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A Strange Stirring: The Feminine Mystique and American Women at the Dawn of the 1960s Paperback – March 6, 2012
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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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
[An] excellent new social history of the impact of Betty Friedan's landmark book on American women.... Coontz is the rare social historian who knows how to weave meticulous research into a compelling narrative of our not-too-distant past.... 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.”
[E]xcellent, eminently readable.... Coontz's demystifying' of both the era and Friedan is an erudite, even-handed look at the explosive feminist undercurrents of the era.”
Louis Menand, The New Yorker
[A] useful revisiting of Friedan's book.”
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.”
Daniel Horowitz, author of Betty Friedan and the Making of The Feminine Mystique
It Changed My Life was the title of the book Betty Friedan wrote after her transformative 1963 The Feminine Mystique. And change she did the lives of American women. Now in her biography of a classic, Stephanie Coontz imaginatively explores the impact of Friedan's book. Weaving a rich fabric from what women said in letters and interviews, from articles in popular magazines, current scholarship, and her own astute reading of the 1963 work, Coontz compellingly reveals how generations of womenfrom the flappers of the 1920s to the bloggers and helicopter moms of todayhave responded to the challenges modern women face.”
Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love
Stephanie Coontz is not just one of the most important historians in America, she is also a personal hero of mine and a brilliant writer. This booklike all her books before ithas been a marvel and education for me to behold. I am awed by the scope of this research, of this thinking, and I am struck once more by how much there is learned (and taught) about the slow, stubborn advancement of women in America over the last one hundred years. I will keep A Strange Stirring in the forefront of my bookshelf forever.”
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 reliefsome called it life-savingin knowing that they were not crazy and not alone in their need to find some work independent of their family roles.”
Donna L. Franklin, author of Ensuring Inequality: The Structural Transformation of the African-American Family
This book offers a nuanced perspective on the women's movement by ending the invisibility of African-American women.”
Nancy F. Cott, Trumbull Professor of American History, Harvard University
Stephanie Coontz's new book takes you on an engrossing and enlightening tour of the past, with wisdom and meaning for the future.”
John Bradshaw, author of Reclaiming Virtue and the #1 New York Times bestsellers, Homecoming and Creating Love
Stephanie Coontz continues to amaze me. In her new book, A Strange Stirring, she chronicles the untold story of some of America's greatest pioneers. This is a must read for all who care about our country's growth and maturity. We owe the women described here the same gratitude and respect given to Lewis and Clark and the others who carved out this great nation.”
Christie Hefner, former chairman and chief executive officer of Playboy Enterprises and longest serving female C.E.O. of a U.S. public company
As was written about TheFeminine Mystique, A Strange Stirring is a journalistic tour de force, combining scholarship, investigative reporting and a compelling personal voice.' Stephanie Coontz has made a significant contribution to our understanding of the most transformative movement of our lifetimes. Much of what Coontz reports regarding the prevailing ethos of the 1950s as a time of conformity, cultural conservatism and social repressiveness will be fascinating and eye-opening for younger readers. This book is a must read for men as well as for women. And the transformational desire for a work/family balance in life is now reflected not just by gender, but by generation, as both men and women need to grow and fulfill their potentialities as human beings,' as Friedan wrote almost a half a century ago.”
New York Times Book Review
[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.”
Wall Street Journal
[S]ocial historian Stephanie Coontz...takes a fresh look at The Feminine Mystique by examining its effect on the book's original readers.... Ms. Coontz usefully debunks some of the myths that have grown up around The Feminine Mystique and Friedan.... [A]n illuminating analysis of the book that helped launch the movement that freed women to participate more fully in American society.”
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.”
The Daily Beast, This Week's Hot Reads”
A thoughtful reappraisal of Betty Friedan's 1960s classic and a meditation on the ever-evolving role of women in American society.”
Christine Whelan, HuffingtonPost
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.”
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"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.
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.
Read it .