The Feminine Mystique Critical Context
by Betty Friedan

The Feminine Mystique book cover
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Critical Context

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

Like Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species (1859), The Feminine Mystique is one of those books which fundamentally changes the way a society looks at itself. It would be fair to say that this book, more than any other, was the motive force behind the early stirrings of the women’s movement in the 1960’s and 1970’s. The status that the book gave Friedan in the women’s movement is clear from the important political role she played as the founding president (1966-1970) of the National Organization for Women. While The Feminine Mystique was frequently criticized by radical feminists for being elitist; for ignoring the plight of poor and uneducated women; for being insensitive to the needs of racial and ethnic minorities; for excluding any discussion of lesbianism; and for generally being too willing to find solutions within the existing political structure, it was still seen by the majority of American women as the unofficial bible of the movement well into the 1970’s. There is no doubt that The Feminine Mystique, politically moderate as it might have been, was particularly suited to mobilize the talents and energies of a huge number of middle-class women who might never otherwise have heard the call of the women’s movement over the drone of their immaculate new dishwashers.