Betty Friedan

While researching for The Feminine Mystique, Betty Friedan conducted hundreds of interviews with women around the country, but her interest in their plight was undeniably personal. Throughout the book, Friedan frequently draws on her own experience as a housewife suffering from “the problem that has no name.” Indeed, she says that she recognized the quiet desperation of her fellow housewives “first as a woman” long before she understood its social and psychological implications. As a young woman, Friedan attended college with the intention of getting a degree in psychology. She was a successful student, winning multiple fellowships to continue on in her studies. However, she ultimately succumbed to the pressure of what she would later name the “feminine mystique” and turned down a fellowship that would have allowed her to get her doctorate. She went on to work as a writer, where she saw firsthand how the feminine mystique dictated the content of women’s magazines. She later married, had children, and lived the life of a suburban housewife. After realizing that many other housewives shared her feelings of unhappiness, Friedan started to write articles about “the problem that had no name” and eventually developed these ideas into The Feminine Mystique. After the publication of her book, Friedan became a prominent leader in the second-wave feminist movement. She was one of the co-founders of the National Organization for Women (NOW) as well as its first president. The Feminine Mystique went on to become a bestseller and is often credited with inciting the second wave of American feminism.

Sigmund Freud

Sigmund Freud was the founder of psychoanalysis. Friedan believes that, while his work on repressive moral codes was beneficial to the feminist cause, Freud’s work on femininity was poorly interpreted by the popular media in the 1950s and lent dangerous credibility to the feminine mystique. While much of Freud’s other work...

(The entire section is 825 words.)

The Feminine Mystique Characters

Sigmund Freud
Sigmund Freud was an Austrian psychologist who tried to define life in completely sexual terms. Friedan says that the basic ideas expressed in Freudian psychology—which emphasized freedom from a repressive morality—support women's attempts at emancipation. However, Friedan says that Freud's specific theories about women, which were equal parts chivalry and condescension, and which were largely a product of his observations of the repressed Victorian era in which he lived, helped to reinforce the repression of modern women. Freud called women's yearning for equality penis envy, a term that was seized upon by promoters of the feminine mystique. Friedan notes that the type of concrete scientific thinking that provided the basis for Freud's theories has since been replaced by a more complex system of scientific thought. Nevertheless, while many of Freud's theories were reinterpreted in this new light, Friedan says that the promoters of the feminine mystique did not reinterpret Freud's Victorian theory of femininity. Friedan believes that Freudian psychology was embraced so completely that it became almost like a religion.

A. C. Kinsey
Kinsey, a noted researcher, conducted many sex surveys. The early results from one of his major reports indicate that educated women have less-fulfilling sex lives. Various societal forces use these partial results as justification for encouraging women to become full-time housewives. When Kinsey's complete results were released nearly a decade later, they contradicted the early results, and now indicated that...

(The entire section is 660 words.)