The Feminine Mystique rocked my world

It’s impossible to review Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique in 2010. I’ve been trying to come up with the words for weeks now.

Women have gotten PhDs dissecting this book, what it meant to women in 1963, and the repercussions of its publication. I cannot measure its goodness or badness in a few pithy sentences. In fact, I even have a hard time being critical about the book’s many flaws — mainly that it’s written for and about white, upper-middle class, straight, college-educated women. Plus, it seems, Friedan seems to think education is only for those white, upper-middle class, straight women.

Despite its flaws, I want to press this book into the hands of every woman I know (and a lot of the men). Ladies, we’re still perpetuating and falling victim to the Feminine Mystique. You should read it. Everyone should read it, not just to see how far we’ve come but how far we have yet to go.

This book has changed the way I think about things, the way I see things. It’s like a sixth sense, I see sexism everywhere. I find myself making sexist, anti-woman judgements all the time, and I’m abhorred by it. But at least now, I recognize it. It’s a small step, but still a step.

This book was an education for me, and I think it will be for you too. We never study women’s history in school, or the role women played in history. We learn about Betsey Ross (she made the flag), and then spend a paragraph on Suffrage, and that’s it.

I didn’t take any women’s history classes in college, and the one feminist class I took was not a good experience. I took a Women’s Lit course and was labelled “so male” by my classmates because I’m not a petite, “feminine” woman and because I disagreed with their interpretation of the short story “Sur” by Usula K. LeGuin. Eighteen years, and I’m still bitter about it.

So, since I’m having a hard time finding the words I’m going to take the easy way out, and share just a few of the surprising things I learned from and while reading The Feminine Mystique

  • Some of my friends are suffering from The Feminine Mystique right now in 2010. They’re smart women who quit their jobs to become stay at home moms, and until I read this book, I thought they’d kind of lost their minds. But that’s not it. They’re lonely, empty, and depressed. They’ve given up everything they are to be mothers and are finding that living your life for someone else, even someone else you gave birth to, blows. It’s not fulfilling so they turn to drinking and sexual fantasies in hopes to find fulfillment. So far, it’s not working.
  • Women were forced back into the homes by men returning from WWII who longed for these idealized mother figures they missed so much while in battle.
  • The fiction (which was quite popular then) in women’s magazines went from being about career-women looking for love (barf, I know), to women looking to be the perfect housewife. The male editors of the magazines only published stories (both fiction and non-fiction) about women as mothers and homemakers, which in turn forced the female writers to write about such things — even going so far as to write about Edna St. Vincent Millay’s cleaning (or it might have been cooking or party-hosting) tips rather than her poetry. If you don’t see Mommy Blogger written all over this portion of the book, there’s something wrong with you. Mommy-blogging might just be the second horseman of the second feminine mystique apocalypse. We have 1000s of women’s voices on the Internet and a majority are spending their time talking about the cute thing their kid did rather than, oh, anything else.
  • Prohibition? Yeah, it wasn’t a movement by a bunch of no-fun-having teetotalers who wanted to kill everyone’s buzz. No. It was a movement by women for women, because drunken men weren’t earning living and were beating their wives. It was a movement to help stop domestic violence, not to ruin everyone’s fun.
  • Mothers were (are?) blamed for everything — loving too much, loving not enough, and just generally fucking up everyone around them.

There was much more. Much, much, much more. The Feminine Mystique is the kind of book you read and then it takes about the rest of your life to process what it really means to you and the world around you.

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  1. David 28.Aug.10 at 6:41 pm

    This book profoundly affected me, too, when I read it in college.

    About 10 years ago I took two of my nieces on vacation, and one of them remarked, “Uncle David, you say everything is sexist.” After taking a women’s studies class in college last fall (and reading this book) she e-mailed me to tell me I was right (thanks, Betty).

  2. Aine 28.Aug.10 at 8:16 pm

    I’m embarrassed to say I’ve never read The Feminine Mystique. You’ve convinced me I need to get it on my reading list right now.

  3. Jodi 30.Aug.10 at 10:09 am

    Aine, I think you will really enjoy it (and if you dig audio books, Parker Posey reads this one). It opened my eyes to so much and has prompted me not to keep quiet in situations where I might have before.

    Like David, I say everything is sexist now, but only because it is.

  4. Elizabeth 04.Sep.10 at 9:58 pm

    I still can’t believe I’ve never read this, but you’ve convinced me, I’m getting it ASAP. You are so right about mommy-blogging. I have to admit to posting a cute pic of the kid from time to time on my own blog – mostly because I don’t (personal) email anyone anymore. But the main reason I started blogging was to get my own, adult voice back. To actually get a break from the kid and my mommy identity. I’m eager to see where that desire fits into all of this.


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