Apr 30, 2009

The Feminine Mystique

by Betty Friedan

This is a tough book for me to write about. I read it a long time ago, when plowing through piles of books on pregnancy, childbirth and similar topics. Not sure how this one got on my list as I don't consider myself a feminist. I thought I would find it uninteresting or difficult, but on the contrary it's an easy read, and very engaging. On the other hand, I didn't end up feeling indignant or frustrated like I felt the author intended me to. She thoroughly describes how housewives in the 50's felt bored, frustrated and oppressed, and urges them to make something more of their lives and stand up for their own interests. She makes it sound like a woman needs a job to feel fulfilled, and points out all the inequalities in how men and women are treated. I don't know, I just couldn't get riled up by it, because I'm pretty happy to be a stay-home mom with a garden to tend, and books to read in the few spare moments I have. I never get bored or feel like my life is missing something essential. So I couldn't really connect with her views, although some of the points she brought up got me thinking. Others I kind of dismissed because they seemed rather forced. The sad thing is even though I know The Feminine Mystique is an important book, well-researched and chock full of thought-provoking info, I can hardly remember one specific thing from it... Hm. I got the impression that this book is to the feminist movement what Silent Spring was to environmentalism.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 587 pages, 1997

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  1. I think we've moved on a bit from where society was when FM was published. On the one hand, there's a sort of ongoing discussion of whether being a "housewife" is "meaningful," and plenty of people have realized it can be. On the other hand, there are so many more labor-saving devices and things like, say, the internet, that weren't available in the 60s.

    I saw a survey that said that of working women with no kids, working women with kids, stay at home women with no kids, and stay at home moms, the stay at home moms rated themselves the happiest.

  2. Hm - I wonder how I would feel about it. I do consider myself a feminist, and I want to be a stay-at-home mother. I'll be interested to see what I think when I read this. And as Jessica says, we've moved on a lot since this was written. I'm happy to choose what I choose, as long as I have other options.

  3. Jessica- I think that's part of the reason I felt distanced from the issues in the book- even though many of the inequalities may still be present today, the information and attitudes were rather dated. True, if I didn't have internet and washing machine, microwave, etc. motherhood would feel like so much more drudgery and I might have a different opinion.

    Jenny- That was one of the major points Friedan kept bringing up- the lack of options open to women at the time.

  4. She made the point in the book that having labor saving stuff in the home isn't her point. Nor is it getting men to share in the home duties. She felt a lot of the stuff done in the home didn't need to be done or was a lot easier than it was made out to be. Having free time in the home just contributes to the ennui that she felt the housewife had to endure. Replacing meaningless housework with meaningless gardening or meaningless PTA bake sales or the like was pointless.

    She may or may not be right on that. I tend to think she overplays that card.

  5. King Rat- I had forgotten that point. Personally, I don't feel that housework or gardening is meaningless- I don't like living in a messy house, or having an overgrown yard, and I feel satisfaction in feeding my family from my veggie plot (it all tastes better, too) I guess this is why her book didn't really hit a nerve with me.

  6. I enjoyed this review... I like the way you don't get riled up for or against Friedan's points.

    I think my response would be similar. I enjoy being a stay at home mom too, and don't think of homemaking duties as meaningless.

  7. I haven't read the book but it sounds like its conclusions would be pretty typical of someone who is childless.

    My wife (an engineer) made a conscious decision to stay home, and she spends her days (and nights) trying to help our kids become smarter and more worldly. This involves a great deal of research, reading, trips to the library, home education, field trips, extra-curricular scheduling, etc.! No small task!


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