The Feminine Mystique Themes

Themes

Social Roles
Before World War II many women had the choice of becoming housewives or having careers, and many sources supported either choice. Friedan measures this public opinion of women by examining the images of women in women's magazines from before and after World War II. As she notes of the magazines before World War II: ‘‘The majority of heroines in the four major women's magazines were career women—happily, proudly, adventurously, attractively career women—who loved and were loved by men.’’ However, after World War II, Friedan notes that women were increasingly encouraged to become housewives and mothers alone, and to avoid becoming a ‘‘career-woman-devil.’’ Many sources provided this encouragement, including psychologists who followed the teachings of Sigmund Freud. As Friedan notes, Freud believed that ‘‘it was woman's nature to be ruled by man, and her sickness to envy him.’’ Freud called this concept ‘‘penis envy,’’ and Friedan says that the concept ‘‘was seized in this country in the 1940s as the literal explanation of all that was wrong with American women.’’ Women's desire for equality was looked at as an abnormality, and women were encouraged to accept their roles as housewife and mother and leave the careers to men.

The functionalists took this idea one step further, saying that women should not compete with men in careers because it would upset the social order. As Friedan notes, the functionalist believed that ‘‘the status quo can be maintained only if the wife and mother is exclusively a homemaker or, at most, has a ‘job’ rather than a ‘career.’’’ These and many other sources thought that confining women to their roles as housewife and mother would benefit children. However, as Friedan notes, mothers who devoted their lives entirely to their children ended up doing more harm than good. Says Friedan:...

(The entire section is 785 words.)