El's Reviews > The Feminine Mystique

The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan
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Sep 14, 10

bookshelves: cultural-studies-and-other, 20th-centurylit-late, permanent-collection, hear-me-roar
Read from September 08 to 14, 2010

Ladies, the next time you decide you don't want to cook dinner that night, that you'd rather read a book instead... I want you to give a little fist-bump to the heavens in honor of Betty Friedan. It's because of her that you even have that opportunity to make that choice.

Let's clear something up right now - The Feminine Mystique is not a text on how to become a man-hating, radical, hairy-armpitted lesbian. If that's what you think this is about, my review isn't going to change your mind so you might as well just go shoot a ruffled grouse and make your woman cook it for you.

The Feminine Mystique does, however, bring attention and awareness to the mystique that is femininity - that women are good for use of their wombs and their cooking skills and maybe one or two other things, so long as those things benefit the husband (and maybe the children) more than anyone else. Friedan noticed that there was this "problem that could not be named" (and no, it's not Voldemort), this increase in fatigue in women across the country, this deadness about them that made them want to sneak a few drinks when the kids were off to school or to pop a couple Valium while they vacuum the house every couple of days. What Friedan wanted to bring attention to was that it didn't need to be that way. That women could be educated, and they did not have to get married right after high school, that they could have a career as well as a family, if they so desired.

Her thesis is that women stop growing after a certain point - for some women it's in grade school, for some women it's in high school. Even the women who went to college (keep in mind that this book was published in 1963 so her focus was primarily on the fifties in America) went just to hone their skills as a woman and to (hopefully) find a man. Once the ring went on the finger, the women went to the kitchens and pooped out a couple of rugrats, but then couldn't figure out why they were so depressed. Because they hadn't actually finished growing, silly! It makes perfect sense really - you're no good to anyone if you haven't evolved yourself.
The Vassar study showed that just as girls begin to feel the conflicts, the growing pains of identity, they stop growing. They more or less consciously stop their own growth to play the feminine rule. Or, to put in in another way, they evade further experiences conducive to growth.

(p 176-7)

I can't possibly summarize everything that is wonderful about this book, but strongly encourage everyone to read it - men as well as women because it's just important for you guys to understand why it is your lady friends may just burst into tears for no reason while they're cooking your chicken pot pie.

I read this while visiting my 82-year-old grandmother. She got married at 18, though she had essentially dropped out of high school prior to that because it didn't interest her. Marriage didn't really interest her either, but it was better to do that than to do more school or get a job. She was raised to fit the mold of the feminine mystique. My grandfather died five years ago and Grandma still hasn't changed anything she has done for the past 50-60 years. She still doesn't care about politics and wouldn't vote, she still asks me (year after year after year) when I'm getting married, when will I have babies, don't I cook much, how about gardening? The answers are always the same and her reaction is always the same. A bit of a chuckle and, "I don't know, you're a weird one!" We love each other just the same, but we certainly don't see eye-to-eye on a lot of issues.

Reading this during my visit with her opened my eyes up to a lot of her behaviors and inspired me to ask her questions I might not have otherwise, like did any of her girlfriends go on to college? (Answer: No.)

Interestingly enough Friedan discusses the correlation between higher education and the female orgasm. (And yes, it is strange segueing into that after discussing my grandmother, thanks for asking.) She suggests that a woman is more likely to have enjoyable sexual experiences (The Big O) the further they made it in their academic career - a woman with a graduate degree is more likely to obtain orgasm than a woman who stopped learning after grade school. I'm not sure why more colleges and universities haven't picked up on that one. "Get a degree - it's orgasmic!"

(I jest. Sorta.)

Seriously, read this. Have your mom read this. I feel like I know my own mother more now than I did before. I wrote 12 pages of notes in my Moleskine journal - some quotes, some of my own thoughts, some questions to ask my grandmother, some to ask my mother (when I'm brave enough). My review here can't even begin to do justice here. Why this book wasn't actual required reading when I went to college (at a historically woman's college that is even mentioned once in this book) is beyond me. Sure, it was highly recommended by the professors, and referenced more than once. I remember being tested on Betty Friedan and her accomplishments (the start of the second-wave of feminism, the creation of NOW, etc.), and I'm sure we read a snippet or two from the text but we never had to read the whole thing. And I don't understand why. And I also can't remember what we did have to read in its place. That's pathetic.
If women do not put forth, finally, that effort to become all that they have it in them to become, they will forfeit their own humanity. 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.

(p 336)
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Comments (showing 1-15 of 15) (15 new)

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Velvetink Great review! this book needs to be read more widely again.. I was driving home in the rain last night listening to a radio talk back show on Tripple J (radio oriented to youth music etc), about young women in Australia feeling more and more pressured by their boyfriends to get married young, settle down, start a family. It sometimes seems like we haven't come very far at all.


message 2: by El (new) - rated it 5 stars

El Thanks, Velvetink! I think that's why I was so surprised that this isn't required reading now (still) - the issues Friedan discusses here haven't changed that much since it was published. I think perspectives have changed, and superficially things look better, but deep down it's still there. The book isn't as outdated as people like to think. Hopefully you can push the book on some young women in Australia! :)


message 3: by Rhonda (new) - added it

Rhonda Well, hell...w/ an awesome review like that I would feel quite amiss in not reading it!


message 4: by El (new) - rated it 5 stars

El Yes!! I'll bring my copy to work today, Rhonda! (Whenever I get off my lazy ass to drag myself in at least... I think that I should be there soon. So. Tired.) :)


message 5: by Theresa (new) - added it

Theresa Great review. I like that you have asked your grandmother about her life. It validates Friedan's argument and personalizes it. I relate to it. My mother-in-law is also from the same generation. Not only do I get pressure to be domestic and slave after her son, she dishes it to all my daughters as well.
Thank you for an excellent review and sharing your experiences with us.


message 7: by El (new) - rated it 5 stars

El Thanks, Cindy. I hadn't seen that review previously. The book sounds interesting so I'll definitely check it out. I'm on the fence as to whether or not I agree with everything in the review when it comes to Friedan's text - if the review is anything like the book, then it sounds like Coontz may have missed some of Friedan's points. But again, I'll reserve all judgment until I read Coontz's book. :)


message 8: by Scribble (new)

Scribble Orca Graduate! It's one hell of a climax!

Terrific review :)


message 9: by El (new) - rated it 5 stars

El Haha! Thanks, Scribble!


Heytherg Fist bump, sista!


message 11: by El (new) - rated it 5 stars

El Ya-Ya!


message 12: by Christina (new)

Christina I was thinking of reading it, and was reading the summary when I stumbled on YOUR review. I am DEFINITELY going to read it now!! thank you for an articulate, well written and insightful review


message 13: by El (new) - rated it 5 stars

El Thanks, Christina! I hope you enjoy it. It is very dated in some parts, but still so relevant in others.


message 14: by Phannie (new) - added it

Phannie fantastic review


message 15: by Jason (new) - added it

Jason Thanks! This is the daily deal on Audible today. Before that, I had never heard of this. You've given me reason to listen. I just wish I had read this when my Grandmothers were alive. Thank you, El.


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