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“The Feminine Mystique” Book by Betty Friedan


Feminism has its complicated, diverse history with different development stages and influential persons who excited far-reaching social movements of the national scope. One of the prominent feminism representatives was Betty Friedan who gave a powerful push to the onset of second-wave feminism in the USA by manifesting her energetic public position and productive literature activity. This paper aims at providing a summary, analysis of the historical context, and personal reflection on her most famous book The Feminine Mystique.

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The Feminine Mystique questions and discusses the widely shared opinion in the 1950s that women achieve fulfillment via only one way – being an appeasable, hard working housewife-mother. In other words, the belief was that females did not want to build a successful career, obtain higher education, and participate in political life. With this book, Friedan made a determined, brave attempt to dispel this assumption and demonstrate that women have their distinct ambitious dreams and wishes.

To reveal the issue’s importance, the book begins with the introduction defining “the problem that has no name,” describing widespread women’s oppression and unhappiness, and criticizing the social order that created this popular female image (Friedan 44). According to the author, through advertisements, magazines, and the education system, the female’s role was narrowed into exclusively the domestic sphere where many ladies lose their personalities.

The chapter The Happy Housewife Heroine reveals how the image of a yielding housewife was created in the 1950s. Friedan elaborates that at that time, the editorial decisions in women’s magazines were predominantly made by men who targeted publishing stories depicting women like happy housekeepers or unfortunate careerists (Friedan 61). Such an activity gradually formed the “feminine mystique” implying that females feel self-realized by doing chores and caring for babies. In the following chapter, the author shares her and other women’s experiences, gathered in interviews, on how they had to abandon their promising careers and raise children to satisfy their husbands. Herewith, Friedan indicates that the point is that women should mature to discover their real human identity.

In the next sections, the author concerns the history of early American feminist that fought for women’s roles and won fundamental civil rights, including the rights to education, to vote, and work. Besides, Friedan criticizes a famous psychologist Sigmund Freud who considered females to be more inclined to housekeeping and caring for babies (Friedan 126). She details the disadvantages of the main provisions of his theory concerning women and his substantial contribution to exacerbating “feminine mystique.”

Besides, Friedan attacks functionalism that studied the social institutions as though they were elements of a holistic body with their roles and purposes, proving its invalidity. Specifically, functionalism adversely impacted women’s education focusing primarily on family, marriage, and other fields attributed to females (Friedan 149). In its turn, advertisers instigated housewives to purchase many specialized products for home, thereby preventing them from pursuing careers.

In the last chapters, using interviews, Friedan dives into housewives’ life and found that women deliberately extended their chores because they want to have sex and feared not becoming unnecessary. She also notes that loss of women’s self-identity reflects on children who eventually lacked interest in life and experienced emotional disorders (Friedan 319). In this regard, the author discusses Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to demonstrate that women stuck at the basic, inferior levels since they did not have equal access to meaningful work ensured by career (Friedan 349).

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The ultimate section provides several case studies of women who expressed resolute protest against the status quo. Friedan offers women to change their view on housework and seek significant work that meets their mental abilities and indicates obstacles on the way of self-realization. Finally, she advocates for developing a national education that considers females’ needs and gives some occupational and educational suggestions.


The Feminine Mystique is a noticeable exemplar of feminism literature, giving profound, valuable insight into the historical setting and conditions of the post-World War II period. This work reveals women’s state of affairs in the 1950s and describes principal reasons leading to the prevailing belief that women have to be housewives. In particular, Friedan connects this assumption with the long-term, potent consequences of World War II, during which women could work at various jobs, substituting men who went to fight. After the warfare, returned men strived to traditional home lifestyle with domestic comfort and appeasable housewives.

They longed for femininity and expected women to execute simple feminine activities, especially nurturing, which ultimately fueled the feminine mystique. In its turn, females also missed men and, thus, yielded their positions.

This status quo was also significantly stimulated by the governmental policy directed at cultivating the American nuclear family and inculcating the picture of a home idyll among the population. This policy was a part of the US ideological battle against the Soviet Union that was a sworn enemy in the prolonged Cold War. The politics tried to demonstrate the dominance of capitalist consumer society via the pleasant image of idealized American femininity.

Conclusion and Reflection

In conclusion, I will reflect on the reading and deliver my personal opinion. Due to work, I have received a broad understanding of women’s severe conditions in the post-World War II period and the importance of improving their positions nowadays. I got the impression that the author is deeply concerned about this issue and strives to raise it to the national level. Nevertheless, I disagree that meaningful work and self-actualization are necessarily associated with a career. Indeed, all people should have equal opportunities to realize their dreams, but if some women are willing to do housekeeping, there is nothing wrong or reprehensible.

Work Cited

Friedan, Betty. The Feminine Mystique. W.W. Norton & Company, 2010.

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