It was brought to my attention that this month marked the 50th anniversary of the publishing of Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique. To celebrate this outstanding piece of feminist writing, I was asked to write a blog about it. At first, I was excited because such an insightful work deserves praise; then nervous—The Feminine Mystique is a staple of the second-wave of feminism, how could I possible write a piece that would honor it appropriately, especially if I haven’t read it from beginning to end? But now, I realize that celebrating 50 years of The Feminine Mystique means so much more then honoring a motivating and eye opening piece of feminist writing. It means honoring the fearless woman who researched and authored the work, the feminist movement she helped re-inspire, and the feminist organization she helped find in 1966—the National Organization for Women.
The Feminine Mystique hit shelves February 25th in 1963. By the year 2000, more then 3 million copies were in circulation and were printed in multiple languages (Fox, 2006). The work revealed that “the problem with no name” was plaguing women across America. “The problem with no name,” or what Friedan later calls the “feminine mystique,” was a lack of fulfillment women felt in their lives in a society that said they should be happy in the roles of homemakers, mothers and wives. The mystique was an artificial idea of what femininity should be. Rather then discovering her own identity and potential, a woman should succumb to her femininity that prescribes fulfillment through “sexual passivity, male domination, and nurturing maternal love” (Friedan 1963, 92).
Through her research and writings, Friedan exposes complex ideas about women’s role in American society, identity, sexism in education, consumerism, sex, traditional ideas of motherhood, the feminine and marriage. She calls for changes in the focuses of higher education and societal structures so that women do not waste their college years; and suggests that education for women actually exemplifies the experience of motherhood. "The fact remains that the girl who wastes—as waste she does—her college years without acquiring serious interests, and wastes her early job yeas marking time until she finds a man, gambles with the possibilities for an identity of her own, as well as the possibilities for sexual fulfillment and wholly affirmed motherhood" (1963, 497).
Not only do we remember her work this month, but we also remember Betty Friedan herself. Betty Friedan died at the age of 85 in February 2006 from congestive heart failure (2006). She was a woman who motivated and inspired many feminist around the world to write, speak-out and become active in their communities. In 1966, Friedan co-found the National Organization for Women with 48 other women and men. Her writings and activism in the 1960s motivated the second-wave of feminism and provided feminist today an opportunity to keep “the problem that has no name” in the back of their heads as a reminder of what they can achieve for their own fulfillment. Her work, The Feminine Mystique, altered the perspective of gender roles in American society and labeled a problem that so many women felt, but could not describe. With the problem labeled, women today are more aware of their potential and options of discovery. Both education and motherhood are eagerly pursued by women who freely make the choice that they feel will best fulfill their desires.
That is not to say that The Feminine Mystique completely saved us from the traditional expectations of femininity from being shoved down our throats by society. While it exposes the limiting ideas of traditional femininity, it does not fix or eliminate “the problem with no name.” The problem still exists. What The Feminine Mystique does for us is name the problem. One of the first steps to finding a solution to a problem is being able to name it, which we as women have Betty Friedan to thank for. The next steps involve activism, conscious raising and education, which NOW strives to do every day. I feel that the rest is up to us—the feminist of the present—to keep the second-wave’s and Friedan’s legacy going. It is up to feminist today to reinforce Friedan’s ideas of education and equality to society so that it can be restructured to be equal for all people, no matter what.
Fox, Margalit. “Betty Friedan, Who Ignited Cause in ‘Feminine Mystique,’ Dies at 85.”
The New York Times (2006). <http://www.nytimes.com/2006/02/05/national
Friedan, Betty. The Feminine Mystique. 1963. W.W. Norton & Company. New York.
“The Founding of NOW.” (2006). < http://www.now.org/history/the_founding.html>
Katie, Oakland/Macomb County NOW Communications Chair