The book entitled “The Feminine Mystique” was written by Betty Friedan in the United States back in 1963. After its first publication, “The feminine Mystique” exploded in to America consciousness. A sharp division emerged between the critics and the popular leaders on their assessment of Friedan’s work. Friedan popularity increased after her research and publication of this book and later founded The National Organization for Women (NOW), which helped US women gain equal rights with men ( eNotes.com, 2011).
A certain fact was that, The Feminine Mystique ignited a countrywide debate about women’s role and in time, the book was recognized as one of the major works in the center of modern women’s movement. This book was written after Friedan after attending fifteen years in college reunion at Smith Women’s College (Friedan, 2001). At this reunion, she issued questionnaires to a group of two hundred women, who were her fellow classmates. The results overwhelmingly confirmed what she had earlier suspected. It was evident that many American women were unhappy with their position in the society. Funny enough, they could not tell why they were unhappy.
Friedan continued with her research and writing the feminine for five years after three women’s magazine refused to be publish her results. They argued that her results contradicted with the conventional assumption about femininity. In her book, she described “feminine mystique” as the intensified awareness of what is expected of the woman, and how each and every women must fit in a certain role right from a little girl, to an uneducated and unemployed teenager, and finally as a wife and a mother. She described women role as cleaning the kitchen and the houses, and cooking food for the family and this should be enough recipe for her happiness throughout the day (Friedan, 2001).
Many women’s associations had been formed since the end of the Second World War. Their main aim was to bring the issue of equal right for both men and women into the limelight. This stereotype of feminism had gone as far as the women’s hair color. Majority of women had wished to blonde their hair, for this was considered the ideal color and type of women’s hair. In The Feminine Mystique, Friedan had quoted statistically that across America, out of every ten women, three had dyed their hair blonde. This example demonstrated how much women were forced to fit into a certain mold, portrayed as the ideal role of women. The worst happened to the black women. This is because they suffered additional discrimination, which in the actual sense was even far much greater than the white woman sufferings.
Besides dying their hair blonde, color women went to extremes of striving to achieve a thin figure. Color women went as further as starving to achieve the look of a thin model. Many women dressed in very tight fitting, and uncomfortable clothes. This was meant to create an illusion of being, and looking thinner than their actual size. Some women even took pills intended to make them thin by losing weight.
The major role of a woman was to find and secure a husband to support them in raising the family. Many of them dropped from college, while others were discouraged to attend the college completely. This was because it was believed that completing college would lead them to working far from their families, a practice that was greatly discouraged. They believed that working outside the homes was for men, and that it would not be feminine enough to get jobs and end up being single, and end up without husbands to take care of their children. The enormous problem for women was a psychological stress of dealing with this role that was presented to them by the society.
Defining the woman as a happy woman heroine in chapter two, Friedan examines women’s magazines from long before the Second World War. In her analysis, she paid more attention to the 1930’s magazines stories that featured independent and confident heroines, where many were involved in careers. Into her attention, the early 1950’s, and early 1960’s the woman is described as a happy housewife whose only ambition was motherhood and marriage, which replaced her career orientation. She called this happy home maker the ideal of femininity, the feminine mystique. She notes that the nineteenth century society attempted to restrict women to their roles of wife and mothers, and challenged the slender woman who got stuck in this gentle image.
Despite the early harsh resistance, the feminists held their ground and fought for their positions back. Ultimately, they were featured in many of these opportunities which were earlier enjoyed by men. This included access to equal quality education, the right to engage in careers, and most important, women were given the right to vote. Achieving all this and especially the right to vote, Friedan noted that women’s movements died
In her book, Friedan defines women’s happiness as a problem which had no name. Based on her research, she explored what she believed could have been the problem. Throughout the result, she included statistics, theories, and the first person encounters. Friedan placed the blame on the idealized image of femininity that she refers to as the feminine mystique. According to her the society had encouraged the woman to confine herself to the narrow roles of mothers and housewives, and forsaken their other roles in education and career aspirations. Instead of encouraging her to reconsider her position, the society helped the women drop these responsibilities in the process of household chores and motherhood.
Friedan attempted to prove that feminine mystique denied a woman the chance and opportunity to develop her own identity, and these eventually lead to problems for women and their families. She views the feminine mystique as a failed social status that was created by the Second World War and the cold war. This in turn led to the emergence of the baby boom and the growth of the suburbs phenomenon.
Friedan has written other controversial works, however, the feminine mystique is one piece of work that placed her in her household name. It is her best ever known piece of work up to date.