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The Feminine Mystique Paperback – September 17, 2001
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“[A] bridge between conservative and radical elements in feminism, an ardent advocate of harmony and human values.” (Marilyn French - Esquire)
“The book that pulled the trigger on history.” (Alvin Toffler, author of Future Shock)
“One of those rare books we are endowed with only once in several decades.” (Amitai Etzioni, author of The Spirit of Community: The Reinvention of American Society)
“[The Feminine Mystique] now feels both revolutionary and utterly contemporary. . . . Four decades later, millions of individual transformations later, there is still so much to learn from this book. . . . Those who think of it as solely a feminist manifesto ought to revisit its pages to get a sense of the magnitude of the research and reporting Friedan undertook.” (Anna Quindlen)
From the Publisher
First published in 1963, The Feminine Mystique ignited a revolution that profoundly changed our culture, our conciousness, and our lives. Today it newly penetrates to the heart of isuues determining our lives -- and sounds a call to arms against the very real dangers of a newe feminine mystique in the economic and political turbulence of the 1990s.
Three decades later, the underlying issues raised by Betty Friedan strike at the core of the problems women still face at home and in the marketplace. As women continue to struggle for equality, to keep their hard-won gains, to find fulfillment in their careers, marriage and family, The Feminine Mystique remains the seminal conciousness-raising work of our times. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
The Feminine Mystique is profound and penetrating in that it questions a state of affairs so many of us take (or have taken) for granted. The book appeals to reason. You won't find any "masculine logic" vs. "feminine logic" stuff here; Just logic: The book is a systematic expose of the problem, its toll on women, and its toll on the rest of the family -- men and children. The book is humane and compassionate in dealing with human suffering: It doesn't place men and women on opposite sides of some battle of the sexes, but rather places all of us on the same side -- the side of the victims -- of some really bad ideas that have been dominant in society for a long time.
The book is frightening, because having read it, the magnitude and scope of women's suffering takes on a new meaning. The book is liberating, because having read it, you realise the mistakes you've made in your own life -- how you may have contributed to the problem, and you have a pretty good idea as to how to go about changing things -- your own life, and the way you deal with others. This is a great book.
She wrote in the Preface to this 1963 book, “Gradually… I came to realize that something is very wrong with the way American women are trying to live their lives today. I sensed it first as a question mark in my own life, as a wife and mother of three children… almost in spite of myself… It was this personal question mark that led me, in 1957, to spend a great deal of time doing an extensive questionnaire of my college classmates, fifteen years after our graduation from Smith. The answers given by 200 women … made me realize that what was wrong could not be related to education… There was a strange discrepancy between the reality of our lives as women and the image to which we were trying to conform, the image that I came to call the feminine mystique. I wondered if other women faced this schizophrenic split… And so I began to hunt down the origins of the feminine mystique, and its effect on women who lived by it, or grew up under it… But the puzzle did not begin to fit together until I interviewed… eighty women at certain crucial points in their life cycle… These women, some tortured, some serene, gave me the final clues, and the most damning indictment of the feminine mystique.”
She begins the first chapter [“The Problem That Has No Name”] with the statement, “The problem lay buried, unspoken, for many years in the minds of American women. It was a strange stirring, a sense of dissatisfaction, a yearning that women suffered in the middle of the twentieth century in the United States. Each suburban housewife struggled with it alone. As she made the beds, shopped for groceries… ate peanut butter sandwiches with her children, chauffeured Boy Scouts and Brownies, lay beside her husband at night---she was afraid to ask even of herself the silent question, ‘Is this all?’” (Pg. 11)
She begins the third chapter with the statement, “I discovered a strange thing, interviewing women of my own generation over the past ten years. When we were growing up, many of us could not see ourselves beyond the age of twenty-one. We had no image of our own future, of ourselves as women.” (Pg. 62) Later, she adds, “What if the terror a girl faces at twenty-one, when she must decide who she will be, is simply the terror of growing up… as women were not permitted to grow before?... What if those who choose the path of ‘feminine adjustment’ … are simply refusing… to face the question of their own identity? Mine was the first college generation to run head-on into the new mystique of feminine fulfillment… There was a sense… that we would be New Women. Forty percent of my college class at Smith had career plans. But I remember how… some of the seniors, suffering the pangs of that bleak fear of the future, envied the few who escaped it by getting married right away.” (Pg. 68-69)
She argues, “Powerful forces in this nation must be served by those pretty domestic pictures that stare at us everywhere, forbidding a woman to use her own abilities in the world. The preservation of the feminine mystique … could have implications that are not sexual at all… America depends rather heavily on women’s passive dependence, their femininity. Femininity… makes American women a target and a victim of the sexual sell.” (Pg. 196)
She asserts, “The feminists … fought for and won the rights to new, fully human identity for women. But how very few of their daughters and granddaughters have chosen to use their education and their abilities for any large creative purpose, for responsible work in society? How many of them have been deceived … into clinging to the outgrown, childlike femininity of ‘Occupation: housewife’? … If women do not put forth, finally, the effort to become all that they have it in them to become, they will forfeit their own humanity. A woman today who has no goal, no purpose, no ambition patterning her days into the future… is committing a kind of suicide… Only by such a personal commitment to the future can American women break out of the housewife trap and truly find fulfillment as wives and mothers---by fulfilling their own unique possibilities as separate human beings.” (Pg. 324-325)
In a rather more controversial section, she suggests, “there is an uncanny, uncomfortable insight into why a woman can so easily lose her sense of self as a housewife in certain psychological observations made on the behavior of prisoners in Nazi concentration camps… Those who ‘adjusted’ to the conditions of the camps surrendered their human identity and went almost indifferently to their deaths. Strangely enough, the conditions which destroyed the human identity of so many prisoners were… conditions similar to those which destroy the identity of the American housewife.” (Pg. 294) She continues, “is her house in reality a comfortable concentration camp? Have not women who live in the image of the feminine mystique trapped themselves within the narrow walls of their homes? They have learned to ‘adjust’ to their biological role.” (Pg. 296) She concludes this chapter, “The suburban house is not a German concentration camp, nor are American housewives on their way to the gas chamber. But they are in a trap, and to escape they must… finally exercise their human freedom, and recapture their sense of self. They must refuse to be nameless, depersonalized, manipulated, and live their own lives again according to a self-chosen purpose. They must begin to grow.” (Pg. 298)
She concludes, “when women as well as men emerge from biological living to realize their human selves, those leftover halves of life may become their years of greatest fulfillment. Then the split in the image will be healed, and daughters will not face that humping-off point at twenty-one or forty-one. When their mothers’ fulfillment makes girls sure they want to be women, they will not have to ‘beat themselves down’ to be feminine; they can stretch and stretch until their own efforts will tell them who they are. They will not need the regard or boy or man to feel alive. And when women do not need to live through their husbands and children, men will not fear the love and strength of women, nor need another’s weakness to prove their own masculinity. They can finally see each other as they are. And this may be the next step in human evolution. Who knows what women can be when they are finally free to become themselves? Who knows what women’s intelligence will contribute when it can be nourished without denying love? Who knows of the possibilities of love when men and women share not only children, home, and garden, not only the fulfillment of their biological roles, but the responsibilities and passions of the work that creates the human future and the full human knowledge of who they are? It has barely begun, the search of women for themselves. But the time is at hand when the voice of the feminine mystique can no longer drown out the inner voice that is driving women on to become complete.” (Pg. 363-364)
Certainly, one can criticize Friedan’s book as being too “culture-specific” (i.e., upper-class white ivy league college-educated women); but everyone must appreciate that hers was a strong voice giving a “name” to a definite problem---that has, of course, been much more exhaustively defined in the subsequent women’s movement. (Friedan herself has greatly broadened her scope in her subsequent books, it should be noted.) Although some parts of the book may seem too “genteel” in these “Third Wave” and “postfeminist” days, other parts still blaze with the fiery truth they originally articulated. This book remains absolute “must reading” for anyone studying the women’s movement, or the position of women in society.