- Hardcover: 248 pages
- Publisher: Basic Books; 1 edition (January 4, 2011)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0465002005
- ISBN-13: 978-0465002009
- Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.9 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 26 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #220,747 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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A Strange Stirring: The Feminine Mystique and American Women at the Dawn of the 1960s Hardcover – January 4, 2011
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Nearly 50 years after Betty Friedan transformed the lives of American housewives, Coontz (Marriage, a History, 2005) offers a biography of Friedan’s seminal book, The Feminine Mystique (1963). Coupling meticulous research with first-person interviews, Coontz challenges a number of Friedan’s assumptions and exaggerations while also revisiting the climate in which the work appeared and giving voice to women for whom The Feminine Mystique was nothing short of a lifesaver. Though critical of the work on a number of fronts, including its omission of working-class and minority women, Coontz lauds other aspects of The Feminine Mystique, such as its condemnation of mainstream psychiatry, which promoted the notion that women had no need to search for meaning in their lives beyond their roles as wives and mothers. As women continue to struggle with the effort to balance life and work, Coontz argues that The Feminine Mystique remains as relevant today as it when it first appeared. In tracing the roots of current discontents, which Coontz dubs the “Supermom Mystique,” her book is no less required reading than Friedan’s trailblazer. --Patty Wetli
“[A] timely contribution to the conversation about what constitutes progress for women (and for which women) in these days of mommy wars and mama grizzlies…. By considering The Feminine Mystique as one sturdy strand in the complex arguments we’re engaged in to this day, Coontz does Friedan the tremendous favor of pulling her down from heaven and up from hell…. [I]t’s a relief to have the level-headed Coontz providing perspective and taking Friedan’s work and legacy for what it was: stirring, strange, complicated and crucial.”
“A Strange Stirring gives voice to women whose lives were transformed by Friedan’s book, but most compellingly, it sets the historical record straight as far as its impact on families.”
“Coupling meticulous research with first-person interviews, Coontz challenges a number of Friedan’s assumptions and exaggerations while also revisiting the climate in which the work appeared and giving voice to women for whom The Feminine Mystique was nothing short of a lifesaver…. As women continue to struggle with the effort to balance life and work, Coontz argues that The Feminine Mystique remains as relevant today as when it first appeared. In tracing the roots of current discontents, which Coontz dubs the ‘Supermom Mystique,’ her book is no less required reading than Friedan’s trailblazer.”
“A thoughtful reappraisal of Betty Friedan’s 1960s classic – and a meditation on the ever-evolving role of women in American society.”
“Coontz reconciles Friedan’s flawed text with its seemingly outsized influence, and deftly depicts the social context for the dramatic testimonials uncovered in Coontz’s research, the revelatory proto-feminist experiences shared by women of her mother’s generation…. [Coontz’s] clear-eyed review of the social data and cultural contradictions of the time…comprise a fascinating and important study. A Strange Stirring…is a book of rigor and undeceiving, one worthy of Friedan’s tradition.”
The Buffalo News
“For some of us, this is a jolting ‘remember when;’ for others, a slice of history forgotten all too soon. For all of us, there remains relevance.”
“As the author of several books that challenge the accepted historical narrative of ‘traditional’ families and institutions…Coontz soberly checks facts, corrects misinformation, and fills in holes in the record. Most important, she shows how assumptions and misinformation about the past are used not only to paint a distorted picture of how things used to be, but to justify insidious policies and legislation like the Defense of Marriage Act. In her latest work…Coontz focuses on a book we’ve come to take for granted, arguing that it deserves a closer look…. [S]he not only explores the actual content of The Feminine Mystique (going well beyond the usual proclamations about its controversiality and importance), but insists that readers (and, presumably, feminists) figure out how to reconcile our idealized version of history with information that complicates it.”
“This perceptive [and] engrossing…book provides welcome context and background to a still controversial bestseller that changed how women viewed themselves.”
“Coontz recaptures the impact of Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique when it was published in 1963. Although Friedan claimed credit for initiating the modern feminist movement, Coontz places the book more dispassionately in its historical context as one of many factors working against entrenched gender roles. Still, Coontz demonstrates persuasively that women readers from many backgrounds found relief—some called it life-saving—in knowing that they were not crazy and not alone in their need to find some work independent of their family roles.”
“A sharp revisiting of the generation that was floored by Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique (1963), and how the book is still relevant today…. A valuable education for women and men.”
“Coontz recounts the catalytic effect that The Feminine Mystique had on a great many women. Her book is full of stories of desperate, suffering people who realized they weren’t crazy only when they picked up Friedan’s bestseller…. But The Feminine Mystique is not just an artifact of a benighted era. It still contains important lessons about one of the most important questions of all, which is how to create a meaningful, autonomous life.”
“Nearly fifty years after The Feminine Mystique exploded onto the scene, Stephanie Coontz measures Friedan’s outsized reputation against a revealing body of research gleaned from archival sources, oral interviews, and surveys she conducted with nearly 200 women. The result is a brisk, even-handed account of the book’s literary achievements, political limitations, and enduring legacy…. Coontz sheds new light on Friedan’s savvy as both a writer and an activist. But Coontz is as intent on demystifying The Feminine Mystique and stripping away the exaggerated and false claims surrounding it as she is on recounting its merits.”
“This book enriches Coontz’s impressive body of work on American family life…. She continues to deftly make history a personal science, persuading readers to ponder those societal yokes we’ve taken up to wear around our own necks…. A Strange Stirring reveals the power of two writers; both are able to see beyond the conventional view and the untold history, and enable the reader to look ahead with new eyes and new questions.”
Ladies Home Journal
“A fascinating examination of Friedan’s much-misunderstood classic, A Strange Stirring should be required reading for any young woman today who believes that she’s ‘not a feminist.’ Not only does Stephanie movingly recount how revelatory The Feminine Mystique was to the millions of discontented housewives who read it, but she also details – with examples that had me shaking my head in stupefaction – the unbridled sexism that characterized life circa 1963.”
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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.
"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.
Read it .