The Problem That Has No Name
A Review of The Feminine
by Betty Friedan
Betty Naomi Goldstein Friedan was born on
February 4, 1921 in Illinois. She went to Smith College and
worked on the school newspaper. After her graduation,
Friedan attended the University of California, Berkeley,
while doing undergraduate work in psychology. Friedan had
been a stay-at-home mom so she knew how other women felt.
Friedan is also credited for writing three other books.
Betty Friedan passed away on February 2, 2006.
The time is eight a.m. The year is 2006. Men and women alike
are all awake and ready to go to work. Yes, it may seem that
going to work everyday is monotonous, but for women in the
sixties, there was no such thing as work outside the home.
The only job for women was to take care of the children and
run the household. The Feminine Mystique by Betty
Friedan was exactly what women needed to hear. It asked all
the questions women were thinking and answered them. “She
was afraid to ask even of herself the silent question—Is
this all?”1 In the sixties, women around the
nation questioned whether the life they were living was all
that they had. They dreamt of a better life—a life that
would take them further than where they were at the time.
The book starts off with a problem—a problem that has no
name. Women were told that they were inferior to men. Being
a woman meant doing chores and caring for the family. The
first three chapters explain the problems that women faced.
Everyday life was a routine and nothing special was going
on. The main issue this book deals with is a woman’s
identity. The world told women to be someone and act a
certain way. Women never had the chance to go out and
explore to find out who they really were. “All they had to
do was devote their lives from earliest girlhood to finding
a husband and bearing children.”2 Little girls
grew up knowing what they were going to be when they grew
up. “…A little girl said: When I grow up, I’m going to be a
doctor, and her mother would correct her: No dear, you’re a
girl. You’re going to be a wife and mother, like
mummy.”3 Women were not given the chance to dream
or to even think for themselves. It was as if their futures
were over because they already knew what lay ahead for them.
The chapters following show that women during this era were
influenced by many people. One of the most prominent
influences of the time was Sigmund Freud. “The feminine
mystique derived its power from Freudian
thought.”4 Freud was an observer; he observed the
world around him and recorded the problems he saw. “He was
creating a new framework for our culture…”5 He
may have changed women’s perspectives but the one person
that kept most women grounded was Margaret Mead. “She was
the symbol of the women thinker[s] in America.”6
Mead believed that both men and women were the same. She did
not think that there was any sexual difference between man
and woman except in procreation. Two very different people
with two very different concepts. Freud and Mead were the
cornerstones of influence in the feminine mystique.
Following the discussion on Freud and Mead, the book begins
to explain the daily life of a housewife. Being a mother in
the sixties was busy work only when the child is young. As
the child grew, these mothers felt empty as if their lives
were over. This being the case, what was left for them to do
except reproduce? Then again, many women could not just
reproduce. Having too many children would become a difficult
problem in the future. For a young woman who married so
young, “the only way the young housewife was supposed to
express herself, and not feel guilty about it, was in buying
products for the home and family.”7 The Feminine
Mystique views women as having more sexual desires than men.
As their desires grew stronger, the men started to wane in
their desires. While it progressed, it literally forced the
women to have affairs in order to keep something in their
lives real. Women in the sixties were often stuck at home
with nothing to do. They wanted get out and do more for
themselves and others.
Towards the end of the book, Friedan writes in detail about
the specifics of being a woman in the sixties. When writing
this book, she interviewed many women in order to get her
facts and she cited those interviews in the final chapters
of her book. Friedan drew many observations and connected
the facts to what she heard and saw. Friedan noticed all the
housewives had the same difficulties and tribulations.
“Only by such a personal commitment to the future can
American women break out of the housewife trap and truly
find fulfillment as wives and mothers.”8 These
women were missing something in their lives and they could
not find the missing link if they were trapped in the house
all day. The novelist expresses herself at the end of her
novel by answering many of the questions she stated earlier.
She also concludes by giving ideas of how women can change
themselves and make themselves feel happier and ultimately
When Betty Friedan’s book first came out, it was the center
for criticism. This book was also the pivotal voice in the
women’s liberation movement. Friedan’s main purpose was to
get women to realize their true potentials. Friedan was the
voice of all the women across America and she believed that
not all women had to be housewives. Women around the nation
were thinking what Friedan had written in her book. They
wanted to find jobs and to make names for themselves. Women
were sick and tired of being limited to just taking care of
the kids and doing housework. Friedan and the women across
America had the same belief in that women should have the
right to be a career woman as well as a housewife and
mother. She had interviewed so many women through the making
of this book that she truly understood and knew what they
had gone through. After all, Betty Friedan was once a woman
trapped in the feminine mystique. She believed that “if
women do not put forth, finally, that effort to become all
that they have it in them to become, they will forfeit their
own humanity.”9 Friedan wrote what she felt
needed to be written and her words became the answers to the
long time sufferers of the mystique.
Many people believe that being a housewife is the easiest
job in the world. In reality, it is probably the hardest.
Women have to balance everything and they are always
stressed about what to do and how to provide for the
children. Being a housewife is definitely not the easiest
job in the world. Statistics show that a woman who has a
part time job is able to finish the housework and handle the
children in a certain amount of hours. On the other hand, a
woman who does not have a part time job takes all day to do
everything a career woman does in half the time. Friedan’s
answer to why the work efforts are so different is because a
career woman has a plan and knows what needs to be done and
conquers it. “The first step in that plan is to see
housework for what it is—not a career, but something that
must be done as quickly and as efficiently as
possible.”10 The writer wants every woman to
realize that her life isn’t over. Being a housewife doesn’t
exclude women from fulfilling their dreams. Men are not the
only people in the world who are capable of handling a job.
Women were strong and determined to be all that they could
be in a world that wouldn’t let women do anything else but
be a housewife.
Friedan did not just wake up one day realizing that she was
going to write a book about how women were sucked into the
feminine mystique. Like writers everywhere, Friedan did her
homework and researched about this mystique. Just as it has
influenced authors of different times and places,
historiography played a large role in Friedan’s writing of
the book. From a historian’s perspective, Betty Friedan
would be labeled as a liberal person. Friedan recognized
that there were some weaknesses in the sixties and tried to
offer suggestions to make it better. The Feminine Mystique
is a book made from observations. Back in the sixties, women
were housewives and nothing more. They spent their day
around the house doing chores. Friedan wrote this book
trying to get women out of their shells and into the world.
In the sixties, women were discouraged from having jobs.
Friedan, on the other hand, wanted women to have careers.
Noticing how mothers everywhere kept on saying how dull,
boring, and dissatisfying their lives were, she decided to
do something about it. “Occupation: Housewife,” was what
women mainly wrote on checks and other
applications.11 Women no longer wanted to be seen
as just a housewife and nothing more.
After the book was published, it became an instant
bestseller. The Feminine Mystique was like a pinch of
reality women needed to actually believe that they were made
to be more than just a wife and mother. The book first came
out 43 years ago and impacted society [significantly].
Today, just about every mother and wife is also a career
woman. There are many who are still housewives, but they
don’t feel trapped like the women from the sixties. They
know that if they wanted to get a job, they could do it.
Betty Friedan’s book led a powerful movement for women.
The Feminine Mystique was a book that had numerous
mixed reviews. There are many journalists who either love
the book or hate it. Many reporters applauded Friedan for
her strength to put out a book like The Feminine Mystique.
Others degraded her and wondered what was going on in her
head. Charlotte Armstrong from the LA Times writes “here is
a book by an angry woman.”12 Armstrong believes
that there are chapters in the book that deserve praise.
Sylvia Fleis Fava from The New York Times says, “The value
position makes this an important book, worthy of the wide
reading and discussion it is already gaining.”13
Fava writes how Friedan is giving readers different opinions
and that there are many different ways of interpreting the
book. Her only concern is that “the approach taken in the
book is…so heavily psychological.”14 Overall,
Fava really did enjoy reading a book that talked about women
and their problems in life and society. Despite their
different perspectives, Armstrong and Fava both liked the
book one way or another.
For first time readers, this book will really open up their
eyes and help them see women through a different light. On
behalf of the people who have never lived in the sixties and
have never known what a struggle it was for women, this book
helps to establish an image. The Feminine Mystique is
a book that grabs viewers for the most part. It makes
readers think about the questions being asked. It allows the
reader to compare and contrast how time has changed and how
this book has made an impact on a nation. A positive aspect
of this book is that it permits women who read it to relate
to it and to know that there are others out there who are
just like them. This is a book that has been fully
researched to the point where Friedan even included
different excerpts. The excerpts included vary as to where
Friedan received the information. These little pieces of
information give the reader facts and not just opinions from
the author. Overall, many of the reviewers who have read the
book would recommend The Feminine Mystique to everyone.
From an author’s view point, the sixties and early seventies
were a time that rocked the world. There were so many
interesting and controversial things going on that would
make a writer go wild. The sixties was known as an era of
complex inter-related cultural and political events. It was
also known as the Swinging Sixties. In this era there was a
war going on—the Vietnam War. War meant that men had to
leave their homes to defend their country. It also meant
more women in the work field trying to earn money for their
families. With all this going on, Friedan saw what a
difference women made and how much happier they felt when
they were outside of their homes. It could be said that a
war that forced women to work led to women feeling a little
bit fulfilled. Before, women were not even allowed to think
of working outside the home. With society changing, women
were given the chance to do something that would change the
rest of their lives.
The sixties was an era of turbulent rises. There was the
rise of the feminist movement, the African-American
movement, and the counterculture movement. American society
had changed through the sixties because of the different
trends. One day people would be supporting women and the
next they wanted the new fashion trend or the latest music.
The sixties and early seventies were not an easy decade to
live in. There was also the Civil Rights Movement in the
early sixties, which impacted the entire country. Before the
sixties, there was no such thing as a woman handling a part
time job. Motherhood and being a housewife were their number
one jobs. After the book was published, many women were
already living by the book and making “a new life
plan.”15 If this book had not been published or
put out in bookstores, many women would be suffering from
the problem that has no name. Women would not be out working
and making money because men technically “brought home the
bacon.” The sixties as well as The Feminine Mystique have
made a massive difference to the American society.
The Feminine Mystique is a book that has raised
eyebrows for the past 40 years. Betty Friedan wrote a
historic novel without even knowing it. By comparing the
sixties to present time, one can tell how much change has
occurred. What Friedan wanted women everywhere to achieve
has been achieved. Women are no longer cooped inside a house
because they have to be. Many women are working everyday and
enjoying life. Women are not sad and frustrated with their
lives; they are content. Everyone who has already read this
book knows how much this book has influenced people. Men and
women now view the world through a totally new perspective.
The Feminine Mystique has touched the lives of people
everywhere and Betty Friedan has opened their hearts and eyes.
review by Kristine Chang
- Friedan, Betty. The Feminine Mystique. New York:
Norton & Company, Inc., 1963, 15.
- Friedan, Betty 16.
- Friedan, Betty 235.
- Friedan, Betty 103.
- Friedan, Betty 105.
- Friedan, Betty 135.
- Friedan, Betty 222.
- Friedan, Betty 337.
- Friedan, Betty 336.
- Friedan, Betty 342.
- Friedan, Betty 315.
- Armstrong, Charlotte. LA Times Book Reviews 1963.
- Fava, Sylvia Fleis. New York Times Book Reviews 1963.
- Fava, Sylvia Fleis. New York Times Book Reviews 1963.
- Friedan, Betty 338.