The Feminine Mystique (Penguin Modern Classics) Paperback – 4 Mar 2010
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Feminism ... began with the work of a single person: Friedan (Nicholas Lemann)
About the Author
Betty Friedan (1921-2006) is hailed by historians as a seminal figure in the 'Second Wave' of the women's feminist movement. In 1957, Friedan wrote a questionnaire for her former classmates at a reunion at the all-female, Smith College. The results revealed that many women shared the same frustrations as her in their roles as housewives and mothers. Friedan's findings provided a clear-eyed analysis of the issues that affected women's lives in the decades after the Second World War, and became the basis to her book, The Feminine Mystique. A sensation on publication selling over 3 million copies, it established Friedan as one of the chief architects of the women's liberation movement.
A novelist and journalist, Lionel Shriver was born in North Carolina and educated at Columbia University in New York. Her eight published novels include New York Times bestseller The Post-Birthday World and international bestseller We Need to Talk About Kevin, for which she won the Orange Prize in 2005. Her ninth novel So Much for That will be published in 2010. She writes regularly for the Guardian, the Times, and The Daily Telegraph, and has published features, reviews, and columns in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times, and the Economist, among many other publications. She lives in London.
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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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