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The Feminine Mystique

by Betty Friedan

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“The suburban housewife—she was the dream image of the young American woman and the envy, it was said, of women all over the world. The American housewife—freed by science and labor-saving appliances from the drudgery, the dangers of childbirth and the illnesses of her grandmother. She was healthy, beautiful, educated, concerned only about her husband, her children, her home. She had found true feminine fulfillment. As a housewife and mother, she was respected as a full and equal partner to man in his world.”

“The feminine mystique says that the highest value and the only commitment for women is the fulfillment of their own femininity. It says that the great mistake of Western culture, through most of its history, has been the undervaluation of this femininity.” 

“Beneath the sophisticated trappings, [the feminine mystique] simply makes certain concrete, finite, domestic aspects of feminine existence—as it was lived by women whose lives were confined by necessity, to cooking, cleaning, washing, bearing children—into a religion, a pattern by which all women must now live or deny their femininity.”  

“It is my thesis that the core of the problem for women today is not sexual but a problem of identity—a stunting or evasion of growth that is perpetuated by the feminine mystique. It is my thesis that as the Victorian culture did not permit women to accept or gratify their basic sexual needs, our culture does not permit women to accept or gratify their basic need to grow and fulfill their potentialities as human beings, a need which is not solely defined by their sexual role.” 

“It is a strangely unquestioned perversion of history that the passion and fire of the feminist movement came from man-hating, embittered, sex-starved spinsters, from castrating, unsexed non-women who burned with such envy for the male organ that they wanted to take it away from all men, or destroy them, demanding rights only because they lacked the power to love as women.”

“What the sexual terminology hides is the fact that the feminist movement was a revolution. There were excesses, of course, as in any revolution, but the excesses of the feminists were in themselves a demonstration of the revolution’s necessity. They stemmed from, and were a passionate repudiation of, the degrading realities of woman’s life, the helpless subservience behind the gentle decorum that made women objects of such thinly veiled contempt to men that they even felt contempt for themselves.” 

“But many analysts threw the book at their patients and Freudian theories became accepted fact even among women who never lay down on an analyst’s couch, but only knew what they read or heard. To this day, it has not penetrated to the popular culture that the pervasive growing frustration of American women may not be a matter of feminine sexuality. Some analysts, it is true, modified the theories drastically to fit their patients, or even discarded them altogether—but these facts never permeated the public awareness.” 

“The feminine protest, at its most straightforward, is simply a means of protecting women from the dangers inherent in assuming true equality with men.” 

“Even when it is virtually certain that most women will no longer spend their lives as full-time housewives, the sex-directed educators have told them not to plan for a career for fear of hampering their sexual adjustment.” 

“The modern middle-class boy, on the other hand, is forced to compete with others to achieve—which demands a certain degree of independence, firmness of purpose, aggressiveness, self-assertion. Thus, in the boy, the mother-nourished need for everyone to love him, the inability to erect his own values and purposes is neurotic, but...

(This entire section contains 782 words.)

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not in the girl.” 

“For the woman who lives according to the feminine mystique, there is no road to achievement, or status, or identity, except the sexual one: the achievement of sexual conquest, status as a desirable sex object, identity as a sexually successful wife and mother. And yet because sex does not really satisfy these needs, she seeks to buttress her nothingness with things, until often even sex itself, and the husband and the children on whom the sexual identity rests, become possessions, things. A woman who is herself only a sexual object, lives finally in a world of objects, unable to touch in others the individual identity she lacks in herself.” 

“The key to the trap is, of course, education. The feminine mystique has made higher education for women seem suspect, unnecessary and even dangerous. But I think that education, and only education, has saved, and can continue to save, American women from the greatest dangers of the feminine mystique.”


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