The feminine mystique

by Betty Friedan

Hardcover, 1963

Status

Available

Publication

New York, Norton [1963]

Description

These are about a young couple, Joan and Richard Maple, at the beginning of their marriage. Over the next two decades, he returned to these characters again and again, tracing their years together raising children, finding moments of intermittent happiness, and facing the heartbreak of infidelity and estrangement.

User reviews

LibraryThing member Lilac_Lily01
When I first heard about this book I was immediately intrigued. I couldn't wait to read it and see how far women have come. Imagine my surprise when the author seemed to be describing the present day instead of a distant past. I couldn't believe how relevant a book from the 1960's is today.

Betty Friedan describes a generation of women who were manipulated into thinking that motherhood and housewifery is the be all and end all for women. She explained that in the 50's and 60's women defined themselves solely through their children and husbands instead of developing an identity of their own. Women were seen as childlike with limited capabilities and, thus, education for females was dismissed as unnecessary. However, many women were unsatisfied with their only career choice as wife and mother. They were desperate for a sense of meaning and true identity. Some attempted to fill this void by using sexual promiscuity, focusing on their appearance, and/ or buying an endless amount of material things for their homes. This is still true for a lot of women today.

Friedan thinks that women tried to elevate the status of housework and child rearing by obsessing over natural child birth, breast feeding, and homemade bread and clothes. Mothers became so over involved in the lives of their offspring that the kids could hardly develop into independent human beings. Researchers later found that children are actually happier, and develop better, when the mother has a career, or other purpose besides her children. Unfortunately, women seem to be falling into the same trap again. The media seems to be telling them, once again, that unless they give up everything and turn into helicopter-parents, their children are doomed for failure. It almost seems as if there is a second wave of this back- to-the- home trend. I see many women that are so preoccupied with their children that it appears as if they are trying to live their lives through them. Just think about shows like Toddlers& Tiaras- is it really the dream of those little girls to be presented like a show pony for the adults?

I have to admit, there have been times when I, too, have thought about how idyllic it would be to have a big family, prepare all their organic food at home, and even (gasp!) home school the children. But after reading this book, there is no way that I will ever give up my education and career. Defining yourself through your children and husband is simply not the way to live a fulfilling life. This book may have been a bit dated and repetitive at times, but obviously our generation hasn't gotten the message yet, and it can't hurt to hear it more than once. In my opinion, they should really make this work required reading in high school. It's very powerful.
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LibraryThing member roryridleyduff
Sometimes you have to read a classic to fully understand why it had such an impact. This is one fantastic book, and I can appreciate why it moved millions to look at the relationship between the sexes more closely.

It is a testament to its many 'truths' that it still commands respect 40 years on. The many descriptions of how the 1950s/1960s left women feeling isolated and powerless, plus the many changes that provided a path out of domesticity, are the things that I still value most about this text.

However, time has shown up some of the books faults. For me, the most glaring is the poor discussion of spending power and adverstising. Friedan reports that 75% of money earned is spent by women, and tries to turn this on its head to claim that they are still 'victims' because advertisers pay so much attention to manipulating them. This is a bit like saying that if men had 3 votes to women's 1, that men would be 'victims' because politicians were more interested in winning their votes. Women have spending power in our society and this gives them not only a lot of economic power but collective control over much of the media (who must not offend women if they wish to retain adverstising revenues).

A brilliant book, but not faultless. For a similarly sympathetic book from a man's perspective try to get your hands on a copy of "Why Men Are The Way They Are" by Warren Farrell.
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LibraryThing member SeriousGrace
Betty Friedan uses The Feminine Mystique to remind women that, for decades, the only way for a woman to be feminine was to get married, have kids and keep a house. Having multiple children was the norm, and running a household was considered a career. There is room for little else. Friedan analyzes why women, brought up with these socially accepted views, are suddenly finding themselves wanting more. In the early 1960s, (when The Feminine Mystique was written) therapy was becoming the rage. It was common for women to crowd clinics crying out for something better...although they didn't understand why. If they had a husband, a house and at least two children, society was telling them they had it all. Using the influences of the past like Freud and Margaret Mead, Friedan is able to paint a cultural picture of how the ideals and goals of women have been shaped over time. Friedan cites a multitude of magazines that have practically brainwashed women into believing a husband, house and kids were the best of all worlds combined. A great deal of the Feminine Mystique is quotations from other people. Interviews, magazines, lectures, books, and even a commencement address are used to support her commentary on a woman's position throughout history. Yet, her writing is angry and sharp. She is judge and jury for the problems women face, specifically in an American culture, especially if things do not change.… (more)
LibraryThing member bookworm12
When Friedman’s book was first published in 1963 it was a completely revolutionary text. It’s credited with starting the second wave of feminism and changing the way people view working women. Though much has changed in the past 50 years, the issue of gender inequality is still very much present today.

There are elements in the book that I strongly agree with. For example living through only your husband and kids’ lives will end up a frustrating mess for everyone involved. Pursuing interests outside of your spouse and kids is crucial to remind yourself that you are your own person outside of their sphere. However, I think that comparing being a stay-at-home mom to being sent to a concentration camp is a bit much. I understand what she’s saying, the similarity lies in the stripping away of outside relationships and interests, but it’s taking it too far to compare the two. I know that many “stay-at-home” moms in the 1950s were addicted to tranquiller and alcohol because of a deep-seated unhappiness, but getting married and having children is a choice. Being shipped off to a concentration camp and watching your fellow prisoners be killed is not.
In the past 50 years expectations of women have changed and there are now different factors affecting the roles women take. It's much more socially acceptable for women to work and for men help with household chores than it was in the 1950s. Regardless of whether or not the woman stays home with the kids, the roles seem to have become more equalized.

I love the role that pop culture has played in continuing to change views. TV shows like Parks and Recreation and The Good Wife continue to discuss women’s evolving roles without letting that become the central focus of the show. They are shown in positions of power in the working world but that’s never an issue on the shows. In this season of Grey’s Anatomy they’ve discussed the difficulties working moms face and the pressure put on women to have children when they don’t want to.

Women also now have the option of working from home, something that was unheard of in the 1960s. A woman can run a photography or freelance business from a home office instead of from a corporate office. Options like these have changed the playing field, but that doesn’t mean women are being paid the same salaries as men in the same positions. The line between "career woman” and “stay-at-home mom” might have become blurred as the possibilities increased, but it hasn’t been eliminated.

The feminine mystique talks in detail about how women’s sexual lives have often corresponded with their role in society. I think it's important to remember while reading those sections that when they talk about a woman enjoying sex it's not about the act of sex as much as it is about the fact that she thinks she has the right to enjoy it. Throughout history sex has often been treated as an obligation for women, something they are expected to provide for their husbands; their enjoyment was not a factor. What the feminine mystique points out is that women's enjoyment tends to correspond with how they view themselves and how they view sex. Is it an obligation they have to suffer through or is it something that they are doing with the partner out of a mutual desire.

In the book Friedman talks about some research done on how long housework takes if your stay-at-home mom versus a working mom. The conclusion was that most working mothers got it done in half the time. The author’s theory is that women stretch the work to fill their days to justify being at home. I don't know if that's true or not but it's interesting. Especially since this was written when huge advances were being made in household appliances. Dish washers, washers, dryers, kitchen mixers, these devices supposedly cut work time in half but the author and researchers found that the women just made more complicated recipes and did the laundry twice as often, washing sheets twice a week instead of once. One bachelor even made the claim that he could run most households in half the time that women did. When outraged women told him to prove it he did, taking over the four child household of one woman for a period of time. At the end of the time she even admitted he was the better cook.

BOTTOM LINE: This book gave me so much to think about and there’s a lot to be learned from the experiences of other women. I don't have kids and I've never been a stay-at-home mom so take my opinion with a huge grain of salt, but there’s a lot to be said for maintaining your own interests and friendships outside of your husband and children. I think it boils down to the pressure we put in ourselves to do the "right" thing in society’s eyes. Whether that is being staying at home or having a career, we create these standards that we have to hold our life to and then we can't help but feel overwhelmed when we fail. Finding the right balance in your own life is crucial and it’s different for every person.
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LibraryThing member eraderneely
"I expected to revisit this book as I would a period piece, interesting, worthy of notice and of homage, yet a little dated and obvious as well...and I expected to be properly grateful. Which is to say, slightly condescending." - Afterword by Anna Quindlen

Although Quindlen instead found herself enrapt, this quote is exactly how I felt about the majority of this book. It gave me a lot of insight into a time period in American history, but did not resonate with my modern ideas of equality. I feel grateful for the changes that built on this book and its incredible importance, but I cannot ignore the tunnel-like focus on middle class white women and instances of explicit homophobia.

There are certainly a lot of pieces that made me think about what exactly my expectations are from an equal society and how an inability to pursue a passion stagnates and frustrates a person.

Happy to have read about where we were as a society 50-60 years ago and reflect on where we are now - both the good and the bad.
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LibraryThing member AnnieHidalgo
Seemed to have a lot to say to me in high school - but as I grow older I wonder if feminist literature of its kind didn't perpetuate an entirely different, and equally destructive myth - the idea that if only women escape the kitchen, and find their place in the (formerly) 'man''s world, everything will be better. By now, the breaking of old stereotypes has become a kind of stereotype in its own right. Perhaps still a classic - but just because something has cultural value doesn't mean it ought to stand in for the absolute truth. Read with a grain of salt.… (more)
LibraryThing member MeditationesMartini
I was super excited about this at first because you think of feminism as a roughly linear progression but she was talking about the "mystique" like it was something that came over women in the fifties where before that they were all tough professionals like Ruth Benedict. And you go with her on that because it's a counter narrative and you want it to be true because the present always so patronizes the past, but then it turns out what's actually happening is that the standard line on this book where she doesn't give a shit or know a shit about women who are not in her upper-middle-class Seven-Sisters-educated bubble is dead on, and some of what she said later I found informative or provocative in the good way but just all so tainted. Imma try not to move the goalposts on this--of course it was a death inside, of course women needed to be allowed to contribute--but oh her contempt for childraising, for instance, such a trivial task that women could do it off the side of their desk. We haven't, like, fixed that problem, but at least we've (I think?) agreed that the answer has something to do with men pulling their weight, which Betty Friedan could never ever suggest because oh Father's in his study? I'm being super presentist and sure what have I done for women lately but upper-middle-class people treating other people like they don't count gets my goat. (Oh also she was a homophobe, the end.)… (more)
LibraryThing member Jezkah
As a third wave feminist, I think it is important that we understand our history- both as individual women and as the feminist movement. This is the book that launched a movement, and although many things have changed, many remain the same. Overall, it is well written and very easy to understand. I find the number of examples provided a bit much, even redundant, but I understand why it was important to cite so many. Concepts introduced in this text continue to resonate in contemporary feminist theory. There is gender based discrimination, for both men and women, which Friedan touches on in this early text. However, to understand that this is not the be-all of feminism is also important. Feminism is all classes, all races, all sexual orientations, and yes, all genders. Friedan's polemic is NOT an introduction to feminism. For that, see Feminism is for Everybody by Bell Hooks.… (more)
LibraryThing member carport
Thank goodness I read this book just as I transitioned from student to independent woman. I lacked a strong woman as role model in my life, but was able to conceive and create (still an on-going process) the woman I wished to be, thanks to Betty Friedan's groundbreaking work.
LibraryThing member JaniceLiedl
I'd read selections from "The Feminine Mystique" over the years but never sat down to read the entire work until this 50th anniversary edition appeared. It's worthwhile, including multiple epilogues and introductory materials from earlier editions. They provide snapshots of how her book was seen at launch, ten, twenty and many more years after. This reiterates the enormous impact that her book had on readers then and later on.

However, the meat of the book remains the text itself and "The Feminine Mystique" stands up well as a readable work, even half a century on. Friedan's perceptiveness in describing 'the problem without a name' is bolstered by material from her own research, interviews and countless other contemporary sources. Where contemporary society encouraged men to pursue higher education, careers and grow in fulfilling ways, the mystique, bolstered by some cherrypicked elements from Freudian psychology and functionalist philosophies, urged women to subordinate all of those elements to fulfillment as a wife and mother. The problem was that so many women were driven to despair by the frustrations that they encountered in what was marketed to them as the ultimate in personal fulfillment and rewarding feminine duty.

The book lays out a damning case for how the mystique ran counter to the previous trends in American middle class culture where women's freedom and initiative had been celebrated. More damningly, Friedan shows how the mystique was endlessly useful to marketers in the burgeoning era of consumerism as well as their peers in the worlds of magazines, education and so on. Margaret Mead comes off rather badly for pushing the mystique's key message to urge women to embrace domestic service to husband and children early and totally while she, herself, did no such thing.

The book is flawed in my mind by an excessive reliance upon psychoanalysis. Many chapters focus in detail on this subject beginning with a long background on Freud's own problematic relationships with and understanding of women to page after page where Friedan uses psychoanalysis to diagnose problems in American housewives and their families all deriving from the toxic powers of the mystique. It is also relentlessly middle class: the world of the working class is almost non-existent except when evoked as servants!

I also couldn't accept her dismissals of homosexuality, particularly in men, and autism in children as consequences of pathological mother-love run amuck or improperly applied but, as I read those sections, I knew that she was approaching these topics using the thinking of the time. It's impossible to expect a book from 1963 to speak with the voice of 2013 all the time. The strength of "The Feminine Mystique" is that it evokes the past so vividly you'll think you're reading a modern history until you're jolted back into reality by those occasional tone-deaf moments.

If you want to understand the U.S. middle class culture of the 1950s and 1960s as how it played out in the media, medical, educational and marketing industries as well as in the personal stories of countless women, you should pick up Friedan's book and get to reading!
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LibraryThing member engpunk77
Of course this is an inspiring classic of enormous consequence. I think everyone (especially women) should be aware of Friedan's influential contribution to feminism and the quality of women's lives today. This was assigned reading in a class on Revolutionary Women's Literature at UCSB.
LibraryThing member Cecilturtle
Incredibly this book has not aged at all; a must read for every women who has trouble achieving work-life balance
LibraryThing member buffalogr
This book was first published in 1963--it was revolutionary.. It started a wave of feminism and changed the way people thought about women. Though much has changed, the issue of gender inequality is still present--and that's why I wanted to read the book. It made me realize how much the women in my life had it together, despite societal norms to the contrary and how those norms affected my (boomer) generation. Because of all the female salesmanship and perception breaking necessary to achieve it's 1963 goal, it was difficult to wade through as a listen in 2014. I wonder; however, that if as the book states, women escape the kitchen, it will be "all good?" Perhaps, there's a happy spot for each person in life?… (more)
LibraryThing member smallself
The thing about the feminine mystique is that it’s supposed to be very flattering, like Middlemarch’s “stupid complimenting”.

But of course, reality is better than illusion.
LibraryThing member TheReadingMermaid
I can see why this book sparked such a movement. and although most of the content of this book is irrelevant in today's world we can still relate it to other things that are still a problem today. Housewives of today no longer have the problem of just simply being a housewife and having to settle for that. If you want to learn how to play the violin then go out and buy a violin and learn how to play it. There is nothing stopping women from doing these sorts of things on top of being housewives. We no longer feel the stigma that there's something wrong with us if we feel the need to branch out into other interests.
The author relates a lot of her information as a sort of piggyback on to work already researched and written by both Freud and Kinsey. She states that several times when doing her interviews her interviewees steer the conversation to some sort of sexual frustration and/or empowerment. As the author states "Sex is the only Frontier open to women who have always lived within the confines of the Feminine Mystique."
Although this book was written for women in the 40s 50s and 60s, it is still eye-opening to read today. Even though most of it reads as a dull textbook there is still some very good information within it. I also agree that this is a part of our history such as the Malleus Maleficarum and Mein Kampf and should continue to be read and studied as a historical text.
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LibraryThing member ASKelmore
From my Cannonball Read review...

I am a feminist. I don’t think that’s a groundbreaking title to claim, although if you listen to some of my more famous peers (Katy Perry, I’m looking at you), it’s a dirty word. But whether you claim the title loudly and proudly, or claim everything the title represents but annoyingly shun the term itself, it’s good to understand its roots.

Enter The Feminine Mystique, written by Betty Friedan, founder of the National Organization for Women. Dense but accessible, the book focuses on the malaise that struck (straight, affluent, white – we’ll get to that in a minute) women in the 50s and 60s. Ms. Friedan put a name to “the problem that has no name,” exploring why women who seemingly have it all – or at least everything society thinks they should want to have – are unfulfilled, depressed, and even suicidal. She backs up her discussion with facts, referencing studies ranging from Kinsey’s research to polls from Mademoiselle magazine. She pretty neatly takes down the ridiculousness of Freudian theory as applied to women in the United States, and points to evidence that supports the idea that women who access higher education (whether before marriage or during) and pursue careers find themselves happier (and with better sex lives, natch) than their counterparts.

Much of the book is filled with important information and suggestions for how to achieve equality. While it took me awhile to get into it, I found that by breaking it down into chapters I was able to really process what I was reading. It was frustrating to read lines that could have been written today, describing how people view the ‘role of women’ in the home, that the most important thing that women can do is bear and raise children. As a childfree woman myself, I’m also well aware of the weird dichotomy that exists in the United States today: this worship of the idea of motherhood, but the disdain for mothers (e.g. no mandated paid maternity leave, shock at seeing a nipple in public to feed an infant, the judgment women cast upon each other over life choices).

BUT. And this is a big but, and one that I only discovered by reading the book – Ms. Friedan was apparently homophobic. It’s distressing to learn that she views that “Male homosexuals … are Peter Pans, forever childlike” who have a “fear of adult responsibility.” Say what now? While one can raise all the arguments they want about a book being ‘of its time’ (published in 1966), the fact remains that even in her later years of activism Ms. Friedan was at times guilty of expressing disdain for gay men and lesbians.

The other GIANT issue with this book is that, while focusing on what I would argue was (and to a degree still is) a real issue for women, she presented her arguments as though they applied to all women. I don’t think every book needs to examine all sides of every issue, but she certainly spent no time on the intersectionality of gender with race and class, and she also spent no time (at least that I saw, and I read it pretty closely) focused on why this is the group that needs the attention.

Still, I’d say this is a book to read for everyone who wants to understand better the history of feminism and be reminded not so much of ‘how far we’ve come’ but really of how far we haven’t come.
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LibraryThing member AJBraithwaite
A deeply interesting read. The image we all have of 1950s and 1960s American suburban housewives, happily domesticated, turns out to have been a horrible façade. Friedan revealed that many of these women were deeply unfulfilled, or popping pills to relieve their utter boredom. She pointed out the (to us obvious) fact that running a home, being a parent and loving a spouse does not give an intelligent person any fundamental satisfaction.

I love her analysis of the psychological and sociological pressures on women to conform to this housewife myth, and the chapter on the importance of bored housewives as consumers was startlingly prescient.

I realise that I have taken my freedom to be educated and to take up a career of my own choice for granted: the generation of women Friedan describes simply didn't have those options. I think about some of the older women in my family and recognise in them the frustration and empty consumerism that is described so vividly here.

It's amazing to think that no magazine of the time would publish Friedan's articles on this topic. By today's standards, Friedan's argument seems mild, but this book reignited feminism in the US in the 1950s. I find that amazing, too. Amazing and inspiring.
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LibraryThing member denisa.howe
Awesome book. Revamped and brought back to us in the 2000's. The wonderful thing about life now; is we as women change chose exactly what we want. We can be at home moms and housewives and its okay if its what we chose and NOT what is expected. We can be career women or both. This book bring courage and gives a name to how the UN-named problem women had back in the 60's. They done as expected and were afraid to talk about or change what tore them down as a person and woman. Back then women dealt with "That's not very lady like or feminine." Now... we bend feminine to who we are it fits us not the other way around.
I imagine a lot of women read these pages in the 60's and seen them self there printed on the page and suddenly knew... they were not alone, there was nothing wrong with them. This edition still offers courage and acceptance to be who you are and not what others want you to be... Every teen girl should read this as they embark on life and who they are beginning to become.
I received this book via goodreads and was very pleased and honored to have had the opportunity to read and own and SHARE
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LibraryThing member HanoarHatzioni
These book has launsched a major social movement, the second wave of the feminist movement, that has been awakening women and men.

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