The Feminine Mystique

The Feminine Mystique
Author Betty Friedan
Country United States
Language English
Subject Feminism
Genre Nonfiction
Publisher W.W. Norton and Co.
Publication date
February 19, 1963[1]
Pages 239

The Feminine Mystique is a 1963 book by Betty Friedan which is widely credited with sparking the beginning of second-wave feminism in the United States.[2]

In 1957, Friedan was asked to conduct a survey of her former Smith College classmates for their 15th anniversary reunion; the results, in which she found that many of them were unhappy with their lives as housewives, prompted her to begin research for The Feminine Mystique, conducting interviews with other suburban housewives, as well as researching psychology, media, and advertising. She originally intended to publish an article on the topic, not a book, but no magazine would publish her article.[3][4]


  • Synopsis 1
  • Intended sequel 2
  • Influences 3
  • Legacy 4
  • Criticism 5
  • See also 6
  • References 7
  • Further reading 8
  • External links 9


The Feminine Mystique begins with an introduction describing what Friedan called "the problem that has no name"—the widespread unhappiness of women in the 1950s and early 1960s. It discusses the lives of several housewives from around the United States who were unhappy despite living in material comfort and being married with children.[5]

Chapter 1: Friedan points out that the average age of marriage was dropping and the birthrate was increasing for women throughout the 1950s, yet the widespread trend of unhappy women persisted, although American culture insisted that fulfillment for women could be found in marriage and housewifery; this chapter concludes by declaring "We can no longer ignore that voice within women that says: 'I want something more than my husband and my children and my home.'"[6]

Chapter 2: Friedan shows that the editorial decisions concerning women's magazines were being made mostly by men, who insisted on stories and articles that showed women as either happy housewives or unhappy careerists, thus creating the "feminine mystique"—the idea that women were naturally fulfilled by devoting their lives to being housewives and mothers. Friedan notes that this is in contrast to the 1930s, at which time women's magazines often featured confident and independent heroines, many of whom were involved in careers.[7]

Chapter 3: Friedan recalls her own decision to conform to society's expectations by giving up her promising career in psychology to raise children, and shows that other young women still struggled with the same kind of decision. Many women dropped out of school early to marry, afraid that if they waited too long or became too educated, they would not be able to attract a husband. Friedan argues at the end of the chapter that although theorists discuss how men need to find their identity, women are expected to be autonomous. She states, “Anatomy is woman’s destiny, say the theorists of femininity; the identity of woman is determined by her biology.”[8] Friedan goes onto argue that the problem is women needing to mature and find their human identity. She argues, “In a sense that goes beyond any woman’s life, I think this is a crisis of women growing up— a turning point from an immaturity that has been called femininity to full human identity.”[8]

Chapter 4: Friedan discusses early American feminists and how they fought against the assumption that the proper role of a woman was to be solely a wife and mother. She notes that they secured important rights for women, including education, the right to pursue a career, and the right to vote.[9]

Chapter 5: Friedan, who had a degree in psychology, criticizes Sigmund Freud (whose ideas were very influential in America at the time of her book's publication). She notes that Freud saw women as childlike and as destined to be housewives, once pointing out that Freud wrote, "I believe that all reforming action in law and education would break down in front of the fact that, long before the age at which a man can earn a position in society, Nature has determined woman's destiny through beauty, charm, and sweetness. Law and custom have much to give women that has been withheld from them, but the position of women will surely be what it is: in youth an adored darling and in mature years a loved wife." Friedan also points out that Freud's unproven concept of "penis envy" had been used to label women who wanted careers as neurotic, and that the popularity of Freud's work and ideas elevated the "feminine mystique" of female fulfillment in housewifery into a "scientific religion" that most women were not educated enough to criticize.[10]

Chapter 6: Friedan criticizes functionalism, which attempted to make the social sciences more credible by studying the institutions of society as if they were parts of a social body, as in biology. Institutions were studied in terms of their function in society, and women were confined to their sexual biological roles as housewives and mothers as well as being told that doing otherwise would upset the social balance. Friedan points out that this is unproven and that Margaret Mead, a prominent functionalist, had a flourishing career as an anthropologist.[9]

Chapter 7: Friedan discusses the change in women's education from the 1940s to the early 1960s, in which many women's schools concentrated on non-challenging classes that focused mostly on marriage, family, and other subjects deemed suitable for women, as educators influenced by functionalism felt that too much education would spoil women's femininity and capacity for sexual fulfillment. Friedan says that this change in education arrested girls in their emotional development at a young age, because they never had to face the painful identity crisis and subsequent maturation that comes from dealing with many adult challenges.[9]

Chapter 8: Friedan notes that the uncertainties and fears during World War II and the Cold War made Americans long for the comfort of home, so they tried to create an idealized home life with father as the breadwinner and mother as the housewife.[11] Friedan notes that this was helped along by the fact that many of the women who worked during the war filling jobs previously filled by men faced dismissal, discrimination, or hostility when the men returned, and that educators blamed over-educated, career-focused mothers for the maladjustment of soldiers in World War II. Yet as Friedan shows, later studies found that overbearing mothers, not careerists, were the ones who raised maladjusted children.[9]

Chapter 9: Friedan shows that advertisers tried to encourage housewives to think of themselves as professionals who needed many specialized products in order to do their jobs, while discouraging housewives from having actual careers, since that would mean they would not spend as much time and effort on housework and therefore would not buy as many household products, cutting into advertisers' profits.[9]

Chapter 10: Friedan interviews several full-time housewives, finding that although they are not fulfilled by their housework, they are all extremely busy with it. She postulates that these women unconsciously stretch their home duties to fill the time available, because the feminine mystique has taught women that this is their role, and if they ever complete their tasks they will become unneeded.[9]

Chapter 11: Friedan notes that many housewives have sought fulfillment in sex, unable to find it in housework and children; Friedan notes that sex cannot fulfill all of a person's needs, and that attempts to make it do so often drive married women to have affairs or drive their husbands away as they become obsessed with sex.[9]

Chapter 12: Friedan discusses the fact that many children have lost interest in life or emotional growth, attributing the change to the mother's own lack of fulfillment, a side effect of the feminine mystique. When the mother lacks a self, Friedan notes, she often tries to live through her children, causing the children to lose their own sense of themselves as separate human beings with their own lives.[9]

Chapter 13: Friedan discusses Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of needs and notes that women have been trapped at the basic, physiological level, expected to find their identity through their sexual role alone. Friedan says that women need meaningful work just as men do to achieve self-actualization, the highest level on the hierarchy of needs.[9]

Chapter 14: In the final chapter of The Feminine Mystique, Friedan discusses several case studies of women who have begun to go against the feminine mystique. She also advocates a new life plan for her women readers, including not viewing housework as a career, not trying to find total fulfillment through marriage and motherhood alone, and finding meaningful work that uses their full mental capacity. She discusses the conflicts that some women may face in this journey to self-actualization, including their own fears and resistance from others. For each conflict, Friedan offers examples of women who have overcome it. Friedan ends her book by promoting education and meaningful work as the ultimate method by which American women can avoid becoming trapped in the feminine mystique, calling for a drastic rethinking of what it means to be feminine, and offering several educational and occupational suggestions.[9]

Intended sequel

Friedan originally intended to write a sequel to The Feminine Mystique, which was to be called "Woman: The Fourth Dimension," but instead only wrote an article by that title, which appeared in the Ladies' Home Journal in June 1964.[12][13]


Friedan's essay on "The Sexual Solipsism of Sigmund Freud" was inspired by Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex.[14]


The Feminine Mystique is widely regarded as one of the most influential nonfiction books of the 20th century, and is widely credited with sparking the beginning of

  • at 50"The Feminine Mystique", Gail Collins' essay in The New York Times, an excerpt from her introduction to the 50th-anniversary edition of The Feminine Mystique
  • "C-SPAN American Writers profile"

External links

  • Coontz, Stephanie. A Strange Stirring: "The Feminine Mystique" and American Women at the Dawn of the 1960s (Basic Books; 2011) 222 pages
  • Meyerowitz, Joanne. "The Myth of the Feminine Mystique" in Myth America: A Historical Anthology, Volume II. 1997. Gerster, Patrick, and Cords, Nicholas. (editors.) Brandywine Press, St. James, NY. ISBN 1-881089-97-5

Further reading

  1. ^ Addison, Heather; Goodwin-Kelly, Mary Kate; Roth, Elaine (2009). Motherhood misconceived: representing the maternal in U.S. film. SUNY Press. p. 29.  
  2. ^ a b c Betty Friedan, Who Ignited Cause in 'Feminine Mystique,' Dies at 85 - The New York Times, February 5, 2006.
  3. ^ "Betty Friedan - Obituaries, News". The Independent. 7 February 2006. Retrieved 2011-02-18. 
  4. ^ "'"Voice of Feminism's 'Second Wave.  
  5. ^ "The Feminine Mystique Summary". Retrieved 2011-02-18. 
  6. ^ Friedan, Betty (1963). "The Problem that Has No Name". The Feminine Mystique. W. W. Norton. Retrieved 2011-02-18. 
  7. ^ Friedan, Betty (1963). "The Happy Housewife Heroine". The Feminine Mystique. W. W. Norton. Retrieved 2011-02-18. 
  8. ^ a b Friedan, Betty (1963). "The Crisis in Woman's Identity". The Feminine Mystique. W. W. Norton. Retrieved 2011-02-18. 
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "The Feminist Mystique-Simple chapter summaries".  
  10. ^ Friedan, Betty (1963). "The Sexual Solipsism of Sigmund Freud". The Feminine Mystique. W. W. Norton. Retrieved 2011-02-18. 
  11. ^ Friedan, Betty (1963). "The Mistaken Choice". The Feminine Mystique. W. W. Norton. Retrieved 2011-02-18. 
  12. ^ American National Biography Online: Friedan, Betty
  13. ^ Mass Media and the Shaping of American Feminism, 1963-1975 - Patricia Bradley - Google Books
  14. ^ Webster, Richard (2005). Why Freud Was Wrong: Sin, Science and Psychoanalysis. Oxford: The Orwell Press. p. 22.  
  15. ^ McGuire, William; Leslie Wheeler (2013). "Betty Friedan". Retrieved January 12, 2013. 
  16. ^ It changed my life: writings on the women's movement (reprint ed.). Harvard University Press. 1998.  
  17. ^ a b Media Coverage of the Feminine Mystique Symposium
  18. ^ New Location - React: The Feminine Mystique at 50 (Day 1) | The New School | University Events
  19. ^ The Feminine Mystique | W. W. Norton & Company
  20. ^ "The Baltimore Sun". Retrieved 6 October 2014. 
  21. ^ a b The Department of Labor Chose 100+ Books that Shaped Work in America
  22. ^ Kelly, Kate (February 25, 2013). " Puts Women's Movement in ContextMakersNew PBS Program ". The Huffington Post.
  23. ^ a b Home schooled student, Friedan panel recognized - News - Journal Star - Peoria, IL
  24. ^ 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
  25. ^ Schuessler, Jennifer (2013-02-18). "‘The Feminine Mystique,’ Reassessed after 50 Years". The New York Times.  
  26. ^ "AWM Book Review: Betty Friedan". Association for Women in Mathematics. September–October 1999. Retrieved 2011-02-18. 
  27. ^ 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
  28. ^ Schuessler, Jennifer (2013-02-18). "‘The Feminine Mystique,’ Reassessed after 50 Years". The New York Times.  
  29. ^ The Feminine Mystique' at 50"'". The New York Times. 2013-01-23. Retrieved 2014-11-04. 
  30. ^ "Puncturing Betty Friedan, but Not the Mystique: An Interview with Stephanie Coontz". 2011-01-24. Retrieved 2011-02-18. 
  31. ^ 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



See also

In addition, Friedan has been criticized for focusing solely on the plight of middle-class white women, and not giving enough attention to the differing situations encountered by women in less stable economic situations, or women of other races. Despite being written during the Civil Rights Movement, Friedan's text "barely mentions African-American women." [29] She has also been criticized for prejudice against homosexuality.[30][31]

The W.W. Norton publishing house, where Betty Friedan's work was initially circulated to be published as a book also generated some criticism. In fact an employee under the alias "L M" wrote in a two page memo that[28] Friedan's theoretical views were "too obvious and feminine". As well as critiquing her approach by suggesting it to be unscientific.

[27][26] Daniel Horowitz, a

Historian Joanne Meyerowitz argues (in "Beyond the Feminine Mystique: A Reassessment of Postwar Mass Culture, 1946-1958," Journal of American History 79, March 1993) that many of the contemporary magazines and articles of the period did not place women solely in the home, as Friedan stated, but in fact supported the notions of full- or part-time jobs for women seeking to follow a career path rather than being a housewife.[24]These articles did however still emphasize the importance of maintaining the traditional image of femininity.[25]


In 2014 the Betty Friedan Hometown Tribute committee won the Superior Achievement award in the special projects category for its 50th anniversary celebration of the publication of The Feminine Mystique. [23] They received the award from the Illinois State Historical Society.[23]

Also in 2013, The Feminine Mystique was discussed in Makers: Women Who Make America.[22]

Also in 2013, to celebrate its centennial the U.S. Department of Labor created a list of over 100 Books that Shaped Work in America, which included The Feminine Mystique. [20][21] The Department of Labor later chose The Feminine Mystique as one of its top ten books from that list.[21]

Also in February 2013, a fiftieth-anniversary edition of The Feminine Mystique was published, with a new introduction by Gail Collins.[19]

On February 22 and 23, 2013, a symposium titled React: The Feminine Mystique at 50, co-sponsored by The New School for Public Engagement and Parsons the New School for Design, was held.[17][18] An accompanying exhibit titled REACT was also on display, consisting of twenty-five pieces of artwork responding to The Feminine Mystique.[17]

By the year 2000, The Feminine Mystique had sold more than 3 million copies and had been translated into many foreign languages.[2]


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