A Year of Feminist Classics

Because they're better together :)

‘The Feminine Mystique’ – Betty Friedan

book cover of the feminine mystique by betty friedan

In 1957 Betty Friedan conducted a survey of her Smith College class for their 15th anniversary reunion in 1957. She discovered that these women were living life styles that conformed to the current American feminine ideal. They were housewives, totally independent of the demands of the workplace. They had children. Yet many confessed to being unhappy despite living in circumstances of material wealth and marital stability. Friedan went on to interview many other housewives and found that while they often identified the same vague unhappiness, many could not explain why they were unhappy. In the first chapter of ‘The Feminine Mystique’ Friedan calls this ‘the problem with no name’ which ‘lay buried, unspoken, for many years in the minds of American women’.

I think it’s the meat of this book that makes it so interesting, rather than Friedan’s own background, so shall we get right into analysing it? After reading the first chapter of ‘The Feminine Mystique’, what do you think Friedan identified as the cause of ‘the problem with no name’? And what does she think has made women bury this problem?

2 responses to “‘The Feminine Mystique’ – Betty Friedan

  1. Christina Van Wagenen Shiffler October 23, 2012 at 12:25 am

    Hello! Woah, it’s been quiet on here!
    Anyway, I just finished reading The Feminine Mystique last night, and I’m going to write my review soon- just need to process my thoughts a little bit. But I’m very much looking forward to some discussion!
    “The Problem with No Name” is that malaise housewives feel when they have no sense of fulfillment or purpose, right? I mean, I think Betty Friedan does a pretty brilliant job tracing the relationship between The Feminine Mystique (developed by post-WWII American society in general and its relationship to pop psychology/anthropology in particular) and the resulting problem with no name. And then she also explains why women bury the problem- demonization of “career women” and the threat of sexual dysfunction, the fear of outshining their husbands and therefore tearing down their masculinity… and a bunch of other reasons that I can’t remember at the moment. There’s so much information in this book! I need an outline. 🙂
    Anyway, yes. Really enjoyed this fascinating read! Can’t wait to hear other readers’ thoughts.

  2. onereadleaf November 3, 2012 at 7:27 pm

    I think “the problem with no name” that Friedan identifies comes from living for and through other people. Friedan has a lot to say about women who try to convince themselves not to be interested in things because they think it will be bad for their future families. Instead, these women put all their time into their houses (living this weird consumerist fantasy) and their children, and often end up leaning on them so hard because this is the only acceptable outlet for their desire to participate in society. Of course, women are still encouraged to put others before themselves in a lot of ways, so I wonder how much has really changed.

    What was interesting to me was how much she seemed to be limited in the arguments she was able to make. She had to pay lip service to Freud and Mead, for instance, even though she wanted to identify them as the source of the problem she wanted to critique. Later in the book, it becomes clear that it’s not enough for her to say that being pressured into life as a housewife is bad for women, she also has to show that it’s bad for their families. I wonder how much of this is what’s persuasive to her audience and how much is what she considers to be a persuasive argument.

    In any case, that isn’t what I wrote about in my post… I got distracted by her biases.

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