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4.3 out of 5 stars
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4.3 out of 5 stars
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I first read `The Feminine Mystique' back in the 1970s when it was very popular and on re-reading it found it just as relevant now. The book explores the desire of many women in America in the 1950s and 1960s to become housewives and mothers rather than pursuing careers of their own. One of the main reasons for this trend could well have been a general reaction to the end of World War II. Women who had worked to help the war effort were now returning home and the men who had been fighting wanted nothing more than to relax in the comfort of domesticity and a settled home life.

The book seeks to examine the effects the trend had on the mental and physical health of women confined to the home and living vicarious lives through their husbands and children. Many became pale shadows of their former selves and resorted to drink or affairs with anyone and everyone. Research carried out at the time showed that women had fewer mental health problems if they had some outlet or interest of their own which took them away from their domestic environment. Some were in such a poor state mentally that they ended up being treated for depression as well as many minor ailments which may or may not have been psychosomatic. Obstetricians noticed that women who had their own careers and interests outside the home had far fewer physical and mental problems with childbirth than did women who were housewives and mothers with no other interest.

The author suggests that it is extremely bad mentally and physically to live the whole of your life through and for others and cites compelling research to back up her thesis. These women in many cases ended up resenting their families for curtailing their prospects. She also shows how stay at home mothers appeared to be producing children who were unable to develop into mature adults because they had mothers who had always taken care of everything for them. Children need to develop independence from their mothers if they are to lead their own lives. Mothers whose whole life is invested in their husbands and children feel they are nothing and have no role in life once their children are grown. Some keep on having babies in order to have a child still at home and dependent on them.

The book is a powerful argument for every woman to have an interest which she is enthusiastic about outside her domestic life even if it is not practical for her to have a job. Even though this book was written about the situation in the USA in the 1950s and 1960s it is possible to see similarities in Britain and America today in the 21st century. We have the same glorification of domesticity and the constant stream of articles in the media about stay at home mothers being better for children and mothers with young children are branded selfish if they go out to work. There is also the same sexualisation of culture which was starting to take place then and has become even greater now. Making a home and bringing up children has been elevated to an art form instead of being seen as work which has to be done but does not need to be carried out to such a high standard. This is how it was when Friedan was writing. As she pointed out, most household tasks could be carried out by a child of eight and yet adult women - often educated to university standard - are expected to find total personal fulfilment in such work.

This is well written book which repays careful study.
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on 16 September 2004
I read this for a class I did at uni on the American women's movement and it is utterly amazing. What is so astonishing - and if you're buying this for uni my lecturer gave me an A for this point - this is the first book that really trated men and women as equal. Friedan is the first person who ever really questioned the idea that women and men are so different and that their lives should be dictated by those differences. Friedan sees women and men as being equal in opportunity, and this is what makes this book so groundbreaking. She doesn't tell women to go out and live like men, or to give up 'womanly' things like children or marriage, but instead she is saying there is no 'natural' reason for that. Women and men can do exactly as each other can and create their own lives - unlike the prevailing thought that we still see today, that your gender defines what your life will be. This is so incredible to read I think anyone who geets the chance should.
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on 11 October 2013
A very important book, especially in the US. it gives an wonderfully revealing account of what it was really like to be a housewife before a measure of enlightenment came in the 1970s. It is a bit dated now but essential reading for anyone, especially men, who thinks that anything close to gender equality has been achieved. I
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on 5 February 2005
Sometimes you have to read a classic to fully understand why it had such an impact. This is one fantastic book, and I can appreciate why it moved millions to look at the relationship between the sexes more closely.
It is a testament to its many 'truths' that it still commands respect and attention 40 years on, and the many descriptions of how the 1950s/1960s left women feeling isolated and powerless, plus the many changes that show they have a path out of domesticity, are the things that I still value most about this text.
However, time has shown up some of the books faults. For me, the most glaring - and the one that reveals how a political view can incline a writer to fit data to a hypothesis, rather than the other way around, is the poor discussion of spending power and adverstising.
Friedan reports that 75% of money earned is spent by women, and tries to turn this on its head to claim that they are still 'victims' because advertisers pay so much attention to manipulating them. This is a bit like saying that if men had 3 votes to women's 1, that men would be 'victims' because politicians were more interesting in winning men's votes. Women have spending power in our society and this gives them not only a lot of economic power but collective control over much of the media (who must not offend women to retain adverstising revenues).
A brilliant book, but not faultless. For a similarly sympathetic book from men's perspective try to get your hands on a copy of "Why Men Are The Way They Are", by Warren Farrell.
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on 28 March 2003
excellent book. I bought this to do an essay on gender for college. It realy made you think, a book you cant put down.
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on 8 October 2001
this book is just excellent, i actually read when i was doing a paper on the sixties and this book kept popping up in research sources so i thought it would be a good idea to read it and i was blown away! it is so good, really hits the point and Betty talks and debates some great points! a very good read!!!! i highly reccomend it!
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on 25 March 2014
There are several detractors on Friedan's work but I have to say it marks an era of wondering what on earth was this "feminine mystique". It is a very insightful and uncomfortable reading of the lives of women in 1950s and 1960s era, the stepford wife era, and her point that is does not exist and the "essentialist" debate about the feminine is just a load of smoke and mirrors holds true to the present debate on masquerade and performance of gender.
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VINE VOICEon 24 May 2008
An interesting read but compared to other feminist literature it involves quite a small group of people. Namely housewives living in the USA during the 1950's and 60's. The underlying problem is repeated throughout the book and surrounds the fact that, these ladies, despite often being quite bright and having the benefit of a good education decided to give everything up at an early age to marry and have children. Betty Friedan looks at the reasoning behind it and the regrets these women so often have regarding wasting their lives. There is really no one to blame for this state of affairs other than the women themselves. Most of us women undergo the dream of a family and happy home life before realising that it is quite boring and we miss out on many more very exciting things in the world. Sad, but we are all pulled by our instincts and Betty Friedan doesnt really grasp this fact which is brilliantly related in Simone De Beauvoirs book 'The 2nd Sex'. Additionally other books will explain more fully how our genes are programmed for survival and reproduction of the species which is why people sabotage their plans for the strong urge to have a baby. None of this is mentioned and Betty almost believes there is a conspiracy going on rather than women have the money and homes in which to indulge their primeval longings albeit disasterously in the long run. This is an interesting book but not that broad and the message is repeated throughout it without really adding anything of further interest to the reader. Certainly an example of one of the steps of the Womens Liberation Movement and of interest to the feminist reader for that reason.
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on 18 May 2012
Excellent seminal work, important to go back to the classics and take on board what has changed and more importantly what is still frustrating and unchanged.
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on 29 August 2008
First off I'll declare my bias, in that I'm a man; I believe I'm unusually feminist, however a man nonetheless. Secondly, this review needs to be framed within the premise that it's a review of its value in 2008, rather than in the early 1960's when it was originally published, and so the emphasis is more upon recommendation on whether to read it now, than commentary on its historical or political value.

That said, Friedan's tome on the re-oppression of women through the 1950's, after their earlier liberation was overall not particularly enjoyable and quickly became a laborious read. Bearing in mind that such books are not necessarily meant to be fun, I found Friedan's writing style overly repetitive, often confusing and apparently self-contradictory.

Friedan made some very good arguments and her concept of the Feminine Mystique, in other words the oppression of women by societal pressure to conform to the stay-at-home housewife stereotype, hit the nail on the head and still has strong resonance today. However her arguments were unfortunately undermined by her poor writing and use of pseudo-scientific methods to evidence her argument, for example providing anecdote after anecdote to illustrate her points. This left me asking myself about the hundreds of thousands of American women she didn't personally speak to, even though I agreed with most of what she argued. A further related bias, which she freely admits herself within the book, was that her samples were specifically from middle-class women.

What made the book most difficult to stomach, was the unbalanced nature of her argument. To call Friedan's suggestions that the Feminine Mystique is comparable to Nazi concentration camps, is responsible for increased drug-use in teenagers, or for lack of courageousness in American GIs and homosexuality, overzealous I think most will agree is an understatement.

I gave it 3 stars because on balance "it's OK". However, The Feminine Mystique is overblown, difficult, and although the underlying premise is sound, I personally would not recommend this book to anyone. If however, you take the approach adopted by one of Amazon's list maniacs (feminist texts I must read before I die), then I suppose this may be worth reading.
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