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


7 Responses to “Book Review: The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan (2/5)”

  1. Laurel-Rain Snow August 13, 2018 at 11:15 AM #

    The book was definitely aimed at a different generation of women (myself included), and perhaps it needed the approach she brought to the book to pierce the core of those of us who were not accustomed to feminist thought. We would need this introduction in order to be ready for Gloria Steinem and others who came later…and to then take up the mantle and enter the world of consciousness raising.

    But you had to be there.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sam August 13, 2018 at 11:18 AM #

      I think your last comment is the crux of my opinion. I wasn’t there so it’s hard for me to feel the full impact of this book. It was interesting and filled with facts that made me think. But as a woman born in the 90s, it didn’t move me the same way it moved women before. It’s definitely a historically important book, but I don’t think it’s very relevant to women today.


      • Laurel-Rain Snow August 13, 2018 at 11:42 AM #

        True, but surely you aren’t dismissing those of us who came before, who have relevant thoughts about feminism, beginning with what we learned in the 60s…and adding what we have discovered since those times. LOL


      • Sam August 13, 2018 at 12:14 PM #

        No, of course not! This book helped women push for radical changes that have shaped my societal role as a young woman. Without the movement that these thoughts started, I could be living the June Cleaver life. I think my feelings align with what you say, “adding what we have discovered since.” I felt removed from the movement because of how much has been added. My ideas of current feminism are drawn largely from the changes since this book was written so that the status of women that this book projects is so far removed from my life and my reality that it didn’t touch me. I read the afterward that Friedan has in the back about the impact of the book and the change it inspired. This spoke to me more than the main text. That’s what I’d like to read about more than the book that inspired the changes. Thank you for engaging in this conversation!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Alyssa August 13, 2018 at 11:27 AM #

    I agree with your assessment; as a “for fun” read, it’s a bit heavy and dry, but certainly presents some interesting thoughts! Great review!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Sam August 13, 2018 at 12:09 PM #

      Thanks! It would have been much more enjoyable in a college class. Happy reading!

      Liked by 2 people


  1. Book Review: The Yellow Wallpaper and Other Stories by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (3/5) | Taking on a World of Words - March 31, 2020

    […] The complaints that many of the women had and being unfulfilled were the same ones I read about in The Feminine Mystique meaning that more than sixty years later, they were still ongoing. I liked the snort and snappy […]


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