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The Feminine Mystique (2013)

The Feminine Mystique (2013)

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3.82 of 5 Votes: 2
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0393346781 (ISBN13: 9780393346787)
w. w. norton & company

About book The Feminine Mystique (2013)

I suppose that if I owned a bra, now I would burn it? Truth be told, the tone and even the message of this book were unexpectedly a tad bit tamer than I had presumed. That is, in building the bandwagon to rescue hordes of imagined "captive wives" still enthralled by that evil "mystique" that cannot be named, and its resultant suburban housewifery, Betty Friedan does not throw men and marriage under the bus, at least not directly.The main idea here, of course, is that between 1945 and 1960 women of intelligence were brainwashed by the functionalists, psychologists, admen, and even by other exceptional women such as Margaret Mead, who nefariously opined that a woman's greatest fulfillment is in the home as a wife and a mother. But Betty could not disagree any more, and she goes so far as to compare the domestic life to a "comfortable concentration camp" much like those in Nazi Germany where imprisoned Jews were deprived of their beloved interests and skills and thereby their very humanity. Betty hits her theme over and over and over ad nauseum like a Greek Siren singing a song so sweet and alluring that her listeners forget everything else and die.Betty insists that a woman can "have it all." She doesn't need to sacrifice husband and children for career, and in fact pursuing professional interests enhances life for everybody. No longer will children be dependent upon mothers for their care and attention, they will develop their own identities, find greater happiness, and even develop fewer neuroses, too. Yes, Betty cites example after example of children whose psyche and souls suffer terribly due to doting mothers who sacrificed their truer selves and were lost in the process. And of course, in Betty's research, among stay-at-home mothers are found higher rates of antidepressant usage, psychological treatment, and even suicide, especially for those with more than two children.While portraying herself as a suburban housewife (albeit one who invokes the atrocities of Nazi Germany as a metaphor for her life) with de facto credibility to take on such issues, what Betty does not ever do is disclose the fact that she herself worked throughout her childrearing years as a journalist with known ties and sympathies to communist/socialist groups and causes. Her whole focus and agenda in those years were Marxist in their aims to dehumanize all women and men as "worker" appendages of the state. In the book she does cite to Russia and [socialist 1950s] Israel as model nations where women had left their children to the care of the state "without much noticeable effect," but for the most part she presents her ideas without direct confrontation to either capitalism or democracy.Like other propaganda, Betty's research focuses almost exclusively on those examples that support her view. A large share of her research, in fact, comes from anecdotes found in magazine articles (Vogue, McCall's, Good Housekeeping), advertising campaigns, and interviews with like-minded sociologists and psychologists (Betty studied psychology at Smith and had her gripes with Freudian ideology, in particular). While she does interview some who have willingly chosen domestic life to a career outside the home, the examples Betty cites are universally aberrations who nevertheless possess underlying psychoses which the subject is either denying or of which she is less than fully aware. Enter Betty to help clarify and save the day.Betty's message seems like it was primarily geared to the intellectual elite, those who might find their Maslowian "self-actualization" by hiring help and working for the praise and honor available through their selected professions. But the realities of this idealism in the greater scheme were not so pristine.If there is a positive effect from Betty's campaign, it is that more opportunities have opened to women, and that those who choose the career path are duly given respect for the accomplishments they achieve in their chosen fields.Unfortunately, this all-or-nothing view takes little to no consideration for the vast and numerous reasons that a host of other women chose then, and continue to choose, family as their top priority. Generations of women have recognized that their greatest contributions and fulfillment are within the walls of their own home. For men, also, no possible success can compensate for their failure there. Betty does a disservice to women and men who believe the relationships they nurture with spouses and children are their greatest possessions.Sadly, time has borne out numerous downsides attributable to Betty's campaign, and a simple analysis of the numbers from the mid-1960s to the present reveals that marriages (including Betty's) have disintegrated, as have legions of families. Young women now subscribe to notions of creating identities so "independent" that they can no longer mesh flexibly within marriage and family relationships. And the reality is that many women are now forced to participate in the workplace and no longer have a choice about whether to do so. In fact, in recent years women are increasingly demonstrating that they want work-life balance. Many are choosing to forfeit careers altogether to be with their children (much to the chagrin of ardent feminists), but economic realities that have evolved due to "full participation in the workforce" have presented increasing obstacles to women having choices. Staying at home with children today is an option largely available only to privileged women, women who for the most part are still married (a number that continues to decrease).Overall, Betty had some interesting ideas about women making choices for what their lives would be. And the book does not seem so far removed from the present, although society has indeed changed vastly and widely since The Feminine Mystique was published in 1963. Betty called for a fundamental restructuring of society, of marriage, religion, institutions, laws, abortion access, education, and so on. She got her wish. But her message in hindsight seems rather centrist in terms of the then-emerging women's movement -- that is, she still saw value in men and children (except for the unborn), and even distanced herself from the man-hating and "lesbianism-promoting" wings of the crusade. Obviously, this is an important book in terms of understanding the history of our country and the direction we have taken in departure from our more traditional ideals. The societal costs and benefits of outcomes from that offensive are still subject to ongoing debate.

Review time. Disclaimer. Had this books been written within the last 20 years I would have given it 1 star. But it's not. It was written almost 50 years ago. Is this book an important read for a feminist? Yes. Hell yes. Why? 1- This book is relevant. The book discussed a problem that plagues women (granted a specific woman of a certain ethnicity, income, level of education and social status) when they abandon all pursuits and take on occupation: housewife. In that sense it reads almost like a dystopian novel. It's honestly enjoyable that way. This is an important book because it was in a sense the first to point out the "wrong choice" many woman seemed to be making by abandoning all forms of intellectual pursuits and becoming nurturers to the masses. Like a lot of feminist texts, a lot of it holds true to this day even though there were so many advances. I think this book is also important to show that when women stop fighting for rights, equality, knowledge and purpose, they die internally.Maybe this isn't as big an issue as it was in the states nowadays, but it's still a big deal in the rest of the world, this stifling of human potential as a way of fully fulfilling some sort of "femininity" a thing the rest of us non-Americans/"third worlders" are still fighting. 2- Somehow this books affects how you view many other books. The mystique will present itself in subtle ways in many texts written in the fifties and the sixties and thus it is a text that resonates. You'll find yourself thinking of it while reading Yeats and Atwood and I think that's amazing. 3- This problem is quite real. The book is divided into chapters which discuss first why this has happened and its consequences and finally a solution. I think the problem is real enough to merit Friedan plunging the way she did with this book into attempting to understand and dissect what it was that had women of the time dropping everything and going home to live a life that in all honestly resembles that of a nurturing domestic animal only to reach a point where there is nothing left to do but fall apart and have some sort of crisis of character ie the problem with no name ie the Feminine Mystique. Problems with this books: 1- The research is thorough, the problem is viewed from many angles. But I can't help but get a feeling that it isn't as representative as I would like it to be. She uses interviews a lot and though they are useful they are not very representative of the overall feeling these women experience on a daily basis. I don't know if this was an issue of the fact that this was published in the sixties but I would have liked a more statistical interpretation of the numbers she was giving us (I have no background in social statistics don't judge me) At no point in this book are you allowed to feel like the problem speaks for itself but you are always under the impression that Friedan is telling you about the problem. You can tell she takes this very personally which is a good thing but a bad thing as well. 2- The author does not hide the fact that this problem affects a very specific woman. A white, well off, middle to high class American woman. There is zero mention of any other American women in this book. You're almost made to feel that this is the entirety of women in the states, which it obviously isn't. It's upsetting that Friedan made no attempt to study the African American population particularly. Heads up, this is classist and racist as fuck. Omg yes it is. 3- Friedan (like everyone of her time) has very very dated views on male homosexuality (female homosexuality makes no appearance in this book and you're forced to assume everyone is straight). She obviously thinks male homosexuality is on the rise as a result of the problem. Ie these men are running away from their hypersexualized extremely nurturing infant mothers/wives to the arms of other men (gasp!). That's not that annoying to me, presumptuous, yes but considering the times it may have been acceptable to assume thus far. What's annoying as fuck is that she discusses homosexuality based on Freudian psychology when, 5 chapters before, she'd dismissed the whole of Freud's views. She basically destroys his views on women, "penis envy" and his attributing the fact that dysfunctional children are due to bad mothers. She even shits on his relationship with his wife. WHY THEN BETTY DO YOU GO AND SAY THAT HOMOSEXUAL BOYS ARE MADE SO BECAUSE THEY'D HAD MYSTIQUE-ADDLED MOTHERS? WHY? It just seems stupid to me that she'd spit on his views on woman but not his views on homosexuality. I mean if you're going to discredit him, at least discredit all of him. I hate this not only for it's rampant homophobia but also because in some ways she contradicts herself.

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Ladies, the next time you decide you don't want to cook dinner that night, that you'd rather read a book instead... I want you to give a little fist-bump to the heavens in honor of Betty Friedan. It's because of her that you even have that opportunity to make that choice.Let's clear something up right now - The Feminine Mystique is not a text on how to become a man-hating, radical, hairy-armpitted lesbian. If that's what you think this is about, my review isn't going to change your mind so you might as well just go shoot a ruffled grouse and make your woman cook it for you.The Feminine Mystique does, however, bring attention and awareness to the mystique that is femininity - that women are good for use of their wombs and their cooking skills and maybe one or two other things, so long as those things benefit the husband (and maybe the children) more than anyone else. Friedan noticed that there was this "problem that could not be named" (and no, it's not Voldemort), this increase in fatigue in women across the country, this deadness about them that made them want to sneak a few drinks when the kids were off to school or to pop a couple Valium while they vacuum the house every couple of days. What Friedan wanted to bring attention to was that it didn't need to be that way. That women could be educated, and they did not have to get married right after high school, that they could have a career as well as a family, if they so desired.Her thesis is that women stop growing after a certain point - for some women it's in grade school, for some women it's in high school. Even the women who went to college (keep in mind that this book was published in 1963 so her focus was primarily on the fifties in America) went just to hone their skills as a woman and to (hopefully) find a man. Once the ring went on the finger, the women went to the kitchens and pooped out a couple of rugrats, but then couldn't figure out why they were so depressed. Because they hadn't actually finished growing, silly! It makes perfect sense really - you're no good to anyone if you haven't evolved yourself.The Vassar study showed that just as girls begin to feel the conflicts, the growing pains of identity, they stop growing. They more or less consciously stop their own growth to play the feminine rule. Or, to put in in another way, they evade further experiences conducive to growth.(p 176-7)I can't possibly summarize everything that is wonderful about this book, but strongly encourage everyone to read it - men as well as women because it's just important for you guys to understand why it is your lady friends may just burst into tears for no reason while they're cooking your chicken pot pie.I read this while visiting my 82-year-old grandmother. She got married at 18, though she had essentially dropped out of high school prior to that because it didn't interest her. Marriage didn't really interest her either, but it was better to do that than to do more school or get a job. She was raised to fit the mold of the feminine mystique. My grandfather died five years ago and Grandma still hasn't changed anything she has done for the past 50-60 years. She still doesn't care about politics and wouldn't vote, she still asks me (year after year after year) when I'm getting married, when will I have babies, don't I cook much, how about gardening? The answers are always the same and her reaction is always the same. A bit of a chuckle and, "I don't know, you're a weird one!" We love each other just the same, but we certainly don't see eye-to-eye on a lot of issues.Reading this during my visit with her opened my eyes up to a lot of her behaviors and inspired me to ask her questions I might not have otherwise, like did any of her girlfriends go on to college? (Answer: No.)Interestingly enough Friedan discusses the correlation between higher education and the female orgasm. (And yes, it is strange segueing into that after discussing my grandmother, thanks for asking.) She suggests that a woman is more likely to have enjoyable sexual experiences (The Big O) the further they made it in their academic career - a woman with a graduate degree is more likely to obtain orgasm than a woman who stopped learning after grade school. I'm not sure why more colleges and universities haven't picked up on that one. "Get a degree - it's orgasmic!"(I jest. Sorta.)Seriously, read this. Have your mom read this. I feel like I know my own mother more now than I did before. I wrote 12 pages of notes in my Moleskine journal - some quotes, some of my own thoughts, some questions to ask my grandmother, some to ask my mother (when I'm brave enough). My review here can't even begin to do justice here. Why this book wasn't actual required reading when I went to college (at a historically woman's college that is even mentioned once in this book) is beyond me. Sure, it was highly recommended by the professors, and referenced more than once. I remember being tested on Betty Friedan and her accomplishments (the start of the second-wave of feminism, the creation of NOW, etc.), and I'm sure we read a snippet or two from the text but we never had to read the whole thing. And I don't understand why. And I also can't remember what we did have to read in its place. That's pathetic.If women do not put forth, finally, that effort to become all that they have it in them to become, they will forfeit their own humanity. A woman today who has no goal, no purpose, no ambition patterning her days into the future, making her stretch and grow beyond that small score of years in which her body can fill its biological function, is committing a kind of suicide.(p 336)

What struck me the most when I read this as a teenager (and this was the first of its genre I read) was how, in excruciatingly familiar detail, it described my mother. God rest her soul, I didn't appreciate it at the time and it didn't make me any less of a brat. Her life had been a life typical of many women that entered the workforce during WWII. Instead of marrying when the war ended, she stayed on and attained a position of prominence for a woman at that time. She married very late, at age 29, and overnight went from the life of an independent woman with a busy career in a big city, to a full-time small-city housewife. I believed then and I believe now that to succumb willingly to a life of, let's face it, servitude and domesticity, with a sudden, total loss of status can kill you. But now society throws many little bones to housewives, and actually makes them even think they can dictate public policy from the front seat of their minivans. It's a lie, now as then. Just spend a few days home sick on the couch. Watch "the View", "Dr. Phil", and "Oprah". And that's not even the dumb stuff.

This is one of the best books I've read this year. I would couple it to two fictional works: Mad Men (the TV show) and The Handmaid's Tale (speculative fiction novel).If there is a better modern reference to the central theme of TFM than MM's Betty Draper, I haven't seen it. She's deeply unhappy and self-destructive; TFM is a great description of the corner into which BD has painted herself. THT, on the other hand, describes a near-future America where women are severely subjugated. Think of it as a Christian American version of the Taliban, or, better yet, go read THT. TFM provides the context for showing how and why a wave of similar subjugation happened in the mid-20th century—in about a single generation—and the roles very reasonable and well-meaning people of all social strata had in bringing it about. THT seems all the more plausible, given the context of TFM, and therefore all the more frightening.
—Kohl Gill

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