Betty Friedan

American activist
(Redirected from The Feminine Mystique)

Betty Friedan (4 February 19214 February 2006) was an American "second-wave" feminist best known for The Feminine Mystique, a critique of women's role as stay-at-home mothers.

Men weren’t really the enemy — they were fellow victims suffering from an outmoded masculine mystique that made them feel unnecessarily inadequate when there were no bears to kill.


  • Am I saying that women must be liberated from motherhood? No. I am saying that motherhood will only be a joyous and responsible human act when women are free to make, with full conscious choice and full human responsibility, the decisions to become mothers. Then, and only then, will they be able to embrace motherhood without conflict, when they will be able to define themselves not just the somebody's mother, not just as servants of children, not just is breeding receptacles, but as people for whom motherhood is a freely chosen part of life, freely celebrated while it lasts, but for whom creativity has many more dimensions, as it has for men.
    • "Abortion: A Woman's Civil Right". Speech at the First National Conference for the Repeal of Abortion Laws, 1969.
  • Men will not be free to be all they can be as long as they must live up to an image of masculinity that disallows all the tenderness and sensitivity in a man, all that might be considered feminine. Men have an enormous capacity in them that they have to repress and fear in order to live up to the obsolete, brutal, bear-killing, Ernest Hemingway, crewcut Prussian, napalm-all-the-children-in-Vietnam, bang-bang-you're-dead image of masculinity. Men are not allowed to admit that they are sometimes afraid. They are not allowed to express their own sensitivity, their own need to be passive sometimes and not always active. Men are not allowed to cry. So they're only half-human, as women are only half-human, until we can go this next step forward.
    • "Abortion: A Woman's Civil Right".
  • Men weren’t really the enemy — they were fellow victims suffering from an outmoded masculine mystique that made them feel unnecessarily inadequate when there were no bears to kill.
    • As quoted by The Christian Science Monitor (April 1, 1974) This has sometimes appeared paraphrased: "Man is not the enemy here, but the fellow victim."
  • We need to see men and women as equal partners, but it’s hard to think of movies that do that. When I talk to people, they think of movies of forty-five years ago! Hepburn and Tracy!
    • As quoted in People magazine (March 7-14, 1994) p. 49.
  • The only way for a woman, as for a man, to find herself, to know herself as a person, is by creative work of her own. There is no other way.
    • Interviews with Betty Friedan, Janann Sherman, ed. Univ. Press of Mississippi, 2002, ISBN 1578064805, p. x.

The Feminine Mystique (1963)Edit

W. W. Norton & Company, 2002 edition ISBN 0393322572
The problem lay buried, unspoken for many years in the minds of American women...
  • 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, matched slipcover material, ate peanut butter sandwiches with her children, chauffeured Cub Scouts and Brownies, lay beside her husband at night, she was afraid to ask even of herself the silent question — “Is this all?”
    • Opening lines, Ch. 1 "The Problem That Has No Name".
  • The suburban housewife — she was the dream image of the young American women and the envy, it was said, of women all over the world. The American housewife — freed by science and labor-saving appliances from the drudgery, the dangers of childbirth, and the illnesses of her grandmother … had found true feminine fulfilment.
    • Ch. 1 "The Problem That Has No Name"
  • Strange new problems are being reported in the growing generations of children whose mothers were always there, driving them around, helping them with their homework — an inability to endure pain or discipline or pursue any self- sustained goal of any sort, a devastating boredom with life.
    • Ch. 1 "The Problem That Has No Name".
  • Instead of fulfilling the promise of infinite orgastic bliss, sex in the America of the feminine mystique is becoming a strangely joyless national compulsion, if not a contemptuous mockery.
    • Ch. 11 "The Sex-Seekers".
  • American housewives have not had their brains shot away, nor are they schizophrenic in the clinical sense. But if … the fundamental human drive is not the urge for pleasure or the satisfaction of biological needs, but the need to grow and to realize one’s full potential, their comfortable, empty, purposeless days are indeed cause for a nameless terror.
    • Ch 13 "The Forfeited Self".
  • The feminine mystique has succeeded in burying millions of American women alive.
    • Ch 13 "The Forfeited Self".
  • It is easier to live through someone else than to become complete yourself.
    • Ch. 14 "A New Life Plan for Women".
  • The problem that has no name (which is simply the fact that American women are kept from growing to their full human capacities) is taking a far greater toll on the physical and mental health of our country than any known disease.
    • Ch. 14 "A New Life Plan for Women".
  • When women take their education and their abilities seriously and put them to use, ultimately they have to compete with men. It is better for a woman to compete impersonally in society, as men do, than to compete for dominance in her own home with her husband, compete with her neighbors for empty status, and so smother her son that he cannot compete at all.
    • Ch. 14 "A New Life Plan for Women".
  • A girl should not expect special privileges because of her sex but neither should she 'adjust' to prejudice and discrimination.
    • Ch. 14 "A New Life Plan for women".
  • A woman is handicapped by her sex, and handicaps society, either by slavishly copying the pattern of man’s advance in the professions, or by refusing to compete with man at all.
    • Ch. 14 "A New Life Plan for Women".

The Playboy Interview (1992)Edit

Interview of Friedan by David Sheff Playboy September 1992, pp. 51-54, 56, 58, 60, 62, 149; reprinted in full in Interviews with Betty Friedan, Janann Sherman, ed. Univ. Press of Mississippi, 2002, ISBN 1578064805.
  • "Do you object to the celebration of sexuality in our pictorials?
  • Friedan: A celebration of women's bodies is all right with me so long as there is no denial of the personhood of women. I suppose sometimes women are sex objects -- and men are too, by the way. It's the definition of women just as sex objects that bothers me. Women can celebrate themselves as sex objects, they can celebrate their own sexuality and can enjoy the sexuality of men as far as I'm concerted. Let's have men centerfolds. [..] Playboy's centerfold is fine. It's holding onto your own anachronism and it is not pornographic, though many of my sisters would disagree. It's harmless. [...] Playboy strikes me as an odd mixture of sex -- sometimes juvenile --- and forward intellectual thoughts.
  • Friedan: There was a masculine mystique, too.
  • Playboy: What was it?
  • Friedan: Men had to be supermen: stoic, responsible meal tickets. Dominance is a burden. Most men who are honest will admit that.
  • Playboy: What's behind the current's men's movement?
  • Friedan: I think it's partly a reaction against feminism, partly envy of feminism, and partly partly a real need of men to evolve through the burden of the masculine mystique, the burden of machismo.
  • Friedan: I thought it was absolutely outrageous that the Silence of the Lambs won four Oscars. [...] I'm not saying that the movie shouldn't have been shows. I'm not denying the movie was an artistic triumph, but it was about the evisceration, the skinning alive of women. That is what I find offensive. Not the Playboy centerfold.

It Changed My Life: Writings on the Women's Movement (1976 [1998])Edit

  • If I were a man, I would strenuously object to the assumption that women have any moral or spiritual superiority as a class. This is [...] female chauvinism.

The Fountain of Age (1993)Edit

  • What had really caused the women’s movement was the additional years of human life. At the turn of the century women’s life expectancy was forty-six; now it was nearly eighty. Our groping sense that we couldn’t live all those years in terms of motherhood alone was “the problem that had no name.” Realizing that it was not some freakish personal fault but our common problem as women had enabled us to take the first steps to change our lives.
    • Preface.
  • If women’s role in life is limited solely to housewife/mother, it clearly ends when she can no longer bear more children and the children she has borne leave home.
    • Ch. 4.

Quotes about FriedanEdit

  • "Sexism" - to use Betty Friedan's coinage - has no color line.
  • Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique is still heralded as having paved the way for contemporary feminist movement-it was written as if these women did not exist. Friedan's famous phrase, "the problem that has no name," often quoted to describe the condition of women in this society, actually referred to the plight of a select group of college-educated, middle and upper class, married white women-housewives bored with leisure, with the home, with children, with buying products, who wanted more out of life. Friedan concludes her first chapter by stating: "We can no longer ignore that voice within women that says: 'I want something more than my husband and my children and my house.'" That "more" she defined as careers. She did not discuss who would be called in to take care of the children and maintain the home if more women like herself were freed from their house labor and given equal access with white men to the professions. She did not speak of the needs of women without men, without children, without homes. She ignored the existence of all non-white women and poor white women. She did not tell readers whether it was more fulfilling to be a maid, a babysitter, a factory worker, a clerk, or a prostitute, than to be a leisure class housewife. She made her plight and the plight of white women like herself synonymous with a condition affecting all American women. In so doing, she deflected attention away from her classism, her racism, her sexist attitudes towards the masses of American women. In the context of her book, Friedan makes clear that the women she saw as victimized by sexism were college-educated, white women who were compelled by sexist conditioning to remain in the home. ... Specific problems and dilemmas of leisure class white housewives were real concerns that merited consideration and change but they were not the pressing political concerns of masses of women. Masses of women were concerned about economic survival, ethnic and racial discrimination, etc. When Friedan wrote The Feminine Mystique, more than one third of all women were in the work force. Although many women longed to be housewives, only women with leisure time and money could actually shape their identities on the model of the feminine mystique.
  • Friedan was a principal shaper of contemporary feminist thought. Significantly, the one-dimensional perspective on women's reality presented in her book became a marked feature of the contemporary feminist movement.
  • One of the first surprises of the second wave was when The Feminine Mystique, a book by Betty Friedan, a suburban mother of three and graduate fellow in psychology, became one of the most read books of the early 1960s. Friedan was a graduate of Smith College class of 1942, and at the beginning of the sixties the college had asked her to conduct a survey of her classmates. Two hundred women answered her questionnaire. Eighty-nine percent had become housewives, and most of the housewives said that their one regret in life was that they hadn’t used their education in a meaningful way. Friedan rejected the usual concept that educated women were unhappy because education made them “restless.” Instead she believed that they had been trapped by a series of beliefs that she called “the feminine mystique”—that women and men were very different, that it was masculine to want a career and feminine to find happiness in being dominated by a husband and his career and to be busy raising children. A woman who did not want these things had something wrong with her, was against nature and unfeminine, and therefore such unnatural urges should be suppressed. Life magazine in its profile of her called her “nonhousewife Betty.” Television talk shows wanted her for a guest. The media seemed fascinated by the apparent contradiction that a mother of three who was living “a normal life” would be denouncing it. While the media wanted her, the suburban community in which she lived didn’t and began ostracizing her and her husband. But women around the country were fascinated. They read and discussed the book and formed women’s groups that asked Friedan to come speak. Friedan came to realize that not only had women’s groups been organized all over the country, but active feminists like Catherine East in Washington were fighting for women’s legal rights. In 1966, two years before radical feminism’s television debut, East’s political savvy combined with Friedan’s national reputation to form the National Organization for Women, NOW.
  • The ideology of "woman's sphere" sought to upgrade women's domestic function by elaborating the role of mother, turning the domestic drudge into a "homemaker" and charging her with elevating her family's status by her exercise of consumer functions and by her display of her own and her family's social graces. These prescribed roles never were a reality. In the 1950s Betty Friedan would describe this ideology and rename it "the feminine mystique," but it was no other than the myth of "woman's proper sphere" created in the 1840s and updated by consumerism and the misunderstood dicta of Freudian psychology.
    • Gerda Lerner, The Majority Finds Its Past: Placing Women in History’’ (1979)
  • If the new feminism did not appear on the scene in the 1930s or 40s, this was because the war economy had created new job opportunities for women. But at the end of World War II, returning veterans quickly reclaimed their "rightful places" in the economy, displacing female workers, and millions of women voluntarily took up domesticity and war-deferred motherhood. The young women of the 40s and 50s were living out the social phenomenon that Betty Friedan called the "feminine mystique" and Andrew Sinclair the "new Victorianism." Essentially it amounted to a cultural command to women, which they seemed to accept with enthusiasm, to return to their homes, have large families, lead the cultivated suburban life of status-seeking through domestic attainments, and find self-expression in a variety of avocations. This tendency was bolstered by Freudian psychology as adapted in America and vulgarized through the mass media…What Betty Friedan has described as the "feminine mystique" is essentially the symptom of a cultural lag, in which our societal and personal values are adapted to a family pattern that has long ceased to exist.
    • Gerda Lerner, The Majority Finds Its Past: Placing Women in History’’ (1979)
  • When was the last time you heard Gloria Steinem or Betty Friedan talk about welfare rights?
  • A pioneering, early book, strong and influential, was Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique.

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