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At 50, Does 'Feminine Mystique' Still Roar?
by NWP
February 10, 2013 at 8:38 PM

At 50, Does 'Feminine Mystique' Still Roar?...

Leading supporters of the Equal Rights Amendment march in Washington on Sunday, July 9, 1978, urging Congress to extend the time for ratification of the ERA. From left: Gloria Steinem, Dick Gregory, Betty Friedan, Rep. Elizabeth Holtzman, D-N.Y., Rep. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., Rep. Margaret Heckler, R-Mass.

Leading supporters of the Equal Rights Amendment march in Washington on Sunday, July 9, 1978, urging Congress to extend the time for ratification of the ERA. From left: Gloria Steinem, Dick Gregory, Betty Friedan, Rep. Elizabeth Holtzman, D-N.Y., Rep. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., Rep. Margaret Heckler, R-Mass.

Dennis Cook/AP

In 1963, Betty Friedan called it "the problem that has no name" and then proceeded to name it — and the name stuck. The problem was "The Feminine Mystique," which was also the title of her groundbreaking book, published 50 years ago.

Since its first publication in 1963, millions of people have read The Feminine Mystique. These days, many people read it in college — often in women's studies classes. Even so, when we talked with some young women in downtown Washington, D.C., many knew little or nothing about it.

But today's young woman can be forgiven for not feeling the urgency to read The Feminine Mystique that their mothers might have felt. It's probably hard for them to understand the way things were when Friedan decided she had enough.

"There's very seldom that you get a book that is so of the moment," says New York Times columnist Gail Collins, who was a teenager when the book first came out.

It was post-World War II America. The suburbs were growing exponentially and the economy was booming. A lot of women had worked outside the home during the war, and a significant number of women had gotten a college education. Now, they were all being told to stay home and find their fulfillment in taking care of their husbands and children.

"The moment was so pregnant and ready for an explosion," Collins says, "that all you needed was somebody just sitting there and saying: Look at that ad. They think you are so stupid. They have contempt for you. They hate you. Take look at that again. That's all you needed."

When Friedan wrote The Feminine Mystique she was both a suburban housewife and a freelance writer who worked mostly for women's magazines, which were run by men. The book, says Collins, was neither a sociological tract nor a political manifesto.

Betty Friedan, co-founder of National Organization for Women (NOW), speaks during the Women's Strike for Equality event in New York on Aug. 26, 1970, the 50th anniversary of women's suffrage.

AP

"It's totally personal," Collins says. "You know the great criticisms of the book over the years — all of which are certainly true — that it didn't take into account working women, that it didn't take into account minority women, those people are totally absent. Laws are totally absent, discrimination in the workplace, none of that stuff. It's all a very personal, white middle class, college educated woman's howl of misery and anger at the place where she has found herself."

Hanna Rosin, author of The End of Men, was in her 20s when she first read the book. She was surprised by how personal it was and by Friedan's anger as she systematically laid out the case against a male-dominated society that was determined to keep women in their place.

"We don't write with that kind of anger and rage anymore," Rosin says. "It's not exactly sociological. It takes on every element of society and explains who it colluded to create this set of expectations for woman which were fake. I mean you suddenly feel like ... you have been caught in a conspiracy. ... It came from the magazines, it came from the universities, it came from our fathers, it came from our mothers, it came from grade school. ... It came from every level that there was — this collusion to feed this message."

Replies

  • NWP
    by NWP
    February 10, 2013 at 8:41 PM

    Fifty years later Rosin says, The Feminine Mystique is still relevant especially when it comes to our understanding of women and domesticity.

    "We still thoroughly associate women with domesticity and keeping of the home," Rosin says. "There's some argument to make that the circumscribed world that Betty Friedan was describing — I wouldn't say it made women happier, but it made one at least know what one's place was in the world and not have this sense that everything was up for grabs and you had to be good in every single sphere like taking care of the home, taking care of the children, working, your job, being ambitious.

    "And so women haven't really given up the spheres she described they controlled, they've just taken up new ones."

    Jessica Valenti is a feminist author and writer. At 34 she says women her age and younger are actively engaged with feminism but not necessarily in traditional forums — they are on the Web and social media trying to figure how to move the discussion forward.

    "I see a lot people who are discouraged that we are still having the same conversation," Valenti says. "We've seen all these policy changes, we've seen incredible laws, we've seen Roe [v. Wade], we've seen the Violence Against Women Act, but we're still kind of fighting for implementation and we're still really battling the cultural battle and looking for cultural shifts."

    Valenti says one of Friedan's most powerful legacies is her anger. She says young women shy away from that emotion because they don't want to be labeled "angry feminists."

    "But we forget that that anger is justified and that it's OK to be angry and that anger can be useful and energizing," Valenti says. "I think anger around sexism, around income inequality, around domestic inequality is really righteous and really relatable."

    So if you want to understand the passion that helped fire up the modern women's movement there may be no better place to start than with The Feminine Mystique.

  • Clairwil
    February 11, 2013 at 4:16 AM

    Passage from the book:


    The image of woman that emerges from this big, pretty magazine is young and
    frivolous, almost childlike; fluffy and feminine; passive; gaily content in a world of
    bedroom and kitchen, sex, babies, and home. The magazine surely does not leave
    out sex; the only passion, the only pursuit, the only goal a woman is permitted is
    the pursuit of a man. It is crammed full of food, clothing, cosmetics, furniture,
    and the physical bodies of young women, but where is the world of though' and
    ideas, the life of the min d and spirit? In the magazine image women do no work
    except housework and work to keep their bodies beautiful and to get and keep a
    man.

    This was the image of the American woman in the year Castro led a revolution
    in Cuba and men were trained to travel into outer space; the year that the
    African continent brought forth new nations, and a plane whose speed is greater
    than the speed of sound broke up a Summit Conference; the year artists picketed
    a great museum in protest against the hegemony of abstract art; physicists

    explored the concept of anti-matter; astronomers, because of new radio
    telescopes, had to alter their concepts of the expanding universe; biologists made
    a breakthrough in the fundamental chemistry of life; and Negro youth in
    Southern schools forced the United States, for the first time since the Civil War,
    to face a moment of democratic truth. But this magazine, published for over
    5,000,000 American women, almost all of whom have been through high school
    and nearly half to college, contained almost no mention of the world beyond the
    home. In the second half of the twentieth century in America, woman's world was
    confined to her own body and beauty, the charming of man, the bearing of
    babies, and the physical care and serving of husband, children, and home. And
    this was no anomaly of a single issue of a single women's magazine.

    I sat one night at a meeting of magazine writers, mostly men, who work for all
    kinds of magazines, including women's magazines. The main speaker was a leader
    of the desegregation battle. Before he spoke, another man outlined the needs of
    the large women's magazine he edited:

    Our readers are housewives, full time. They're not interested in the broad public
    issues of the day. They are not interested in national or international affairs.
    They are only interested in the family and the home. They aren't interested in
    politics, unless it's related to an immediate need in the home, like the price of
    coffee. Humor? Has to be gentle, they don't get satire. Travel? We have almost
    completely dropped it. Education? That's a problem. Their own education level is
    going up. They've generally all had a highschool education and many, college.
    They're tremendously interested in education for their children--fourth-grade
    arithmetic. You just can't write about ideas or broad issues of the day for
    women. That's why we're publishing 90 per cent service vice now and 10 per cent
    general interest.

    Another editor agreed, adding plaintively: "Can't you give us something else
    besides 'there's death in your medicine cabinet'? Can't any of you dream up a new
    crisis for women? We're always interested in sex, of course."

    At this point, the writers and editors spent an hour listening to Thurgood
    Marshall on the inside story of the desegregation battle, and its possible effect on
    the presidential election. "Too bad I can't run that story," one editor said. "But
    you just can't link it to woman's world."


    Does the modern media still try to push a '  Woman's World  '  ?

  • NWP
    by NWP
    February 11, 2013 at 7:52 AM

    I find this extremely interesting and something worth discussing. The foundation of feminism has been forgotten, mutated, and vilified in much modern media. Looking as some of the passage you posted below, I could almost hear some modern voices expressing these ideals.

    Clairwil, in your opinion, why do you think this is? I believe it is because we as women have been removed from the concerns and issues of women like Steinheim and Friedan for too many generations and have romanticised this period of time. They have forgotten, and in the process, have created villains of these heroines.

    Quoting Clairwil:

    Passage from the book:


    The image of woman that emerges from this big, pretty magazine is young and
    frivolous, almost childlike; fluffy and feminine; passive; gaily content in a world of
    bedroom and kitchen, sex, babies, and home. The magazine surely does not leave
    out sex; the only passion, the only pursuit, the only goal a woman is permitted is
    the pursuit of a man. It is crammed full of food, clothing, cosmetics, furniture,
    and the physical bodies of young women, but where is the world of though' and
    ideas, the life of the min d and spirit? In the magazine image women do no work
    except housework and work to keep their bodies beautiful and to get and keep a
    man.

    This was the image of the American woman in the year Castro led a revolution
    in Cuba and men were trained to travel into outer space; the year that the
    African continent brought forth new nations, and a plane whose speed is greater
    than the speed of sound broke up a Summit Conference; the year artists picketed
    a great museum in protest against the hegemony of abstract art; physicists

    explored the concept of anti-matter; astronomers, because of new radio
    telescopes, had to alter their concepts of the expanding universe; biologists made
    a breakthrough in the fundamental chemistry of life; and Negro youth in
    Southern schools forced the United States, for the first time since the Civil War,
    to face a moment of democratic truth. But this magazine, published for over
    5,000,000 American women, almost all of whom have been through high school
    and nearly half to college, contained almost no mention of the world beyond the
    home. In the second half of the twentieth century in America, woman's world was
    confined to her own body and beauty, the charming of man, the bearing of
    babies, and the physical care and serving of husband, children, and home. And
    this was no anomaly of a single issue of a single women's magazine.

    I sat one night at a meeting of magazine writers, mostly men, who work for all
    kinds of magazines, including women's magazines. The main speaker was a leader
    of the desegregation battle. Before he spoke, another man outlined the needs of
    the large women's magazine he edited:

    Our readers are housewives, full time. They're not interested in the broad public
    issues of the day. They are not interested in national or international affairs.
    They are only interested in the family and the home. They aren't interested in
    politics, unless it's related to an immediate need in the home, like the price of
    coffee. Humor? Has to be gentle, they don't get satire. Travel? We have almost
    completely dropped it. Education? That's a problem. Their own education level is
    going up. They've generally all had a highschool education and many, college.
    They're tremendously interested in education for their children--fourth-grade
    arithmetic. You just can't write about ideas or broad issues of the day for
    women. That's why we're publishing 90 per cent service vice now and 10 per cent
    general interest.

    Another editor agreed, adding plaintively: "Can't you give us something else
    besides 'there's death in your medicine cabinet'? Can't any of you dream up a new
    crisis for women? We're always interested in sex, of course."

    At this point, the writers and editors spent an hour listening to Thurgood
    Marshall on the inside story of the desegregation battle, and its possible effect on
    the presidential election. "Too bad I can't run that story," one editor said. "But
    you just can't link it to woman's world."


    Does the modern media still try to push a '  Woman's World  '  ?


  • romalove
    February 11, 2013 at 8:57 AM


    Quoting NWP:

    I find this extremely interesting and something worth discussing. The foundation of feminism has been forgotten, mutated, and vilified in much modern media. Looking as some of the passage you posted below, I could almost hear some modern voices expressing these ideals.

    Clairwil, in your opinion, why do you think this is? I believe it is because we as women have been removed from the concerns and issues of women like Steinheim and Friedan for too many generations and have romanticised this period of time. They have forgotten, and in the process, have created villains of these heroines.

    Quoting Clairwil:

    Passage from the book:


    The image of woman that emerges from this big, pretty magazine is young and
    frivolous, almost childlike; fluffy and feminine; passive; gaily content in a world of
    bedroom and kitchen, sex, babies, and home. The magazine surely does not leave
    out sex; the only passion, the only pursuit, the only goal a woman is permitted is
    the pursuit of a man. It is crammed full of food, clothing, cosmetics, furniture,
    and the physical bodies of young women, but where is the world of though' and
    ideas, the life of the min d and spirit? In the magazine image women do no work
    except housework and work to keep their bodies beautiful and to get and keep a
    man.

    This was the image of the American woman in the year Castro led a revolution
    in Cuba and men were trained to travel into outer space; the year that the
    African continent brought forth new nations, and a plane whose speed is greater
    than the speed of sound broke up a Summit Conference; the year artists picketed
    a great museum in protest against the hegemony of abstract art; physicists

    explored the concept of anti-matter; astronomers, because of new radio
    telescopes, had to alter their concepts of the expanding universe; biologists made
    a breakthrough in the fundamental chemistry of life; and Negro youth in
    Southern schools forced the United States, for the first time since the Civil War,
    to face a moment of democratic truth. But this magazine, published for over
    5,000,000 American women, almost all of whom have been through high school
    and nearly half to college, contained almost no mention of the world beyond the
    home. In the second half of the twentieth century in America, woman's world was
    confined to her own body and beauty, the charming of man, the bearing of
    babies, and the physical care and serving of husband, children, and home. And
    this was no anomaly of a single issue of a single women's magazine.

    I sat one night at a meeting of magazine writers, mostly men, who work for all
    kinds of magazines, including women's magazines. The main speaker was a leader
    of the desegregation battle. Before he spoke, another man outlined the needs of
    the large women's magazine he edited:

    Our readers are housewives, full time. They're not interested in the broad public
    issues of the day. They are not interested in national or international affairs.
    They are only interested in the family and the home. They aren't interested in
    politics, unless it's related to an immediate need in the home, like the price of
    coffee. Humor? Has to be gentle, they don't get satire. Travel? We have almost
    completely dropped it. Education? That's a problem. Their own education level is
    going up. They've generally all had a highschool education and many, college.
    They're tremendously interested in education for their children--fourth-grade
    arithmetic. You just can't write about ideas or broad issues of the day for
    women. That's why we're publishing 90 per cent service vice now and 10 per cent
    general interest.

    Another editor agreed, adding plaintively: "Can't you give us something else
    besides 'there's death in your medicine cabinet'? Can't any of you dream up a new
    crisis for women? We're always interested in sex, of course."

    At this point, the writers and editors spent an hour listening to Thurgood
    Marshall on the inside story of the desegregation battle, and its possible effect on
    the presidential election. "Too bad I can't run that story," one editor said. "But
    you just can't link it to woman's world."


    Does the modern media still try to push a '  Woman's World  '  ?


    I think people think an issue is solved, move on to the next.

    So we get the Civil Rights Act and that means our racial issues have been solved.

    On to the Women's Movement....

    And we get Roe v. Wade and an influx of women into the workforce and some changes in gender roles and voila, we have made women equal to men.

    On to the Gay Rights Movement....

    And so it goes.  The truth is, having legislative breakthroughs are important but they only codify things, they don't change human feelings.  There is a lag between those events and the actual outcomes that they are supposed to inspire.

    With the women's issues, there is another component or two.  One is the religious values that are in conflict with that quest for equality, holding many back.

    And the other is a more base human emotion and that is...sex sells.  As long as that's going on, we won't see much movement forward.

  • Clairwil
    February 11, 2013 at 9:22 AM
    Quoting romalove:

    The truth is, having legislative breakthroughs are important but they only codify things, they don't change human feelings.  There is a lag between those events and the actual outcomes that they are supposed to inspire.

    Thus the different waves of feminism.

    Equality in legislation was never a panacea.  It was a starting point, a lever, an opening of an entry gate.


  • romalove
    February 11, 2013 at 9:24 AM


    Quoting Clairwil:

    Quoting romalove:

    The truth is, having legislative breakthroughs are important but they only codify things, they don't change human feelings.  There is a lag between those events and the actual outcomes that they are supposed to inspire.

    Thus the different waves of feminism.

    Equality in legislation was never a panacea.  It was a starting point, a lever, an opening of an entry gate.


    I think, though, that because of the religious implications of gender differences and place that religions put on the sexes, the movement will have difficulty with momentum.  It's hard to fight those who think God doesn't want anything different.


  • Clairwil
    February 11, 2013 at 9:26 AM
    Quoting NWP:
    Quoting Clairwil:

    Does the modern media still try to push a '  Woman's World  '  ?

    Clairwil, in your opinion, why do you think this is?

    Because, I would guess, that there is money to be made in pandering to stereotypes.   It makes for easy, 'lowest common denominator' programming.

    Is that conservatism?  A desire for a 'simpler' time when gender roles were less flexibly defined so everyone knew what the rules were?  Nostalgia?

    I don't know.


  • Clairwil
    February 11, 2013 at 10:10 AM
    Quoting romalove:
    Quoting Clairwil:
    Quoting romalove:

    The truth is, having legislative breakthroughs are important but they only codify things, they don't change human feelings.  There is a lag between those events and the actual outcomes that they are supposed to inspire.

    Thus the different waves of feminism.

    Equality in legislation was never a panacea.  It was a starting point, a lever, an opening of an entry gate.

    I think, though, that because of the religious implications of gender differences and place that religions put on the sexes, the movement will have difficulty with momentum.  It's hard to fight those who think God doesn't want anything different.

    The same applies to the fight for equality for lesbian-bi-gay-trans.

    And, though the church would now like to forget it, the same applied to the fight for race equality.

  • JakeandEmmasMom
    February 11, 2013 at 10:14 AM

     

    Quoting romalove:


    Quoting NWP:

    I find this extremely interesting and something worth discussing. The foundation of feminism has been forgotten, mutated, and vilified in much modern media. Looking as some of the passage you posted below, I could almost hear some modern voices expressing these ideals.

    Clairwil, in your opinion, why do you think this is? I believe it is because we as women have been removed from the concerns and issues of women like Steinheim and Friedan for too many generations and have romanticised this period of time. They have forgotten, and in the process, have created villains of these heroines.

    Quoting Clairwil:

    Passage from the book:

     

    The image of woman that emerges from this big, pretty magazine is young and
    frivolous, almost childlike; fluffy and feminine; passive; gaily content in a world of
    bedroom and kitchen, sex, babies, and home. The magazine surely does not leave
    out sex; the only passion, the only pursuit, the only goal a woman is permitted is
    the pursuit of a man. It is crammed full of food, clothing, cosmetics, furniture,
    and the physical bodies of young women, but where is the world of though' and
    ideas, the life of the min d and spirit? In the magazine image women do no work
    except housework and work to keep their bodies beautiful and to get and keep a
    man.

    This was the image of the American woman in the year Castro led a revolution
    in Cuba and men were trained to travel into outer space; the year that the
    African continent brought forth new nations, and a plane whose speed is greater
    than the speed of sound broke up a Summit Conference; the year artists picketed
    a great museum in protest against the hegemony of abstract art; physicists

    explored the concept of anti-matter; astronomers, because of new radio
    telescopes, had to alter their concepts of the expanding universe; biologists made
    a breakthrough in the fundamental chemistry of life; and Negro youth in
    Southern schools forced the United States, for the first time since the Civil War,
    to face a moment of democratic truth. But this magazine, published for over
    5,000,000 American women, almost all of whom have been through high school
    and nearly half to college, contained almost no mention of the world beyond the
    home. In the second half of the twentieth century in America, woman's world was
    confined to her own body and beauty, the charming of man, the bearing of
    babies, and the physical care and serving of husband, children, and home. And
    this was no anomaly of a single issue of a single women's magazine.

    I sat one night at a meeting of magazine writers, mostly men, who work for all
    kinds of magazines, including women's magazines. The main speaker was a leader
    of the desegregation battle. Before he spoke, another man outlined the needs of
    the large women's magazine he edited:

    Our readers are housewives, full time. They're not interested in the broad public
    issues of the day. They are not interested in national or international affairs.
    They are only interested in the family and the home. They aren't interested in
    politics, unless it's related to an immediate need in the home, like the price of
    coffee. Humor? Has to be gentle, they don't get satire. Travel? We have almost
    completely dropped it. Education? That's a problem. Their own education level is
    going up. They've generally all had a highschool education and many, college.
    They're tremendously interested in education for their children--fourth-grade
    arithmetic. You just can't write about ideas or broad issues of the day for
    women. That's why we're publishing 90 per cent service vice now and 10 per cent
    general interest.

    Another editor agreed, adding plaintively: "Can't you give us something else
    besides 'there's death in your medicine cabinet'? Can't any of you dream up a new
    crisis for women? We're always interested in sex, of course."

    At this point, the writers and editors spent an hour listening to Thurgood
    Marshall on the inside story of the desegregation battle, and its possible effect on
    the presidential election. "Too bad I can't run that story," one editor said. "But
    you just can't link it to woman's world."

     

    Does the modern media still try to push a '  Woman's World  '  ?


    I think people think an issue is solved, move on to the next.

    So we get the Civil Rights Act and that means our racial issues have been solved.

    On to the Women's Movement....

    And we get Roe v. Wade and an influx of women into the workforce and some changes in gender roles and voila, we have made women equal to men.

    On to the Gay Rights Movement....

    And so it goes.  The truth is, having legislative breakthroughs are important but they only codify things, they don't change human feelings.  There is a lag between those events and the actual outcomes that they are supposed to inspire.

    With the women's issues, there is another component or two.  One is the religious values that are in conflict with that quest for equality, holding many back.

    And the other is a more base human emotion and that is...sex sells.  As long as that's going on, we won't see much movement forward.

     I think you are right on.  We look around and see women in every kind of profession and we think the problem is solved.  The religious aspect is one I hadn't thought about, but I think you're absolutely right. 

  • Billiejeens
    February 11, 2013 at 11:04 AM

     


    Quoting romalove:


    Quoting Clairwil:

    Quoting romalove:

    The truth is, having legislative breakthroughs are important but they only codify things, they don't change human feelings.  There is a lag between those events and the actual outcomes that they are supposed to inspire.

    Thus the different waves of feminism.

    Equality in legislation was never a panacea.  It was a starting point, a lever, an opening of an entry gate.

     

    I think, though, that because of the religious implications of gender differences and place that religions put on the sexes, the movement will have difficulty with momentum.  It's hard to fight those who think God doesn't want anything different.



     No you are not fixated on being an anti-religious militant zealot, where would I have gotten that?

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