The Feminine Mystique, by Betty Friedan: a book review

The Feminine Mystique, by Betty Friedan: a book review

I've always avoided reading this book. I was aware that Ms Friedan had a low opinion of housewives, and since I am one myself (albeit a mediocre one) I didn't think there was likely to be much satisfaction in reading it. However, some recent discussions I have been involved in on the internet made me feel that it was about time I actually read the book.

I found it even worse than I had expected. The venemous contempt that Ms Friedan felt for women who were housewives is really beyond anything that I had imagined. The abuse she heaps on our heads would, if directed at any other group of people, have been considered positively libelous. Women who were housewives were, she reckoned, infantile, mentally arrested, weak, clinging, afraid to venture out into the real world (it goes without saying that the world of paid employment is 'real' and the world of the home is not).

Women were wasting their time at home because housework was so easy it could be done in an hour or so, leaving women with time for more important things. I.e. working at a job. Not just any job either, women must be doing something that will realise their full potential. She hasn't got a good word to say for men who are not in jobs that are exciting, creative and challenging either. a housewife who imagines she is doing something important is, she says, as deluded as the man who imagines he has made a car because he tightens the bolts on the assembley line. It doesn't seem to occur to Ms Friedan that we can't all be college professors, surgeons and high court judges. Somebody's got to tighten the bolts.

She blamed the useless, clinging housewife for the fact that the divorce rate was rising in the early 60s. She attributes this to the fact that men were sick of supporting their useless wives, and were dumping them. The only problem with this theory is that nowadays most wives work, but the divorce rate is not noticeably falling. She also blamed the housewife for juvenile delinquency, homosexuality, and child battering, none of which have notiecably decreased in recent decades either. Women who are emancipated and work outside the home don't batter their children, and they don't have sons who are homosexuals, or juvenile delinquents. And their husbands don't divorce them. So says Ms Friedan anyway, but the current state of affairs would seem to suggest otherwise.

Oh, and passive, submissive women (as most housewives were in her estimation) don't enjoy sex either. But at the same time, confusingly she complains about the sexually aggressive women who are hungry for affairs, and devour novels with lurid sex scenes their incessant demands. I found myself somewhat confused by these two conflicting images. Can housewives both be sex-hungry aggressors, and at the same time passive, submissive, and uninterested in sex? These two images seem to be somewhat at variance with each other, and I had trouble reconciling them. But Ms Friedan evidently didn't.

But then she, after all, was a college-educated career woman, and I'm just a zombified housewife—what would I know?

Louise C

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Comments

The Feminine Mistake

Louise, while I adore most of your comments and ideas, I must disagree about The Feminine Mystique. You must remember that it was written at a time when all...repeat ALL...women were supposed to find happiness and fulfillment in full-time marriage and motherhood. It was high time that someone attacked that idea.

The book was constantly and bitterly attacked by anti-feminists like Phyllis McGinley, who would have chewed their own feet off before giving up their own successful and profitable careers. It just took a long time for readers to notice that.

High time?

Well, it seems that in this book Betty Friedan sought to disparage the role of full-time housewife, and to heap scorn on women who did find fulfillment through that role. I don't really see that to say that all women should find fulfillment through the role of being a wife and mother is any worse than to say (as Ms Friedan does) that NO women should find fulfillment through that role.

Betty Friedan's book is not saying that women who do not wish to be full-time housewives need not be, which I would have no quarrel with; what she is saying, quite clearly, is that there is something wrong with women who can find fulfillment through that role. She didn't think it was something that any woman should be doing.

Moroever, both men and women who do jobs that are not exciting and absorbing are likewise scorned.

'"on the assembly lines or in corporation offices: work that does not fully use a man's capacities leaves in him a vacant, empty need for escape—television, tranquillisers, alcohol, sex."

In other words, a man who is not fully using his capacities is as wretched as the poor housewife. This leaves us with the dilemma then, if only work that is fully using your capacities is acceptable, who is going to do those jobs that do not fully realize the capacities? who is going to raise the children? who is going to tighten the bolts? who is going to serve the high powered career people their coffee, or serve them in the shops, or take away their garbage? Betty Friedan has no answer for this question, so she does not attempt to answer it.

Moreover, her assertion that housework is so easy it can be done in an hour, leaving the woman plenty of time to fit in her high-powered career, does not seem to have worked out in reality. The marriage and divorce section on Yahoo answers, for example, is full of women complaining how exhuasted they are because they work full-time but their husbands won't help with the housework, and so they are permanently exhausted trying to do it all. They don't seem to be able to manage to dash the housework off in an hour, as Ms Friedan thought they should.

And it is a fact that all the ills that Ms Friedan blamed on stay-at-home wives, divorce, homosexuality, child abuse and juvenile delinquency, not to mention an abnormal preocupation with sex, are still with us, so was she really right about the stay-at-home wife being the root of all evil? I feel not.

Louise

Indeed, that has always been

Indeed, that has always been my objection to the 'you should fully use your capabilities and not 'waste' them on staying home with children' assertion.

If I don't do it, someone else has to. Are they some kind of second-class citizen then? And if so, if raising children makes a person 'less than' in some way, shouldn't I be the one to bear that burden? After all, I chose to have the kids in the first place.

Precisely

If the job of looking after my children isn't good enough for me, why is it good enough for anyone?

And if (as women often claim) they find staying at home with their children boring, why wouldn't other women be even more bored with doing it? If you don't find your own children interesting, why should you expect anyone else to be interested enough in them to want to look after them?

Louise

we probably need to keep eating worms

If you want a real treat read her latest book!

As a young woman, I hungrily read Betty's book. As a third class citizen and one of the many desperate women on planet earth, those from my neck of the woods expected the feminists to come to our aid on a cavalcade of white horses. Our sisters would surely speak for us, the most desperate the most in need. We naively waited and waited and it was plain that there was no interest and we grew bitter with hatred as we watched the elite graduate and pontificate and make fortunes on books that did not merit the ink and the paper they were written on while we suffered, our children suffered and everyone suffered grievously

As time passed and I grew older I met women who were wealthy and privileged and who used the feminist system to their great legal advantage and gained power over men in greater numbers than ever before and because they were wealthy they were able to use books like this to leverage their situations profitably. I came to accept that the underprivileged women were just collateral damage and came to accept that the garbage literati of the feminists were a necessary evil so that many more women could afford the legal status of opulent child support and matrimonial settlements and better opportunities in the working place with a chance at the top levels. I came to accept that the propaganda and the straw men that were unleashed where the only way this current system would operate and that al least some women, more of them than ever before would escape the atrocities that many women had experiences, especially being at the financial mercy of everyone in many cases.

Betty pointed out that that women were part of marketing schemes, and that was true and now we are all part of marketing and victims of inflation and our appliances no longer last forever and don't work nearly as well. Men and women are gadget people now and instead of blaming women and creating shame and hatred among women and valuing work that does not contribute to civilization , betty should have pointed out the vapid grandeur of appliance glorification and vilified the media for propagating relationships with appliances rather than humanitarian and charitable philosophies.

Relationships are no longer important and I thank god that my son is grown because it is harder than ever to be a mother. The pressure is enormous and it was easier to have a relationship with your child and encourage the uniqueness of the relaships. Now there are so many hoops and bells and if you 'choose' to be a mom now you choose it because you have money and you can afford the process of motherhood. It is no longer about what unique interactions with your own children. The school and society insist on certain rules that are not user friendly to those who have no cash and the message is clear and clearer than ever before; it is sinful to be poor.

On vacation in Prague I saw an exhibit in on of the town squares. It contained information on the environment and our world. I think it was the WHO world health organization. There are 100, million people on this planet who are in dire straights. Out of the 100 million, 80 million are women!!!

I have begun to question the straw men and garbage literature of all of these women (including the nemesis of Betty) did anything at all to help anyone but himself or herself. We are no longer proud of our relationships and no longer proud to have service jobs, and we have accepted simplistic appellate to define sublime relationships. We have been reduced to sound bites and I don't know that we are that much better off. After reading the report from the WHO, I have begun to wonder how much credit these contemporary feminists deserve. I resent even pondering the question. Maybe the situation is so dire that this is the most we can expect and that an imbecile with money publishing garbage and helping privilege get position that was harder because of gender is as good as it is gonna get in this new millennium.

Exactly

I've always been quite the anti-feminist, and Betty has forever earned a giant black mark in my book for her writings. I've read such horrible things from her books, and from others. Suggesting that children who enjoy being with their mothers must be retarded, that we're leeches, nonpeople, and mentally ill. It saddens me,

Oh, Please!

I'm not entirely sure what personal demons drove Betty Freidan and her ilk, though likely it was a bellyfull of male-oriented misperceptions. Whatever....

It's a shame she and her kind could have such an impact on Western society, but then I also think it's a shame that any one religion can do that, too.

But what is unforgiveable from Betty and her "sisters" is the perpetuation of the idea that it's wrong for a woman to do anything. Doesn't freedom to choose mean that I am free to choose raising children if I enjoy it, as well as being a pharmacist if I enjoy it? (And I did enjoy both.) Doesn't equality mean that if I DO choose to be a pharmacist, that I should be paid as much as the male pharmacist beside me, provided we both have the same education and experience in the field?

As someone or another famous once said—society supports any choice a woman makes, unless her choice is to be a homemaker.

But the really sad thing about Betty is the trainwreck that she made of human relationships, and the contempt in which she held (holds?) men of any kind.

Funny... I enjoyed being a mother as much as I enjoyed being a pharmacist. Funny... My husband never "beat" me, and I certainly never "beat" my children. Funny... I never wanted to have extra-marital affairs, and neither did my husband. And so on....

Golly gee whilikers, I suspect that means I am a failure by Betty's standards! Even though *I* and women like me, admitted what we enjoyed, didn't like, wanted to change, or wanted to learn about, and then pursued that. Even though *I* never had to run down anyone's way of life or life choices in order to validate my own. And so on...

Betty gives us all a superb example of how best to shoot oneself in the foot, whether one's inclination is to a high-powered career, or a loving parent.

Poor thing... I hope someday, somewhere, in some lifetime, she DOES get a clue.