Where did women get the idea our worth depended on a paycheck?

Leslie Loftis
2 min readFeb 13, 2018

“But even if a woman does not have to work to eat, she can find identity only in work that is of real value to society — work for which, usually, our society pays.“ Betty Friedan, The Feminine Mystique, “A New Life Plan for Women” (1963)

“A New Life Plan for Woman” was the final, and best, chapter of the book. On this little nugget, she had a footnote for the proposition “of real value to society”. That footnote was a reference to a child psychology text. That housewives were like children, naive and under-developed, suffused the book. The footnote reads, in part:

The sense that work has to be “real,“ and not just “therapy“ or busywork, to provide a basis for identity becomes increasingly explicit in the theories of the self, even when there is no specific reference to women. Thus, defining the beginnings of “identity” in the child, Erickson says in Childhood and Society (p. 208):

… In this children cannot be fooled by empty praise and condescending self encouragement. They may have to accept artificial bolstering of their self-esteem in lieu of something better, but their ego identity gains real strength only from whole hearted and consistent recognition of real accomplishment — i.e., of the achievement that has meaning in the culture.

In Friedan’s formulation, a paycheck was the necessary recognition. Endeavors directed to marriage, children, and community were not “real accomplishments” that have “meaning in the culture”. Women who thought otherwise were “dilettantes” engaging in “condescending self encouragement.”

Recycle and repeat for a few years or so, and recognize that the idea was not new to Friedan. She simply made it so common. Soon we forgot that it is an obnoxious assumption.

Leslie Loftis

Teacher of life admin and curator of commentary. Occasional writer.