At a Glance

Betty Friedan wrote The Feminine Mystique to shed light on the plight of the American woman during the 1950s and 60s. She argued that an idealized image of domestic womanhood had created an identity crisis among American women. Extremely controversial at the time, The Feminine Mystique is often credited with inciting the second wave feminist movement.

  • Through interviews with American housewives, Friedan discovers that many of them suffer from a pervasive and unexplained sense of dissatisfaction; she dubs this feeling “the problem that has no name.”

  • Friedan traces the return of women to the domestic life after their pre-war emancipation. She argues that women were socially pressured into becoming homemakers by the “feminine mystique”: an idealized image of domestic femininity that arose in the 1950s. The feminine mystique was reinforced through education, popular media, and academic theories. Meanwhile, it was exploited by advertisers looking to sell products to unhappy housewives.

  • Friedan concludes that the life of a housewife prevents women from developing full, autonomous identities. She argues that both men and women must reject the feminine mystique, and she encourages women to pursue self-fulfillment through education.



By the end of the 1950s, it was clear that something was happening to American women. The average marriage age was twenty years old and dropping while the middle-class birth rate was exploding. Women’s enrollment in college was falling steeply while more than half of the women accepted to college were dropping out before getting their degrees. Why were these young women so seemingly uninterested in having careers and educations, the very rights their suffragette mothers had worked so hard to secure? Was this new generation of women really happier as housewives? These are the questions that Betty Friedan grapples with in The Feminine Mystique. Drawing on countless interviews with housewives, psychologists, editors,...

(The entire section is 2016 words.)