Imagine a world in which women were limited to the home. Education for women derived of only non-challenging classes that focused mostly on marriage, family, and other subjects deemed suitable for women. The only titles for women were wife and mother, therefore they had no self. The lack of a self caused women to live through others, especially their children. This caused their children, particularly their female children, to lose their own sense of self as separate human beings. This was a vicious cycle that continued on. This is how you lived your life as a woman and there was no questioning that.
In 1963, Betty Friedan opened many women’s eyes with her book The Feminine Mystique which daringly questioned a woman’s role in society. This book has been widely credited as being the beginning of second wave feminism that started as a survey between Friedan’s college colleagues at a reunion. It allowed for women to realize that they were not alone in regards to how they felt about their home life. The survey that started the idea of the book inquired about women’s education, subsequent experiences, and satisfaction with their current lives. The responses Friedan received from her colleagues amazed her and made up a collection which was considered “the problem that has no name.”
“The problem lay buried, unspoken, for many years in the minds of American women. It was a strange stirring, a sense of dissatisfaction, a yearning [that is, a longing] that women suffered in the middle of the 20th century in the United States. Each suburban [house]wife struggled with it alone. As she made the beds, shopped for groceries… she was afraid to ask even of herself the silent question — ‘Is this all?”
Using the various experiences of unhappy women throughout the 1950s and early 1960s, Friedan allowed for millions of women to unite and question what it is they wanted to do with their lives. Friedan focused on the full-time homemaker role which was the socially appointed position for women. They were expected to get married, have children, and live materially comfortably to be successful as women. They had no value of their own without a husband and children. This was supposed to make them happy, yet many women had these things and were unhappy. They were miserable and felt isolated. All these things were supposed to equal happiness and since they did not feel happy, they felt as if something was wrong with them.
Countless women felt they were alone in their experiences and were released from this through The Feminine Mystique. They could finally relate to other women because they were not alone. In her book, Friedan claimed she was a depressed suburban housewife who dropped out of college at the age of 19 to get married and raise four children. She spoke of her various desires and thoughts in regards to being “just a housewife” and not her own person. She spoke of her own “terror” at being alone and wrote that she had never once in her life seen a positive female role model who worked outside the home and also had a family.
This is very mind-blowing for modern day thinking since we have various positive female role models who also have families and can balance it well. This was not an option during Friedan’s time and that is something we must consider when reading The Feminine Mystique in order to understand why it is that so many women were freed from the shackles society had placed on them. This was a true eye opener for women who had more than a glass ceiling to push through, they had four concrete walls ensuring they did what society wanted them to do.
Betty Friedan was born on February 4, 1921. She was a successful American writer, activist, and feminist best known for her eye opening book The Feminine Mystique. She was the founder and president of the National Organization of Women (NOW) which focused on bringing women into society in full equal partnership with men. Friedan was very active in politics and activism and was determined to ensure there was equality within the sexes regardless of what society enforced. She was a freelance writer for various magazines, including Cosmopolitan; she wrote six books in her lifetime. Friedan died February 4, 2006 due to heart failure.