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The Feminine Mystique

Canadian painter Robert Genn has a twice-weekly newsletter that I always enjoy reading. While Genn writes about painting, his thoughts usually apply to any creative pursuit, including writing — and we’ve reposted his letters here before. Recently, Robert wrote a letter entitled. “The Feminine Mystique.” I found the letter quite timely, as I’d just dusted off my copy of Friedan’s classic and reminded myself that I needed to finish it (read all but the last 100 pages several years ago before getting pulled into something else). Genn’s newsletter is reprinted here by permission.

Many readers of my letters may not be old enough to remember Betty Friedan’s 1963 bombshell book, The Feminine Mystique. In those days, 78% of college faculty were men, as were 95% of physicians and 97% of lawyers. Only 30% of college graduates were women. Now, women outnumber men in higher education and are apparently nearing par in job placement and life achievement.

One of Friedan’s main points was that post-war, middle class women had to figure out what they were going to do after their little ones had flown the coop. With longer life expectancies, smaller families, relative economic freedom and a shopping cart full of labour-saving devices, millions of women apparently grabbed the brass ring of creativity. They found they were well suited to it. Based on this subscriber list, workshop attendance and popular statistics, 78% percent of living painters are women. And to the disgruntlement of some of the boys, we know that women in general tend to have better art-brains. Long-time readers may remember I’ve frequently identified women artists as the next big thing.

Going by my inbox, it’s possible to get the idea that women are in a bit of a bad patch. Many tell me they are “not motivated,” “lack passion,” and are “too distracted to be anything other than mediocre.” Perhaps an indication of our anxious times, in my darker moments I also wonder if these concerns are mainly from those who are reading too much self-help stuff. Like the sort of thing I put out.

But in my vast and virtual part-time mentoring practice, which I generally do for free, I also see highly optimistic, ambitious women who value education and are willing to put in time and treasure (when they have it) to achieve their goals. These women cut to the chase and, in my experience, get good. Here’s what they bring to their easels:

* The capability and the desire to work alone.
* A degree of independence from outside opinion.
* Steady, well-regulated, workmanlike habits.
* The understanding that passion comes from process.
* The curiosity to explore sets and series.
* An intuitive sense of quality and reasonable taste.
* A philosophical but nevertheless combative attitude to the miserably dying vestiges of the boy’s club.

Betty Friedan would have been particularly enthused by these ladies.

Best regards,

Robert

PS: “Who knows what women can become when they are finally free to become themselves.” (Betty Friedan)

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. very timely indeed. thanks!

    February 15, 2011
  2. “the understanding that passion comes from process” -BRILLIANT!

    February 26, 2011

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