldn't think that a Soviet-Jewish immigrant would find much in common with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But the famed novelist once helped one man find his first love. http://jd.fo/f3JiS
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.