50 Years After “The Feminine Mystique”: Where Are We Now?
50 years ago, The Feminine Mystique was published and Betty Friedan became a household name in the feminist movement. Widely hailed as the book that ushered in the ‘second-wave of feminism‘, The Feminine Mystique remains on bookshelves today. Although the book was regarded as ‘groundbreaking‘ in it’s time, today it remains an outdated reminder of the privileged feminist. Friedan stumbled upon the idea for an article after surveying her former classmates from Smith College after their 15 year reunion. She found a great number of them unhappy with their housewife lives and second-class status, which prompted the research that would become The Feminine Mystique. Delving into psychology, media, advertising, and interviewing even more housewives, she originally intended to publish an article on the topic, not a book, but no magazine would publish her article.
The Feminine Mystique focused on the lack of education and careers amongst women and contributed this to their overwhelming unhappiness, all while dismissing the ideas of Sigmund Frued, who was extremely well regarded at the time, and his message of women being neurotic for wanting careers outside of the family. While the Mystique touched upon the universal troubles of women, it failed miserably to include those outside of white, middle class suburbia. Friedan remained true to the plight of women like herself; completely ignorant to the struggles of those with different socio-economic backgrounds and those of color. She has also been widely criticized for her prejudice against homosexuality.
Today’s feminism, though not perfect by any means, calls for the inclusion of all races and class while also recognizing the struggle of the LGBTQIA community. When looking back on the feminism of our mothers and grandmothers, one must appreciate the leaps and bounds we have made as a movement, even if we have so much farther to go. Although The Feminine Mystique seems to be a one-way street, it undisputedly changed the lives of countless women and society as a whole. Thanks to second-wave feminism we have greater access to birth control and abortion, allowing women to choose the paths their lives take. And while our reproductive freedom and personal choices seems to be bound in a never-ending struggle, feminism itself will always prevail, weaving the patchwork to secure our freedoms in the future while leaving the much needed room for improvement.
50 years ago, feminism had The Feminine Mystique. Today’s feminism is a rich tapestry filled to the brim with literature and independent thought, and it also has a much bolder respect for the plight of all women and respect for those of different skin colors, backgrounds, and privilege. However, we could not celebrate and embrace our differences if we did not have a platform from which to learn from; Betty Friedan, with her imperfections and gross underestimation of women of color, gave us that platform. Even 50 years later, The Feminine Mystique is a force to be reckoned with.