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The Feminine Mystique

by Betty Friedan

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Are the ideas from The Feminine Mystique popular today?

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Friedan, perhaps more than any other writer in Second Wave Feminism, is responsible for pushing opens doors that had most decidedly been nailed shut by the revitalized patriarchal society that roared back to life when men came home from World War II and found their many of their jobs had been taken over by women. There was a real and concerted effort to push women back into the home.  Rosie the Riveter traded in her drill and slipped on her plastic cleaning gloves.

Take a look at just a few samplings of advertisements from the 1950s here. You will see that the overwhelming emphasis was to get women to accept their "roles" as housekeepers and mothers.

Friedan fought vehemently against this push, and women responded in droves. The title of her work comes from her central argument: "The feminine mystique has succeeded in burying millions of American women alive." The mystique, of course, is that women belong and are happy in the home and raising children, and that these are things men are completely incapable, both genetically and mentally, of doing. (This tenent harkens back to the Victorian belief in "The Angel in the House.") This ability, the male argument goes, is shrouded in mystery and ultimately unknowable.

Friedan argues that this is nonsense, and that nothing in a woman's genetic make up makes her any less capable than a man. Some of her more effective themes include:

It is ridiculous to tell girls to be quiet when they enter a new field, or an old one, so the men will not notice they are there. A girl should not expect special privileges, because of her sex, but neither should she "adjust" to prejudice and discrimination.

Men weren't really the enemy -- they were fellow victims suffering from an outmoded masculine mystique that made them feel unnecessarily inadequate when there were no bears to kill.

As you can see, Friedan did not lay the blame for the predicament that women found themselves in during the 50s and 60s, but rather called for BOTH sexes to take responsibilty for allowing women, and men, to realize their full potential.

There have been enormous strides in equality, ones that are sometimes not appreciated by people who grew up in a post-Second Wave Feminism world; many do not realize the gains that have been made.

While some of the goals have been reached,  there is a long way to go in many areas. Women still perform the majority of household chores (look at any current advertisement for a cleaning product. I defy you to find a single one that features a man cleaning), still are responsible for the majority of childcare, still make less money on the dollar as do their male counterparts in the working world. Likewise, women still hold the majority of social services jobs (nurses, teachers, social workers, etc.).

This is a problem for women who try to balance it all (for a good read, although fictious, check out Allison Pearson's novel I Don't Know How She Does It.)

So... are Friedan's dictates still relevant? Perhaps not as vehemently as they were in the 50s, but overall, yes, there is still work to be done. Are they still popular? Yes. I don't think there are many women who still subscribe to the old theories, and far fewer who would accept a life of inequality.

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In general, the ideas promoted in this book are popular today.  That is, the argument that Friedan makes about what women should be like are popular.

In the book, Friedan argues that women have been stifled by a society that believes that they should only be housewives and that they should devote their lives to caring for their families.  Friedan argues that women are made unhappy by being pushed into this role.  The idea that women should be free to have careers and lives that are not solely devoted to their families is clearly one that is popular in much of American society today.

This idea is not universally accepted today.  However, it is pretty much accepted that women should have options other than being housewives.

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