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The Feminine Mystique - History

The Feminine Mystique - History


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Betty Friedan wrote "The Feminine Mystique." The book was a call for the modern woman to throw off her traditional role of being dependent on men. Instead, it called for women to establish independent roles as wage earners and professionals.

The socio-political environment prevailing in the United States of America was systematically making the women feel contented with their household duties, thereby giving way to an unnoticed and unrecognized sense of discontent, apathy and unhappiness. Thereby, Betty Friedan’s book The Feminine Mystique is indeed credited with bringing to fore this unrecognized marginalization of women (Horowitz 36). Hence, The Feminine Mystique indeed happened to be a work that revitalized the Women’s Liberation Movement.

The book, The Feminine Mystique was the outcome of the conclusions drawn by Betty Friedan, when she attended her college’s fifteen year reunion. In a survey conducted by Betty Friedan in this reunion, she realized that a majority of her classmates were abjectly dismayed and unsatisfied with the role of an idealized American housewife, heaped on them by the dominant social, cultural and gender expectations. Actually it was this survey that made Betty Friedan recognizes the fact that a post War social environment was positively nudging women to adapt to the roles of mothers and housewives.

Motivated by this conclusion, the subsequent research conducted by Betty Friedan confirmed her worst fears regarding the state of women in the post War America. Immediately after its publication, The Feminine Mystique turned out to be a number one bestseller, as it happened to be an ideological work that tried to recognize, unravel and define an array of issues faced by the women in the post War world, which hitherto remained ignored, sidelined and neglected (Scanlon 94). This book brought to fore the fact that confining women to the roles of mothers and housewives not only made them lead an unsatisfied and frustrated life, but this trend also had larger implications for the American society.

In that context, The Feminine Mystique was a groundbreaking work in the sense


Why Women Went Home Again

Following World War II, the early Cold War era was marked by a polarizing gender ideology. Women who had entered the manufacturing industry at unprecedented numbers during the war effort, left or were pushed out of higher education and the workforce. Elizabeth Singer More, Professor of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Harvard University, emphasizes the equation of national security with the maintenance of a heterosexual, middle-class family structure. According to Singer More, “There was an universal idea of female primacy in the home for the good of their children and the good of the nation.” 1 The choice to stray from a domestic life was regarded “as destabilizing, threatening, and incomprehensible,” and as the politics of the home and family came to represent the nation’s, women were held responsible for national security through their roles as wives and mothers. 2

Working women posed a threat to national security. Bearing children seemed a matter of national security as keeping the population levels afloat meant ensuring there would be a younger generation to defend the nation if there was combat with the Soviet Union. Additionally, in the nuclear age, a sense of urgency surrounded science, and budding scientists were encouraged to make it their only undertaking. In “Women and Scientific Investigation,” Hygeia Magazine, published by the American Medical Association, wrote that women “are just as capable as men” in the sciences, but they should only pursue such careers if they did “not wish to contribute” their “part toward the continuation of the race.” “If her interest in her work is absorbed as it should be,” the magazine asserted, “she will not be able to interrupt it with the usual functions of the woman in the marriage partnership.” Forced to choose between career and family, most women selected to become wives and mothers.

3 In The Feminine Mystique, published in 1963, Betty Friedan identified the unhappiness as “the problem that has no name.” Friedan developed the idea of the “feminine mystique,” the image of the happy housewife, as a political creation constructed by male writers and editors to portray women as ‘fulfilled’ in their homes that lead housewives to believe this was their only destiny. 4 The image of the housewife that came to define women in the 1950’s where they were “seen only in terms of their sexual role,” was not only entirely a “product of men’s minds,” but a sharp reversal from the portrayal of women in years past. 5 “No one,” Friedan writes, “seemed to remember that women were once thought to have the capacity and vision of statesmen, poets, and physicists.” 6 The illusion of the fulfilled housewife that graced magazine covers replaced images of the “’career girl” heroines depicted in decades past. 7

Friedan attributed this shift to the end of World War II and the beginning of the Cold War. 8 Prior to World War II, women’s mobility was supported by first wave feminism during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and then throughout WWII by jobs vacated by men in service. Upon the return of men from war, women were laid off or encouraged to surrender wartime jobs to ease male readjustment. More than restoring men as providers, the numbers of women who vacated the workforce instilled a sense of American stability. Men, prevented “by depression and then by war from marrying” were as eager for domestic life as girls who had come of age during the “lonely years” of World War II. 9 In the years following the war, domesticity and stability at home counteracted the political uncertainty and fear that prevailed across America.

10 In 1959, Redbook published the article, “Why Young Mothers Are Always Tired,” which described fatiguing jobs as “those which only partially occupy the worker’s attention,” resulting in a “mental grey-out” comparable to sleep walking. 11 Friedan reported high rates of depression among mothers, writing that young housewives during the 1950’s became the group predominantly faced by all “psychiatric and psychosomatic disorders with increasing severity.” 12 Questioning why they felt such dissatisfaction when they had everything they had been told to wish for, one housewife voiced what many others felt, “I just don’t feel alive.” 13

As more women were funneled into the role of “housewife,” their sheer numbers strengthened the revival of functionalism. Friedan explains functionalism as the idea that “a social order can function only because the vast majority have adjusted themselves to their place in society and perform the functions expected of them.” 14 As more women complied with the feminine mystique and gave up other career ambitions to care for their families, the female “purpose” was equated with the idea of a housewife. “A woman’s function, asserted Adlai Stevenson in his 1955 Smith College commencement address, was through her role as wife and mother. The patriotic duty of women during the Cold War was their “unique opportunity to influence…man and boy” from within the home, Stevenson told the young female graduates. 15

16 Her words held true among women in higher education. While two thirds of women who attended college dropped out, the majority of those who graduated aspired to be wives and mothers, a desire rooted in functionalism that portrayed women only in terms of biology. 17

18 Not only would education had better serve men, it would blemish a women’s femininity. A Smith student explained to Friedan, “Our parents expect us to go to college…but a girl who got serious about anything she studied…would be peculiar, unfeminine.” 19 As education reformed to accommodate the changed attitudes about women’s roles, one college boasted, “We are not educating women to be scholars we are educating them to be wives and mothers.” 20 Classes changed accordingly. Whereas women once learned chemistry, they now learned skills that would better prepare them to be housewives, such as cooking. The one lesson taught at colleges between 1945 and 1960 Friedan writes, was “not to get interested, seriously interested in anything other than getting married and having children.” 21 It became widely accepted that women no longer attended college to receive an education, but to obtain an M.R.S. degree and graduate with a husband. 22

The conflation of motherhood with national security during the Cold War era held mothers responsible for containing communist threat within the home, therefore making them accountable for the shortcomings of individual citizens. A host of problems described by Friedan including “bed wetting, thumb sucking, overeating, refusal to eat, withdrawal, lack of friends, inability to be alone, aggressiveness, timidity, slow reading, too much reading, lack of discipline, rigidity, inhibition,” and exhibitionism were decidedly the result of maternal failure. 23 Mothers were deemed guilty by Dr. Edward Strecker, consultant to the Surgeon General of the Army and Navy, for the nearly two million men barred for military service due to psychiatric disorders, and hundreds of thousands of others who were discharged or attempted to evade the draft. 24 Mothers were blamed for the maladjustment of the younger generation, jeopardizing the country’s future. 25

26 Friedan believed maladjusted children were a reflection of maladjusted mothers, ‘”acting out” the mother’s unconscious wishes or conflicts.” 27 The “feminine mystique,” Friedan wrote, the illusion of the happy housewife, “begins in one generation and continues into the next,” a failure on the part of those who drove women back into the home.

Friedan addressed a problem she witnessed in her own life and accurately depicted many “college-educated, middle-and upper-class, married white women,” but she misrepresented the American woman. In Feminist Theory: From Margain to Center, bell hooks writes of Friedan, “she did not speak of the needs of women without men, without children, without homes. She ignored the existence of all non-white women and poor white women.” 28 At the time Friedan published The Feminine Mystique, one third of American women were in the workforce. By portaying women “bored with lesire,” hooks continues, Friedan “did not tell readers whether it was more fulfilling to be a maid, a babysitter, a factory worker…or a prostitute.” 29 While Friedan demands change for the housewife, she does not, hooks writes, “discuss who would be called in to take care of the children and maintain the home if women like herself were freed” from their leisurely lives. 30 Friedan depicts sexism faced by her own class and race, but she fails to acknowledge that many American women were not fortunate enough to be a housewife or have the means to achieve career goals she sets forth.

Friedan asserted to avoid “the problem that has no name,” women needed eclipse the feminine mystique, refusing to fall prey to its agenda that equated motherhood with career. Saying ‘“no” to the housewife image’ was not a choice between marriage and career, but a choice to refuse conforming to an image created by men to perceive women solely in their biological role. 31 The only satiable work was that “forbidden by the feminine mystique,” writes Friedan, “the lifelong commitment to an art or science, to politics or profession.” 32 Breaking free from the feminine mystique meant not only facing the difficulty of obtaining work in male dominated fields, but breaking perceived gender ideals of oneself, one’s husband, and fellow housewives. Contrasting the opinions of others was no easy feat as the feminine mystique, the housewife image, was not simply a career path for women, but a perceived model of patriotic excellence and feminine duty. Yet in her research, Friedan found that only when housewives broke from this mold, did she “enjoy being a woman.” 33 The “problem that had no name,” she found in the absence of the feminine mystique, ceased to exist. 34 Friedan’s discovery, seemingly insurmountable at the time, helped inspire second wave feminism and launched the women’s movement in the latter half of the twentieth century.


The Powerful, Complicated Legacy of Betty Friedan’s ‘The Feminine Mystique’

Is it possible to address a “problem that has no name?” For Betty Friedan and the millions of American women who identified with her writing, addressing that problem would prove not only possible, but imperative.

In the acclaimed 1963 The Feminine Mystique, Friedan tapped into the dissatisfaction of American women. The landmark bestseller, translated into at least a dozen languages with more than three million copies sold in the author’s lifetime, rebukes the pervasive post-World War II belief that stipulated women would find the greatest fulfillment in the routine of domestic life, performing chores and taking care of children.

Her indelible first sentences would resonate with generations of women. “The problem lay buried, unspoken, for many years in the minds of American women. It was a strange stirring, a sense of dissatisfaction, a yearning that women suffered in the middle of the twentieth century in the United States.” Friedan’s powerful treatise appealed to women who were unhappy with their so-called idyllic life, addressing their discontent with the ingrained sexism in society that limited their opportunities.

Now a classic, Friedan's book is often credited with kicking off the “second wave” of feminism, which raised critical interest in issues such as workplace equality, birth control and abortion, and women’s education.

The late Friedan, who died in 2006, would have celebrated her 100th birthday this month. At the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, a tattered, well-read copy of The Feminine Mystique, gifted by former museum curator Patricia J. Mansfield, is secured in the nation’s collections of iconic artifacts. It was included in the museum’s exhibition titled "The Early Sixties: American Culture," which was co-curated by Mansfield and graphic arts collection curator Joan Boudreau and ran from April 25, 2014 to September 7, 2015.

At the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery the 1995 Betty Friedan by Alice Matzkin depicts the reformer in a contemplative pose. (NPG, © 1995 Alice Matzkin)

“One of the things that makes The Feminine Mystique resonant is that it’s a very personal story,” says the museum’s Lisa Kathleen Graddy, a curator in the division of political and military history. “It’s not a dry work. It’s not a scholarly work. . . it’s a very personal series of observations and feelings.”

While The Feminine Mystique spoke bold truth to white, college-educated, middle-class women, keeping house and raising children and dealing with a lack of fulfillment, it didn’t recognize the circumstances of other women. Black and LGBTQ feminists in the movement were largely absent from the pages of The Feminine Mystique and in her later work as a leading activist, prominent members of the feminist movement would come to clash with her beliefs and her quick temper. She would be criticized for moderate views amid a changing environment.

Her contributions, however, remain consequential. She was a co-founder and the first president of the National Organization for Women (NOW), and helped create both the National Women's Political Caucus and the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws, now known as NARAL Pro-Choice America. But her name is most tied to The Feminine Mystique , the book that pushed her and other discontented housewives into the American consciousness alongside the ongoing Civil Rights Movement.

Lisa Tetrault , an associate history professor at Carnegie Mellon University, emphasizes Friedan’s argument that women were being burdened by society’s notions of how they should live their lives. At the time, many women were privately experiencing, she says, “a feeling that the problem was theirs alone.”

“Part of what The Feminine Mystique did was shift this conversation from this individual analysis,” she says. Friedan’s book showed them a systemic analysis of how society was undermining women in order to keep them at home under the moniker “occupation: housewife.”

Historian and Smith College professor emeritus Daniel Horowitz, who authored the 1998 Betty Friedan and the Making of The Feminine Mystique: The American Left, the Cold War, and Modern Feminism also contextualizes the book at a time when other works were examining the restlessness of suburban life.

“She was, as a professional writer, acutely aware of these books and the impact they had,” he says. “It’s also a wonderfully written book with appeals on all sorts of levels. It’s an emotionally powerful book.”

Born Bettye Naomi Goldstein on February 4, 1921 in Peoria, Illinois, both of her parents were immigrants. Her Russian father Harry worked as a jeweler, and her Hungarian mother Miriam was a journalist who gave up the profession to start a family. She attended Smith College, a leading women’s institution, as a psychology student, where she began seeing social issues with a more radical perspective. She graduated in 1942 and began postgraduate work at the University of California, Berkeley. Friedan would end up abandoning her pursuit of a doctorate after being pressured by her boyfriend, and also left him before moving to New York’s Greenwich Village in Manhattan.

From there she began work in labor journalism. She served as an editor at The Federated Press news service, and then joined the UE News team, the publication of the United Electric, Radio and Machine Workers of America. Her activism for working class women in labor unions, which included African Americans and Puerto Ricans, is crucial, says Horowitz, toward understanding the formation of her feminism.

However, he adds that her public embrace of labor unions during the feminist movement did not occur until the later years of her life, and that The Feminine Mystique omits her early radicalism. “Her feminism in the 50s and 60s is very self-consciously based on the civil rights movement,” he says. “She thinks of NOW as an NAACP for American women.”

Betty married Carl Friedan in 1947, and the couple had three children. The family moved from Queens to New York’s Rockland County suburbs in 1956, and she took on the job of housewife while freelancing for women’s magazines to add to the family income.

It was at a Smith reunion where Friedan found inspiration for what would become The Feminine Mystique. Intending to survey her classmates who had worried that a college education would get in the way of raising a family, what she instead found was a lack of fulfillment among the housewives. Other college-educated women she interviewed shared those sentiments, and she found herself questioning her own life role in the process.

To create The Feminine Mystique, Friedan included both the experiences of women she talked with and her own perspectives. She set about to deconstruct myths on women’s happiness and their role in society. “Gradually, without seeing it clearly for quite a while,” Friedan wrote in the book’s preface , “I came to realize that something is very wrong with the way American women are trying to live their lives today.

Betty Friedan by Byron Dobell, 1999 is also among the reformer's images held by the National Portrait Gallery. (NPG, gift of the artist, Byron Dobell © 2000 Byron Dobell)

Even before it was created the book was contentious: the president of the publishing house referred to its premise as “overstated” and “provocative.” And while it caught flak from some reviewers—a New York Times review rejected its premise and stated that individuals, not culture, were to blame for their own dissatisfaction—it was a major hit for female readers.

“It was quite fantastic the effect it had,” Friedan later said in an interview with PBS, “It was like I put into words what a lot of women had been feeling and thinking, that they were freaks and they were the only ones.”

Following the success of her book, Friedan moved back to New York City with her family, and in 1966 helped establish NOW with colleagues. She and her husband divorced in 1969, just a year before she helped lead the Women’s Strike for Equality that brought thousands of supporters to the city’s Fifth Avenue.

She pushed the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to end sex discrimination in workplace advertising, advocated for equal pay, and pressured changes to abortion laws, among others. Friedan also supported the Equal Rights Amendment, which failed to meet state ratification in 1982 but has since garnered renewed interest.

By the end of Friedan’s life, the movement had moved much farther than she had been able to keep up with. She had already been criticized by some feminists for a lack of attention to issues afflicting non-white, poor and lesbian women, and had made disparaging remarks toward the latter. When conservatives made cultural gains in the 1980s, she blamed radical members for causing it, denouncing them as anti-men and anti-family.

“One of the things that should come out of the women’s movement,” she told the Los Angeles Times, “is a sense of liberating and enriching ways of working out career and family life, and diverse ways of rearing our children and figuring out how to have a home and haven.”

Friedan had decidedly become a moderate voice among feminists, but nevertheless kept active. She served as a visiting professor at universities such as New York University and the University of Southern California, and in 2000 wrote her memoir Life So Far. In 2006 she passed away in Washington, D.C. on her 85th birthday.

Two canvas paintings depicting Betty Friedan are held by the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery. One in acrylic, created in 1995 by Alice Matzkin, shows the reformer looking to the side with her hand behind her head in a contemplative pose. The other, painted with oil in 1999, was donated by the artist Byron Dobell in 2000 and features Friedan focused on the viewer with a vague sense of interest.

Looking back on Friedan’s seminal book, The Feminine Mystique, its narrow scope is important to recognize. As Graddy notes, it focuses on the aspirations of certain white college-educated housewives, rather than women who were not white nor middle class, among others.

“[T]hese are women who also have the leisure time to organize,” Graddy says, “They have the leisure time to become the women who start to organize different facets of feminism, who can organize now, who have connections that they can make and time that they can expend.”

Kelly Elaine Navies, a museum specialist in oral history at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, discusses the disconnect between The Feminine Mystique and black women of the time.

“It did not directly impact the African American community, as a large percentage of African American women worked outside of the home by necessity,” she writes in an email. “In fact, the prolific African American writer and activist, Pauli Murray, who was a co-founder of NOW, along with Freidan, did not even mention The Feminine Mystique in her memoir.”

The claim that The Feminine Mystique brought forward the “second wave” of feminism is also dubious. Not only is the characterization of waves misleading, as the calls made during different movements can overlap while individual waves feature competing beliefs, but as Graddy notes, the activism doesn’t simply fade when it receives less attention. She also mentions that describing the book as the beginning of the women’s movement only makes sense when applied to a certain group of feminists.

Tetrault says that The Feminine Mystique not only fails to discuss how the cultural expectations of the idealized housewife also afflicted non-white and poor women who could not hope to achieve that standard, but it also doesn’t provide meaningful structural solutions that would help women.

“In some ways Betty Friedan’s solution of just leaving home and going and finding meaningful work,” she says, “left all those structural problems that ungirded the labor that women provide through domesticity unaddressed, and that’s a huge problem.”

Even with the book’s flaws, it remains an important piece of history while having shaped the women’s movement. While Horowitz contends that a feminist movement still would have occurred without its publication, he says it nevertheless impacted the lives of hundreds of thousands of women.

And as Navies points out, the material it didn’t include caused black feminists to spread ideas that were more inclusive of American women in society, as they even formed their own term “womanist” to distinguish from the more exclusive “feminist.”

“In retrospect, as a catalyst for the second wave of feminism,” Navies writes, “ The Feminist Mystique was a factor in the evolution of black feminism, in that black feminists were compelled to respond to the analysis it lacked and develop a theory and praxis of their own which confronted issues of race, class and gender.”

Tetrault adds that The Feminine Mystique’s message that societal constructs were harming women resonated throughout the whole of feminism.

“That would be a kind of realization, that would ripple through the movement on all kinds of different fronts. . . that the problem wasn't them,” she says. “The problem was the set of cultural expectations and cultural structures around them.”


The Feminine Mystique

Friedan’s book was based on a series of interviews she had with her college classmates, fifteen years after graduation. She asked them about the problems and satisfaction of their lives. Although the book was published 1963, it was based on post-war experience and observations of the women, and that was largely a 1950s experience. The mystique referenced in the title was this strange paradox wherein contemporary women were doing everything they were told to do that would make them happy—housekeeping, raising children, and catering to their husbands—and yet, American women’s rate of depression, alcoholism, and suicide skyrocketed at this time. (Friedan 22.) Almost without exception, she claimed, the women she encountered were married, with children, living in prosperous, upper-middle-class suburbs. They were living out the dream that affluent bourgeois society had created for women in the postwar years, what Friedan called the “mystique of feminine fulfillment,” by acting out the expected roles of wives, mothers, and homemakers. They responded to questions about their lives with forced, chirpy reports of contentment—proud talk of husbands, children, and homes. And yet, as Friedan pressed further, she found that behind this mystique, in virtually all the women she interviewed, lay a fundamental sense of uneasiness, frustration, vague unhappiness that most women had great difficulty articulating. Friedan dubbed this the “problem that has no name,” a problem that even women themselves had been unable to identify or explain. The real problem, Friedan said, was embedded in the nature of the gender roles society had imposed on women. The women she met were intelligent, educated, talented and yet they had no outlets for their talents except housework, motherhood, and the companionship they offered their husbands. “The feminine mystique,” she wrote, “has succeeded in burying millions of women alive.”

In the 1950s, women felt tremendous societal pressure to focus their aspirations on a wedding ring. There was strong social pressure that sought to persuade women that work and education would destroy their chances for marriage and a happy home life. The media and pundits of the day instructed women that their only true fulfillment could be found as wives and mothers, that sexist discrimination was actually good for them, that the denial of opportunity was, in reality, the manifestation of the highest possible goals of womanhood. (Id. at p. 73) The U.S. marriage rate was at an all-time high and couples were tying the knot, on average, younger than ever before. Getting married right out of high school or while in college was considered the norm. A common stereotype found that women went to college to get a “Mrs.” (pronounced M.R.S.) degree, meaning a husband. Advice books and magazine articles (“Don’t Be Afraid to Marry Young,” “Cooking to Me Is Poetry,” “Femininity Begins at Home”) urged women to leave the workforce and embrace their roles as wives and mothers. The idea that a woman’s most important job was to bear and rear children was hardly a new one, but it began to generate a great deal of dissatisfaction among women who yearned for a more fulfilling life.

Although women had other aspirations in life, the dominant theme promoted in the culture and media at the time was that a husband was far more important for a young woman than a college degree. Despite the fact that employment rates rose for women during this period, the media tended to focus on a woman’s role in the home. If a woman wasn’t engaged or married by her early twenties, she was in danger of becoming an “old maid.” People married younger in the Fifties. The 1950 median age for a first marriage was 22.8 years old for men and 20.3 for women. In the late 1950’s, about three-fourths of all women between the ages of 20 and 24 had already married. Divorce was not a common thing. In 1950 there were 385,000 divorces which only rose slightly to 395,000 by 1959. Why? Societal pressure for one thing. You were supposed to get married and stay married, regardless of how miserable you were. To put those numbers in perspective, only 2.6 people out of 1,000 were divorced in 1950, whereas it climbed to 4.2 out of 1,000 in 1998.

“Is That All There Is,” Peggy Lee (1969) (This song is a reflection on the malaise that Friedan wrote about in The Feminine Mystic.) https://youtu.be/LCRZZC-DH7M

I remember when I was a very little girl, our house caught on fire
I’ll never forget the look on my father’s face as he gathered me up
in his arms and raced through the burning building out to the pavement
I stood there shivering in my pajamas and watched the whole world go up in flames
And when it was all over I said to myself, is that all there is to a fire

Is that all there is, is that all there is
If that’s all there is my friends, then let’s keep dancing
Let’s break out the booze and have a ball
If that’s all there is

And when I was twelve years old, my father took me to a circus, the greatest show on earth
There were clowns and elephants and dancing bears
And a beautiful lady in pink tights flew high above our heads
And so I sat there watching the marvelous spectacle
I had the feeling that something was missing
I don’t know what, but when it was over
I said to myself, “is that all there is to a circus?

Is that all there is, is that all there is
If that’s all there is my friends, then let’s keep dancing
Let’s break out the booze and have a ball
If that’s all there is

Then I fell in love, head over heels in love, with the most wonderful boy in the world
We would take long walks by the river or just sit for hours gazing into each other’s eyes
We were so very much in love
Then one day he went away and I thought I’d die, but I didn’t
and when I didn’t I said to myself, is that all there is to love?

Is that all there is, is that all there is
If that’s all there is my friends, then let’s keep dancing

I know what you must be saying to yourselves
if that’s the way she feels about it why doesn’t she just end it all?
Oh, no, not me I’m in no hurry for that final disappointment
for I know just as well as I’m standing here talking to you
when that final moment comes and I’m breathing my first breath, I’ll be saying to myself

Is that all there is, is that all there is
If that’s all there is my friends, then let’s keep dancing
Let’s break out the booze and have a ball
If that’s all there is


Crafty Cocktails and Women in History: The Feminine Mystique

Ah, the 60s! The next step in the evolution of women is by far the most colourful decade. A time of extremes, transformational change, and bizarre contrasts. Flower children and assassins, idealism and alienation, rebellion, and backlash. Women had also experienced a huge contrast and had just begun to move into the age of choice.

In the 1960s, deep cultural changes were altering the role of women in society, more females than ever were entering the paid workforce, and this increased the dissatisfaction among women around huge gender disparities in pay and advancement. It also gave rise to an ongoing problem of sexual harassment at the workplace.

Additionally, one of the most profound changes was happening in the bedroom. By the end of the sixties, more than 80 per cent of wives of childbearing age were using contraception after the government made birth control legal—freeing many women from unwanted pregnancy and giving them the choice and freedom to break away from the gender roles of the 50s homemaker.

The Second Wave of Feminism

The woman who became the voice of what is referred to as the second wave of feminism is Betty Friedan. This Russian-born, Jewish journalist was a key element to the voice which is now a roar for women globally.

In 1962, worldwide icon of femininity—Marilyn Monroe—died of an overdose. Looking into her death inspired Betty Friedan, and sparked the second wave of feminism into action by putting the feelings of millions of despondent women into words. After interviewing her college classmates—now suburban housewives—Friedan discovered how miserable many of them were. She argued that the problem was the myth of “the feminine mystique” and wrote a groundbreaking feminist polemic with this as the title. By peddling the notion that women should be naturally fulfilled by devoting their lives to being

housewives and mothers, American society had—Friedan said— “succeeded in burying millions of American women alive”. Friedan touched a nerve with her outspoken opinions.

Daring and Spirit-Forward

Today’s cocktail is based on a journey with a spirit that has similarities to the journey of the women of the 60s. Vodka had just made its reappearance in America but had found a new and bold voice with the vodka martini, and how fitting for Betty’s Russian blood. The martini is a perfect expression of a cocktail that is daring and spirit-forward, as well as demonstrating the contradiction of being delicate and sexy. It is a drink that crosses gender lines being enjoyed by all. I’ve decided not to mess with the receipt too much but to rather bring in a small touch of 60s nostalgia with the introduction of grape jelly and a splash of the popular chocolate fondue.

Photo Credit: Dominic Lockyer

The Art of the Feminine Mystique

1. Homemade Grape Jelly: Throw a palate of red grapes into a large saucepan and simmer at low heat, then cover and leave to cook for 5 mins until the juices start to run. Take a potato masher or fork and mash up the grapes. Leave to cook for about 10 mins more, mashing every now and again until the grapes are falling apart.

2. Place a clean tea towel or kitchen cloth in a sieve set over a bowl, then pour the grape mixture into this. Let the mixture drip through for at least 1 hr or preferably overnight.

3. Next, measure out the juice (you should have about 600 ml) and pour it into a pan along with 1 cup of sugar and the juice of 1 med size lemon. Set the pan over high heat and bring to the boil. Put a small plate in the freezer for 5 mins, then pour a little of the juice onto the cold saucer.

4. After 1 min, run your finger through if the jam wrinkles slightly, it’s ready. Pour the hot jam into a sterilized jar. Will keep unopened for up to 3 months.

Cocktail time

First place your martini glass in the freezer to chill.

Next, grab your shaker and half fill it with ice cubes. Pour in the vermouth and give it a very gentle shake to coat the ice cubes with the liquid. Drain out half the shot of vermouth. Add the vodka and the bitters next. Shake again very slowly and gently. Double strain the drink into a chilled martini glass and drop your favorite flavor of chocolate Lint ball into the bottom of the glass, and serve. Sip slowly and celebrate because there is nothing placid about Betty or this drink!


Friedan’s central thesis was that women as a class suffered a variety of more or less subtle forms of discrimination but were in particular the victims of a pervasive system of delusions and false values under which they were urged to find personal fulfillment, even identity, vicariously through the husbands and …

NOW strives to take action through intersectional grassroots activism to promote feminist ideals, lead societal change, eliminate discrimination, and to achieve and protect the equal rights of all women and girls in all aspects of social, political, and economic life.


The Feminine Mystique - History

Journalist, activist, and co-founder of the National Organization for Women, Betty Friedan was one of the early leaders of the women’s rights movement of the 1960s and 1970s. Her 1963 best-selling book, The Feminine Mystique, gave voice to millions of American women’s frustrations with their limited gender roles and helped spark widespread public activism for gender equality.

Bettye Naomi Goldstein was born on February 4, 1921 in Peoria, Illinois, the oldest of three children of Harry Goldstein, a Russian immigrant and jeweler, and Miriam Horowitz Goldstein, a Hungarian immigrant who worked as a journalist until Bettye was born.

A summa cum laude psychology graduate of Smith College in 1942, Friedan spent a year on a graduate fellowship to train as a psychologist at the University of California Berkeley. There, she dropped the “e” from her name. As World War II raged on, Friedan became involved in a number of political causes. She left the graduate program after a year to move to New York, where she spent three years as a reporter for the Federated Press. Next, she became a writer for the UE News, the media organ for the United Electric, Radio, and Machine Workers of America. Her politics increasingly moved toward the left, as Friedan became involved with various labor and union issues. Glimmers of her later interest in women’s rights also emerged at this time, as she authored union pamphlets arguing for workplace rights for women.

In 1947, Friedan married Carl Friedan, a would-be theater producer and advertising maven. Friedan had three children — in 1948, 1952, and 1956 — continuing to work throughout. In 1956, the couple moved from Queens, New York, to suburban Rockland County, where Friedan became a housewife, supplementing her family’s income with freelance writing for women’s magazines.

Friedan also began the research for what would become The Feminine Mystique in the late 1950s. After conducting a survey of her Smith classmates at a 15-year reunion, Friedan found that most were, as she was, dissatisfied with the limited world of suburban housewives. She spent five years conducting interviews with women across the country, charting white, middle-class women’s metamorphosis from the independent, career-minded New Woman of the 1920s and 1930s to the housewives of the postwar era who were expected to find total fulfillment as wives and mothers.

Published in 1963, The Feminine Mystique hit a nerve, becoming an instant best-seller that continues to be regarded as one of the most influential nonfiction books of the 20 th century. Women everywhere voiced a similar “malaise” from what Friedan dubbed, “the problem that has no name.” The book helped transform public awareness and brought many women into the vanguard of the women’s movement, just as it propelled Friedan into its early leadership. In 1966, Friedan joined forces with Pauli Murray and Aileen Hernandez to found the National Organization for Women (which remains a leading feminist organization), with Friedan as its first president. She also authored NOW’s mission statement: “… to bring women into full participation in the mainstream of American society now, exercising all the privileges and responsibilities thereof in truly equal partnership with men.” The organization’s first action: to demand that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission enforce the provisions of Title VII guaranteeing equality in employment. Specifically, NOW successfully sought to end the long-standing practice of sex-segregated help wanted advertising.

A busy activist throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Friedan helped found t he National A ssociation for the Repeal of Abortion Laws in 1969, later renamed National Abortion Rights Action League and more recently NARAL Pro-choice America. She organized the Women’s Strike for Equality on August 26, 1970 on the 50 th anniversary of women’s suffrage, to raise awareness about gender discrimination. In addition, in 1971, Friedan was a co-founder of the National Women’s Political Caucus with Congresswoman Bella Abzug, Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, and feminist Gloria Steinem. Through these organizations, Friedan was influential in changing outdated laws such as unfair hiring practices, gender pay inequality, and pregnancy discrimination.

As more diverse voices emerged within the women’s movement, Friedan not only struggled to retain her leadership but was criticized by other feminists for focusing on issues facing primarily white, middle-class, educated, heterosexual women. Radical feminists also blasted Friedan for referring to lesbian women in the movement as the “lavender menace,” and for Friedan’s willingness to cooperate with men. Ever politically expedient, Friedan believed the only hope for change was by retaining the movement’s mainstream ties and veneer. This alienated her from younger, radical, and visionary feminists who were increasingly becoming the vanguard of the movement.

Friedan nonetheless remained a visible, ardent, and important advocate for women’s rights who some dubbed the “mother” of the modern women’s movement. Since the 1970s, she published several books, taught at New York University and the University of Southern California, and lectured widely at women’s conferences around the world. Friedan died in 2006 of congestive heart failure.


ɾvery wife's silent question - Is this all?'

The problem lay buried, unspoken, for many years in the minds of American women. It was a strange stirring, a sense of dissatisfaction, a yearning that women suffered in the middle of the 20th century in the United States. Each suburban wife struggled with it alone. As she made the beds, shopped for groceries, matched slipcover material, ate peanut butter sandwiches with her children, chauffeured Cub Scouts and Brownies, lay beside her husband at night - she was afraid to ask even of herself the silent question - "Is this all?"

Over and over women heard in voices of tradition and of Freudian sophistication that they could desire no greater destiny than to glory in their own femininity. They were taught to pity the neurotic, unfeminine, unhappy women who wanted to be poets or physicists or presidents. They learned that truly feminine women do not want careers, higher education, political rights - the independence and the opportunities that the old-fashioned feminists fought for. Some women, in their 40s and 50s, still remembered painfully giving up those dreams, but most of the younger women no longer even thought about them. A thousand expert voices applauded their femininity, their adjustment, their new maturity. All they had to do was devote their lives from earliest girlhood to finding a husband and bearing children.

Fulfilment as a woman had only one definition for American women after 1949 - the housewife-mother. As swiftly as in a dream, the image of the American woman as a changing, growing individual in a changing world was shattered. Her solo flight to find her own identity was forgotten in the rush for the security of togetherness. Her world shrank to the cosy walls of home.

In the 15 years after the second world war, this mystique of feminine fulfillment became the cherished and self-perpetuating core of contemporary American culture. Words like "emancipation" and "career" sounded strange and embarrassing no one had used them for years. When a Frenchwoman named Simone de Beauvoir wrote a book called The Second Sex, an American critic commented that she obviously "didn't know what life was all about," and besides, she was talking about French women. The "woman problem" in America no longer existed.

If a woman had a problem in the 1950s and 1960s, she knew that something must be wrong with her marriage, or with herself. Other women were satisfied with their lives, she thought. What kind of a woman was she if she did not feel this mysterious fulfilment waxing the kitchen floor? She was so ashamed to admit her dissatisfaction that she never knew how many other women shared it. If she tried to tell her husband, he didn't understand what she was talking about. She did not really understand it herself.

No other road to fulfilment was offered to American women in the middle of the 20th century. Most adjusted to their role and suffered or ignored the problem that has no name. It can be less painful for a woman not to hear the strange, dissatisfied voice stirring within her.

Gradually I came to realise that the problem that has no name was shared by countless women in America. Just what was this problem that has no name? What were the words women used when they tried to express it? Sometimes a woman would say "I feel empty somehow . incomplete." Or she would say, "I feel as if I don't exist." Sometimes she blotted out the feeling with a tranquilliser. Sometimes she thought the problem was with her husband or her children, or that what she really needed was to redecorate her house or move to a better neighborhood, or have an affair, or another baby.

If I am right, this problem stirring in the minds of so many American women today is not a matter of loss of femininity or too much education, or the demands of domesticity. It is far more important than anyone recognises. It may well be the key to our future as a nation and a culture. We can no longer ignore that voice within women that says: "I want something more than my husband and my children and my home."

The problem that has no name - which is simply the fact that American women are kept from growing to their full human capacities - is taking a far greater toll on the physical and mental health of our country than any known disease. If we continue to produce millions of young mothers who stop their growth and education short of identity, without a strong core of human values to pass on to their children, we are committing, quite simply, genocide, starting with the mass burial of American women and ending with the progressive dehumanisation of their sons and daughters. These problems cannot be solved by medicine or even by psychotherapy.

A woman today who has no goal, no purpose, no ambition patterning her days into the future, making her stretch and grow beyond that small score of years in which her body can fill its biological function, is committing a kind of suicide. The feminine mystique has succeeded in burying millions of American women alive. There is no way for these women to break out of their comfortable concentration camps except by finally putting forth an effort - that human effort which reaches beyond biology, beyond the narrow walls of the home, to help shape the future. We need a drastic reshaping of the cultural image of femininity that will permit women to reach maturity, identity, completeness of self, without conflict with sexual fulfilment.

Who knows what women can be when they are finally free to become themselves?


31 thoughts on &ldquo The Feminine Mystique &rdquo

As I read the first few chapters of The Feminine Mystique, the first thing I noticed was that the book, based on events occurring in the 1950s and 1960s, and published in 1963, was presumably written for that time period. There would therefore be a huge difference in how the book would be read and understood in the 60s, versus now, when the feminine mystique is a part of history. The idea of the mystique was a revolutionary one, and Friedan was likely one of the first to directly address it. Her book was meant to open people’s eyes to the “problem that has no name” and to encourage action. With that said, what impact did The Feminine Mystique have on society when it was published, and what role did it play in the post-feminism movement?

That is a very interesting question. The Washington Post’s article “Did Feminism Need ‘The Feminine Mystique?” suggests that although the Feminine Mystique did have an impact on the feminism movement, there were many other factors that triggered it. The book definitely gave “stuck” housewives of the 1950’s the extra push they needed to go back for an education and enter the world again. Mostly, though, it affected that generation, which in turn affected the next generation who headed the feminism movement of the 1960’s. Many women in that younger generation never even read The feminine Mystique, but were impacted by the ideas that the book had helped bring to the surface in society and their own mothers. The notion of the book, if not the book itself, is really what left a legacy.

Throughout the book, the “feminine mystique” takes shape as the social norms of the time responsible for “the problem that has no name”. The mystique made it undesirable for a woman to want an education or a career, or to be interested in anything not directly related to the “woman’s world”: a world where everything revolved around care of the family and the home. The feminine mystique showed women a twisted idea of femininity: that one should find total fulfillment in having a husband, children, and raising a family.
According to Friedan, the women’s magazines of the time were a huge part of the idea of the feminine mystique. These magazines, run largely by men, only published articles relating to that narrow “woman’s world”. On page 37, Friedan quotes an editor of one such magazine, who said, “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 and the home.” This approach greatly limited the perspectives of women in the 1960s. Was this an attempt of the men of society to keep women underfoot, or were they simply victims of the mystique as well? Put another way, did the women’s magazines of the ‘60s define the social norms of the time, or did they simply reinforce social norms that had already been established? If the latter is true, who or what established these social norms?

The question you raised on whether or not men were purposefully attempting to keep women down is a thought-inducing one. After rereading a few passages, I think the answer is both. Some people, like the advertisement manipulator in Chapter 9, were paid to keep women believing their place was in the home. Others truly believed they were doing what was best for women. Psychological research by famous people like Freud showed that women were inferior and needed to stay in the house. Scientists and advertisers perpetuated the feminine mystique with studies and commercials. As Sharlotte talked about earlier, the feminine mystique was a reaction against the events in America at the time: “It was easier, safer to think about love and sex than about Communism, McCarthy, and the uncontrolled bomb” (274). The retreat to the home, something all Americans took part in, placed women under the feminine mystique, and the most of the men were just swept along.

While reading The Feminine Mystique, Friedan brings up the role of media on numerous occasions. She discusses how “good” Victorian-era women were portrayed to be abstinent, their images leaving out a part of their persons. She compares this the image of “good” woman of the mid-1900’s, questioning weather something is left out about their persons as well. Media, Friedan explains, “Shapes women’s lives today and mirrors their dreams.” For a woman of the 1950’s, media portrayed Housewives as heroines, making it difficult for a woman with ambition to see herself as feminine, often times wondering if something was mentally wrong with her. The way Friedan discusses media and its power to market a specific stereotype reminds me a lot of Alyssa Quart’s book, Branded. Writing about the world of marketing, Quart discusses how companies prey on teens, using media to portray a “perfect teen” that all other teens should emulate. Quart discusses how brands can alienate teens, that teens that don’t strive to fit the stereotype marketed by companies suffer socially, finding it difficult to find themselves without a stereotype to label themselves with. Both Quart and Friedan lament the difficulties the media poses to people who are looking to be individuals, as media often portrays those who don’t follow the status quo as outcasts. It’s interesting how books written 40+ years apart, and on completely different subjects can both struggle with media and its role in society.

I completely agree. There’s a very strong connection here regarding the media’s influence on women, as well as the outcomes of such a stance. When Friedan mentions media and magazines and how women were expected to think and look, it really reminded me of media today. Lots of today’s media for girls and women only feature “what to wear” and “how to look pretty” and “how to get a boyfriend”. Just like in the 1950s, there is a huge focus on physical appearance and attracting men. However, recently there has been more emphasis on women’s empowerment, confidence, and self-actualization, just like the movement that was started by The Feminine Mystique. Examples include Seventeen’s Body Peace project, and recent events and organizations like SlutWalks. Fighting the media and society’s portrayal of women, the third-wave feminist movement is mirroring that of the 20th century.

The phrase that you used, Abigail, “left out about their persons” reminded me of Chapter Twelve of The Feminine Mystique. Friedan writes about increased juvenile delinquency, attributing this development to the relationship between mother and child in which the mother seeks to live vicariously through her offspring. The overbearing attitude of mothers with children as their only outlet resulted in passive, dependent teenagers who resorted to vandalism and theft to get their “kicks.” Friedan talks about Sarah Lawrence College and how “if left to organize their [the students’] own activities, no activities were organized a curriculum geared to the students’ own interests no longer worked because the students did not have strong interests of their own” (395-396). The teenagers were child-like in their mental mindset, never having to face the difficulties of growing up because their mothers would go to extreme lengths to make life easy for them. Not only did the feminine mystique “leave out” parts of women’s personalities, but also parts of their children’s.

Something I noticed while reading this book was how times change along with people’s ideas of what is beautiful or normal to do. I thought it was interesting how quickly things change between a few decades or generations. For example, starting in 1939 “women had become three or four sizes smaller” because it was important to be thin like the models. A few decades later in the 1970’s, many ads for weight-gain solutions were run saying that skinny isn’t beautiful and that men wouldn’t look at skinny women. A simple thing as body image goes back and forth between what is the right way to look.
Another aspect of women life that changed often in the book was the role that women play. Women went back and forth between being happy with being housewives and wanting more out of life. In the book, there was a comparison of this to the Chinese women and binding feet. It was seen as beautiful to bind feet, but if one generation decided not to bind their feet, would the rumors cause the next generation to want to have bound feet? This is like the idea of being a housewife. Women used to love being housewives until the first wave of the Feminist Movement came and women wanted to do more in life and they wanted more rights. The generation after that just went back to wanting to be housewives because they were afraid that being like the feminist generation would cause them to “lose femininity”. In all aspects of life, I think the rapid back and forth change of ideas is very interesting.

As Martha mentions, the desires of 20th century women rapidly change throughout the century. Friedan discusses how girls were “afraid to grow up.” These young women watched as their mothers became suffocated by their decisions, one seventeen year old compares her mother to a “rock that’s been smoothed by the waves.” (74) Terrified that they’d make the same mistakes the previous generation had, young women tried desperately not to become their mothers. Women of the 20th century didn’t look inside themselves to decide what they wanted, they chose their futures based on what society told them they should be along with a determination to be different from their mother’s generation. I think the rapid changing between generations is one of the reasons the “crisis in the woman’s identity” occurred. Women didn’t ask themselves what they wanted to be, because they felt like society was already telling them the answer. Weather it was to be more feminine, or to be someone besides a housewife, women of the 20th century felt forced into the role that society was promoting at the time.

Abigail mentions how women felt forced into the role that society was promoting at that time, which i think is a very good way to word it. I was thinking about the role of women and it reminded me of the book Male and Female by Margaret Mead. On page 212, she brings up many questions like if a girl feels that her gender makes her less sure than her brothers will it limit her sense of ambition too? Betty Friedan thinks the word “if” is very significant. Because if a girl didn’t know she was any different than her brother besides her anatomy, then she might think differently in how she acts or in her ambitions. Friedan wrote, “…there are no true-for-every-culture sexual differences except those involved in the act of procreation…” This makes me wonder what it would be like if women didn’t feel bound by their gender. If there wasn’t a specific role for the genders, would the feminist movement have happened, or would there even be gender inequalities today? To me, it seems that if women and men always did what they felt like aspiring to do, the world would be a lot different and movements in history would change also.

In your post, Martha, you brought up the thought that “men wouldn’t look at skinny women.” When I read that, I immediately thought of the parts in The Feminine Mystique where Friedan talks about men controlling women’s bodies. In chapter four, Friedan writes, “…some women denied their own sex, the desire to love and be loved by a man, and to bear children” (139). Today the majority of women have a say in when they want to have children or sex, but commercials and other forms of advertising have still put a lot of pressure on conforming to what men will think is “pretty.” Whether men actually think the way the media says they do or not, it still is a powerful impetus for women to shape their bodies the way the media advertises.

In the past, I had done research on Sigmund Freud and his theories. Once was for my science fair project in 8th grade about the brain and again last year for my informative speech on dreams. While doing research for information about dreams I found a lot about how desires and impulses often come out during our dreams. I saw some information about psychosexual development, but I never read in depth about it. Chapter five discusses Freud’s theories on psychoanalysis and what he calls “penis envy”(the idea that women feel inferior to men because they are lacking a penis). Since then, many of his theories have been dismissed but at that time, Freud believed women were meant to be ruled by men. Freud was important to our culture, however some of his theories held women back.

I completely agree with you that Freud played a major role in holding women back. On page 113, Friedan quotes Freud as saying “The great question that has never been answered and which I have not yet been able to answer, despite my thirty years of research into the feminine soul, is, what does a woman want?” Well, maybe instead of just assuming that all women want a penis, he, and the rest of society, could have asked them. Unfortunately, society was so oppressive towards women that they lacked the sense of identity needed in order to answer the question. The only reason that women may have suffered “penis envy” is because they did not understand that they could experience both human and sexual fulfillment without having a penis. They may have been jealous of men because they were allowed to enjoy sexual satisfaction and also contribute to creating the outside world. Society did not give women the opportunity to truly accomplish either one of these necessary parts of life- they were only allowed to create babies. Why did not having a penis have to make women inferior to men? Why, as soon as they start yearning for more out of life than cleaning a house and making babies do they suddenly turn into Lady Macbeth? (120)

In the mid-twentieth century, sociologists along with other social scientists supported the idea that a woman’s place is in the home. Friedan mentions that while a girl may be able to ignore her grandfather making such remarks, it’s hard to disagree when a scientist is telling you it’s true. (128) The scientists had a common message: a woman can either choose a career in the field or a career in the home, but not both. Women were under the impression that choosing a career meant they’d never be married, never have children. This caused me to think about today’s women, what do we think? While social scientists are no longer publishing textbooks that teach this message, there are a lot of people in society who still think this way. We see women each year give up their careers to stay home with their children, either by choice or necessity. Women who are very ambitious in their careers discuss how men are “intimidated by them.” Many women find marriage and children to be the end of a successful career. Do woman still think they have to choose between a career and a family?

That is a very good question. I think that whether or not a woman feels that she has to choose between having a career or a family depends on a few factors in their life. A lot of it is based on how they are raised. If their parents raise their daughters to want husbands and families they will most likely want to be housewives. If a woman is raised to be independent, she maybe would rather start a career before starting a family. However, another factor that changes how women decide would be their financial status. A woman might have to choose her career over her family if they need the money. On page 207, it says “a woman is what society says she is.” This restricted women to be whatever society wanted them to be whether it was a housewife or a career woman. Today, I don’t think women are restricted by society as much because it is accepted for women to have families and jobs. I think the main reason they would have to choose between the two are the factors like their background or financial status.

Abigail and Martha have a very good point. Thankfully, now it is normal and socially acceptable for a woman to have both a career and a family. While reading Friedan’s book, I had a conversation with my dad on this subject, since he was raised in the 50s and 60s during this second-wave feminism time period. He said that from his perspective, now women who choose to be housewives are almost looked down upon and thought of as “unfulfilled” because they don’t have a career. Possibly because of the mindset brought about by Friedan’s book, the situation has entirely flip-flopped. My mom is a stay-at-home mom, a housewife she met my dad at work and stopped working when they got married. While I was reading the chapter “The Crisis in Women’s Identity” out of curiosity I asked my mom “who are you?”. She had no problem answering said she thought of herself as a wife, mother, an educated woman, a small business manager, a gardener, homeowner, employee, friend… the list went on and on. I asked her if she felt fulfilled, and she said yes. I thought this interesting in comparison to the unfulfilled, questioning housewives of the 50s. It seems that now, since all women aren’t pressured to be housewives, for the most part the women who are housewives feel fulfilled and perfectly happy with their decisions.

I agree with Martha’s point about the way a woman is raised, but I also think that society has an equal or greater impact. A family has a lot of say in the way a child thinks when he or she is young, but as the child grows up, he or she begins to be influenced more and more by the culture around them. Even though a girl has been taught that she is beautiful just the way she is, society can bring her down a lot. Women are still extremely inferior to men accord to several politicians today. For example, in defense of his stance against abortion, Representative Todd Akin said that a woman has the ability to “shut down the whole thing down” as long as she was legitimately raped. His statement is just one example of the alarming misunderstandings about women that Betty Friedan talked about. Like Abigail said, it’s one thing to ignore a family member saying misogynistic things, but it’s quite hard to push the ideas away when they are spread by politicians and the media.

Katherine, I love that you are bringing in today’s politics. Todd Akin is a great example of a politician that still thinks women are inferior. Just a few days ago, Australia elected a new Prime Minister and when I heard about who it was it reminded me of your comment. Tony Abbott was just elected to be the new Prime Minister and he is yet another example of someone who believe women are inferior. In fact, as a student he said “I think it would be folly to expect that women will ever dominate or even approach equal representation in a large number of areas simply because their aptitudes, abilities and interests are different for physiological reasons.” I really find it interesting that decades after the feminist movement, and many strong women individuals, that people still see women as inferior to men.

In The Feminine Mystique, Betty Friedan indicates World War II as a clear transition into the era of the Feminine Mystique. Before the war, especially during the Depression, a woman was still expected to be a devoted mother, wife, and homemaker, but she also had to work alongside the men of the family in order to survive. In The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck portrays the mother as a strong matriarch, tirelessly picking cotton and holding herself together with a strength of which none of the men seem capable. Obviously, women proved themselves to be more than just homemakers during this hardship. So why, then, did the war send them back home? Friedan suggests that it was an escape, saying “It was easier, safer, to think about love and sex than about communism, McCarthy, and the uncontrolled bomb.” (187) The feminine mystique was just an excuse to force not only females, but the entire country, to avoid reality and turn inward because this inhumane war had inspired a paralyzing fear of progress. Progress often goes hand in hand with dehumanization, as seen during the Industrial Revolution, so it would seem that the country was trying to avoid dehumanization in its retreat to the home. Ironically, the feminine mystique, intended to reverse progress, had the exact opposite effect, stripping hundreds of thousands of women of their humanity and ability to grow. Does this imply that too much progress and too little progress are both equally dangerous? Does either extreme result in a loss of humanness? Can we create a balance?

That is a great connection! As shown in the Grapes of Wrath, there was obviously a much different mindset in America regarding the role of women before the feminine mystique came into play. It shows that it was possible for women to be respected and to have a meaningful, fulfilling, respected role in life. The mystique definitely changed that. I find it interesting that little or no women looked back to the 1920s and 30s and saw that the changes that were made could be causing their lack of fulfillment. The idea of a balance of progress is intriguing. I agree that in a general sense, one wouldn’t want too much progress too quickly, nor too little progress however it would depend on the progress being made. For example, what dehumanization could occur from progress in women’s rights and roles in society?

In chapter 8, Betty Friedan talks about women who work and how they are not equal to men in the workplace. On page 272 it says, “A woman researcher on Time magazine, for instance, cannot, no matter what her ability, aspire to be a writer the unwritten law makes the men writers and editors, the women researchers.” This part reminds me of the movie Anchorman. Although this movie is meant to be humorous, it does show real sexism between the anchors. In the movie, taking place in the 70s, a woman is hired to be the co-anchor on the daily news. At first she is only given stories on “female interests” like cooking or fashion shows. She refused to put up with the sexism and she finally got put into the daily news and her co-anchor refuses to take her seriously. Sexism against women has been around ever since women started working and it’s interesting that after all of these years it still exists even today with things like wages.

The Feminine Mystique is all about the misconceptions, the oppression, and the stereotypes regarding women. When it was written in 1962 females were considered inferior without ambition or ideas, but American culture has changed since then. The Feminine Mystique revolutionized the way people thought about women and their role in society. Since this book showed what being a woman in that era was really like, do you think a book like The Feminine Mystique is needed for another group that some in our society see as inferior? For example, homosexuals? African Americans? Muslims? Are there any books that you have read that accomplish for another group what the Feminine Mystique did for women?

Liberation in today’s society seems to be taking on a different form than it did in the 1960’s. With the strong influence of media in our lives, messages are spreading in a different way, with celebrities speaking up for gay rights and social media spreading news about the need for equality. For example, the campaign “It Gets Better” has helped support the LGBT community. If a book today could have as much as an impact as the Feminine Mystique did, I think it would be a miracle, but unfortunately I’m not sure it would be as groundbreaking today because so many issues have already been brought to people’s attention. However, there could still be underlying issues of which society isn’t yet aware, so a book could help bring those to light, like the Feminine Mystique did.

Friedan talks in the latter half of the book about the consequences of the feminine mystique not just for women, but for the American population as a whole. Chapter 11 covers the topic of the aggressive sex-seeking women at the same time as the dehumanization of sex. Friedan writes,”…they [American women] have reverted from independent activity to search for their sole fulfillment through their sexual role in the home” (366). As a result of the feminine mystique’s disempowering effect on women, women were taking the only area they had, their sex, and becoming extremely aggressive in that area. This aggressiveness corresponded to a sexual disinterest on the part of men, leading to an increase in hostility towards women. The rapidly growing difference between men’s and women’s views on sex led to a preoccupation with fantasy. The media indulged these fantasies with blatantly sexual material, trivializing sex and sexualizing increasingly young children. Do you think this sexualization still occurs today with the likes of Honey Boo Boo and child pageants?

I think this sexualization is definitely still an issue in today’s culture. Once the media and businesses learned that the “sexual sells” during the 1950’s, it seems that almost everything has gone down that route. The media is taking advantage of, while also contributing to, a society that does not have mature and healthy attitudes toward sex and gender identity. They seize on this weakness and fill it with over-sexualized perfume ads and child beauty pageants. The media also feeds women’s insecurities, clogging their brains with “perfect” women, and then using that insecurity to sell them anything that will make them “more beautiful”. Friedan is right- the corporations and the media have found what works, and they are STILL using it to their advantage. The scary thing to think about, though, is what will happen when these child pageant stars grow up? Will they ever truly mature if they have spent their whole lives defined by their sex? Not to mention, many of their mothers are living vicariously through them to feel fulfilled, creating an emotional symbiosis (288) that is extremely unhealthy for both mother and child. In the same way, mothers during the feminine mystique era encouraged promiscuity in their daughters because they had never felt fulfilled, sexually or in the larger world.

Sexualization of women definitely still occurs today. The Feminine Mystique had a huge impact on society’s view of women and was largely responsible for many improvements in women’s lives in the 50s and 60s. However, the sexualization of women is still a problem in our culture. Do you think this is because of a permanent mindset in America, or can it be fixed? What would it take? How does America’s culture and respect of women compare to that of other countries?

I like how Katherine brought up the idea of child pageants and the media, and I agree with Sharlotte about the media feeding women’s insecurities. There are so many TV Shows, advertisements and other forms of media that cause women to feel bad about themselves unless they look like society wants them to look. To answer Madee’s question, I do think that the sexualization of women can be fixed. It isn’t permanent and small progress is being made. For example, Dove has a “Real Beauty” campaign which shows how models in advertisements look nothing like the person they really are due to Photoshop and makeup. Girls look at these ads but don’t realize that the models aren’t real people. Campaigns like these that show that real women are beautiful without Photoshop and makeup can help change the mindset of America. Women like Adele, Jennifer Lawrence, and Kelly Clarkson are helping change the mindset of America, because these women refuse to listen to the media complaining about their weight. They are happy with their bodies and try to convince their audience that weight really doesn’t matter.Although much of the media still portrays many women that are “perfect” in the media sense, more and more women are starting to go against this sexualization. These women can help change the mindset of America.

I was recently reading another book, Fourth Comings by Megan McCafferty. Set in the 2000s, the main character is a smart, sarcastic 22-year old woman who has very strong opinions on feminism and frequently comments on ideas similar to those in The Feminine Mystique. I never really made a connection between the two books until one day, while reading, I came across a reference to Betty Friedan. The character mentioned “Christians and Friedan-model feminists,” people who would protest the objectification of women. (111) It really opened my mind to the other ways in which these two completely different books would relate to each other, and what an impact The Feminine Mystique had on our culture. The revealing of the mystique really changed Americans’ view of women and started to bring women back into the workforce, and the mention of Friedan in a modern book shows how this opinion has pervaded our society.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs seems to strongly coincide with the issues of human growth found in The Feminine Mystique. The hierarchy is a pyramid with basic physiological needs on the bottom, then safety and security, then love and belonging, then self-esteem and respect, and finally self-actualization. Maslow says that one must first attain each lower level before one can move up in the pyramid. Unfortunately, the feminine mystique acts as a road block between in the pyramid. Society began to send the message that women’s growth ended after they found the security of a family and their role as a female. What more could they possibly need? It turns out that the emptiness housewives felt was that aching top half of the pyramid. These middle-class American women did not live in an environment in which food and safety were of concern. They had the full potential to reach for self-actualization, yet they were scared to leave the security of the bottom of the pyramid, and society was against it. Also, it seems that if a person never reaches to the top of the pyramid when they are fully capable, the lower levels begin to falter. With no sense of self, these women’s relationships were crumbling and any kind of intimacy was empty, just trying to fill the gap in their lives. Without the feminine mystique, women could have reached to the top of the pyramid and felt complete as humans.

I love that you brought in Maslow’s triangle! Friedan interviewed what she calls a “manipulator,” someone who created advertisements to make women feel fulfilled by taking care of those bottom layers of the triangle. The manipulator reported that simple tasks, such as baking a cake or cleaning the floor, needed to seem extremely important chores that could only be done with a certain brand. Friedan writes in Chapter 9, “Losing herself in her work- surrounded by all the implements, creams, powders, soaps, she forgets for a time how soon she will have to redo the task” (313). The deliberate control of women through advertising made women think that they were in charge of the base levels of the pyramid. If women did not do their job, the men couldn’t do theirs. Advertising took advantage of the idea that women kept the bottom of Maslow’s triangle by promoting their products as the only good way to keep order. This idea, however, did not truly fulfill women because there was almost no way to access the top of the triangle and self-actualize.

Earlier this summer I read the book She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb, which recounts the life Dolores, who grows up during the era of the feminine mystique. During her early years, her family begins as the stereotypical 1950’s image, with a dominant father and a housewife mother. Eventually, everything crumbles when the mother miscarries and the father becomes abusive and leaves. The mother has an affair and enters a mental facility, and Dolores is raped. None of the females in this book are emotionally stable, and it all stems back to the patriarchal society in which they live. The mother has absolutely no identity of her own, and as a result feels like a complete failure when she is unable to have a child. She seeks fulfillment in a married man, and Dolores seeks her own fulfillment through food. This book demonstrates that women during this era were in desperate need of an outlet by which to find fulfillment and identity, and it also shows how much of an impact each generation of empty women has on the next generation. Friedan talks about how the first generation to suffer the feminine mystique made it even worse for their daughters, instilling the idea in their heads that their only goal in life should be to get married and have children. The daughters were brainwashed by this idea, yet they also so and were affected by the emptiness and depression in their mothers. That is exactly what happened with Dolores and her mother, just two more women in the vicious cycle of the feminine mystique.


Watch the video: 2017-National History Project: Betty Friedan u0026 The Feminine Mystique. (September 2022).


Comments:

  1. Melrone

    In it something is. Clearly, thanks for the explanation.

  2. Nadhir

    You can always find compromises and come to a common solution. If you don't like something, try something else.



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