The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan

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Chapters 9 - 11 Summary and Analysis

(Nonfiction Classics for Students)

Summary
Friedan examines the fact that there’s an additional constituency that has a stake in women remaining obedient to the feminine mystique: advertisers. Advertisers rely on women to buy the vast majority of their products. Women, in turn, have a psychological need to shop for products that they think will make them better housekeepers, run a “modern” home, or keep up with their neighbors—or that help them use their minds and creativity to clean. In the case of young brides, advertisers learn they can make these young women believe that if they buy the right brands or products their class and economic status will improve.

Friedan conducts extensive research on housekeepers using the market research of a millionaire who acts as a consultant for major advertising clients, noting the literature of his studies and how it discusses “manipulating” housewives’ emotions and playing on their subconscious feelings of guilt to make them buy new products. Marketers must tread a delicate path in elevating the status of housewives, discussing the work of the home as requiring intelligence, ingenuity, and creativity. Women are not maids, but specialists using the right tools for different jobs. Women who want privacy don’t need time to themselves, they need their own car. So went the logic of the advertisers.

On one hand, Friedan writes, the marketers want the women to feel resourceful and independent—to be bold enough to use a new vacuum cleaner or timesaving baking mix—but on the other hand, they don’t want her to become so independent she takes a job or questions the products marketed to her. Advertisers encourage a slight kind of independence—that produced by giving women just a little bit more time as a result of using timesaving devices and running a “modern” home. Friedan asks the marketing consultant why a woman can’t use her newfound free time to develop a career, to become an astronaut or doctor. But the marketer says his clients—the advertisers—don’t want that, and that women don’t really want that, either.

Friedan decides to find a fulfilled full-time housewife and polls various people—therapists, women, community members. But time and again she learns that the most fulfilled housewives aren’t really full-time housewives: They either have full-time or part-time jobs, or have managed to cultivate serious outside interests beyond the home. In one community of twenty-eight housewives, she learns that despite the signs of fulfillment (multiple children, successful husbands, nice homes), many of these women have tried suicide, take drugs or drink heavily, have been hospitalized for mental illness, and fantasize about or actually conduct extramarital affairs. Friedan notes that these women are highly educated and that their dissatisfaction stems from their boredom with their roles as housewives. The signs of their unhappiness are clear in their flat tones of voice and lifeless demeanors. She also notices that they are unusually busy—always on the move, doing chores, fidgeting—and that they have little time alone.

She learns of several instances where a full-time housewife and a married career woman live in similar houses side by side. The full-time housewife never seems to have enough time to finish her housework each day and no time to participate in outside activities. The professional woman, however, runs through her housework swiftly either before work or right after work, and has time for hobbies, activities, and even leisure reading. The moral of the story: If a woman is motivated, she finishes housework swiftly. But if housework is her only ambition or opportunity, she makes it take up all of her time. This, Friedan writes, is partly because she has no idea of what she might do with free time and partly because she needs to fill her time with housework to justify its difficulty and that it is “a job” in itself.

The modern household—indeed, even modern “open plan”...

(The entire section is 2,002 words.)