It’s been a while since I have done a book review. It gets harder and harder to do the books I read any justice with a half-assed book review. I’m making an exception to my own rule of needing to finish a book before you review it, as I am only halfway through The Feminine Mystique and it is one the best books on contemporary Western (North American) society I have read, and it was written in 1963. The attitudes and perceptions of the 1960s and previous decades have had a huge impact on women, women’s perceived place in society, in the office and at home.
I’ve never focused on women’s rights because I was raised in such an equal household. I never felt that I couldn’t or shouldn’t do anything, and a lot of times I wanted to do the things that “only the boys did” just to be different.
I feel lucky to have grown up that way and it certainly influences my mindset to this day: I’ve always worked in male-dominated fields and I am perfectly comfortable with that, and if I have ever felt the influence of the feminine mystique in the attitudes of others, I generally brush it off and take on a breezy, “I’ll prove you wrong” attitude. And you know what? It’s worked out for me.
I Don’t Have To Be Defensive About Being A Woman
But this book is allowing me to stop being defensive about being a woman. I admit, I have always taken an attitude along the lines of “Yeah, I’m a woman, but I’m as smart as any guy. I’m as good an athlete. I’m funny and I can hold my own and I am not all twisted up into knots about my image and my ability to catch a man.” So even though I have always had respect for a hard-working, self-made woman, I’ve belittled the idea of womanhood for a long time. It’s because there were just too many bullshit Secret commercials (remember the one that implied the most important times of a woman’s life were her wedding and her kid’s milestones?) and ridiculous romantic comedies I could not relate to. My friends are a bunch of crude and crazy women and we don’t really get a lot of the usual female stereotypes. So I always dismissed this idea of feminism and women’s rights, because I thought “I’ve got it figured out for the most part.”
Why The Feminine Mystique Is Absolutely Fascinating
Betty Friedan proved me wrong. This book is so fascinating. Although it was more prevalent in the 50s and 60s, Friedan investigates why so many women were choosing to become housewives instead of pursuing their educations or careers. And then why those same women found themselves unfulfilled, empty and frustrated. She analyzes the huge impact Freud and “Freudian” theories influenced our roles in society, our ideas of what is acceptable and expected from men and women. She is funny, candid and a timeless writer: just like my favorite fiction authors, she captures the moment and the idea.
My favorite part by far has been The Sexual Sell. Friedan herself sums it up best:
“Why is it never said that the really crucial function, the really important role that women serve as housewives is to buy more things for the house. In all the talk of femininity and woman’s role, one forgets that the real business of America is business. But the perpetuation of housewifery, the growth of the feminine mystique, makes sense (and dollars) when one realizes that women are the chief customers of American business. Somehow, somewhere, someone must have figured out that women will buy more things if they are kept in the underused, nameless-yearning, energy-to-get-rid-of state of being housewives.”
The rest of this chapter was just as enjoyable and mind-blowingly revelatory (is that a word?) Seriously, this books gives names to ideas we’ve all vaguely had. It’s worth reading for any man or woman who wants to understand our society. I’m just past the halfway mark, and this may need another book review, but for now, I am grateful to Friedan and the movement that came after her that has allowed me for so long to simply live my life exactly as I want, enjoy my career and find fulfillment outside the home, without ever once questioning it or feeling guilty for not being home making a sandwich for my man! (Side note: those sandwiches look really, really good).
And now, everyone, I must go back to not shaving my armpits and changing all mentions of “history” to “herstory”. <Insert additional feminazi stereotype here.>