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

3.69  ·  Rating details ·  625 ratings  ·  94 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 back in ...more
Genevieve Brassard
Dec 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
An engaging and useful companion to Friedan’s book, as both a corrective to her blind spots and deliberate omissions, and as a reminder of the book’s real impact on actual women’s lives and some of its still resonant ideas.
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 bookstores: never take that f
Marsha Altman
Pretty good book about The Feminine Mystique (the book), the controversies that surrounded it, the impact that it had, and the material it drew from, often without attribution. Incomprehensible to anyone who has not read The Feminine Mystique.
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
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
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
Betsy Hansbrough
May 28, 2011 rated it really liked it
Coontz captured my memories of the time ...I was 15 and it was a book being read by just about all the mothers of my friends. I knew I did not want the life being lived by women around me, but had no idea what else could happen. Coontz makes sense of that time in the context of 50 years of movement that my daughter's cannot imagine. good for us feminist giiks. ...more
Dec 27, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2019
Less about the women who read The Feminine Mystique and more about the author's biases on why Friedan stuck to discussing middle-class educated women and why she downplayed her past radical affiliations to make the book more accessible to her target audience. Coontz disputes the lore that Friedan single-handedly revived feminism from its post-war slump while noting that TFM sold over six million copies in paperback. I wish she spent more time listening to the women who told her WHY it was a succ ...more
Mar 19, 2021 rated it it was amazing
I love books like this that give a thoughtful, nuanced look into cultural forces that shaped my parents and then shaped me and the world around me. Coontz uses The Feminine Mystique as a springboard to explore the broader issues Friedan tackled, and to provide clearer historical perspective of women’s identities than even Friedan could or would do.

I came away with a greater understanding of people’s experiences across the spectrum: from the depressed 1950s housewife to the young empowered 1970s
Dec 17, 2019 added it
Shelves: feminism
I appreciated how this book put the Feminine Mystique in context for me. When I read that book, it was far too dated and outside of the stories of older women I know, for me to fully appreciate its context. I enjoyed reading about how this book impacted women and men at the time. Coontz did a good job of debunking a few things too that felt off when I was reading the Feminine Mystique. Last, a conclusion I take from both books is that people currently need meaningful employment along with a rich ...more
Mar 11, 2019 rated it liked it
In the 1950s, the House Un-American Activities Commission could say, “girls’ schools and women’s colleges contain some of the most loyal disciples of Russia.” That meant they were communists, read “ambitious.” The Feminine Mystique was published in 1963, the year I graduated from an all-girls’ high school and was off to a women's college. My mother told me to read Betty Friedan's book, and I did. A Strange Stirring is the story of the immense contribution Friedan made to the cause of feminism. T ...more
A good follow-up to The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan. This book looks as the response to Friedan's book at the time, and a few of the changes since then. It is also a critique of the book, such as Friedan was just writing to white middle-class women, that left many women out. There was some background on Friedan that was interesting as well.
Sep 07, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, 1960s
This book started out so good and I don’t know where it went wrong. The first few chapters had me so hooked learning about all the crap women had to endure and still have to endure in 2019! But after those few chapters it just kind of dragged on and on and it was so boring. Which sucked because the premise sounded so good!
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. ...more
Feb 13, 2019 rated it liked it
Strongly recommend the first half -- and also strongly recommend bailing midway. The social history (real + imagined) of the pre/immediate post-war periods and impact of "The Feminine Mystique" are really interesting, but the book loses its own thread the closer it gets to the present day. ...more
Apple Red
Jun 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
this book is absolutely wonderful and terrific. i love this book.
Jesse Jost
Jun 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
Eye opening and thought provoking historical analysis! I enjoyed it.
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. ...more
Sep 04, 2019 rated it liked it
Thought-provoking - would have loved to know my mother’s thoughts and she would have had them!
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
Debbie Smith
Jan 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This is such an important and thought provoking story of the Women who came before us to the working women today. Our struggle to juggle homelife, children, sex, and money. It's a must read for all girls. ...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
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
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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.

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