Sunday, February 05, 2006

Why Do Little Girls Grow Crooked....

...and little boys grow tall? For those of you who don't share my quirky taste in folk music, that's the name of a song that Harry Chapin sang. You can read the lyrics here: Lyrics. And, thanks to my friend Elisa, I think we have the answer. She found an old book, Having It All by Helen Gurley Brown. She highlights the following quote re: girls and body image:
I think you may have to have a tiny touch of anorexia nervosa to maintain an ideal weight . . . not a heavy case, just a little one! Can you make yourself get almost sick at the sight of anything floating in gravy? Become nauseous sitting next to a person pouring ketchup on his spareribs? Can you viciously clamp your jaws shut and keep teeth clenched if they try to force-feed you even a bite of sauteed soft-shelled crab? Can you admire your utterly outstanding pelvic bones, take endless pleasure in patting your stomach because it (still) isn't there, thank God!, go into deep depression at the gain of even half a pound? Good!

Doesn't your heart just break at the thought of beautiful, healthy young girls believing her? And it's not as though that book were old, exactly; it was written in 1982, when we really ought to have known better.

Add that to the item in the news that Betty Friedan died yesterday. Betty Friedan and Helen Gurley Brown are roughly the same age. At the same time that Brown was writing Having It All, Friedan was writing The Second Stage. Maybe The Second Stage was a back-pedaling from The Feminine Mystique; there's certainly an argument that can be made there. I prefer to think of it as addressing the problem that feminism can address so well -that there is rarely one right answer and one wrong answer and nothing in between. In this culture we tend to polarize very quickly, and Friedan wanted feminists to knock it off, sign on with men of good will, and get to work creating a society where everyone flourishes.

There have been times, especially in her earlier writing, when Freidan's thinking annoyed me a little. It seems a little blind to women of color, a little blind to the needs of poor women, a little clueless that bright and well-educated women might, at least for a time, choose to be stay-at-home moms. But re-read the Helen Gurley Brown quote. It puts it all in a different perspective, for me anyway. THAT'S the world into which Friedan and her fellow second-wave feminist thinkers were trying to introduce a notion of a woman's full person-hood.

They had to name the problem and then move us all past victim status, into a sense of our full power as adult humans. And they had to do that in a world where the prevailing message was that gaining half a pound should cause deep depression.

Godspeed, Betty.

No comments: