68 of 70 people found the following review helpful
Stirring up The Feminine Mystique for a New Generation,
This review is from: A Strange Stirring: The Feminine Mystique and American Women at the Dawn of the 1960s (Hardcover)
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.
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Showing 1-6 of 6 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Aug 3, 2011 1:31:20 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Nov 29, 2011 1:34:22 PM PST
It is so funny... Most people do not know that Friedan was a Communist.
Posted on Nov 29, 2011 12:33:28 PM PST
"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."
It's kind of scary that you're teaching college courses in gender and social change. Based on this passage, your ideas about the second wave are all based on media stereotypes, not on reality. Also, maybe you should, I don't know, actually read "The Feminine Mystique" rather than letting this book do your thinking for you? Just a thought.
Posted on Mar 28, 2012 7:55:50 AM PDT
Tm Prosalendis says:
This is the type of book that I think would be enjoyed as an audio book. Bookreportradio will be previewing it the weekend of the 31st March 2012 with other audiobooks of courageous women. The bookreportradio is a must to listen to every week with a lively mix of author interviews, previeews and chats with those in the book world
Posted on Jul 18, 2012 6:29:03 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jul 18, 2012 6:31:17 PM PDT
Andrea D. Taylor says:
What an odd mix of comments - harsh, irrelevant, etc. Dr. Whelan - thanks - that was a very helpful and thoughtful review.
Posted on Feb 2, 2013 6:23:08 PM PST
Karen A says:
"I can see it being devoured by book clubs of women in their 50s and 60s who want to understand their mothers anew."
Interesting review, but the time sense is off here. I am 69 now and was deeply influenced by The Feminine Mystique when I was in my 20s--that was in the 1960s.
In reply to an earlier post on Feb 2, 2013 6:25:50 PM PST
Karen A says:
Socialist, not Communist--there's a big difference. However even being a Communist was not so outrageous in the 1930s.
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