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A Strange Stirring: The Feminine Mystique & American Women at the Dawn of the 1960s

3.67  ·  Rating details ·  544 ratings  ·  84 reviews
In 1963, Betty Friedan unleashed a storm of controversy with her bestselling book, The Feminine Mystique. Hundreds of women wrote to her to say that the book had transformed, even saved, their lives. Nearly half a century later, many women still recall where they were when they first read it. In A Strange Stirring, historian Stephanie Coontz examines the dawn of the 1960s, ...more
ebook, 248 pages
Published January 4th 2011 by Basic Books (first published June 30th 2008)
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Apr 27, 2015 rated it really liked it
I enjoy Stephanie Coontz's books, with their critical analysis of the way we think things were historically vs. factual evidence. This book overlapped a little with her book on marriage but focused on myths and facts surrounding The Feminine Mystique and its impact, both perceived and actual.

In her introduction, Coontz tells us that The Feminine Mystique "has been credited -- or blamed -- for destroying...the 1950s consensus that women's place was in the home." Passionate opinions abound about w
Susan Albert
A Strange Stirring is an excellent "biography of a book" that sets The Feminine Mystique in its historical context. I grew up in the 1950s, read Friedan's book in 1964, and was strongly influenced by it. In its time, for Friedan's intended audience, it was a powerful book. It has come under fire in recent decades by people who weren't there when it came out and don't understand how it felt to be a fifties woman. A Strange Stirring sets the record straight. Kudos to author Stephanie Coontz for a ...more
Jan 23, 2011 rated it really liked it
I've described A Strange Stirring: The Feminine Mystique & American Women at the Dawn of the 1960s by Stephanie Coontz to others as a historical look at the women who read The Feminine Mystique, the impact of the book on their lives and a look at the myth of Betty Friedan. For a women's history nerd like me, this book was awesome. Admittedly, the semester took it's toll on how quickly, or rather how slowly, I read this book as this review was supposed to be included in Girl w/Pen's salon bac ...more
we read this one in my feminist book club, & i think it probably earned two & a half stars from me. when will goodreads get with the program & start offering half-stars?

i really wanted to like this book! i was even prepared to shell out & pay full-price for it new, but the independent bookstore in my town didn't have any copies & couldn't get a copy to me before my book club meeting. a word to the wise for those of you who live in towns with well-stocked independent bookstore
Oct 15, 2011 rated it it was ok
This book looks at the phenomenon that was The Feminine Mystique when Betty Friedan wrote it in the 1960s. I found its analysis of The FM interesting, since I'd never read the book but knew some of its history. Basically, what it comes down to is that Friedan wrote that the culture of the day idolized and elevated the work of a homemaker, creating the "feminine mystique", while many housewives (particularly educated ones) found it boring at times. The solution, according to Friedan, is for a wom ...more
Feb 13, 2011 rated it really liked it
The first two or three chapters were slow-going for me, but then the book picked up momentum. It is fascinating to read reactions to The Feminine Mystique from a wide spectrum of people and from different generations and time periods. There weren't quite as many testimonials as I had anticipated, but in the end, those the author chose to use were highly resonant. I think much of the truth (both positive and negative) of the book was captured in this unexpected reaction "from a prominent gay hist ...more
It's quite common in literary criticism to find a book that's about another book: you know, analyses of Pride and Prejudice or War and Peace. Don't know that I've ever before come across a work of informational nonfiction about another work of informational nonfiction. It made for a weird read.... Still, I would recommend the first eight chapters for anyone who read and found interesting The Feminine Mystique. I would recommend the ninth and final chapter for ANYONE: it's terrific, a really conc ...more
Jan 16, 2011 rated it really liked it
i got a review copy of this in the mail this week and have been reading it's johanna fateman's review here am forcing myself to put it down until next month...if anyone would like to read this book and meet up to discuss it I would be totally into that, so let me know! it's a nuanced, social history of betty friedan's the feminine mystique, but it doesn't seem to be just for theory-nerds or womens studies majors; this book is ...more
Aimee Powelka
Oct 19, 2015 rated it really liked it
Great read for people like me who had heard of The Feminine Mystique but never really knew what it was (another way to say sexism). I loved the way it helped me think about my female relatives - one grandmother who would have like being a nurse, another who went a little batty being home full-time - plus the how the aspirations of my mother and mother-in-law were shaped by the times they were raised in. And I really hope the last chapter on how Americans are increasingly fed-up with our fixation ...more
Aug 24, 2018 rated it liked it
Not quite the "sequel" that I needed to bring me up-to-date with the movement, but still a pretty good contextual analysis of a great book. Sometimes falls into the "statistics regurgitation" rhythm of much of the genre, but is mostly well-written and sensitively analyzed.
Jun 13, 2018 rated it it was ok
The subject matter was interesting, but the text bookish style in which it's written waters down the interest.
Jesse Jost
Jun 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
Eye opening and thought provoking historical analysis! I enjoyed it.
Apple Red
Jun 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
this book is absolutely wonderful and terrific. i love this book.
Jan 16, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Ms. Coontz presents a compelling account of the impact Feminine Mystique had on women and society when it was first published in 1963. She notes the exaggerations and glossing-over-of-details that occasionally occur in Betty Friedan's book as well as the laser-like precision with which she (Friedan) described the feelings of so many women (mostly white, middle-class) of the time. This balanced critique offers solid criticisms (for example, the experience of minorities is completely overlooked) a ...more
I bought this book about a year ago to complete a thrift books order. My local library didn't own it and I wanted to read it. Also I thought I would recommend it to my book group. I am not sure why it took me so long to get to this.

I am definitely suggesting it to my book group. Even though we have some issues about feminism, I think we can safely read it and not have a battle about "working" moms. We will see.

Coontz does an excellent job of putting The Feminine Mystique in context. I was glad t
Alex Templeton
Apr 22, 2011 rated it liked it
In reading this book, I kept thinking to myself how this would make a great text for an American womens' history course. It could be because I studied many of these topics (and read at least some of "The Feminine Mystique") in college and found the book to be an effective rehashing of many of the topics I discussed back then. It could also be due to Stephanie Coontz's writing style, which is to pile on individual anecdotes and data from various surveys and sources until the truth of her assertio ...more
Craig Werner
Jul 09, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sixties
The best parts of this book are the sections in which Coontz focuses on the reactions of women to Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique. Many of them (mostly white, middle-class, college-educated) credit the book with opening their eyes to the unarticulated realities of gender in the world of the late 50s and early 60s. Writing response-based scholarship is tricky since there's an inherit "sample bias" built in. For the most part, Coontz handles the problem well. The stories she passes on unders ...more
Melissa Mcdonald
Dec 06, 2012 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: gender
Nearly 50 years after Betty Friedan transformed the lives of American housewives, Coontz (Marriage, a History, 2005) offers a biography of Friedan�s seminal book, The Feminine Mystique (1963). Coupling meticulous research with first-person interviews, Coontz challenges a number of Friedan�s assumptions and exaggerations while also revisiting the climate in which the work appeared and giving voice to women for whom The Feminine Mystique was nothing short of a lifesaver. Though critical of the wor ...more
Jeanine Marie Swenson
Jun 15, 2011 rated it really liked it

Despite the fact that I have not yet completely read The Feminine Mystique by Betty Freidan, I greatly enjoyed this tour-de-force of culture, politics, family, history, and feminism crafted by the great historian storyteller, Dr. Stephanie Coontz. Despite the fact that I was born in 1963, it is hard for me to grasp retrospectively, how potent, powerful and omnipresent societal gender messages were for women just one generation ago. And as it usually goes with artifical barriers to maintain the s
Feb 08, 2011 rated it liked it
All the reading I’ve been doing lately has got me thinking about how I want to be as a woman. This book took me a step further in considering the myth of blissful happiness paired with housewifery that was unquestioned expectation for women in the 50's. Well, for white, middle class women anyway. But we still live with the shadow of those ideas, especially through the sexualization of girls and the guilt for women who try to be supermoms, as Coontz writes nicely about in her last chapter. There ...more
Mar 31, 2011 rated it liked it
This was an interesting book looking at the impact of The Feminine Mystique. Friedan has been given credit with the advent of the women's movement in the 60's and 70's, and Coontz shows how much her book both resonated with many women and angered others. That book is still so resonant today, and it's amazing to think that such a thick, sociological book was hidden in closets so women could read it secretly. The first chapter was the most helpful in reminding readers what women were fighting for ...more
Jul 27, 2012 rated it liked it
This is essentially an elaboration on one or two of the chapters in Coontz' excellent History of Marriage, along with some material specifically about the Feminine Mystique. Coontz' social research is excellent, and is supplemented by interviews with women influenced by the book. Her elaboration of how the 50s and 60s came to be, the description of class differences in how women viewed (and still do) marriage is crazy interesting, and I love her conclusions about the "mommy mystique" and the gro ...more
Jan 02, 2015 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Liked Daniel Horowitz' Betty Friedan and the Making of "The Feminine Mystique" better. This book does what it means to do, but for me it's too presentist and glosses over too much—it's a celebration of second-wave feminism and brings that perspective to the present without acknowledging other developments in women's history since the early 1960s-- third-wave feminism, LGBTQ rights/identities, black feminism, or even Generation X (hi!), all of which emerged in the interim between the publication ...more
Jan 15, 2014 rated it liked it
Author Stephanie Coontz writes, through research and interviews, about the impact of Betty Friedman's 1963 bestseller, "The Feminine Mystic." She includes the history of the Women's Suffrage Movement, thee role of women during WWII, women's education, the roles and expectations of women within society and family life (mainly focusing on the 1950's before Friedman's book was published), and even how the Feminine Mystic impacts us today. Having never heard of Friedman or her book until a few weeks ...more
Jul 20, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: about-my-life, women
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Mindy Mejia
The history and accounts of the women whose lives were changed by The Feminine Mystique (TFM) was interesting, but I found myself skimming quite a bit. As one of those "one in a thousand" women who can manage a career (actually two careers), home, and family, my sympathy for the privileged idle seemed to wane around page one hundred. TFM was clearly a book of and for a specific point in history. The reminder of how recently equal opportunity came into being did unsettle me and I will give credit ...more
Lori Calderone
Apr 20, 2013 rated it liked it
This is a good eye-opener book for anyone under 55ish, perhaps, who is unfamiliar with the fact that women have been the second sex, and an oppressed one, at that, with changes---liberation--coming really only recently in the 70s, 80s, and currently (cuz we ain't there yet, baby). Women got the right to vote less than a hundred years ago and still don't have equal pay. I know younger folks who have watched Mad Men are surprised by the status of women a mere 60 years ago. Read this book for a dee ...more
Lisa McAllister
Jan 01, 2014 rated it really liked it
This review of The Feminine Mystique was fun to read, as it recalled the book for me well, and added some key feminist history about the Civil Rights Act that I didn't know. The offhand way that women were added to the Act was pretty amazing, and was both positive and negative for the movement. I don't know how interesting this book would be for those who have not read Friedan's book. The author did a good job of looking at the "problem with no name" from a 21st century perspective, and made som ...more
Apr 30, 2011 rated it liked it
This brought back a lot of memories of how I felt way back when (basically men rage). I never read 'The Feminine Mystique,' but I did read similar "feminist" books in the same timeframe. This was a sort-of update/critique on TFM. The beginning was a bit repetitive, stating individuals' reactions to the book when it first came out, mostly all the same: The book was life-changing, etc., which I'm sure it was. In reading it, though, I realized how far we've come since the 60s, and most of us don't ...more
While this book certainly had interesting things to say, I found its style extremely dry and irritating to plough through. It felt much longer than 250 pages.

Many quotes are repeated verbatim over and over again, which is very tedious. I sometimes found myself wondering if I'd accidentally skipped back twenty pages because I seemed to be reading the same thing over and over again.

The main benefit I took from this book was a portal into the work of various other feminist writers I had not previ
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Stephanie Coontz teaches history and family studies at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington and is Director of Research and Public Education for the Council on Contemporary Families, which she chaired from 2001-04. Her writings have been translated into French, Arabic, Spanish, Russian, Czech, German, Norwegian, Turkish, Greek, Chinese, Ukrainian, and Japanese.
“It is pointless to construct a hierarchy of who hurt more, and whether one kind of pain was more or less justified than another.” 4 likes
“Up until 1900, more than half the graduates from women's colleges remained single, many of them carving out careers in new fields such as social work.” 4 likes
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