Jump to content

The Feminine Mystique

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The Feminine Mystique
First edition with a quote from Virgilia Peterson
AuthorBetty Friedan
PublisherW. W. Norton
Publication date
February 19, 1963[1]
Publication placeUnited States
Media typePrint (Hardcover and Paperback)

The Feminine Mystique is a book by American author Betty Friedan, widely credited with sparking second-wave feminism in the United States.[2] First published by W. W. Norton on February 19, 1963, The Feminine Mystique became a bestseller, initially selling over a million copies.[3][4] Friedan used the book to challenge the widely shared belief that "fulfillment as a woman had only one definition for American women after 1949—the housewife-mother."[4]

In 1957, Friedan was asked to conduct a survey of her former Smith College classmates for their 15th anniversary reunion; the results, in which she found that many of them were unhappy with their lives as housewives, prompted her to begin research for The Feminine Mystique, conducting interviews with other suburban housewives, as well as researching psychology, media, and advertising. She originally intended to create an article on the topic, not a book, but no magazine would publish the work.[5][6]

The phrase "feminine mystique" was coined by Friedan to describe the assumptions that women would be fulfilled from their housework, marriage, sexual lives, and children. The prevailing belief was that women who were truly feminine should not want to work, get an education, or have political opinions. Friedan wanted to prove that women were unsatisfied and could not voice their feelings.[7]

At that time, women were aware that their sense of living an unfulfilling life was shared by many other women. With the help of this book, ladies no longer felt confined to their homes and were more comfortable voicing their ideas to one another.


Betty Friedan in 1960

The Feminine Mystique begins with an introduction describing what Friedan called "the problem that has no name"—the widespread unhappiness of women in the 1950s and early 1960s. She discusses the lives of several housewives from around the United States who were unhappy despite living in material comfort and being married with children.[8] Friedan also questions the women's magazine, women's education system, and advertisers for creating this widespread image of women. The detrimental effects induced by this image were that it cornered women into the domestic sphere, and that it led many women to lose their own identities.[4]

Chapter 1: Friedan points out that the average age of marriage was dropping, the portion of women attending college was decreasing and the birthrate was increasing for women throughout the 1950s, yet the widespread trend of unhappy women persisted, although American culture insisted that fulfillment for women could be found in marriage and housewifery. Although aware of and sharing this dissatisfaction, women in the 1950s misinterpreted it as an individual problem and rarely talked about it with other women. As Friedan pointed out, "part of the strange newness of the problem is that it cannot be understood in terms of the age-old material problems of man: poverty, sickness, hunger, cold." This chapter concludes by declaring: "We can no longer ignore that voice within women that says: 'I want something more than my husband and my children and my home.'"[9]

Chapter 2: Friedan states that the editorial decisions concerning women's magazines at the time were being made mostly by men, who insisted on stories and articles that showed women as either happy housewives or unhappy careerists, thus creating the "feminine mystique"—the idea that women were naturally fulfilled by devoting their lives to being housewives and mothers. Friedan also states that this is in contrast to the 1930s, at which time women's magazines often featured confident and independent heroines, many of whom were involved in careers.[10]

Chapter 3: Friedan recalls her own decision to conform to society's expectations by giving up her promising career in psychology to raise children, and shows that other young women still struggled with the same kind of decision. Many women dropped out of school early to marry, afraid that if they waited too long or became too educated, they would not be able to attract a husband. Friedan argues at the end of the chapter that although theorists discuss how men need to find their identity, women are expected to be autonomous. She states, "Anatomy is woman's destiny, say the theorists of femininity; the identity of woman is determined by her biology."[11] Friedan goes on to argue that the problem is women needing to mature and find their human identity: "In a sense that goes beyond any woman's life, I think this is a crisis of women growing up—a turning point from an immaturity that has been called femininity to full human identity."[11]

Chapter 4: Friedan discusses early American feminists and how they fought against the assumption that the proper role of a woman was to be solely a wife and mother. She notes that they secured important rights for women, including education, the right to pursue a career, and the right to vote.[12]

Chapter 5: In this chapter, Friedan, who had a degree in psychology, criticizes the founder of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud (whose ideas were very influential in the United States at the time of the book's publication). She notes that Freud saw women as childlike and destined to be housewives, once pointing out that Freud wrote, "I believe that all reforming action in law and education would break down in front of the fact that, long before the age at which a man can earn a position in society, Nature has determined woman's destiny through beauty, charm, and sweetness. Law and custom have much to give women that has been withheld from them, but the position of women will surely be what it is: in youth an adored darling and in mature years a loved wife." Friedan also points out that Freud's unproven concept of "penis envy" had been used to label women who wanted careers as neurotic, and that the popularity of Freud's work and ideas elevated the "feminine mystique" of female fulfillment in housewifery into a "scientific religion" that most women were not educated enough to criticize.[13]

Chapter 6: Friedan criticizes functionalism, which attempted to make the social sciences more credible by studying the institutions of society as if they were parts of a social body, as in biology. Institutions were studied in terms of their function in society, and women were confined to their sexual biological roles as housewives and mothers as well as told that doing otherwise would upset the social balance. Friedan points out that this is unproven and that Margaret Mead, a prominent functionalist, had a flourishing career as an anthropologist.[12]

Chapter 7: Friedan discusses the change in women's education from the 1940s to the early 1960s, in which many women's schools concentrated on non-challenging classes that focused mostly on marriage, family, and other subjects deemed suitable for women, as educators influenced by functionalism felt that too much education would spoil women's femininity and capacity for sexual fulfillment. Friedan says that this change in education arrested girls in their emotional development at a young age, because they never had to face the painful identity crisis and subsequent maturation that comes from dealing with many adult challenges.[12]

Chapter 8: Friedan notes that the uncertainties and fears during World War II and the Cold War made Americans long for the comfort of home, so they tried to create an idealized home life with the father as breadwinner and the mother as housewife.[14] Friedan notes that this was helped along by the fact that many of the women who worked during the war filling jobs previously held by men faced dismissal, discrimination, or hostility when the men returned, and that educators blamed over-educated, career-focused mothers for the maladjustment of soldiers in World War II. Yet as Friedan shows, later studies found that overbearing mothers, not careerists, were the ones who raised maladjusted children.[12]

Chapter 9: Friedan shows that advertisers tried to encourage housewives to think of themselves as professionals who needed many specialized products in order to do their jobs, while discouraging housewives from having actual careers, since that would mean they would not spend as much time and effort on housework and therefore would not buy as many household products, cutting into advertisers' profits.[12] Critics of this theory point out that under the circumstances men, not women, would be buying these household products and women having actual careers would increase women's buying power while increasing advertisers profits.

Chapter 10: Friedan interviews several full-time housewives, finding that although they are not fulfilled by their housework, they are all extremely busy with it. She postulates that these women unconsciously stretch their home duties to fill the time available, because the feminine mystique has taught women that this is their role, and if they ever complete their tasks they will become unneeded.[12]

Chapter 11: Friedan notes that many housewives have sought fulfillment in sex, unable to find it in housework and children. She notes that sex cannot fulfill all of a person's needs, and that attempts to do so often drive married women to have affairs or drive their husbands away as they become obsessed with sex.[12]

Chapter 12: Friedan discusses the fact that many children have lost interest in life or emotional growth, attributing the change to the mother's own lack of fulfillment, a side effect of the feminine mystique. When the mother lacks a self, Friedan notes, she often tries to live through her children, causing the children to lose their own sense of themselves as separate human beings with their own lives.[12]

Chapter 13: Friedan discusses the psychologist Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of needs and notes that women have been trapped at the basic, physiological level, expected to find their identity through their sexual role alone. Friedan says that women need meaningful work just as men do to achieve self-actualization, the highest level on the hierarchy of needs.[12]

Chapter 14: In the final chapter of The Feminine Mystique, Friedan discusses several case studies of women who have begun to go against the feminine mystique. She also advocates a new life plan for her women readers, including not viewing housework as a career, not trying to find total fulfillment through marriage and motherhood alone, and finding meaningful work that uses their full mental capacity. She discusses the conflicts that some women may face in this journey to self-actualization, including their own fears and resistance from others. For each conflict, Friedan offers examples of women who have overcome it. Friedan ends her book by promoting education and meaningful work as the ultimate method by which American women can avoid becoming trapped in the feminine mystique, calling for a drastic rethinking of what it means to be feminine, and offering several educational and occupational suggestions.[12]

Intended sequel


Friedan originally intended to write a sequel to The Feminine Mystique, which was to be called Woman: The Fourth Dimension, but instead only wrote an article by that name, which appeared in the Ladies' Home Journal in June 1964.[15][16]



Friedan's chapter on Freud was inspired by the philosopher Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex (1949).[17]



The Feminine Mystique drew large numbers of white, middle-class women to the feminist cause.[18] Her book "took the complicated and jargon-laden ideas of psychologists, economists, and political theorists, and translated them into powerful, readable, relatable prose that touched millions."[citation needed]

The Feminine Mystique was translated into many languages, including a Catalan translation in 1965: La mística de la feminitat. Friedan was the first feminist thinker to be published during the dictatorship of Francoist Spain.[citation needed]

The National Organization for Women (NOW) was organized in 1966 with 30 women from different backgrounds; Friedan was one of them, and helped draft the founding statement of NOW. The statement called for "the true equality for all women". NOW demanded the removal of all barriers to "equal and economic advance".[19] Friedan's influence can be seen in the founding statement; a main emphasis of the book is "women's need for identity and autonomy", and NOW's statement says "NOW is dedicated to the proposition that women first and foremost are human beings, who… must have the chance to develop their fullest human potential."[18]

The Feminine Mystique is widely regarded as one of the most influential nonfiction books of the 20th century, and is widely credited with sparking the beginning of second-wave feminism in the United States.[2][20] Futurist Alvin Toffler declared that it "pulled the trigger on history."[2] Friedan received hundreds of letters from unhappy housewives after its publication, and she herself went on to help found, and become the first president of[21] the National Organization for Women, an influential feminist organization.[22]

In addition to its contribution to feminism, The Feminine Mystique related to many other coinciding movements. "Her work indicates for us the ways that feminism was interconnected with the struggles of working-class men and women, with black and Jewish battles against racism and anti-Semitism… As a result, The Feminine Mystique had substantial impact on a wide range of political activists, thinkers, and ordinary individuals."[23]

By the year 2000, The Feminine Mystique had sold over 3 million copies and had been translated into many foreign languages.[2]

On February 22 and 23, 2013, a symposium titled React: The Feminine Mystique at 50, co-sponsored by The New School for Public Engagement and The Parsons School of Design, was held.[24][25] An accompanying exhibit titled REACT was also on display, consisting of twenty-five pieces of artwork responding to The Feminine Mystique.[24]

Also in February 2013, a fiftieth-anniversary edition of The Feminine Mystique was published, with a new introduction by Gail Collins.[26]

Also in 2013, to celebrate its centennial the U.S. Department of Labor created a list of over 100 Books that Shaped Work in America, which included The Feminine Mystique.[27][28] The Department of Labor later chose The Feminine Mystique as one of its top ten books from that list.[28]

Also in 2013, The Feminine Mystique was discussed in Makers: Women Who Make America.[29]

In 2014, the Betty Friedan Hometown Tribute committee won the Superior Achievement award in the special projects category for its 50th anniversary celebration of the publication of The Feminine Mystique. They received the award from the Illinois State Historical Society.[30]





Immediately after its publishing, The Feminine Mystique was the recipient of much backlash against feminism. Significant numbers of women responded angrily to the book, which they felt implied that wives and mothers could never be fulfilled.[31] "Women who valued their roles as mothers and housewives interpreted Friedan's message as one that threatened their stability, devalued their labor, and disrespected their intelligence."[32] In a Letter to Editor in McCall's, one woman wrote, "All this time I thought I was happy, and a nice person. Now I discover I've been miserable and some sort of monster in disguise—now out of disguise. How awful!"[33] Another said, "Mrs. Friedan should save her pity for those who really need it—the half starved, oppressed people in the world."[34] When women critical of the work were not expressing personal offense at Friedan's description of the housewife's plight, they were accusing her of planning to destroy American families.[31] Jessica Weiss quoted in her paper, "If the mothers, (or housewives as we are called) took this advice, what would become of our children? Or better yet, the future of the world."[34]

Historian Joanne Meyerowitz argues that many of the contemporary magazines and articles of the period did not place women solely in the home, as Friedan stated, but in fact supported the notions of full- or part-time jobs for women seeking to follow a career path rather than being a housewife.[35] These articles did, however, still emphasize the importance of maintaining the traditional image of femininity.[36]

Author and publication process


Daniel Horowitz, a Professor of American Studies at Smith College, points out that although Friedan presented herself as a typical suburban housewife, she was involved with radical politics and labor journalism in her youth, and during the time she wrote The Feminine Mystique she worked as a freelance journalist for women's magazines and as a community organizer.[37][38]

The W. W. Norton publishing house, where Betty Friedan's work was initially circulated to be published as a book also generated some criticism. In fact an employee under the alias "L M" wrote in a two-page memo that[36] Friedan's theoretical views were "too obvious and feminine", as well as critiquing her approach by suggesting it to be unscientific.

Excluded groups of women


In addition, Friedan has been criticized for focusing solely on the plight of middle-class white women, and not giving enough attention to the differing situations encountered by women in less stable economic situations, or women of other races. According to Kirsten Fermaglich and Lisa Fine, "women of color—African American, Latina, Asian American and Native American women—were completely absent from Friedan's vision, as were white working-class and poor women."[18] Despite being written during the Civil Rights Movement, Friedan's text "barely mentions African-American women."[39] In her Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center, Black feminist bell hooks writes "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. She did not tell readers whether it was more fulfilling to be a maid, a babysitter, a factory worker, a clerk, or a prostitute than to be a leisure-class housewife. She made her plight and the plight of white women like herself synonymous with a condition affecting all American women. In so doing, she deflected attention away from her classism, her racism, her sexist attitudes towards the masses of American women. In the context of her book, Friedan makes clear that the women she saw as victimized by sexism were college-educated white women".[40]

Friedan has also been criticized for prejudice against homosexuality.[41][42] In part, this criticism stems from her adherence to the paradigmatic belief at the time that "bad mothers" caused deviance from heteronormative and cisnormative society.[43]

Despite these criticisms, her "language aimed at white American middle-class women won large numbers of supporters to the feminist cause," implying perhaps that Friedan's decision to exclude other groups was deliberate in mobilizing a group of women that had in some cases not thought of the improvement of their rights.[18]

See also



  1. ^ Addison, Heather; Goodwin-Kelly, Mary Kate; Roth, Elaine (2009). Motherhood misconceived: representing the maternal in U.S. film. SUNY Press. p. 29. ISBN 978-1-4384-2812-3.
  2. ^ a b c d Margalit Fox (5 February 2006). "Betty Friedan, Who Ignited Cause in 'Feminine Mystique,' Dies at 85". The New York Times. Retrieved 19 February 2017.
  3. ^ Coontz, Stephanie (2011). A Strange Stirring: The Feminine Mystique and American Women at the Dawn of the 1960s. New York: Basic Books. pp. 145–149.
  4. ^ a b c Friedan, Betty (2013). The Feminine Mystique. W.W.Norton & Company, Inc. pp. xi–xx. ISBN 978-0-393-93465-6.
  5. ^ "Betty Friedan - Obituaries, News". The Independent. 7 February 2006. Retrieved 2011-02-18.[dead link]
  6. ^ Patricia Sullivan (February 5, 2006). "Voice of Feminism's 'Second Wave'". Washington Post. p. 2. Retrieved 2011-02-18.
  7. ^ "The Feminine Mystique | work by Friedan". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2019-06-03.
  8. ^ "The Feminine Mystique Summary". Enotes.com. Retrieved 2011-02-18.
  9. ^ Friedan, Betty (1963). "The Problem that Has No Name". The Feminine Mystique. W. W. Norton. Archived from the original on 2011-06-04. Retrieved 2011-02-18.
  10. ^ Friedan, Betty (1963). "The Happy Housewife Heroine". The Feminine Mystique. W. W. Norton. Archived from the original on 2011-11-25. Retrieved 2011-02-18.
  11. ^ a b Friedan, Betty (1963). "The Crisis in Woman's Identity". The Feminine Mystique. W. W. Norton. Retrieved 2011-02-18.
  12. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "The Feminist Mystique-Simple chapter summaries". eNotes. Archived from the original on 2011-07-27. Retrieved 2011-02-18.
  13. ^ Friedan, Betty (1963). "The Sexual Solipsism of Sigmund Freud". The Feminine Mystique. W. W. Norton. Retrieved 2011-02-18.
  14. ^ Friedan, Betty (1963). "The Mistaken Choice". The Feminine Mystique. W. W. Norton. Retrieved 2011-02-18.
  15. ^ American National Biography Online: Friedan, Betty
  16. ^ Patricia Bradley (2004). Mass Media and the Shaping of American Feminism, 1963-1975. Univ. Press of Mississippi. p. 312. ISBN 978-1-60473-051-7.
  17. ^ Webster, Richard (2005). Why Freud Was Wrong: Sin, Science and Psychoanalysis. Oxford: The Orwell Press. p. 22. ISBN 0-9515922-5-4.
  18. ^ a b c d Friedan, Betty; Fermaglich, Kirsten; Fine, Lisa (2013). The Feminine Mystique: The Contexts, The Scholarship on the Feminine Mystique (1st ed.). New York: W. W. Norton. pp. xvii.
  19. ^ Hunt, Michael H. (2015-06-26). The World Transformed. Oxford University Press. pp. 219–226. ISBN 9780199371020.
  20. ^ Spender, Dale (1985). For the Record: The Making and Meaning of Feminist Knowledge. Women's Press. pp. 7–19. ISBN 0704328623.
  21. ^ McGuire, William; Leslie Wheeler (2013). "Betty Friedan". Retrieved January 12, 2013. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  22. ^ It changed my life: writings on the women's movement (reprint ed.). Harvard University Press. 1998. ISBN 0-674-46885-6. Retrieved 2011-02-18.
  23. ^ Friedan, Betty; Fermaglich, Kirsten; Fine, Lisa (2013). The Feminine Mystique: The Contexts, The Scholarship on the Feminine Mystique (1st ed.). New York: W. W. Norton. pp. xx.
  24. ^ a b Media Coverage of the Feminine Mystique Symposium Archived 2013-05-23 at the Wayback Machine
  25. ^ New Location - React: The Feminine Mystique at 50 (Day 1) | The New School | University Events
  26. ^ The Feminine Mystique | W. W. Norton & Company
  27. ^ Jamie Smith Hopkins (10 December 2013). "What 'The Jungle' and 'What Do People Do All Day?' Have In Common". The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved 19 February 2017.
  28. ^ a b The Department of Labor Chose 100+ Books that Shaped Work in America
  29. ^ Kelly, Kate (February 25, 2013). "New PBS Program Makers Puts Women's Movement in Context". The Huffington Post.
  30. ^ "Home schooled student, Friedan panel recognized". Journal Star. April 28, 2014. Retrieved 19 February 2017.
  31. ^ a b Friedan, Betty; Fermaglich, Kirsten; Fine, Lisa (2013). The Feminine Mystique: The Contexts, The Scholarship on the Feminine Mystique (1st ed.). New York: W. W. Norton. p. 419.
  32. ^ Friedan, Betty; Fermaglich, Kirsten; Fine, Lisa (2013). The Feminine Mystique: The Contexts, The Scholarship on the Feminine Mystique (1st ed.). New York: W. W. Norton. pp. xxviii.
  33. ^ Friedan, Betty; Fermaglich, Kirsten; Fine, Lisa (2013). The Feminine Mystique: The Contexts, The Scholarship on the Feminine Mystique (1st ed.). New York: W. W. Norton. p. 381.
  34. ^ a b Friedan, Betty; Fermaglich, Kirsten; Fine, Lisa (2013). The Feminine Mystique: The Contexts, The Scholarship on the Feminine Mystique (1st ed.). New York: W. W. Norton. p. 380.
  35. ^ Joanne Meyerowitz, "Beyond The Feminine Mystique: A Reassessment of Postwar Mass Culture, 1946–1958", Journal of American History 79 (March 1993): 1455–1482. p. 1459 JSTOR 2080212
  36. ^ a b Schuessler, Jennifer (2013-02-18). "'The Feminine Mystique,' Reassessed after 50 Years". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2015-09-22.
  37. ^ "AWM Book Review: Betty Friedan". Association for Women in Mathematics. September–October 1999. Retrieved 2011-02-18.
  38. ^ Horowitz, Daniel. "Rethinking Betty Friedan and The Feminine Mystique: Labor Union Radicalism and Feminism in Cold War America." American Quarterly, Volume 48, Number 1, March 1996, pp. 1-42 JSTOR 30041520
  39. ^ Gail Collins (23 January 2013). "'The Feminine Mystique' at 50". The New York Times. Retrieved 19 February 2017.
  40. ^ Hooks, Bell (2000). Feminist theory : from margin to center (2nd ed.). London: Pluto. p. 2. ISBN 0-7453-1664-6. OCLC 45502856.
  41. ^ "Puncturing Betty Friedan, but Not the Mystique: An Interview with Stephanie Coontz". Stephaniecoontz.com. 2011-01-24. Archived from the original on 2011-09-27. Retrieved 2011-02-18.
  42. ^ Daniel Horowitz, "Rethinking Betty Friedan and The Feminine Mystique: Labor Union Radicalism and Feminism in Cold War America", American Quarterly, Vol. 48, No. 1 (Mar. 1996) p. 22 JSTOR 30041520
  43. ^ Friedan, Betty; Fermaglich, Kirsten; Fine, Lisa (2013). The Feminine Mystique: The Contexts, The Scholarship on the Feminine Mystique (1st ed.). New York: W. W. Norton. pp. xiv.

Further reading

  • Coontz, Stephanie. A Strange Stirring: "The Feminine Mystique" and American Women at the Dawn of the 1960s (Basic Books; 2011) 222 pages ISBN 0-465-00200-5
  • Meyerowitz, Joanne. "The Myth of the Feminine Mystique" in Myth America: A Historical Anthology, Volume II. 1997. Gerster, Patrick, and Cords, Nicholas. (eds.) Brandywine Press, St. James, NY. ISBN 1-881089-97-5