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The Feminine Mystique, published 25 February 1963, is a book written by Betty Friedan which brought to light the lack of fulfillment in many women's lives, which was generally kept hidden . According to The New York Times obituary of Friedan in 2006, it “ignited the contemporary women's movement in 1963 and as a result permanently transformed the social fabric of the United States and countries around the world” and “is widely regarded as one of the most influential nonfiction books of the 20th century.”


The Feminine Mystique came about after Friedan sent a questionnaire to other women in her 1942 Smith Collegemarker graduating class. Most women in her class indicated a general unease with their lives. Through her findings, Friedan hypothesized that women are victims of a false belief system that requires them to find identity and meaning in their lives through their husbands and children. Such a system causes women to completely lose their identity in that of their family.

Friedan specifically locates this system among post-World War II middle-class suburban communities. She suggests that men returning from war turned to their wives for mothering. At the same time, America's post-war economic boom had led to the development of new technologies that were supposed to make household work less difficult, but that often had the result of making women's work less meaningful and valuable.


She studied women's magazines for decades and found that the editorial decisions were made by men who enforced "occupation:housewife" (a typical answer in the U.S. Census). Friedan criticised Sigmund Freud whose ideas had swept America where they were interpreted literally, as well as functionalism in the social sciences. She also criticised Margaret Mead, who had learned them both, and sex-directed (life-adjustment) educators who thought women should be concerned only with marriage and family. She describes the motivational research behind advertising that "manipulates" women into consumption and perpetuates a "sick or immature" society instead of one that encourages women to develop their human intelligence. She then says that the time it takes to do housework expands to the time to be filled, and that housework can be done by an 8 year old child. She regrets the growth of the suburbs and fifteen years or more of propaganda asking women to conform. Friedan then describes female sex-seeking, quoting the Kinsey Reports and, curiously, Freud on homosexuality. She voices fears that progressive dehumanisation is passed through generations, finding clues in Korean war soldiers who were ill, the insane and prisoners in German concentration camps. Then she quotes Abraham Maslow at length, as well as Kinsey reports which say highly-educated women experience orgasm while those who marry young perhaps do not. Friedan then advocates a "life plan" for women and explains the importance of education.


Historian Daniel Horowitz has argued that the origin of The Feminine Mystique was not, as Friedan claimed, the sudden realization of the “woman problem” by a naïve suburban housewife. Instead, Friedan's feminism was an extension of her extensive involvement with radical politics and labor journalism beginning in the 1940s.

Although Betty Friedan's book helped to open the eyes of many women who did indeed feel "trapped" within a social or domestic situation, other evidence also supports that many of the contemporary magazines and articles of the period did not solely place women in the home, as Friedan argues, but in fact supported the notions of full or part time jobs for women seeking to follow a career path rather than that of a housewife.

In addition, Friedan has been criticized for solely focusing on the plight of the middle-class white woman, and not giving ample attention to the differing situations encountered by women in less stable economical situations, or women of differing race.


In 2009, produced an audio version of The Feminine Mystique, narrated by Parker Posey, as part of its Modern Vanguard line of audiobooks.

See also


  1. Betty Friedan, Who Ignited Cause in 'Feminine Mystique,' Dies at 85 - The New York Times, February 5, 2006.
  2. Friedan 1963, chapter 2
  3. Friedan 1963, chapter 5
  4. Friedan 1963, chapter 6
  5. Friedan 1963, chapter 7
  6. Friedan 1963, chapter 9
  7. Friedan 1963, chapter 10
  8. Friedan 1963, chapter 11
  9. Friedan 1963, chapter 12
  10. Friedan 1963, chapter 13
  11. Friedan 1963, chapter 14
  12. Horowitz, Daniel. “Rethinking Betty Friedan and The Feminine Mystique: Labor Union Radicalism and Feminism in Cold War America.” American Quarterly, Volume 48, Number 1, March 1996, pp. 1-42
  13. Joanne Meyerowitz, "Beyond the Feminine Mystique: A Reassessment of Postwar Mass Culture, 1946-1958," Journal of American History 79 (March 1993): 1455-1482.p.1459
  14. Daniel Horowitz, "Rethinking Betty Friedan and The Feminine Mystique: Labor Union Radicalism and Feminism in Cold War America," American Quarterly, Vol. 48, No. 1(Mar. 1996) p.22

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