Letter to My Daughter

posted March 23rd, 2012 by Janet Graham - 2 Comments

I’m a wife, mother, family member, friend, writer and career woman. I am blessed to have a daughter and son and son-in-law. When Janet Graham and I first met, we conceived the idea of writing a series of letters to my daughter that would distill some of the lessons I’ve learned juggling career and family. While these letters are addressed to Lesley, they are also sent with love to Brian and Greg.


March 21, 2012


Dear Lesley,


When Betty Friedan wrote her seminal work, The Feminine Mystique, women of my generation and a bit older responded to her message like soldiers to a bugle call. My copy (the 1974 edition) is a bit faded at the edges and in places the spine is broken. When I reread it not long ago, the words did not speak to me the way they had, instead, Friedan’s descriptions of women caught in the shackles of home and motherhood and the duties of a wife felt like a bygone era.


Nonetheless, I underlined several points, which you might find interesting, not because they represent today’s reality but because they influenced how I attempted to blend marriage, family and career.


“Is this all?”

This question is the absolute central one Friedan poses. In all the interviews, conversations and letters she had, this was the question women asked about their lives. They wanted more. I wanted more.


When Dad and I were first married, we imagined that I would return to work when our children were in high school. A year later, the timeframe became public school and ultimately, we realized our marriage would thrive only if we both had active careers.


“The problem is always being the children’s mommy, or Tom’s wife and never being myself.”

A woman’s individuality and talent were not celebrated. Instead, the prevailing assumption was that she would have no identity outside family and home. Fulfillment was defined for women as housewife-mother; they were expected to live up to that image. Articles and studies of that time asked what was wrong with women that they could not accept their role gracefully.


I’ve pondered this notion of identity at various times. Who am I? What do I want to be? Will I leave a legacy? Do I have too many identities or want too much? Even now, these questions are relevant.


“The really crucial function … that women serve as housewives is to buy more things for the house.”

Friedan expresses outrage at what she perceives as a deliberate sabotage of women’s potential through the marketing strategies of corporate America. Don’t forget that during WWII, women worked in droves and loved it. They were well educated and took their talents to the workplace while men went overseas. After the war, economies had to be rebuilt. Former soldiers needed jobs. The consequences were devastating for women.


Today we might consider Friedan’s statement preposterous, the ravings of a paranoid feminist with a wild conspiracy theory. You’re the marketer. What do you think?


“The time required to do the housework for any given woman varies inversely with the challenge of the other work to which she is committed.”

Comparing a few working women – yes, some did prevail while others became unpaid community leaders – to housewives in similar neighborhoods, Friedan rediscovered that truism, ‘work expands to fill the time allotted’. Busy women finished their housework quickly, fitting it into brief timeslots before or after work.


I remember a time when Dad and I argued about housework – I felt I did much more than my share. Your father stated his perspective with conviction, explaining that he and I had different tolerances for dirt. We laugh about that argument now and over the years have tried different approaches. I believe Friedan’s insight holds.


“The very nature of family responsibility had to expand to take the place of responsibility to society.”

Not only does work expand to fill the time allotted, but expectations of housewives changed. Despite new, labor saving appliances, women did not spend less time on housework. Instead, they did laundry twice a week instead of once, polished their floors more frequently, filled their freezers with homemade items and garden vegetables that required time to prepare and cook. Friedan wonders whether women do more and more housework because otherwise their lives are empty.


I like the notion of ‘responsibility to society’ and hope to return to it in another letter.


Here’s a quote from a man who edited a large woman’s magazine and who attended a conference of magazine writers – Friedan was a journalist and also in attendance. The time was late 50s or early 60s.


“Our readers are housewives, full time. They’re not interested in the broad public issues of the day. They are not interested in national or international affairs. They are only interested in the family or home. They aren’t interested in politics, unless it’s related to an immediate need in the home, like the price of coffee. Humor? Has to be gentle, they don’t get satire. Travel? We have almost completely dropped it. Education? That’s a problem. Their own education level is going up. They’ve generally all had high school education and many, college. They’re tremendously interested in education for their children – fourth grade arithmetic. You just can’t write about ideas of broad issues of the day for women.”


Typing it here, I feel the same outrage I must have experienced in the early 70s when my career began. I suppose I still get on my high horse about this issue from time to time. I’ve defined myself with multiple roles and looking back, I wouldn’t have it any other way.


I’ll write again soon.


Lots of love



This post was written by Mary Tod.  As you can see, Mary is a wonderful writer.  I am hoping this is the first in a series of exchanges with her daughter Lesley.  I know Mary would love to hear from you (and so would I). Please share your thoughts in the Comments section below.


You can find out more about Mary at http://onewritersvoice.com/about-me/ She has just started a new blog A Writer of History which you can find at http://awriterofhistory.com/




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2 Responses to “Letter to My Daughter”

Comment from Denise Hollingsworth
Time March 23, 2012 at 8:10 pm

Wonderful blog Janet. It’s amazing how far we have come and how we will continue to shape and mold our little girls into intellgent, independant and strong woman. Thanks for sharing Mary’s letter.

Comment from Trish
Time March 26, 2012 at 5:43 pm

Terrific! thanks so much for sharing.

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