The feminine myth

There is a disturbing aspect to the latest turn in the evolving picture of the feminine role in our society. The absurdity of what I call the "100 percent woman" myth, which plays an increasingly prominent role in popular culture, is not lost on some of the more intelligent outside observers of American culture.

We have all encountered the "100 percent woman," that media hybrid of the late 1970s. She is the woman who has and does it all, the success story of the boardroom and the home. Since she works 25 hours every day, she demands a perfume with an equally good endurance record. Her house is spotless, her social life is glamorous, and her career is such a legend in its own time that the movie rights are being negotiated. If she has a family, they could be not be happier or more content. In spite of her breakneck schedule she always is perfectly groomed and impeccably well- dressed.

One thing is certain about her: She is not real. Quite likely she is the offspring of an advertising genius who discovered a way to maintain markets for traditional feminine consumer goods by fusing the traditional female virtues and aspirations to the sweet smell of worldly success. Thus, the modern professional woman is no longer portrayed as a bespectacled curmudgeon. Instead she is characterized as discreet, charming, elegant, and she gives the impression that the struggle to the top cost her nothing more than a few chipped fingernails.

Many of us younger women -- raised with our dolly dream houses and patent leather shoes, but who also want recognition outside the home and family -- would give just about anything to be more like her.

So we buy a gray $300 suit, black-calf pumps, and a Kohl pencil to line our eyes, Fine. For interviews she is poised, polished, and makes certain that she knows something about the company in advance. We follow suit and we land jobs.

But now we want to know where to go from here; how to weigh romantic attachments against the potential benefits of a transfer, how to plan a family without jeopardizing promotion possibilities. . . . It looks like extra boning up and study would pay off for us, but we do not want to defer our social/family lives indefinitely. We want guidance. But the "100 percent woman" just flashes her perfect teeth and retreats to the dressing room for her next change of costume, leaving us to wrestle with our problems alone.

And since the problems do not go away easily and our alternatives are agonizingly unpleasant, it is an achievement just to keep out battered ebos intact. Yet we are not likely to feel comforted by that knowledge.

And the opiate of free and easy sexuality has been so over prescribed and abused that it has been raised to a preoccupation of the most visible order. An Indonesian friend of mine marveled that American women seemed able to accomplish so much, considering how preoccupied many of us appear to be (at least on paper) with attracting and holding on to members of the opposite sex.

There is consolation in the fact that social institutions in the longer run trend to adapt to, and incorporate, our changing social needs. No doubt we will eventually see changes in employment options, work patterns, and familial organization that more readily accommodate the needs of women. But it is high time we learn to treat the "100 percent woman" as a myth, and not as the critical measure of our self-expectations.

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