Great Expectations

I’ve been reading about an interesting book by historian Stephanie Coontz on the long-term impact of Betty Friedan’s feminist classic, ‘The Feminine Mystique’.  Although pro-marriage, Friedan’s argument was that many of the traditional values and roles given to women were oppressive and harmful. Her book created a storm of controversy and Coontz argues that the ripples of this are still being felt today.

Whilst I don’t swallow all of Friedan or Coontz’s arguments,  they both make some  interesting observations.  Coontz reckons that whilst the territory may have changed,  modern ‘mystiques’ (or expectations) are still exerting enormous pressures on men and women today.

Here’s a few that she identifies – see what you think;

  1. The ‘hottie’ mystique: this is where young women are expected to reach ever increasing heights of achievement – but then compensate for these by showing that they are ‘hot’, ie; sexual and desirable
  2. The ‘motherhood’ mystique: here the expectation is that a ‘good’ mother will constantly do everything for her child – making every moment ‘teachable’ and seizing every experience – whether it’s a carefully crafted organic lunchbox or wall-to-wall pre and after-school activities.
  3. For guys there is the same pressure to be a tough, strong provider that’s always existed.  But this is complicated by their growing desire to be more involved in relationships, especially within the family. Coontz argues that whilst women are the beneficiaries of a cultural revolution which has enabled them to take on different roles, for men this hasn’t been the case.  So they want to be more involved in say childcare, but aren’t able to.
  4. For both sexes there is also the ‘career mystique’  – especially when you’re young and looking to make your mark.  A ‘real’ career must be totally all-encompassing.  It demands that you get to the office first and leave last – at the expense of relationships, especially within the family.

What do you think?  Are these accurate? Do you think that similar expectations are raised within Christian contexts? For example..

For guys – lip service to the idea of ‘accountability’ and openness, but in reality an unspoken expectation that you keep it together – at least if you want to be in leadership.

For women, (particularly in a conservative context), the need to dampen down passion, ambition and intellectual curiosity as being somehow threatening or ungodly

For both sexes the (ridiculous) idea that a ‘glorious ministry’ requires  you ‘burn out for the Lord’ before the age of 30…

2 thoughts on “Great Expectations

  1. Thanks Emma, I find this really helpful and the examples you cite certainly ring bells. Interesting that we can ‘talk’ grace really well but be practising ‘works’, in the sense of looking for a sense of belonging/acceptance/self-worth through meeting these kinds of expectations… Where do these expectations come from in the first place, when we’d all agree that this is not how the body of Christ should be?!

  2. Absolutely – brain and mouth say one thing, heart says another. I think that’s why we ask for daily bread and daily renewal – my brain leaks faith overnight and even on a minute by minute basis.

    Whilst some expectations can come from others and from the world, in my experience, the greatest demands are internal. I’m always comparing myself to someone or something. But simply transferring desires from ‘secular’ to ‘spiritual’ (say ‘looks” to ‘godliness’), is just as bad if I’m still trying to do it in my own strength and for my own ego. In fact, it can be even worse, because I think I’m doing so much better.

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