The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan

This dense book took me almost a month to read.  I had to take frequent breaks, like when I read The Feminist Promise.  I’m glad I read both, but they were extremely difficult, and it takes a lot to make me say that.

The Feminine Mystique
was written in the sixties, at the height of the mid-century return to the home.  When World War II ended and all the men came home, the women left their jobs and went back home to be “just a housewife.”  I could not believe the way things were a mere fifty years ago.  Women had won the right to vote in the twenties, but women’s rights had not progressed much past that.  The EEOC was a joke, and it was OK to place want ads specifically asking for a man or a women for the job.  And the majority of women did not work outside the home.  They stayed at home and became a part of the “Occupation: Housewife” movement.I have no problem with people wanting to stay home, whether or not to raise children.  But according to Friedan and her research, many of the women who were “just housewives” had few if any interests outside the home.  These women were feeling dissatisfied and depressed and even suicidal.  Friedan calls it “the problem that has no name.”  Until she defined it, it indeed was ephemeral and unnameable.Things have changed a lot since the sixties.  A lot fewer women stay home, and those who do have interests outside the home and housework.  Friedan dismisses volunteering as a solution to the problem, stating instead that women who stay home should go to school or work out of their homes.  She says that volunteering does not provide the sense of value and accomplishment.  I have to agree with her, since I am currently not working (not voluntarily), I am volunteering, and it fills the time but is unsatisfying.

At the same time, some things have not changed.  Women are still paid much less than men for the same work.  Women are still underrepresented in all forms and levels of government.  There are very few women in high-ranking positions in the military and the corporate world.

I think that Friedan may be a bit extreme in her descriptions and may have fudged the research to make it say what she wanted it so say.  Also, she seems not to like women, which is interesting, considering her influence on the perception of women through this book.  This is a sharp departure from the other feminist book I read, The Feminist Promise, where the writing is objective and the author seems to genuinely like other women.

Take It

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