72 of 75 people found the following review helpful
on January 20, 2011
I am a young professor of sociology teaching classes on gender, marriage and social change -- and I have never read Betty Friedan's The Feminist Mystique. Like many women of my generation, I thought I had. I must have, I told myself. Perhaps in college? No. And it turns out that very few of my well-educated feminist-leaning friends have either.
When I bring up The Feminine Mystique (1963) in passing in lectures, I ask my students if they've heard of that phrase, or have heard a reference to "the problem that has no name." The majority of them raise their hands, but few can tell me what the book was about. They certainly haven't read it. With professorial authority, I tell them that The Feminine Mystique was a battle cry for housewives everywhere that they could put down their dishrags and demand equality. But since reading A Strange Stirring, Stephanie Coontz's excellent new social history of the impact of Betty Friendan's landmark book on American women, I'm not quite sure.
I associate Betty Friedan with metaphorically lighting the match that burned all those bras in the 1960s and 1970s, yet Coontz demonstrates that Friedan was pretty conservative by today's standards. She didn't tell women to divorce their husbands. Nowhere in The Feminine Mystique does she say women should pursue careers. And she certainly wasn't anti-marriage.
At core, writes Coontz, "Friedan asked us to imagine a world where men and women can both find meaningful, socially useful work and also participate in the essential activities of love and caregiving for children, partners, parents, friends and neighbors." That is neither a radical concept nor one we have achieved in the nearly 50 years since.
Coontz is the rare social historian who knows how to weave meticulous research into a compelling narrative of our not-too-distant past. As the author of several myth-busting books about marriage and family, Coontz does more than simply tell a story of The Feminine Mystique: She guides readers from the era of Mad Men straight through to the present to show us that while things have changed, Betty Friedan's message of equality is still a long way off.
A Strange Stirring will be a staple of many college reading lists. But it's not an academic book. It's a compelling read for anyone who wants to understand the evolution of our modern ideas about gender. I can see it being devoured by book clubs of women in their 50s and 60s who want to understand their mothers anew. Perhaps the audience in greatest need of this book are women like me: Those who don't know their history are bound to repeat it. As women in their 20s and 30s take on the role of wife and mother, we must remember that the quest for gender equality isn't just a women's issue. Those of us who want husbands who will share the joys and burdens of caregiving must fight against restrictive ideas of masculinity and femininity that hold both genders back.
It's unlikely that many of us will rush to our local libraries to check out The Feminine Mystique. That's fine. A Strange Stirring is, in many ways, better than the original: Today the problem has been named, and A Strange Stirring offers poignant personal reactions, accessible history and present-day comparisons to give voice to the modern quest for gender equality.
22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on January 23, 2011
After reading The Feminine Mystique a few years ago I didn't find it relevant to todays society and couldn't really appreciate the book. After reading A Strange Stirring, I can understand the true impact TFM had on women (and men) of the 60s. This book is a must read for all people interested in history, equality or feminism. Great book!
22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on January 12, 2011
Authors like to believe that their words can change history. One book, "The Feminist Mystique," almost did that. I write "almost" because there's far more to this story than what Betty Friedan told.
Stephanie Coontz places the Friedan's book into true context and thus does history and feminism a huge service. Liberated from Ms. Friedan's own self-mythologizing, we see how the book happened; what it changed and what it didn't. Like so many of Dr. Coontz' previous works, this one is a truth-teller. "A Strange Stirring" is highly recommended.
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on March 6, 2011
As a wife/mother of the 50's and 60's, this book really hits the mark! I found myself on so many pages, including my insistence on no monetary support when I divorced (after 20 years marriage) as it was "his" money!. I was too busy in the early 70's getting my masters degree to really soak in Betty Friedan's book, so Stephanie's book has really increased my understanding of that all-to-familiar "Strange Stirring" I had felt. It is beautifully written, and has increased my understanding of my perhaps "deviant" behaviors of that time. I am encouraging my daughters (now in their early 50's) to also read the book. Thank you so much.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on June 12, 2013
A new book, published in 2011, and written by Stephanie Coontz, is called A Strange Stirring. The sub title is: The Feminine Mystique and American Women at the dawn of the 1960s.
That book and recent statements on television by feminists Gloria Steinem and Marlo Thomas sent me back to re-read my copy of The Feminine Mystique, a book written in 1963 by Betty Friedan, one of the founding members of the National Women’s Political Caucus. That mesmerizing book, about the problem that had no name, profoundly affected me, both intellectually and emotionally, when I first read it in 1969. In contrast, the book was slightly boring and dated when I re-read it this year, possibly because social changes have made the book seem somewhat obsolete.
NOT JUST A DIAPER CHANGER?
The problem that had no name was the social expectation that women would be quiet, passive, and submissive. They were supposed to live their lives through the accomplishments of their husbands and children. A woman, for example, was known as Mrs. (plus husband’s name) and was expected to darn sox, produce tasty casseroles, be physically attractive and available to serve her husband and children. Friedan exposed this unbridled sexism for what it was and let women know that they were not alone. Society had denigrated all of them, she said, and wasted their intellectual and creative capabilities.
Cartoonists got the message across even more effectively. I remember seeing a cartoon which showed a man raising his pant leg to show his knee. The caption said, “Hire him. He’s got great legs.”
Some women held jobs outside the home because their families needed the money, mainly in low paying, low status jobs. Picture this scene: After working a double shift, a woman could go home to a husband sitting in a recliner waiting for her to cook dinner. If she objected, his question was: “Don’t you want to be a wife? What’s wrong with you anyway? It’s your duty.” However, Friedan did not criticize husbands directly for their wives’ unhappiness. Instead, she blamed the social expectation which limited women to paralyzing roles, then asked these women to deny what they were feeling.
STATE’S “HEAD AND MASTER” LAW
Because of this social expectation and Oklahoma’s laws, I was ready to embrace the Feminine Mystique when I first read it in 1969. For example,
in the late 1960s my husband and I lived on a farm south of Shawnee and I taught English at nearby Oklahoma Baptist University. That’s when I learned from the League of Women Voters that there were some laws on the books that seriously affected women in my situation---that is, women working with their husbands in small businesses and in farming operations.
One of the laws said that the husband is head of the family. He would choose the place and the mode of residence and the wife would conform. Another law said that Oklahoma was a separate property state as opposed to a community property state. In a community property state, the wife has the right to half of the property acquired during marriage. But in a separate property state, the property belongs to the person who made the money to buy it. And since the husband was the head of the household, the automatic assumption was that the husband owned the property.
So I got to thinking, “If I died first, this property would belong to my husband free and clear with no questions asked. If he died first, I would have to prove that I had invested money or money’s worth to own my very own property.” So we got a will, and it’s a good thing we did because a few years later, he died of cancer; and I would have been in a real mess without that will because of the laws on the Oklahoma books.
About that time, the Equal Rights Amendment was beginning to come up before the Oklahoma Legislature, so I went to the Capitol to lobby for ERA’s passage. It didn’t pass, but that was the beginning of my political involvement; and some years later, I ended up as a member of the Legislature myself. That’s when Representative Freddye Williams and I got that “head of the household” law off the books!
So it was goodbye to the feminine mystique in my life, with appreciation for the awareness that it had brought.
Today the media regularly portrays women as capable, gutsy, and smart. And, who knows, our next president might just be Hillary Rodham Clinton.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on July 19, 2012
A Strange Stirring is an excellent history of The Feminine Mystique and society's attitudes about women and men. Coontz does an excellent job of weaving historical research and anecdotal evidence in a lively and engaging manner. It is distressing to consider the narrow roles and choices given to women during the years between WWII and the 1970's. That these roles also limited men to their roles as breadwinners and part time fathers is a reminder that the women's movement, with all its flaws (children now born out of wedlock at a high rate, with too many negative social and educational effects, and increased sexualization of our daughters at younger and younger ages--flaws that have more than one cause) did in fact benefit men as well. My husband has had a much more involved family life than did his father. I and my sisters and my daughters are indebted to Friedan and others involved in the women's movement for our expanded life choices, greater self respect, and more equitable marriages. Coontz did a fine job of not only writing a history of Friedan's book, but also of the era in which it was published and it's impact on women.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on December 5, 2012
When a book is written at the perfect time, it exceeds the value of mere words on paper. Betty Friedan’s “The Feminine Mystique” did just that, as it helped women to realize that their potential contributions to humanity were not limited by the warped social climate of their day. Stephanie Coontz has put all of this into perspective for us in an enjoyable read.
"A Strange Stirring" is not only a brief history of feminism in America, it’s a glimpse into what real life was like for the women whose worlds were changed by Friedan’s book. If you’re a baby boomer like me, you can relate to many of the personal stories shared in Ms. Coontz’s book. If you’re a young woman, you owe it to yourself – and to your own mother, daughters and granddaughters – to read it.
While, yes, it is written in a somewhat academic format, Ms Coontz’s book is more than a historical narrative. She encourages all of us to step back and take a look at how life options have evolved for women in this country, on all levels. It provokes deep reflection on the value of each woman, each human being, in today’s changing world.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on August 2, 2012
Interesting reviews... I did not find A Strange Stirring redundant at all, on the contrary, Coontz punches out several different facts and other peoples anecdotes and reflections of Mystique, so smoothly and rapidly. The reader is continuously intrigued without even getting the chance to think it dull. Because of the pace of the book, I found it as much as a breeze to read while concurrently being packed with such unfamiliar facts and accounts. Coontz considered every aspect behind Betty Friedan's theories in The Feminine Mystique, and while it is a tribute, Strange Stirring also includes the bias arguments and missing holes in Friedan's philosophies. This is a well-researched and absorbing read. No, it's not 400 pages, and I appreciated the get-to-the-point voice.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on August 16, 2013
A Must read
Things have changed.
I am now recommending a number of books just like this to my male buddies,
but they are finding that they have to hide from their significant others. Even my wife not real comfortable with me reading and being so interested in the subject, and I have been reading a lot.
What is our male reason for reading? Gosh from what I hear, to understand you gals. U got something that we want, something that we don't have.
So I have been on a journey. Lot of reading about gender differnces. While lots of books about how women have been held back abused and other things, very little about the mans side. Great bood to bring us up to date on the gender equality battle field. But what to do, where to go. I must say this is a must read for anyone that is interested in this topic. Not a lot of opinions which I like. So many of these books are filled with opinions on what to do who is at fault and such, the book just as much as it can says here is what is going on. Read the latest mans or womens magazine, see the solutions, quick fixes.. Like do more house work and U get mor.
Graduated from college around the late 90s, took some gender classes and thought I knew it all. Make sure my daughter has all she needs.
But now being married for some 15 years and find different perspective now.
How to understand what to do... Where to go I don't know. I do know things not so simple. Such that how can we have gender equality when women have something that men don't have and want. Can equality exist?
Stay at home mom brain goes to mush because of slow intensity, but man at work high intensity.
Boredom depends on perspective. What about the man that is in high intensity job, then has weekend to react to slow pace of family stuff. High gear to low gear and stay at home mom must go from low gear to high gear.
So this is a must read. This is great book for what it's objective is. I have some male friends that need to hide book from wife. Strange how things change.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on April 17, 2012
For a child born in the '70s this is an eye-opener as to the bad old days for women, the loss in momentum of the suffrage movement once the vote was obtained and the impact of Betty Friedan's "The Feminine Mystique." Filled with personal stories from readers of the Feminine Mystique, the book is a quick and short (186 pages) read. The part I found most fascinating, however, was the last eight pages, which discuss the "mystiques" having their way with us today. For those who work, the "career mystique" is all too familiar. I bought an extra copy for my mom last Christmas.