The Feminine Mystique
Human, Social, and Political Sciences
24 February 2021
Written in 1963, “The Feminine Mystique” is a revolt against the American nuclear family and a study into the endemic of dissatisfied housewives in the US during the decade.
The book is seen as a prerequisite to the second-wave feminist movement and discusses important concerns of the era, from the entrapment of women in the home to lack of female education and opportunities, the book is a foundational yet engaging text of feminist theory.
The Feminine Mystique relates to many of the disciplines in HSPS, through a feminist lens. From Freudian psychology to the anthropology of Margaret Mead, and the study of sexuality in sociology, Friedan’s book offers a broad exploration of the social sciences. As someone who had little experience with anthropology or sociology, the book offers some great examples of core ideas but within a feminist framework, which made them more accessible.
Whilst Friedan’s book is seen as a key text within feminist discourse, readers should be critical. HSPS encourages analytical thinking, relating different topics and ideas. The suburban housewives of Friedan’s work are products of the white middle classes, and the text excludes the plights of women of colour, working-class women and queer women. We can use later feminist theories such as intersectionality to see the limitations of Friedan’s work and map the transformative change of feminism from the 1960s to the 21st century.
I came across Friedan’s book as I was studying feminism in politics at A-level. The trope of the suburban housewife was one I was aware of, but I was interested in how feminists of the era responded to such a widespread role for women.
I also took English Literature A level, and at the same time was studying the works of Sylvia Plath. Friedan’s book seemed like a way to help contextualise the issues in Plath’s work. From her struggles with mental illness to problems within her marriage, The Feminine Mystique has a presence in literature of the time that made me want to study the feminist politics of the 60s more and reading it helped to deepen my subject knowledge across my A-levels.
Interestingly, Betty Friedan was a part of the “national organisation of women” amongst other famous women of the era such as Shirley Chisholm who lobbied for change and the adoption of the ERA (Equal Rights Amendment). The ERA ultimately failed to be ratified by enough states.
Today calls for the ERA continue, and raise questions about American democracy’s flexibility and who it truly protects.
From questions of intersectionality, functionalism, and representative democracy, The Feminine Mystique is a great start for students wishing to pursue HSPS, enabling them to explore our disciplines through a feminist lens.