The Feminine Mystique
by Betty Friedan
- Date finished: April 24
- Genre: Social Science, Feminism
- Year: 1963
- Project: n/a
- Reading List: Spring 2013, Time’s 100 Greatest Nonfiction Books
- Grade: A
- Thoughts upon reading:
I really picked a good time to read The Feminine Mystique. From the craziness coming out of Susan Patton, aka, “the Princeton mom,” to the release of Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s new book, Lean In, the role of women hasn’t been discussed more in recent years than it’s being discussed right now. It doesn’t hurt that Betty Friedan’s landmark commentary on American culture is turning 50 years old this year and is still as relevant as ever.
I feel like I’ve written a lot about, or in connection to, The Feminine Mystique over at my other blog, A Homebody, because of all the feminism issues. It seems that everywhere I turn, there’s some hot-button op-ed that can be connected to The Feminine Mystique. This is, I believe, the most telling sign of the book’s continued relevance, even 50 years after it was first published. Sure, Friedan is commenting on issues that were most pressing in the 1950’s and 1960’s, and yet issues of work-life balance, how to juggle a career with motherhood and getting women to positions of power continue to be topics of heated national discourse. Every woman should feel invested in this conversation, which is why reading (or re-reading) The Feminine Mystique is more important than ever.
Unfortunately, I feel like The Feminine Mystique sometimes get a bad rap in people’s minds today. In the decades after The Feminine Mystique was first published, Friedan became a very public and very political figure in American politics, defined instead by her presidency of the National Organization for Women and her advocacy for the Equal Rights Amendment, which eventually failed to be ratified. As the “women’s movement” and feminism moved into the 1980’s and 1990’s, the noise died down and even if the issues didn’t go away, the conversations changed – meaning that The Feminine Mystique became a “radical” tome for many, the inspiration behind the crazy bra burners and long-haired protesters.
And yet, you really can’t underestimate the social, political and cultural importance of a book like The Feminine Mystique. This is the book that ignited a firestorm that eventually tore down social barriers and cultural biases, and convinced this country that women were people too. It has its weaknesses, the most noted being that Friedan willfully ignores women of lower social classes, women of color and just brushes off homosexuality as if it’s just a “disease.” And yet, it’s important to remember that no matter how well-researched and complete this book is, it is still Friedan’s commentary, her outcry, her world. And what an argument – what a world. Even if you’re not a “feminist” in the literal sense, this book will definitely inspire you to be more culturally aware. It certainly made me more aware of feminism’s struggles today.
I’d say this is a book every woman should read, but I think 50 years later, we should go beyond that. This is a book that every woman, man and student should read, if only for its historical and cultural importance. I wish I had read it earlier.
Finally, I must leave you with some of Friedan’s last words, as I think they’re particularly powerful:
But when women as well as men emerge from biological living to realize their human selves, those leftover halves of life may become their years of greatest fulfillment.
Then the split image will be healed, and daughters will not face that jumping-off point at twenty-one or forty-one. When their mothers’ fulfillment makes girls sure they want to be women, they will not have to “beat themselves down” to be feminine; they can stretch and stretch until their own efforts will tell them who they are. They will not need the regard of boy or man to feel alive. And when women do not need to live through their husbands and children, men will not fear the love and strength of women, nor need another’s weakness to prove their own masculinity. They can finally see each other as they are. And this may be the next step in human evolution.
Who knows what women can be when they are finally free to become themselves? Who knows what women’s intelligence will contribute when it can be nourished without denying love? Who knows of the possibilities of love when men and women share not only children, home and garden, not only the fulfillment of their biological roles, but the responsibilities and passions of the work that creates the human future and the full human knowledge of who they are? It has barely begun, the search of women for themselves. But the time is at hand when the voices of the feminine mystique can no longer drown out the inner voice that is driving women on to become complete.
Now, if you’re interested, check out what I’ve written on The Feminine Mystique and what’s going on now at A Homebody:
Plus, if any knowledgeable feminists are reading this, leave me a comment over at A Homebody to let me know about some other titles about modern feminism, homemaking and the struggles of women today.