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Book Review: The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan (2/5)

13 Aug

I had hoped to go to the book club discussion of this book but I didn’t finish it in time. I was also a bit time-pressed before my trip so I decided I’d skip the meeting but still finish the book. I think it’s taken me longer to finish the book than it should have, but I persevered and finally finished it up when I got back from vacation. This review may be a bit scrambled as I try to remember what I read it in over a month ago when I started.

Cover image via Goodreads

The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan

Summary from Goodreads:

Landmark, groundbreaking, classic—these adjectives barely do justice to the pioneering vision and lasting impact of The Feminine Mystique. Published in 1963, it gave a pitch-perfect description of “the problem that has no name”: the insidious beliefs and institutions that undermined women’s confidence in their intellectual capabilities and kept them in the home. Writing in a time when the average woman first married in her teens and 60 percent of women students dropped out of college to marry, Betty Friedan captured the frustrations and thwarted ambitions of a generation and showed women how they could reclaim their lives. Part social chronicle, part manifesto, The Feminine Mystique is filled with fascinating anecdotes and interviews as well as insights that continue to inspire.

The fact that this was published in 1963 was glaringly obvious. The idyllic ‘Leave it to Beaver’ perception of women and the housewife mentality is something I have no personal connection to and that my mother had no personal connection too. I’m very removed from the generation that suffered under the mystique which made this book seem antiquated while reading it. I can see how reading it in the 1960s would be eye-opening and life-changing, but I didn’t find it relevant anymore and had to look at it as a historical piece more than anything. More than anything, it made me want to talk to my grandmother who was born in 1932 and was raising my mother and her other six children during the 1960s. I can see studying this book in the context of US history or the course of the feminist movement but as a ‘for fun’ read, it was quite a struggle to get through.

Betty Friedan
Image via Harvard University

Friedan did a lot of interviews and research while trying to find the source of the problem with no name that she eventually labeled the mystique. These interviews were my favorite part. I enjoyed hearing how the mystique manifested itself in real women’s lives. Even in some that seemed happy, there was a river of sadness that they couldn’t overlook. I think there are women who can be happy as housewives, but I don’t think there are many. In my job, I see a fair number of women returning to work after their children have grown up and they’re always really excited to work again. I think having a purpose outside the house gives you a sense of value if you can’t find it at home and I’m glad Friedan was able to communicate that.

I felt that the book was a bit repetitive. The mystique was well described and established by the end of the second chapter, about 100 pages in. The book is over 500 pages long! I felt Friedan tried to explain the mystique for far too long before she talked about how it affected women and how to solve it. I think the book should have focused more on those topics and less on describing the phenomenon.

There was clearly a backsliding in women’s liberation during the 1950s and 60s. I think it’s great that Friedan could identify it and trace its origins. It’s important to know how the backsliding came about and what could be done to regain the footing women had in society before WWII. I think most of it has been resolved, though we’re not yet equal. I feel there are other groups that have lost some ground in equal rights that could learn from Friedan’s research though I’m not sure if the source will be as easily identified.

Writer’s Takeaway: Though interesting, I think this book went on far too long and provided more history than it should have while lacking in solutions. I think having some proposed solutions taking up the second half of the book would have been more interesting. Her call to action was a bit weak I felt so rather than motivate me to act on behalf of women, I was more intrigued by researching the problem.

This book was a slog for me and I wouldn’t recommend it as a ‘for fun’ read. Two out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

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Related Posts:
The Feminine Mystique: “We’ve Become the Girls We Hate” | Half-Way to a Mid-Life Crisis
The Feminine Mystique & Helicopter Parents: Why We Still Need Betty Friedan | Dr. Christy Tidwell