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Betty Friedan wrote The Feminine Mystique in 1963. The book issued a call to modern women to throw off their traditional roles, which were dependent on men, and establish independent identities.
Femine Mystique Published 1962 - History
The image of woman that emerges from this big, pretty magazine is young and frivolous, almost childlike fluffy and feminine passive gaily content in a world of bedroom and kitchen, sex, babies, and home. The magazine surely does not leave out sex the only passion, the only pursuit, the only goal a woman is permitted is the pursuit of a man. It is crammed full of food, clothing, cosmetics, furniture, and the physical bodies of young women, but where is the world of thought and ideas, the life of the mind and spirit? In the magazine image, women do no work except housework and work to keep their bodies beautiful and to get and keep a man.
This was the image of the American woman in the year Castro led a revolution in Cuba and men were trained to travel into outer space the year that the African continent brought forth new nations, and a plane whose speed is greater than the speed of sound broke up a Summit Conference the year artists picketed a great museum in protest against the hegemony of abstract art physicists explored the concept of anti-matter astronomers, because of new radio telescopes, had to alter their concepts of the expanding universe biologists made a breakthrough in the fundamental chemistry of life and Negro youth in Southern schools forced the United States, for the first time since the Civil War, to face a moment of democratic truth. But this magazine, published for over 5,000,000 American women, almost all of whom have been through high school and nearly half to college, contained almost no mention of the world beyond the home. In the second half of the twentieth century in America, woman's world was confined to her own body and beauty, the charming of man, the bearing of babies, and the physical care and serving of husband, children, and home. And this was no anomaly of a single issue of a single women's magazine.
At this point, the writers and editors spent an hour listening to Thurgood Marshall on the inside story of the desegregation battle, and its possible effect on the presidential election. "Too bad I can't run that story," one editor said. "But you just can't link it to woman's world."
As I listened to them, a German phrase echoed in my mind "Kinder, Küche, Kirche," the slogan by which the Nazis decreed that women must once again be confined to their biological role. But this was not Nazi Germany. This was America. The whole world lies open to American women. Why, then, does the image deny the world? Why does it limit women to "one position, one role, one occupation"? Not long ago, women dreamed and fought for equality, their own place in the world. What happened to their dreams when did women decide to give up the world and go back home?
In 1939, the heroines of women's magazine stores were not always young, but in a certain sense they were younger than their fictional counterparts today. They were young in the same way that the American hero has always been young: they were New Women, creating with a gay determined spirit a new identity for womena moving into a future that was going to be different from the past. The majority of heroines in the four major women's magazines (then Ladies' Home Journal, McCall's, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Home Companion) were career womenwho loved and were loved by men. And the spirit, courage, independence, determinationthe strength of character they showed in their work as nurses, teachers, artists, actresses, copywriters, saleswomenwere part of their charm. There was a definite aura that their individuality was something to be admired, not unattractive to men, that men were drawn to them as much for their spirit and character as for their looks.
These were the mass women's magazinesin their heyday. The stories were conventional: girl-meets-boy or girl-gets-boy. But very often this was not the major theme of the story. These heroines were usually marching toward some goal or vision of their own, struggling with some problem of work or the world, when they found their man. And this New Woman, less fluffily feminine, so independent and determined to find a new life of her own, was the heroine of a different kind of love story. She was less aggressive in pursuit of a man. Her passionate involvement with the world, her own sense of herself as an individual, her self-reliance, gave a different flavor to her relationship with the man.
These stories may not have been great literature. But the identity of their heroines seemed to say something about the housewives who, then as now, read the women's magazines. These magazines were not written for career women. The New Woman heroines were the ideal of yesterday's housewives they reflected the dreams, mirrored the yearning for identity and the sense of possibility that existed for women then. And if women could not have these dreams for themselves, they wanted their daughters to have them. They wanted their daughters to be more than housewives,to go out in the world that had been denied them.
As for not earning any money, the argument goes, let the housewife compute the cost of her services. Women can save more money by their managerial talents inside the home than they can bring into it by outside work. As for woman's spirit being broken by the boredom of household tasks, maybe the genius of some women has been thwarted, but "a world full of feminine genius, but poor in children, would come rapidly to an end. . . . Great men have great mothers."
The feminine mystique says that the highest value and the only commitment for women is the fulfillment of their own femininity. It says that the great mistake of Western culture, through most of its history, has been the undervaluation of this femininity. It says this femininity is so mysterious and intuitive and close to the creation and origin of life that man-made science may never be able to understand it. But however special and different, it is in no way inferior to the nature of man it may even in certain respects be superior. The mistake, says the mystique, the root of women's troubles in the past is that women envied men, women tried to be like men, instead of accepting their own nature, which can find fulfillment only in sexual passivity, male domination, and nurturing maternal love.
But the new image this mystique gives to American women is the old image: "Occupation: housewife." The new mystique makes the housewife-mothers, who never had a chance to be anything else, the model for all women it presupposes that history has reached a final and glorious end in the here and now, as far as women are concerned. Beneath the sophisticated trappings, it simply makes certain concrete, finite, domestic aspects of feminine existenceas it was lived by women whose lives were confined, by necessity, to cooking, cleaning, washing, bearing childreninto a religion, a pattern by which all women must now live or deny their femininity.
Fulfillment as a woman had only one definition for American women after 1949the housewife-mother. As swiftly as in a dream, the image of the American woman as a changing, growing individual in a changing world was shattered. Her solo flight to find her own identity was forgotten in the rush for the security of togetherness. Her limitless world shrunk to the cozy walls of home.
The end of the road, in an almost literal sense, is the disappearance of the heroine altogether, as a separate self and the subject of her own story. The end of the road is togetherness, where the woman has no independent self to hide even in guilt she exists only for and through her husband and children.
Coined by the publishers of McCall's in 1954, the concept "togetherness" was seized upon avidly as a movement of spiritual significance by advertisers, ministers, newspaper editors. For a time, it was elevated into virtually a national purpose. But very quickly there was sharp social criticism, and bitter jokes about "togetherness" as a substitute for larger human goalsfor men. Women were taken to task for making their husbands do housework, instead of letting them pioneer in the nation and the world. Why, it was asked, should men with the capacities of statesmen, anthropologists, physicists, poets, have to wash dishes and diaper babies on weekday evenings or Saturday mornings when they might use those extra hours to fulfill larger commitments to their society?
But forbidden to join man in the world, can women be people? Forbidden independence, they finally are swallowed in an image of such passive dependence that they want men to make the decisions, even in the home. The frantic illusion that togetherness can impart a spiritual content to the dullness of domestic routine, the need for a religious movement to make up for the lack of identity, betrays the measure of women's loss and the emptiness of the image. Could making men share the housework compensate women for their loss of the world? Could vacuuming the living-room floor together give the housewife some mysterious new purpose in life?
In 1956, at the peak of togetherness, the bored editors of McCall's ran a little article called "The Mother Who Ran Away." To their amazement, it brought the highest readership of any article they had ever run. "It was our moment of truth," said a former editor. "We suddenly realized that all those women at home with their three and a half children were miserably unhappy."
But by then the new image of American woman, "Occupation: housewife," had hardened into a mystique, unquestioned and permitting no questions.
By the time I started writing for women's magazines, in the fifties, it was simply taken for granted by editors, and accepted as an immutable fact of life by writers, that women were not interested in politics, life outside the United States, national issues, art, science, ideas, adventure, education, or even their own communities, except where they could be sold through their emotions as wives and mothers.
Politics, for women, became Mamie's clothes and the Nixons' home life. Out of conscience, a sense of duty, the Ladies' Home Journal might run a series like "Political Pilgrim's Progress," showing women trying to improve their children's schools and playgrounds. But even approaching politics through mother love did not really interest women, it was thought in the trade. Everyone knew those readership percentages. And editor of Redbook ingeniously tried to bring the bomb down to the feminine level by showing the emotions of a wife whose husband sailed into a contaminated area.
"Women can't take an idea, an issue, pure," men who eidted the mass women's magazines agreed. "It had to be translated in terms they can understand as women." This was so well understood by those who wrote for women's magazines that a natural childbirth expert submitted an article to a leading woman's magazine called "How to Have a Baby in a Atom Bomb Shelter." "The article was not well written," an editor told me, "or we might have bought it." According to the mystique, women, in their mysterious femininity, might be interested in the concrete biological details fo having a baby in a bomb shelter, but never in the abstract idea of the bomb's power to destroy the human race.
Such a belief, of course, becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. In 1960, a perceptive social psychologist showed me some sad statistics which seemed to prove unmistakably that American women under thirty-five are not interested in politics. "They may have the vote, but they don't dream about running for office," he told me. "If you write a political piece, they won't read it. You have to translate it into issues they can understandromance, pregnancy, nursing, home furnishings, clothes. Run an article on the economy, or the race question, civil rights, and you'd think that women had nevr heard of them."
This is the real mystery: why did so many American women, with the ability and education to discover and create, go back home again, to look for "something more" in housework and rearing children? For, paradoxically, in the same fifteen years in which the spirited New Woman was replaced by the Happy Housewife, the boundaries of the human world have widened, the pace of world change has quickened, and the very nature of human reality has become increasingly free from biological and material necessity.
Sex and the Single Girl: The Legacy of Helen Gurley Brown
Helen Gurley Brown has died at the age of 90. Before she started her Cosmopolitan magazine there was her bestselling book, Sex and the Single Girl. Published in 1962, it sold 2 million copies in 3 weeks.Helen Gurley Brown has died at the age of 90. You might consider her synonymous with Cosmopolitan magazine, where she was editor-in-chief for more than 30 years, building it into a widespread international brand (for more on that, read Edith Zimmerman's recent piece on the franchise in The New York Times Magazine). But before Brown started at Cosmo there was her bestselling book, Sex and the Single Girl. Published in 1962, it sold 2 million copies in 3 weeks.
A revised edition of the book came out in 2003, in which Brown provided a bit of new material regarding social changes for women since the 1960s. But a lot remains the same. Chapters include an analysis of the advantages of being single, suggestions on categorizing the men in one's life (and how to handle them), suggestions on where to meet said men, how to be sexy, how to get ahead at work, how to make the most of one's money, tips on decorating and dinner parties, how to eat well and stay fit, what to wear, how to do one's makeup, how to have an affair, and, in the last chapter, how to have "the rich, full life."
As Margalit Fox writes in Brown's New York Times obituary,
Published in 1962, the year before Betty Friedan ignited the modern women’s movement with The Feminine Mystique, [Sex and the Single Girl] taught unmarried women how to look their best, have delicious affairs and ultimately bag a man for keeps, all in breathless, aphoristic prose.
In terms of real-life relevance, Brown didn't marry until she was 37 years old. By that point she'd already worked her way up the career ladder as a secretary and made it, a la Peggy Olson, into the creative side of the ad world, becoming the "highest-paid female copywriter on the West Coast" at the agency Foote, Cone, and Belding, per her thorough obituary in the Albany Times Union. In 1959, she married David Brown, 43, a film executive at 20th Century Fox Studios who later became a producer he also partnered with her on projects and encouraged her to write Sex and the Single Girl.
It's 50 years later, yet many of the topics, both generally and specifically, that she addressed are still being discussed. So much so that Anna David published her own memoir, Falling for Me: How I Hung Curtains, Learned to Cook, Traveled to Seville, and Fell in Love, in 2011, using Sex and the Single Girl as a kind of lesson plan to analyze her choices in life. We're still dealing with questions of what people see as the "right" female role in society, and how to achieve gender equality, and how to have it all. And how, even, to know what "all" we want? Brown, however, knew what she wanted, did it, and wrote a book about it. As New York City Mayor Bloomberg said in a statement today, "She pushed boundaries and often broke them, clearing the way for younger women to follow in her path." In another manner of thinking, via Fox, "In Ms. Brown’s hands, Cosmopolitan anticipated Sex and the City by three decades."
That doesn't mean everyone considered Brown a feminist. As Fox continues, "Ms. Brown routinely described herself as a feminist, but whether her work helped or hindered the cause of women’s liberation has been publicly debated for decades. It will doubtless be debated long after her death. What is safe to say is that she was a Janus-headed figure in women’s history, simultaneously progressive and retrogressive in her approach to women’s social roles." But even for those who don't agree with everything she did or suggested, or any of it, the underlying message that every woman should have the right to decide for herself what she wants to accomplish in her life is one that should be lauded.
And the fact is, Sex and the Single Girl remains incredibly relevant in a lot of ways. Maybe some of the fashions and scene details and specifics on how we do things or what we want have changed. But it's heartening to remind ourselves that a woman who hadn't "settled down" and married by her late 30s, a woman who didn't have children at all, instead had what any person would agree was a full, incredible, and inspirational life—and that she built that existence for herself. It's both testament to progress but also a reminder that there's still a ways to go that her words remain so applicable to the lives of today's women.
Of course, Brown was also one of an early spate of female writers telling honest truths about her life to have to contend with a bunch of what we'd call in today's parlance, trolls. One rather epic comment from her in response to criticism of the book was reportedly this:
"This is how it was for me. This is how I played it. It’s just a pippy-poo little book and people come back with this diatribe about its great social significance. Well it’s just because nobody ever got off his high horse long enough to write to single women in any form they could associate with. If they had, somebody else would be the arbiter for single women at this point instead of me. "
And yet, therein lies the key to exactly its great social significance. To her legacy, a toast.
30 Books That Changed The Course Of History
"Aesop's Fables" is a collection of stories that are meant to teach the listener a life lesson. The fables themselves are often credited to an ancient Greek slave and story teller named Aesop (though the origin of the fables remains disputed).
The stories themselves are still important moral lessons and have had a far-reaching impact on literature and common sayings, including "wolf in sheep's clothing," "boy who cried wolf," "goose that laid the golden eggs," and many others.
"The Analects of Confucius" by Confucius
Believed to have been written sometime between 475 and 221 BCE
Also known as simply "Analects" or "Lunyu," this book is the collection of sayings and ideas attributed to the Chinese philosopher Confucius on how to live a virtuous life and be kind — what he referred to as ren.
Today, "The Analects" continues to have a profound influence on Eastern philosophy and ethics, especially in China.
"Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl" by Anne Frank
The book is a compilation of the diary writings of Anne Frank, a young woman who hid with her family for two years during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. The family was discovered and taken in 1944, and Anne Frank died of typhus in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.
Since its publication, "Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl" has been translated into more than 60 languages and remains one of the most famous and influential primary documents from Europe in WWII.
"The Art of War" by Sun Tzu
Written sometime between 600 and 500 BCE
"The Art of War" is an ancient Chinese military treatise attributed to Sun Tzu, a military general, strategist, and tactician. It's written in 13 chapters, each devoted to an aspect of warfare such as spies, quick thinking, and avoiding massacres and atrocities.
Today, the book still has an influence on Eastern and Western military thinking, business tactics, legal strategy, and sports for its lessons on how to outsmart one's opponent.
"Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee" by Dee Alexander Brown
"Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee" uncovers the history of Native Americans in the late 19th century, particularly the injustices and betrayals committed by the US government and the Native Americans' forced relocation.
The bestselling book has never gone out of print, and has so far been translated into 17 languages. Through government records and first-person accounts, Brown revealed and continues to reveal the massacre of an entire people in an effort to "win" the American West.
"The Communist Manifesto" by Karl Marx & Friedrich Engels
Published on February 21, 1848
This short publication was written by two of the most famous communists in history. It discusses the class struggle, problems with capitalism, and communism's future potential.
Although its impact wasn't immediate, the manifesto resonated with industrial workers across Europe, the US, and Russia with its rallying cry: "Working men of all countries, unite!" Today, it continues to impact political parties and is studied around the world.
"A Dictionary of the English Language" by Samuel Johnson
This anthology includes 4,000 of the most representative, entertaining, and historically fascinating entries in the English language. It spans fashion, food, science, sex, and more, all with the original spellings and examples from Shakespeare and Milton.
"A Dictionary of the English Language" was used by Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, the Brontë sisters, and more, so not only did it influence classical literature, but it continues to offer writers, academics, and publishers a revolutionary take on the English language.
&ldquoEssays&rdquo by Michel de Montaigne
Ralph Waldo Emerson, Friedrich Nietzsche, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and numerous other great thinkers of the world were all influenced by Motaigne’s massive collection of influential essays.
The French statesman and writer’s ability to blend serious moral questions with casual anecdotes was at the time derided for being “self indulgent,” but is nowadays regarded as some of the most important literature to come out of the French Renaissance.
"The Feminine Mystique" by Betty Friedan
At a time when it was widely accepted women would become complacent housewives, Betty Friedan challenged modern advertising, culture, and misogyny in her book "The Feminine Mystique," focusing on the inner turmoil of American women.
The book helped spark second-wave feminism by encouraging women to look beyond marriage and motherhood for their fulfillment, and challenging traditional patriarchal expectations.
"First Folio" by William Shakespeare
In 1623, a collection of William Shakespeare’s plays were published by his friends John Hminges and Henry Condell, known as the First Folio. This included "Romeo and Juliet," "King Lear," "Hamlet," "As You Like It," and more.
Shakespeare’s contribution to literature and theater has remained unparalleled, and his influence on genre, plot, and language continues to be felt by future generations of artists.
"Hiroshima" by John Hersey
Written by Pulitzer Prize-winner John Hersey, "Hiroshima" tells the stories of six survivors from the Atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan on August 6, 1945. Their memories speak of extraordinary loss, terror, and courage.
40 years later, Hersey returned to Hiroshima to find the survivors he interviewed and learn their fates. The book will continue to influence future generations considering the use of atomic bombs in world wars and the real-world effects of a nuclear holocaust.
"How the Other Half Lives" by Jacob Riis
The late 19th century was not a kind place to New York's industrial workers. They lived in squalid tenement buildings, and journalist Jacob A. Riis made it his mission to show the upper- and middle-class the dangerous conditions the poor faced every day with graphic descriptions, sketches, statistics, and his photographs.
Not only did "How the Other Half Lives" inspire tangible change to the Lower East Side's schools, sweatshops and buildings, but it was also the basis for future "muckraking" journalism.
I Ching: The Book of Changes
Origins date back to the 3rd or 2nd millennium BCE
Also known as the "Classic of Changes" or the "Book of Changes," I Ching is thought to be an oracle and one of the oldest Chinese classic texts.
The importance of I Ching is phenomenal — not only do Confucianism and Taoism have common roots here, but people around the world still use it for divination and fortune telling purposes to this day.
"Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl" by Harriet A. Jacobs
This slave narrative was an in-depth chronological account of Jacobs's own life as a slave, documenting in particular the horrific sexual abuse that female slaves faced: Rape, the pressure to have sex at an early age, selling their children, and the relationship between women slaves and their mistresses.
Though "Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl" went relatively unnoticed at the time of its publication due to the outbreak of the Civil War, it reemerged in the 1970s and '80s as an important historical account on the sexualization and rape of female slaves.
The Feminine Mystique, by Betty Friedan
Amy: Welcome to Breaking Down Patriarchy! I’m Amy McPhie Allebest. Today we will be talking about one of the most groundbreaking books of the 20th Century. Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique, written in 1963, sent shockwaves through the world that still reverberate today. Some readers may view it as a relic that represents the world as it used to be - the book itself was instrumental in changing society, so a lot has changed since then - but for me, I recognized the “feminine mystique” in many ways as the very world I grew up in, and that still continues today in many conservative religious environments. Particularly Mormon listeners might find it interesting to know that the leadership of the LDS church was standardizing its doctrine and practices in an initiative called “correlation” during the 1950’s and 60’s, so the ideal 1950’s patriarchal American family, with the father as the sole provider and the mother at home, made a huge, indelible stamp on Mormon doctrine and Mormon culture. And I understand from friends of other faiths that something similar happened in other conservative denominations as well. So this book was an absolute revelation for me, and I can’t wait to discuss it with my reading partner today, Marta Wilde. Hi, Marta!
Marta: Hi, Amy!
Amy: Marta and I met in Los Altos, California - our oldest children were in high school choir together, and our youngest children were in the same elementary school classrooms at our local elementary school. The first time we talked was when we were both chaperoning our kids’ 5th grade field trip to a local Spanish mission. That’s relevant for today, because the thing Friedan’s book really rails against is being a stay-home mom: one of her chapters is called “The Comfortable Concentration Camp.” So in full disclosure, Marta and I are both currently full-time moms. But anyway, Marta, that day that we chaperoned together, I was so struck by your warmth and humor, and also by your personal story, and I’m wondering if you could share a little about yourself and what perspective you bring to the discussion today.
Marta: Sure Amy. My full name is Marta Luna Wilde. I’m the youngest of nine children, and I was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area. I think pertinent to this book is the fact that I have 7 brothers and 1 sister. My family immigrated from Central Mexico in 1962, with my father having worked in the Bracero Program after World War II (he started working in that program in 1948 or 49). In the 60s to early 1980s, my dad worked as a cook at Stanford University which allowed me to play in and around campus throughout my childhood. That was definitely an amazing backyard in which to grow-up. I got a BA from Stanford 1987 and M.Ed from UCLA in 1990. My professional career includes teaching in Los Angeles, Redwood City, and Palo Alto I served as a program trainer with the Accelerated Schools Project (for disadvantaged schools) while it was still at Stanford’s School of Education and I worked as a social science researcher developing curricula at the Prevention Research Center at Stanford’s School of Medicine. Currently, I’m a stay-at-home mom, but am interested in finding ways to use my background in education to promote environmental education in schools, specifically with bilingual Spanish/English language learners. On a personal level, I’m married to my physicist/engineer husband and we have three daughters aged 13,13, and 21. The twins attend school in Los Altos and my older daughter goes to college in NYC. Despite the pandemic, our family is thriving in this crazy world turned upside down. Covid-safe visits with my 93 year old mother in nearby Sunnyvale help keep me grounded and provide an optimistic perspective on day to day living.
Amy: Thanks so much, Marta. And then I also like to ask my reading partners what their thoughts are on Breaking Down Patriarchy. Why were you interested in this project?
Marta: Well, I think we have certainly made progress in breaking down patriarchy, but we still have a long way to go. I don’t know of many (actually I don’t know ANY) women who have lived their lives without experiencing and noticing lopsided societal structures that favor men over women. In my personal life growing up with 7 brothers and 1 sister, it was immediately clear that my brothers enjoyed privileges that I did not. I remember very strongly voicing to my playmates that I really wished I were a boy because then I could do more things. I was often told I couldn’t go out and do certain activities because I was a girl. There was even pay inequity working at my parents’ grocery store, where I was paid less for the same job that my brothers did. And in my parents’ home, the division of labor was way unfair with all the indoor household chores falling to my mom, my sister, and me. While the outdoor chores were done and shared by 7 brothers. That was so crazy because cooking, feeding, cleaning house, and doing laundry for seven “athlete” brothers is quite a lot of work. And later, when I was teaching, I noticed that the pay for elementary school teachers predominately taught by women was significantly less than for high school teachers which had a lot more male teachers. Finding a male teacher in elementary school is STILL uncommon. I know there have been great strides advancing opportunities for women, because I see it in my daughters and their perspective on life and how they fit into society. They can not fathom being treated unfairly, and they don’t see any career that is NOT available to them. Seeing our first female vice-president seems natural to them. But, I’d like to get to a place where we don’t have to notice the novelty of firsts. It would be wonderful to have a world where men and women play important societal roles (domestic and professional) in equal numbers. I know we are not there, but I’d like to believe that work like yours builds understanding and can chip away at constructs that hold us back. Wouldn’t it be nice to actually get to that genuinely egalitarian society?
Amy: Wouldn’t it, indeed?? :) Awesome, well thank you so much for that, Marta. And again, I’m so very very glad you’re here.
One last step before we start discussing Betty Friedan’s book is to learn a little a bit about who she was, and what led her to write this book. So let’s take turns telling a bit of Friedan’s story. I’ll start us off, and then Marta, you can take the second half if that’s ok.
Bettye Naomi Goldstein was born on February 4, 1921 in Peoria, Illinois, the oldest of three children of Harry Goldstein, a Russian immigrant and jeweler, and Miriam Horowitz Goldstein, a Hungarian immigrant who worked as a journalist until Bettye was born. The Goldstein family was Jewish, and Friedan later said that her "passion against injustice. originated from my feelings of the injustice of anti-Semitism".
She graduated summa cum laude from Smith College - which was and still is an all-women’s college - in 1942 with a degree in psychology, and then spent a year on a graduate fellowship to train as a psychologist at the University of California Berkeley. As World War II raged, Friedan became involved in a number of political causes. She left the graduate program after a year to move to New York, where she spent three years as a reporter for the Federated Press. Next, she became a writer for the UE News, the media organ for the United Electric, Radio, and Machine Workers of America. She became involved with various labor and union issues, and she also began an interest in women’s rights authoring union pamphlets arguing for workplace rights for women.
In 1947, Friedan married Carl Friedan, who worked in producing theater and advertising. They had three children—in 1948, 1952, and 1956, and in 1956, the couple moved from Queens, New York, to suburban Rockland County, where Betty became a housewife, supplementing her family’s income with freelance writing for women’s magazines.
For her 15th college reunion in 1957 Friedan conducted a survey of college graduates, focusing on their education, subsequent experiences and satisfaction with their current lives. She started publishing articles about what she called "the problem that has no name", and got passionate responses from many housewives grateful that they were not alone in experiencing this problem.
She spent five years conducting these interviews, charting white, middle-class women’s metamorphosis from the independent, career-minded New Woman of the 1920s and 1930s to the housewives of the postwar era who were expected to find total fulfillment as wives and mothers. Women everywhere voiced a “malaise” from what Friedan dubbed, “the problem that has no name.”
Freidan titled her book The Feminine Mystique, and published it in 1963. For a bit of historical context, this is from the forward to The Feminine Mystique,
“In 1963, most women weren’t able to get credit without a male cosigner. In some states they couldn't’ sit on juries in others, their husbands had control not only of their property but also of their earnings. Although Freidan obsesses about women getting jobs, she does not mention that newspapers were allowed to divide their Help Wanted ads into categories for men and women, or that it was perfectly legal for an employer to announce that certain jobs were for men only. Even the federal government did it.” (xii)
The book hit a nerve, becoming an instant best-seller that continues to be regarded as one of the most influential nonfiction books of the 20th century. It helped transform public awareness and brought many women into the vanguard of the women’s movement, just as it propelled Friedan into its early leadership. In 1966, Friedan joined forces with Pauli Murray and Aileen Hernandez to found the National Organization for Women, with Friedan as its first president. She and Pauli Murray also authored NOW’s mission statement: “…to bring women into full participation in the mainstream of American society now, exercising all the privileges and responsibilities thereof in truly equal partnership with men.” (The idea for NOW was apparently brainstormed by a group of women in a hotel restaurant, with Friedan writing their ideas on a paper napkin.) The organization’s first action: to demand that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission enforce the provisions of Title VII guaranteeing equality in employment. [Remember the name Pauli Murray and Title VII, because we will be reading Pauli Murray’s incredible essay about Title VII in a couple of weeks.]
Friedan was a co-founder of the National Women’s Political Caucus with Congresswoman Bella Abzug, Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, and feminist Gloria Steinem. Through these organizations, Friedan was influential in changing outdated laws such as unfair hiring practices, gender pay inequality, and pregnancy discrimination.
However, Friedan was criticized by other feminists for focusing on issues facing primarily white, middle-class, educated, heterosexual women. Radical feminists also blasted Friedan for referring to lesbian women in the movement as the “lavender menace,” citing the fear that if the women’s movement aligned itself with gay rights, it would reinforce the stereotype of feminists all being lesbians and they wouldn’t be taken seriously. Friedan believed the only hope for change was by retaining the movement’s mainstream ties and social acceptability. This alienated her from younger, radical, and visionary feminists.
Friedan nonetheless remained a visible, ardent, and important advocate for women’s rights who some dubbed the “mother” of the modern women’s movement. Since the 1970s, she published several books, taught at New York University and the University of Southern California, and lectured widely at women’s conferences around the world. Friedan died in 2006 of congestive heart failure.
Amy: Ok, let’s dive in! And since we just talked about Friedan’s blind spots and mistakes in her lack of inclusivity, let’s start there. I want to hear what you think of this quote, Marta, which is from an article in The Atlantic called “Four Big Problems With The Feminine Mystique,” by Ashley Fetters, written on the 50th anniversary of the book’s publication in 2013. (I highly recommend reading that article - you can find a link to it in the show notes.)
Fetters quotes bell hooks saying this:
“Friedan’s famous phrase ‘the problem that has no name,’ often quoted to describe the condition of women in this society, actually referred to the plight of a select group of college-educated, middle-and upper-class, married white women - housewives bored with leisure, with the home, with children, with buying products, who wanted more out of life. . She did not discuss who would be called in to take care of the children and maintain the home if more women like herself were freed from their house labor and given equal access with white men to the professions. She did not speak of the needs of women without men, without children, without homes. She ignored the existence of all non-white women, and poor white women. She did not tell readers whether it was more fulfilling to be a maid, a babysitter, a factory worker, a clerk, or a prostitute than to be a leisure-class housewife.”
What’s your take on that, Marta?
Well, this observation that bell hooks makes stuck out glaringly to me. The problem that has no name was NOT what I observed in my mom (who coincidentally married in 1947 (like Frieden) and is the age of the women Frieden writes about). My mother’s experience is exactly what bell hooks is referring to in her critique since my mom was not college-educated, middle or upper-class, or white. She was definitely NOT bored with leisure and running a household. Because we were quite poor when my family immigrated to the US, my mom worked the night shift at Libby’s cannery in Sunnyvale to help make ends meet. So, she was managing the entire family/household operation AND she worked the night shift, sleeping briefly while we kids were at school. She always had a strong sense of purpose and did not question her role as a wife, mother, and human on earth. The only thing I would add about my mom, is that despite feeling very self-assured and capable, it was STILL very much recognized that our father was king of the household. She would complain about that, getting angry about how he thought only his way was the right way, but I don’t think it diminished her self-perception or worth. So, overall I agree that bell hooks does have a valid critique in this regard. The feminine mystique only describes the experience of a select group of “privileged” of women. It seems to describe women in a gilded cage. They are surrounded by luxury and steeped in first world problems.
But, here is one thing I want to be sure to point out. The feminine mystique describes a problem that only affected a select subset of women, but it was important during that time (as it is less prevalent now) that these women’s experiences were validated and explored.
One thing that has bothered me when discussing women’s issues is that we often pit one group against another. It’s important to have critiques like hooks’ so that we broaden the scope of research and understanding. At the same time, the feminine mystique did tap into a real problem where many women were short-changing the possibilities in their life experiences.
It’s so powerful to hear your mom’s experience, Marta. I agree with you that it’s a really important, glaring oversight, and every time Friedan mentioned “servants” or “household help” when I was reading I just cringed.
And I also agree with you that too often women get pitted against each other, and we can be so hard on ourselves and on each other. One thing I want to make clear before we start the conversation is that any woman who is listening to this should be very gentle with their own past choices, and very gentle with other women’s choices. We are all doing the best we can with the information we have at each moment of our lives, and especially regarding motherhood, we can be so hard on ourselves and think “Oh no, I did it wrong and I ruined my children!” Life is a process of learning, and also, there is no such thing as perfect. Every choice comes with pros and cons, so let’s see what we can learn from this book but also take everything with a grain of salt and with compassion for ourselves and each other.
I agree with that Amy. We are all just figuring it out. We are a product of a time and place and the things we are exposed to. Everyone has a different experience, but with conversations like this we may learn to see how others’ values and perspectives are formed, AND we might be able to broaden those notions by sharing our own insights and experiences. So thanks for inviting me to talk about this book.
Amy: Thank you!! Ok, so The Feminine Mystique has 14 chapters, and trying to narrow it down was reeeeeeally hard. Honestly, if listeners are only going to read a few of the books from cover to cover, I would choose this one to be on the short list - every single chapter was sooo important - even if I didn’t agree with everything she said - and also so readable. Anyway, we chose just four chapters. Marta will talk about Chapter 1, “The Problem That Has No Name,” then I will talk about Chapter 4, “The Passionate Journey,” then Marta will take Chapter 9, “The Sexual Sell,” and I’ll take Chapter 13, “The Forfeited Self.” So take it away, Marta!
Marta: The Problem That Has No Name
I think it will be helpful to provide a little context about the time when Frieden is writing. Here is a quote from the book that describes how women saw themselves and how society viewed them as well:
Concerned over the Soviet Union’s lead in the space race, scientists noted that America’s greatest source of unused brain power was women. But girls would not study physics: it was “unfeminine.” A girl refused a science fellowship at Johns Hopkins to take a job in a real-estate office. All she wanted, she said, was what every other American girl wanted- to get married, have four children and live in a nice house in a nice suburb. (4)
The suburban housewife - she was the dream image of the young American woman and the envy, it was said, of women all over the world. The American housewife - freed by science and labor -saving appliances from the drudgery, the dangers of child-birth and the illnesses of her grandmother. She was healthy, beautiful, educated, concerned only about her husband, her children, her home. She had found true feminine fulfillment. As a housewife and mother, she was respected as a full and equal partner to man in his world. She was free to choose automobiles, clothes, appliances, supermarkets she had everything that women ever dreamed of.
So, even though America was well-aware of the potential use of women’s brain power to advance the goals of the country, young women were still choosing to opt out of the professional career world and opt into the role of housewife. Being a housewife was idealized. As described here, at that time, it was the dream of most young women to marry and become the perfect housewife.
Here is a little bit more from the book:
In the fifteen years after World War II, this mystique of feminine fulfillment became the cherished and self-perpetuating core of contemporary American culture. Millions of women lived their lives in the image of those pretty pictures of the American suburban housewife, kissing their husbands goodbye in front of the picture window, depositing their station wagons full of children at school, and smiling as they ran the new electric waxer over the spotless kitchen floor. They baked their own bread, sewed their own and their children’s clothes, kept their new washing machines and dryers running all day. They changed the sheets on the beds twice a week instead of once, took the rug-hooking class in adult education, and pitied their poor frustrated mothers, who had dreamed of having a career. Their only dream was to be perfect wives and mothers their highest ambition to have five children and a beautiful house, their only fight to get and keep their husbands. They had no thought for the unfeminine problems of the world outside the home they wanted the men to make the major decisions. They gloried in their role as women, and wrote proudly on the census blank: “Occupation: housewife.” (5)
This imagery is something we all recognize. It was depicted in great detail in movies, TV shows, and magazines. I think of the women/mothers in shows like Lassie, Donna Reed, and Leave it to Beaver. Women who had it all and were so happy playing the role of housewife.
Yes, and actually my own sweet mother really embodied all that was good about that. My mom literally made homemade bread for us, and homemade yogurt and dried fruit, and she sewed all my clothes and made matching dresses for my sister and my dolls, and she had homemade cookies waiting for us when we walked in the door after school. And especially when I was little, she played with me, and she gave me piano lessons and taught me to read when I was four. I had a really, really happy early childhood, and in many ways I think she was truly happy doing that. And if she ever listens to this episode, I want to tell her what a wonderful mother she was and how grateful I am that she created such a beautiful home for us. Whether or not she also struggled with some of the things we’re going to talk about today, I don’t know - but I want her to know that she’s a wonderful mother.
Amy, that is truly very sweet. So, your experience shows that it is wonderful to be on the receiving end of a “housewife’s” dedication to home and family. I too was on the receiving end of my mom’s love and hardwork and my siblings and I are very lucky for that.
I think Friedan’s book helped home in on the housewife’s experience on the giving end of this equation. So, even though there is great pleasure that can be derived from giving of oneself to provide for the needs of family and home, she picked up on something that wasn’t quite right.
Friedan introduced the concept of The Problem That Has No Name. She fleshes out “the problem” for women once they got on the housewife track.
As a magazine writer who interviewed women for her articles, Frieden found that the picture was not always rosy. She tapped into “the problem.” The unspoken mystery problem that many of these women were experiencing. An overheard conversation in a NYC coffee shop was one of the things that started Frieden on her quest to identify more fully, The Problem That Has No Name.
Frieden writes: If a woman had a problem in the 1950’s and 1960’s, she knew that something must be wrong with her marriage, or with herself. Other women were satisfied with their lives, she thought. What kind of a woman was she if she did not feel this mysterious fulfillment waxing the kitchen floor? She was so ashamed to admit her dissatisfaction that she never knew how many other women shared it. (6)
. on an April morning in 1959, I heard a mother of four, having coffee with four other mothers in a suburban development fifteen miles from New York, say in a tone of quiet desperation, “the problem.” And the others knew, without words, that she was not talking about a problem with her husband, or her children, or her home. Suddenly they realized they all shared the same problem, the problem that has no name. They began, hesitantly, to talk about it. Later, after they had picked up their children at nursery school and taken them home to nap, two of the women cried, in sheer relief just to know they were not alone. (7)
[Women would say] “I feel empty somehow… incomplete.” Or she would say “I feel as if I don’t exist.” “A tired feeling… I get so angry with the children it scares me… i feel like crying without any reason.” (8)
And one more example Frieden gives, “A mother of four who left college at nineteen to get married told me:
I’ve tried everything women are supposed to do - hobbies, gardening, pickling, canning, being very social with my neighbors, joining committees, running PTA teas. I can do it all, and I like it, but it doesn’t leave you anything to think about - any feeling of who you are. I never had any career ambitions. All I wanted was to get married and have four children. I love the kids and Bob and my home. There’s no problem you can even put a name to. But I’m desperate. I begin to feel I have no personality. I’m a server of food and a putter-on of pants and a bedmaker, somebody who can be called on when you want something. But who am I? (9)
I find that this last passage very vividly shows the desperation this woman was feeling with her “housewife” identity. So, when Friedan shared these stories of unhappy housewives, bewildered with these feelings that went against everything they’d been told, she struck a chord. She found so many women unhappy with “having it all.” Having the perfect house and perfect husband and perfect children was somehow still unfulfilling. As Freidan discovered, these young wives, mothers, women were really struggling. They felt very desperate. And, probably the most important piece is that these feelings were widespread, shared by many, many women.
If I were a housewife reading this book at that time, I’d probably be relieved to have it all written down, validating the emptiness and the dissatisfaction with life that seemed so contrary to the story I’d been sold.
And, even now, present day, I can relate to SOME of what these women were feeling. There have been times in my life when I questioned what the heck I was doing, abandoning my career to stay home. Cleaning and washing dishes seems like a real waste of my degree. Fortunately, those feelings have never lasted too long, because I understand that these are things we ALL need to do just to live. I’m not doing these “chores” simply because I’m a woman and they don’t “complete me” or make me who I am. Being a housewife is NOT my identity as it was for these women of that era. I am self-assured that I DO have value outside of these menial chores. But, if I did NOT see having a career as a viable option, I too might feel empty, stuck, and desperate like these women. And, helping matters more, I know my husband sees things the way I do as well.
I do recall something I was lucky enough to be told by my husband’s Great Aunt Vera who certainly had read Frieden’s book when it was first published. Aunt Vera was a woman who had benefited from the Women’s movement at the turn of the century, claiming our right to vote. I think Vera was born around 1910 and graduated medical school in the mid 30s. She was about to retire from the Palo Alto VA hospital when I met her. Her advice to me and my husband is something taken directly from Friedan’s book, specifically chapter 10. She told us, “House work will expand to fill the time available. You can fill your whole life with chores, so don’t let that happen. There are so many more meaningful things to do with your time.”
So that was great to hear early on in my adult life. The image of the perfect housewife, doing all her wifely duties, was just one dimension of what life could include. It was a clear warning from Aunt Vera to NOT fall into that trap in which these women found themselves. If homemaking floats your boat have at it, but don’t feel it’s the only option.
That is fabulous - what a gift to have such a wise example and mentor!! I talked a little about my experience in the previous episodes on Beauvoir’s The Second Sex, but I definitely really struggled when my kids were little. I had my first baby at age 24 and because my culture really celebrated the feminine mystique (not the book - the ideology) and really inculcated those very conservative values into me, I suffered with the exact depression that Betty Friedan describes when my kids were little. Those passages might as well have been written in the past few years, as far as I was concerned.
Here are a couple more examples of the women Friedan was interviewing/encountering:
[A suburban housewife in Portland, OR]:
“I think people are so bored, they organize the children, and then try to hook everyone else on it. And the poor kids have no time left just to lie on their beds and daydream.” (19)
I wash the dishes, rush the older children off to school, dash out in the yard to cultivate the chrysanthemums, run back in to make a phone call about a committee meeting, help the youngest child build a block-house, spend fifteen minutes skimming the newspapers so I can be well-informed, then scamper down to the washing machines… By noon I'm ready for a padded cell. Very little of what I’ve done has been really necessary or important. Outside pressures lash me through the day. . Many of my friends are even more frantic. In the past sixty years we have come full circle and the American housewife is once again trapped in a squirrel cage. . the situation is no less painful than when her grandmother sat over an embroidery hoop in her gilt-and-plush parlor and muttered angrily about women’s rights. (17)
This is exactly how I felt in the Los Altos school district!! People rushing around stressed out of their minds, making up more and more activities and requirements for the stressed-out, overscheduled kids, and then emailing frantic requests for parental help with all the activities they have created.
I agree. I’ve always felt a little bit on the outside, maybe because I’m an older mom, but I could see the craziness and opted out. You know some of my closest friends have all been PTA presidents and room parents, committee heads, etc. I often felt like the spoiler, the lone voice or the subversive voice saying, “I think we are making too much fuss. We need to pull back out of doing too much for the teachers and too much for the kids.” During one of the few times I was volunteering for a watercolor painting lesson in my daughter’s class, I remember thinking and saying to the other mom volunteering, “let THEM dump and refill their OWN water.” I was dumbfounded by all we were expected to do FOR the kids. We were doing truly unnecessary things for our kids, things they could do for themselves (which I feel is a disservice to them). Yet, there we were. I often feel that Martha Stewart's book, Entertaining, written in the 70s and presently, Pinterest, give today’s women some crazy standard about what they should be capable of doing when they volunteer.
So, tying this back to the women Frieden is talking about, she posits that women were going way out of their way to create “housewife” work for themselves to gain value or to stop from feeling bored.
I’m not sure that is the driving force for parents today. It seems today that much of what motivates these “super moms” is the desire to have high achieving kids and get into that top tier college OR maybe parents are just answering the call to be an “involved parent.” But, that is a whole other topic I feel strongly about. What being involved means.
Totally!! I wish I had known that about you!! I always felt like I was the spoilsport among my friends! I had the exact same experience - I once got a frantic email “PLEASE, we need a volunteer today so the kids can have their Art class,” and I showed up and there were TWELVE adults in the room, to, like you said, dump out the water cups, for SIXTH GRADERS. I was so mad and also so perplexed, because those were not bored “housewives,” but perhaps that’s one element that we have carried from the Feminine Mystique even into our modern era - the concept that adults’ lives should still revolve completely around children. Friedan says it’s not healthy for the children or the adults, and in many ways I tend to agree with her.
That’s funny what you just described in getting that unnecessary desperate plea for help from school is what stopped my husband from ever volunteering again. I think it was a walkathon that had him clock out.
And that brings us to another chapter I’d like to discuss.
Amy: The Passionate Journey
There is a philosophical concept called “Hegel’s dialectics,” which refers to a method of argument used by the 19th Century German philosopher, G.W.F. Hegel which relies on a contradictory process between opposing sides. (https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/hegel-dialectics/)
He describes how in society we have a particular belief or idea or assumption, which he calls the “thesis.” Then, in responses to this thesis, someone else comes up with an opposite idea or counterpoint argument, which he calls the “antithesis.” The result of these opposing view points is a new understanding of the issue, called the “synthesis.” And then in turn, that synthesis becomes the new accepted idea so it turns into a new “thesis,” and eventually someone will propose an “antithesis,” and so on and so on. This can feel like big pendulum swings as one accepted ideology is countered by an exact opposite ideology.
So if the “thesis” in the 29th Century was “the angel in the house” and “separate spheres,” then it’s easy to see the suffrage movement as the “antithesis.” Think of flappers in the 1920’s showing their calves and shoulders, chopping off their hair, dancing wildly, casting off the restrictions of their mothers and grandmothers.
Then Friedan points out that women went to work during the second world war and became even more independent, even more comfortable in their dual roles of wife/mother and worker. But then there was a huge pushback afterward.
I’m a believer in this theory. People seem afraid of change. It always seems there is a swinging pendulum. For every advancement in a movement, there follows a backlash swing back from people afraid or uncomfortable with that change. Wanting to “go back” to how things used to be. Keep things that are familiar to them.
This reminds me of when Hilary Clinton in the early 90s got so much backlash when she said, “I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but what I decided to do was to fulfill my profession, which I entered before my husband was in public life.” She paid a dear price in negative press and political repercussions for Bill Clinton. Was seen as the smug woman ABOVE other women who DID decide to stay home and fulfill the role of housewife.
Oh wow, I have never heard that!! This seems like the height of the “Mommy Wars.” I get Clinton’s point, but that condescending attitude is not great.
Ok, so I want to highlight a couple of quotes from this chapter on the pendulum swings of history. First is this one:
It has been popular in recent years to laugh at feminism as one of history’s dirty jokes: to pity, sniggering, those old-fashioned feminists who fought for women’s rights to higher education, careers, the vote. (81)
This was really surprising to me to learn how people in the 1960’s viewed “the feminists!” When we think of “feminists” now, we think of the women who came after The Feminist Mystique - but in the 1960’s, before what we think of as the women’s movement, people already talked with disdain about “the feminists.” In particular, apparently, they still remembered women’s rights activist Lucy Stone, whom I love because she has the names of two of my kids, :) (haha), and also because there’s a statue of Lucy Stone, along with Phyllis Wheatley and Abigail Adams, at the women’s memorial in Boston, and I always pay homage to it when I’m in Boston. But here is how people in the 1960’s remembered Lucy Stone:
The name of Lucy Stone today brings to mind a man-eating fury. (91) [And she says that a derogatory term for “feminist” in the 1950’s was a “Lucy Stoner!!”] She goes on to describe what a heroine Lucy Stone was, and she describes her wedding to her husband, Henry Blackwell:
At their wedding, the minister Thomas Higginson reported that “the heroic Lucy cried like any village bride. The minister also said: “i never perform the marriage ceremony without a renewed sense of the iniquity of a system by which man and wife are one, and that one is the husband.” And he sent to the newspapers, for other couples to copy, the pact which Lucy Stone and Henry Blackwell joined hands to make, before their wedding vows:
‘While we acknowledge our mutual affection by publicly assuming the relationship of husband and wife… we deem it a duty to declare that this act on our part implies no sanction of, nor promise of voluntary obedience to such of the present laws of marriage as refuse to recognize the wife as an independent, rational being, while they confer upon the husband and injurious and unnatural superiority.” (93)
The end of that quote is very powerful. That fact that the minister reacted so strongly, even sharing the couple’s private statement about their vows in the newspaper is incredible.
In my family, the way we described our marriage union was, “shared independence.” That terminology is also thanks to Great Aunt Vera who had such a positive influence on my husband in his young adult life. My husband and I never wanted to lose sight of ourselves as capable individuals.
I wish I had had a Great Aunt Vera!! She sounds amazing!! My own wedding ceremony took place in a Mormon temple, and it was extremely patriarchal - so much so that it was really really upsetting to me. But there was nothing I could do to change the ceremony - it’s set in stone - and it didn’t cross my mind that I should try to find a different solution - I just went along without it. Luckily the Mormon church changed the words of their temple ceremonies two years ago so it’s much, much better now. But my experience with blatant patriarchy in my religion’s holiest ceremonies actually really traumatized me spiritually, and going along with them compromised my integrity in a way I will never allow, from any source, ever again. But anyway…. I’m impressed with you, Marta, for knowing better, and I’m proud of Lucy Stone - and Elizabeth Cady Stanton changed her wedding vows too! But back to Friedan! Another passage I want to share from this chapter is this one, where Freidan is singing the praises of 19th Century and early 20th Century women’s rights activists, who had fallen out of favor in the pendulum swing of the 1950’s.
The ones who fought that battle. cast off the shadow of contempt and self-contempt that had degraded women for centuries. The joy, the sense of excitement and the personal rewards of that battle are described beautifully by Ida Alexa Ross Wylie, and English feminist:
‘To my astonishment, I found that women, in spite of knock-knees and the fact that for centuries a respectable woman’s leg had not even been mentionable, could at a pinch out-run the average London bobby. Their aim with a little practice became good enough to land ripe vegetables in ministerial eyes, their wits sharp enough to keep Scotland Yard running around in circles and looking very silly. Their capacity for impromptu organization, for secrecy and loyalty, their iconoclastic disregard for class adn established order were a revelation to all concerned, but especially themselves…
The day that, with a straight left to the jaw, I sent a fair-sized CID officer into the orchestra pit of the theatre where we were holding one of our belligerent meetings, was the day of my own coming of age… Since I was no genius, the episode could not make me one, but it set me free to be whatever I was to the top of my bent…
For two years of wild and sometimes dangerous adventure, I worked and fought alongside vigorous, happy, well-adjusted women who laughed instead of tittering, who walked freely instead of teetering, who could outfast Gandhi and come out with a grin and a jest. I slept on hard floors between elderly duchesses, stout cooks, and young shop-girls. We were often tired, hurt and frightened. But we were content as we had never been. We shared a joy of life that we had never known. Most of my fellow-fighters were wives and mothers. And strange things happened to their domestic life. Husbands came home at night with a new eagerness As for children, their attitude changed rapidly from one of affectionate toleration for poor, dearling mother to one of wide-eyed wonder. . they discovered that they liked her. She was a great sport. She had guts.’ (106)
I LOVE this passage, and just one thought I had is that it’s so important for women and girls today to realize that things they take for granted - running, throwing, sports of any kind - was considered “unladylike” and “unfeminine” and they would have been considered radicals in their day. I am doing CrossFit now, and sometimes when I’m lifting heavy weights in a group of big strong men, I look around at the other women and think “we wouldn’t have been allowed to do this not that long ago,” and it makes me want to work even harder. It brings me so much joy to find new strength inside myself and to push my body to do things I never dreamed it could do.
I absolutely agree Amy. That passage so clearly and vividly describes the rush these feminest pioneers felt. Their sense of empowerment is palpable. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this section of the book.
And one last thing, which is actually from a whole chapter on Sigmund Freud, but I’m mentioning it here because it’s part of the theme of women’s history. Friedan says that Freudian psychology was a huge influence on people’s thinking in the 1950’s and 60’s… and I must say, when I learned about Freudian psychology in high school and college, I just gulped it down and believed everything without questioning. It wasn’t until a professor in graduate school said, “by the way, Freud did a lot of damage to women” that I was like, “wait, WHAT??” So here’s what Friedan has to say:
The fact is that to Freud, even more than to the magazine editors on Madison Avenue today, women were a strange, inferior, less-than-human species. He saw them as childlike dolls, who existed in terms only of man’s love, to love man and serve his needs. It was the same kind of unconscious solipsism that made man for many centuries see the sun only as a bright object that revolved around the earth. Freud grew up with this attitude built in by his culture - not only the culture of Victorian Europe, but that Jewish culture in which men said the daily prayer: ‘I thank Thee, Lord, that Thou has not created me a woman.’. It was woman’s nature to be ruled by man, and her sickness to envy him.” (87)
Then she shares an excerpt from a letter that Freud wrote to his wife:
“I know, after all, how sweet you are, how you can turn a house into a paradise, how you will share in my interests, how gentle yet painstaking you will be. I will let you rule the house as much as you wish, and you will reward me with your sweet love and by rising above all those weaknesses for which women are so often despised. As far as my activities allow, we shall read together what we want to learn, and I will initiate you into things which could not interest a girl as long as she is unfamiliar with her future companion and his occupation…” (87)
To that I have to say, ugh! Sadly, that viewpoint really diminished women. Surprisingly, it came from a place of love. But not the love of an equal partner, but the love for a living entity entirely focused on the needs of men, a woman as a nice little appendage or like a lovely little porcelain doll. This patronizing position reminds me of that one song in the Sound of Music where Rolf sings to Liesl, “You are 16 going on 17” Rolf instructs Leisl that he is older and wiser and he will take care of her. And by the end of the song, Liesl agrees:
You wait, little girl, on an empty stage
For fate to turn the light on
Your life, little girl, is an empty page
That men would want to write on
You are sixteen going on seventeen
Better beware, be canny and careful
You are sixteen going on seventeen
Fellows will fall in line
Eager young lads and roues and cads
Will offer you food and wine
Totally unprepared are you
Timid and shy and scared are you
Of things beyond your ken
You need someone older and wiser
I am seventeen going on eighteen
I am sixteen going on seventeen
Fellows I meet may tell me I'm sweet
I am sixteen going on seventeen
Bachelor dandies, drinkers of brandies
Timid and shy and scared am I
I need someone older and wiser
You are seventeen going on eighteen
So this next chapter, The Sexual Sell, looks more closely at how our society and culture managed to so thoroughly convince men and women that women should stay home instead of pursuing a life beyond being a housewife.
Marta: The Sexual Sell
So in this chapter Frieden asks, what is behind the perpetuation of the image of the perfect housewife? If women are actually discontented with their “perfect” stay-at-home housewife role, why does it continue? In a nutshell, there is money to be made. Freidan spent a lot of time talking with top tier advertisers who shared all the manipulations they could concoct to sell products.
Manufacturers of household products, appliances, clothing, beauty products, and pretty much anything could reach out to marketers and they would always discover a way to promote whatever they were selling.
One tactic used by advertisers described in the book was selling professionalization. They would sell products that allowed women to become “a professional, an expert in determining which cleaning tools to use for a specific jobs.” (253)
Here is Friedan’s take directly from the book:
This professionalization is a psychological defense of the housewife against being a general “cleaner-upper” and menial servant for her family…(1) it helps the housewife achieve status, and (2) she moves beyond the orbit of her home, into the world of modern science in her search for new and better ways of doing things. (253)
Professionalization elevates the prestige of a truly menial job.
“When she uses one product for washing clothes, a second for dishes, a third for walls, a fourth for floors, a fifth for venetian blinds, etc, rather than an all-purpose cleaner, she feels less like an unskilled laborer, more like an engineer, an expert. (254)
“Time and time again, the surveys shrewdly analyzed the needs, and even the secret frustration of the American housewife and each time if these needs were properly manipulated, she could be induced to buy more “things.” (264)
One of the most important points of this chapter, The Sexual Sell, is this:
“The manipulators and their clients in American business can hardly be accused of creating the feminine mystique. But they are the most powerful of its perpetuators it is their millions which blanket the land with persuasive images, flattering the American housewife, diverting her guilt and disguising her growing sense of emptiness. They have done this so successfully, employing the techniques and concepts of modern social science, and transposing them into those deceptively simple, clever, outrageous ads and commercials, that an observer of the American scene today accepts as fact that the great majority of American women have no ambition other than to be housewives. If they are not solely responsible for sending women home, they are surely responsible for keeping them there. (270)
In my world, I’ve seen how effective the messaging has been. Although I think we have made significant strides the past couple of decades, it wasn’t that long ago that categories defining male and female were deeply seared into the psyche of the women and men.
Here is an example. In the early 90s I was still teaching. In a women’s study course I had heard about this activity someone had done, so I tried it with my middle school students.
I had the kids close their eyes and think about their current day lives. How do they spend their time, what are their favorite activities now that they are their age of 13? Gradually, we work back in time thinking about each age and all the things they remember about it. how they dress, how they play, what they do when they are home, school, out in the world. They travel back in time to when they are a baby, even to a time before they are born. Magically, when we work our way back up in time, they grow up as the opposite gender. What is different? What is life like at age 1, age 2, age 3? What activities do they do? What is life like for them being the opposite gender? Think about age 5, 6, 7 all the way up to their current age. What is different?
Then, they open their eyes and begin to write. They record all the things that are different.
Amazingly, they wrote furiously, because they had lots to say. After 10- 20 minutes of writing they shared. This is the fascinating, but alarming part.
The girls who wrote about life as a boy, without exception, wrote things that ALL began:
If I were a boy I would get to stay out later at night after dark. I would get to make more money. I would get a good job. I would get to ________________ (fill in the blank). Every sentence included the words, "get to."
The boys on the other hand included the words, "have to." If I grew up as a girl, I'd have to wear make up. I'd have to wear high heels. I'd have to help my mom around the house. I'd have to wear dresses. I wouldn't get to play sports. [note: this was in RWC with 100% Spanish-speaking kids in class.] I'd have to have the babies. And on and on.
When I pointed out the language of GET TO and HAVE TO they were all shocked because it was so consistent. It was super eye-opening for all of us.
What I find interesting in how this relates to Frieden’s point of the Sexual Sell, is that they all so clearly got the messaging from our society (advertisers/media/family) about what female roles were, but boys and girls both knew that the “girl” roles were NOT enjoyable, hence the words “have to” used over and over.
WOW. That is so powerful, Marta. What a fascinating experiment, and so recent, and in California! And like you said, different sub-cultures even within a certain state and a certain time have different gendered expectations - wouldn’t it be interesting to do that experiment with different groups of kids from different cultural traditions, different religions, etc., and see what gendered values and expectations the kids were internalizing? That’s so amazing that you did that.
And that concept of “have to” reminds me of the title of one of the chapters, where Betty Friedan describes housewives trapped at home being in a “comfortable concentration camp.” That was shocking and really uncomfortable to read - I found the analogy way too extreme - but the point is that you just demonstrated that boys’ lives are still more free than girls.
Amy: Ok, and for our last topic, I’m going to talk about the chapter “The Forfeited Self.”
Amy: The Forfeited Self
“If women’s needs for identity, for self-esteem, for achievement, and finally for expression of her unique human individuality are not recognized by herself or others in our culture, she is forced to seek identity and self-esteem in the only channels open to her: the pursuit of sexual fulfillment (I would say the pursuit of beauty instead), motherhood, and the possession of material things. And, chained to these pursuits, she is stunted at a lower level of living, blocked from the realization of her higher human needs. (380)
Friedan then quotes famous psychologist A.H. Maslow, who famously formulated “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs,” which is a pyramid that starts at the most basic level with the need for air, food, water, shelter, et cetera, and progresses upward through safety, connection to others, and finally the highest level is “self-actualization,” when a person achieves their potential.
“Capacities clamor to be used, and cease their clamor only when they are well used. That is, capacities are also needs. Not only is it fun to use our capacities, but it is also necessary. The unused capacity or organ can become a disease center or else atrophy, thus diminishing the person.”
Friedan then comments, “But women in America are not encouraged, or expected, to use their full capacities. In the name of femininity, they are encouraged to evade human growth.”
She points out that personal growth is scary, it requires risk, and confidence, and being outside the comfort zone. And right at the point of adulthood where people are doing those scary, difficult things, that’s when men are encouraged to lean in to that discomfort and push through and take risks, facilitating growth toward self-actualization, women get married and have babies, which means they drop out of those environments that would push them to grow intellectually and take risks and develop into fully-realized adults who fulfill their individual potential. This is why she calls the chapter “the forfeited self.” Even Professor Maslow himself commented that it was very hard for American women at that time to achieve “Self-actualization” because they are not encouraged to push themselves and to keep growing.
And it just occurred to me that this is no doubt the philosophical underpinnings of Sheryl Sandberg’s argument for women to “Lean In” to growing their careers, right?
For sure, this rings true for me. How can a woman ever achieve self-actualization in a broader arena when she’s saddled with the 90-100% of the responsibility of raising children and running a household. How much time or energy is left to thoroughly develop a career or other talents that would make her whole. Without getting into the politics of Facebook, I do appreciate the perspective that Sheryl Sandberg brings in her book, Lean In. I saw an interview with her once soon after her husband unexpectedly passed away. Aside from the idea that women should come with the EXPECTATION that they belong at the table, the table of decision making and power, she pointed out that we, as women, need to be extremely picky and careful about who we choose as a spouse or life partner. Will that person be one that will support a woman’s desire and NEED to work outside of the home or her need to pursue challenges that require time, energy, and resources even when, and if, they choose to start a family?
That, right there, is where the good intentions of having a 50/50 partnership seem to fall apart. When kids come along and running a household suddenly becomes way more involved, often times the default patriarchal set-up we have in our culture still takes over.
It seems a little crazy. This book was written almost 60 years ago. And, in so many ways there have been so many advances in the rights and options for women. Yet, inevitably, the constructs of patriarchy are still deeply ingrained in our culture. If there is a need at home, it is so often assumed that the woman will step in to cover that need, not the male half of the partnership.
A perfect example of this default male system happened to me just this week. I was trying to straighten out the details amending a rental contract for my daughter's apartment in NYC. I was struck by the fact that I had to deal with a male employee that was very disorganized and “relaxed” about getting the contract updated. Previously, I had interacted with a top-notch female employee who was no longer working there. I found out she had to leave her job because of child-care. So, in a nutshell, the sub-par employee is still working in the office because he is male and can continue to develop his skills, while the amazing diligent female employee has to step out of the professional arena because of the lack of childcare. In this little snippet of time we see this woman unfortunately falling victim to elements of the The Forfeited Self.
On the flip-side of that, I do have hope that generationally, younger couples and families are moving in the right direction. I see more couples genuinely sharing duties traditionally held by housewives and yet they both have thriving careers. My adult nieces and nephews in their 30s and 40 truly have a 50/50 split sharing these responsibilities. It’s so nice to see.
Amy: And that brings us to the end of our discussion today. Marta, what are a couple of highlights that you want to share?
Marta: My takeaways: I recognize that this book brought to light or gave voice to a very real emptiness that many women felt doing the job of “housewife” and discovered that for many women it was limiting them from reaching their potential in other arenas. It made me think of all the factors in society that fostered and promoted this life choice. I also feel that the book was a stepping stone, and one of the catalysts for igniting a second wave in the women’s movement. It helped women reflect on their circumstance and ask themselves if there was more and if they were truly happy in their role as housewife.
I guess it helped many women say out loud that they wanted more out of life. Women could be multidimensional.
And thank goodness for the women’s movement because I think we are in a much better place 50 plus years later. I see evidence of how far we’ve come in my three daughters. They feel free to pursue any and all interests and don’t feel limited to one life path. One loves boxing and juggling, another gymnastics and cheer, and another is studying filmmaking. All options are on the table.
At the same time, they see me and my life choice for the last two decades where I have been primarily a stay at home mom. That is something I explicitly decided before they were born. My mantra was, why have kids if someone else is going to raise them. I wanted to be the shaper and molder and nurturer for them. I also feel I’ve been lucky to have some balance. I don’t feel trapped and bored like the women Frieden describes, but THAT freedom to choose is probably a result of Frieden’s work. Thanks to the women’s movement I have options and my husband and the world around me knows I have options. They recognize people, women specifically, are better people when they find something they love to do.
The problem I see now is how to establish the division of labor equitably. The work that was once exclusively in the domain of housewives is work that NEEDS to be done to live. The magic is in getting all those things done in a way that is fair and in a way that does not limit options outside of the home for women.
Heck, living in the Bay Area, surrounded by tech companies, I know quite a few house husbands who take on the lion's share of household duties because that is what makes sense for THEIR families.
Amy: YES! I totally agree. I think my takeaway is similar and kind of dovetails with yours:
I am so grateful for this book and for the changes it made in society, that I benefit from and that my daughters benefit from.
At the same time, while I found most of her arguments really compelling, I felt like her argument was too extreme and swung too far when she kept saying “motherhood isn’t fulfilling,” “the work of the home is boring” “family togetherness is a myth” “children don’t need their mother there, smothering them.” This is similar to what Fyza and I talked about in our episodes on The Second Sex, where Simone de Beauvoir also claimed that motherhood was oppressive and not fulfilling. I absolutely agree that “motherhood” should not be conflated with “housework,” which is just part of being a responsible human being.
And the thing is: no one gets to their death bed and says “I wish I had spent less time with my family.” People universally want to love and be loved, and investing in family relationships is one of the most meaningful things a human being can do, no matter their gender.
And people know that. Most women do feel bonded to their babies, whether they breastfeed or bottle feed, and Friedan’s failure to acknowledge the deep joy that comes from motherhood positions her on that extreme side of the dialectic where she can be understood to be saying “women should leave the home completely and only pursue careers.” Because of this, it was easy for people like Phyllis Schlafly to argue against her. Schlafly famously said “Most women would rather cuddle a baby than a typewriter or factory machine.” And she’s right! If it’s framed that way then Friedan loses the argument.
So what I would say is this: Most men would also rather cuddle their baby than cuddle a typewriter or a factory machine. Human beings thrive when they have healthy relationships with people they love, and that takes time and attention and care. And human beings thrive when they achieve their unique potential and make meaningful contributions to a field that they care about. And that also takes time and attention and care. Like you said, Marta, all adults should have the opportunity to do both - to cultivate joy in strong family relationships, and to cultivate joy in a meaningful, challenging pursuit of their own interest and talent. Friedan does argue that - she keeps saying that choosing between motherhood and personal development is a false choice - but she doesn’t ever talk about the legitimate joy of motherhood and home life, and I think that weakens her argument. I think we have to acknowledge how tricky it is for adults - all adults - to balance relationships with personal growth. And I think that in any partnership, both parties should come to the table as equals, working out what they each can and want to contribute in order to make sure that both partners get to invest into those precious relationships with their kids - and everyone who has been a kid knows how important that is to have attentive, present, loving parents - and to invest into their own development.
Thank you so much for being here, Marta!! I so enjoyed our conversation and am so grateful you agreed to do this with me!
Marta: Thank you, too, Amy. This was a nice exercise for me. I really enjoyed reflecting on this topic and on my own personal choices related to it.
Amy: Next time on Breaking Down Patriarchy, we’ll be discussing the book Keep the Damned Women Out: The Struggle for Coeducation, by Princeton professor Nancy Weiss Malkiel. This book is a deep dive into the process by which the Ivy Leagues in the United States, and prestigious universities in the United Kingdom, allowed women to attend their historically-male universities for the first time. This was something I hadn’t given much thought to before, and wow, was it surprising! It’s a very long, very thorough book, so I recommend grabbing it from the library and perusing the chapters that look most interesting, and my reading partner and I will highlight a few of the parts that we found interesting and actually quite shocking. So read this book if you can, but as always, even if you can’t, join us for a vigorous discussion of Professor Nancy Weiss Malkiel’s book, Keep the Damned Women Out: The Struggle for Coeducation, next time on Breaking Down Patriarchy.
“The Feminine Mystique” by Betty Friedan is published
Though perhaps not the typical housewife—she had been involved in radical politics from a young age and had a degree in psychology from Smith College—Betty Friedan is often credited as the first to give voice to the suffering of millions of seemingly-content American women. Her book, The Feminine Mystique, published on February 19, 1963, shook the ground beneath an American society rooted in a myth of pleasant domesticity and supported by the physical and emotional labor of women.
The book examines the many ways in which women were still oppressed by American society. In addition to scholarly research, Friedan drew on first-hand accounts from housewives to explain how women were taught that homemaking and raising children was their sole purpose in life, how the education system and field of psychology made women who sought fulfillment elsewhere seem “neurotic” and the myriad ways that women’s magazines, advertisers and other elements of society reinforced women’s secondary status.
Even before it was published, The Feminine Mystique was called “overstated” and “too obvious and feminine” by people within the company that published it. After its release, much of the criticism essentially labeled Friedan a hysteric, while many women took offense at her suggestion that they were not fulfilled by their family and domestic duties. Other critics pointed out that Friedan focused almost exclusively on straight, married, white, middle-class women, or charged that she was complicit in the demonization of stay-at-home mothers.
Some of these criticisms have persisted, but only because The Feminine Mystique has remained relevant from the moment of its publication through the present. One the first signs of the emerging Second Wave Feminism, Friedan’s work was crucial in giving language to the frustrations women felt in the s and s. The book is credited with mobilizing a generation of feminists who would tackle a number of issues left unresolved by First Wave Feminism. Friedan influenced the push for the 1963 Equal Pay Act, the budding pro-choice movement, and other activists, both through her writing and through her co-founding of the National Organization for Women, whose charter she drafted in language similar to that of her book. On the 50th anniversary of its publication, The New York Times wrote that “it remains enduring shorthand for the suffocating vision of domestic goddess-hood Friedan is credited with helping demolish.”
Today on The Cycle: The Feminine Mystique
Today marks the 50th anniversary of Betty Friedan’s controversial bestseller, The Feminine Mystique. The bestseller ignited an international uproar with its claim that millions of housewives were unhappy and its call for them to get out of the kitchen and into the workplace. But after 50 years where exactly do we stand.
Few can deny that there has been a revolution in gender roles. In 1962 the President’s Commission on the Status of Women documented the gender inequalities that then pervaded American society and the Equal Pay Act for woman became a law ensuring women got paid for the work that they did. But, there is still considerable debate about if men and women are treated fairly in the workplace.
Joining today’s show is historian Stephanie Coontz author of A Strange Stirring: the Feminine Mystique and American Women at the Dawn of the 1960’s. In her book she draws on research into popular culture of the 40s, 50s, and 60s, and interviews with nearly 200 women who read The Feminine Mystique shortly after it was published.
Books That Shaped America 1950 to 2000
Since his debut in 1951 as the narrator of The Catcher in the Rye, sixteen-year-old Holden Caulfield has been synonymous with adolescent alienation and angst. The influential story concerns three days after Holden has been expelled from prep school. Confused and disillusioned, he wanders New York City searching for truth and rails against the phoniness of the adult world. Holden is the first great American antihero, and his attitudes influenced the Beat Generation of the 1950s as well as the hippies of the 1960s. The Catcher in the Rye is one of the most translated, taught, and reprinted books and has sold some 65 million copies.
J. D. Salinger (1919&ndash2010). The Catcher in the Rye. London: Hamish Hamilton, 1951. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (074.00.00)
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Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (1952)
Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man is told by an unnamed narrator who views himself as someone many in society do not see much less pay attention to. Ellison addresses what it means to be an African American in a world hostile to the rights of a minority, on the cusp of the emerging civil rights movement that was to change society irrevocably.
Ralph Ellison (1914&ndash1994). Invisible Man. New York: Random House, 1952. Herman Finkelstein Collection, Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (075.00.00)
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E. B. White, Charlotte’s Web (1952)
According to Publishers Weekly, Charlotte’s Web is the best-selling paperback for children of all time. One reason may be that, although it was written for children, reading it is just as enjoyable for adults. This story of a clever and compassionate spider and her scheme to save the life of Wilber the pig is especially notable for the way it treats death as a natural and inevitable part of life in a way that is palatable for young people.
E. B. White (1899&ndash1985). Charlotte’s Web. New York: Harper, 1952. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (076.00.00)
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Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451 (1953)
Fahrenheit 451 is Ray Bradbury’s disturbing vision of a future United States in which books are outlawed and burned. Even though interpretations of the novel have primarily focused on the historical role of book burning as a means of censorship, Bradbury has said that the novel is about how television reduces knowledge to factoids and destroys interest in reading. The book inspired a 1966 film by Francois Truffaut and a subsequent BBC symphony. Its name comes from the minimum temperature at which paper catches fire by spontaneous combustion.
Ray Bradbury (1920&ndash2012). Fahrenheit 451. New York: Ballantine Books, 1953. General Collections, Library of Congress (078.00.00)
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Allen Ginsberg, Howl (1956)
Allen Ginsberg’s poem “Howl” (first published as the title poem of a collection) established him as an important poet and the voice of the Beat Generation of the 1950s. Because of the boldness of the poem’s language and subject matter, it became the subject of an obscenity trial in San Francisco in which it was exonerated after witnesses testified to its redeeming social value. Ginsberg’s work had great influence on later generations of poets and on the youth culture of the 1960s (Ginsburg is credited with coining the phrase “flower power.”).
Allen Ginsberg (1926&ndash1997). Howl and Other Poems. San Francisco: City Lights Pocket Bookshop, 1956. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (079.00.00)
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Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged (1957)
Although mainstream critics reacted poorly to Atlas Shrugged it was a popular success. Set in what novelist and philosopher Ayn Rand called “the day after tomorrow,” the book depicts a United States caught up in a crisis caused by a corrupt establishment of government regulators and business interests. The book’s negative view of government and its support of unimpeded capitalism as the highest moral objective have influenced libertarians and those who advocate less government.
Ayn Rand (1905&ndash1982). Atlas Shrugged. New York: Random House, 1957. General Collections, Library of Congress (080.00.00)
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Dr. Seuss, The Cat in the Hat (1957)
Theodor Seuss Geisel was removed as editor of the campus humor magazine while a student at Dartmouth College after too much reveling with fellow students. In spite of this prohibition-era setback to his writing career, he continued to contribute to the magazine pseudonymously, signing his work “Seuss.” This is the first known use of his pseudonym, which became famous in children’s literature when it evolved into “Dr. Seuss.” His introduction to animation and illustration came during World War II, when he worked on military training films and developed a character named Private Snafu. The Cat in the Hat is considered the defining book of his career. More than 200 million Dr. Seuss books have been sold around the world.
Theodor Geisel (Dr. Seuss, 1904&ndash1991). The Cat in the Hat. New York: Random House, 1957. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (081.00.00)
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Jack Kerouac, On the Road (1957)
The defining novel of the 1950s “Beat Generation” (which Kerouac named), On the Road is a semiautobiographical tale of a bohemian cross-country adventure, narrated by character Sal Paradise. Kerouac’s odyssey has influenced artists such as Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, and Hunter S. Thompson and films such as Easy Rider. On the Road has achieved a mythic status in part because it portrays the restless energy and desire for freedom that makes people take off to see the world.
Jack Kerouac (1922&ndash1969). On the Road. New York: Viking Press, 1957. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (082.00.00)
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Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird (1960)
This 1960 Pulitzer Prize winner was an immediate critical and financial success for its author, with more than 30 million copies in print to date. Harper Lee created one of the most enduring and heroic characters in all of American literature in Atticus Finch, the small-town lawyer who defended a wrongly accused black man. The book’s importance was recognized by the 1961 Washington Post reviewer: “A hundred pounds of sermons on tolerance, or an equal measure of invective deploring the lack of it, will weigh far less in the scale of enlightenment than a mere eighteen ounces of new fiction bearing the title To Kill a Mockingbird.”
Harper Lee (b. 1926). To Kill a Mockingbird. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1960. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (083.00.00)
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Joseph Heller, Catch-22 (1961)
Joseph’s Heller’s Catch-22, an irreverent World War II novel and a satiric treatment of military bureaucracy, has had such a penetrating effect that its title has become synonymous with “no-win situation.” Heller’s novel is a black comedy, filled with orders from above that made no sense and a main character, Yossarian, who just wants to stay alive. He pleads insanity, but is caught in the famous catch: “Anyone who wants to get out of combat duty isn't really crazy.” Although the novel won no awards upon its release, it soon became a cult classic, especially among the Vietnam War generation, for its biting indictment of war.
Joseph Heller (1888&ndash1957). Catch-22. London: Jonathan Cape, 1962. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (084.00.00)
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Robert A. Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land (1961)
The first science fiction novel to become a bestseller, Stranger in a Strange Land is the story of Valentine Michael Smith, a human raised on Mars by Martians (his parents were on the first expedition to Mars and he was orphaned when the crew perished) who then returns to Earth about twenty years later. Smith has psychic powers but complete ignorance of human mores. The book has become a cult classic.
Robert A. Heinlein (1907&ndash1988). Stranger in a Strange Land. New York: Putman, 1961. General Collections, Library of Congress (085.00.00)
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Ezra Jack Keats, The Snowy Day (1962)
Ezra Jack Keats’s The Snowy Day was the first full-color picture book with an African American as the main character. The book changed the field of children’s literature forever, and Keats was recognized by winning the 1963 Caldecott Medal (the most prestigious American award for children’s books) for his landmark effort.
Ezra Jack Keats (1916&ndash1983). The Snowy Day. New York: Viking, 1962. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (086.00.00)
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Rachel Carson, Silent Spring (1962)
A marine biologist and writer, Rachel Carson is considered a founder of the contemporary environmental protection movement. She drew attention to the adverse effects of pesticides, especially the use of DDT, in her book Silent Spring, a 1963 National Book Association Nonfiction Finalist. At a time when technological solutions were the norm, she pointed out that man-made poisons introduced into natural systems can harm not only nature, but also humans. Her book met with great success and because of heightened public awareness, DDT and other pesticides were banned.
Rachel Carson (1907&ndash1964). Silent Spring. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1962. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (092.00.00)
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Maurice Sendak, Where the Wild Things Are (1963)
“It is my involvement with this inescapable fact of childhood—the awful vulnerability of children and their struggle to make themselves King of All Wild Things—that gives my work whatever truth and passion it may have,” Maurice Sendak said in his Caldecott Medal acceptance speech on June 30, 1964. Sendak called Max, the hero of Where the Wild Things Are, his “bravest and therefore my dearest creation.” Max, who is sent to his room with nothing to eat, sails to where the wild things are and becomes their king.
Maurice Sendak (1928&ndash2012). Where the Wild Things Are. New York: Harper & Row, 1963. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (087.00.00)
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James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time (1963)
One of the most important books ever published on race relations, James Baldwin’s two-essay work comprises a letter written to his nephew on the role of race in U.S. history and a discussion of how religion and race influence each other. Baldwin’s angry prose is balanced by his overall belief that love and understanding can overcome strife.
James Baldwin (1924&ndash1987). The Fire Next Time. New York: Dial, 1963. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (088.00.00)
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Betty Friedan, The Feminine Mystique (1963)
By debunking the “feminine mystique” that middle-class women were happy and fulfilled as housewives and mothers, Betty Friedan inspired the second-wave feminist movement of the 1960s and 1970s. Friedan advocates that women need meaningful work and encourages them to avoid the trap of the “feminine mystique” by pursuing education and careers. By 2000 this touchstone of the women’s movement had sold three million copies and was translated into several languages.
Betty Friedan (1921&ndash2006). The Feminine Mystique. New York: Laurel, 1984. General Collections, Library of Congress (089.00.00)
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Malcolm X and Alex Haley, The Autobiography of Malcolm X (1965)
When The Autobiography of Malcolm X (born Malcolm Little) was published, the New York Times called it a “brilliant, painful, important book,” and it has become a classic American autobiography. Written in collaboration with Alex Haley (author of Roots), the book expressed for many African Americans what the mainstream civil rights movement did not: their anger and frustration with the intractability of racial injustice. In 1998, Time magazine listed The Autobiography of Malcolm X as one of ten “required reading” nonfiction books.
Malcolm X (1925&ndash1965) and Alex Haley (1921&ndash1992). The Autobiography of Malcolm X. New York: Grove Press, 1965. General Collections, Library of Congress (090.00.00)
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Ralph Nader, Unsafe at Any Speed (1965)
Ralph Nader’s book was a landmark in the field of auto safety and made him a household name as a leader in consumer activism. It detailed how automakers resisted putting safety features, such as seat belts, in their cars and resulted in the federal government’s taking a lead role in the area of auto safety.
Ralph Nader (b. 1934). Unsafe at Any Speed: The Designed-in Dangers of the American Automobile. New York: Grossman, 1965. General Collections, Library of Congress (091.00.00)
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Truman Capote, In Cold Blood (1966)
A 300-word article in the New York Times about a murder led Truman Capote to travel with his childhood friend Harper Lee to Holcomb, Kansas, to research his nonfiction novel, which is considered one of the greatest true crime books ever written. Capote said the novel was an attempt to establish a serious new literary form, the “nonfiction novel,” a narrative form that employed all the techniques of fictional art but was nevertheless entirely factual. The book was an instant success and was made into a film.
Truman Capote (1924&ndash1984). In Cold Blood: A True Account of a Multiple Murder and Its Consequences. New York: Random House, 1966. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (093.00.00)
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James D. Watson, The Double Helix (1968)
James D. Watson’s personal account of the discovery of DNA changed the way Americans regarded the genre of the scientific memoir and set a new standard for first-person accounts. Dealing with personalities, controversies, and conflicts, the book also changed the way the public thought about how science and scientists work, showing that scientific enterprise can at times be a messy and cut-throat business.
James D. Watson (b. 1928). The Double Helix: A Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1968. General Collections, Library of Congress (094.00.00)
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Dee Brown, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (1970)
Until librarian Dee Brown wrote his history of Native Americans in the West, few Americans knew the details of the unjust treatment of Indians. Brown scoured both well-known and little-known sources for his documentary on the massacres, broken promises, and other atrocities suffered by Indians. The book has never gone out of print and has sold more than 4 million copies.
Dee Brown (1908&ndash2002). Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West. New York: Holt, Rinehart, & Winston, 1971. General Collections, Library of Congress (095.00.00)
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Boston Women’s Health Book Collective, Our Bodies, Ourselves (1971)
In the early 1970s a dozen Boston feminists collaborated in this groundbreaking publication that presented accurate information on women’s health and sexuality based on their own experiences. Advocating improved doctor-patient communication and shared decision-making, Our Bodies, Ourselves explored ways for women to take charge of their own health issues and to work for political and cultural change that would ameliorate women’s lives. Readers’ responses played a critical role in the evolution of each of the nine revised editions and more than twenty foreign-language translations that continue to educate and empower a worldwide movement for improved women’s health.
Boston Women’s Health Book Collective. Our Bodies, Ourselves: A Book By and For Women. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1973. General Collections, Library of Congress (096.00.00)
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Carl Sagan, Cosmos (1980)
Carl Sagan’s classic, best-selling science book of all time accompanied his wildly popular television series Cosmos. In an accessible way, Sagan covered a broad range of scientific topics and made the history and excitement of science understandable and enjoyable for Americans and then for an international audience. The book offers a glimpse of Sagan’s personal vision of what it means to be human.
Carl Sagan (1934&ndash1996). Cosmos. New York: Random House, 1980. General Collections, Library of Congress (097.00.00)
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Toni Morrison, Beloved (1987)
Toni Morrison won the 1988 Pulitzer Prize for fiction for her post-Civil War novel based on the true story of an escaped slave and the tragic consequences when a posse comes to reclaim her. The author won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993, and in 2006 The New York Times named Beloved “the best work of American fiction of the past twenty-five years.”
Toni Morrison (b. 1931). Beloved: A Novel. New York: Knopf, 1987. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (098.00.00)
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Randy Shilts, And the Band Played On (1987)
And the Band Played On is the story of how the AIDS epidemic spread and how the government’s initial indifference to the disease led to a new awareness of the urgency of devoting government resources to fighting the virus. Shilts’s investigation has been compared to other works that led to increased efforts toward public safety, such as Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle.
Randy Shilts (1951&ndash1994). And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1987. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (099.00.00)
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César Chávez, The Words of César Chávez (2002)
César Chávez (1927&ndash1993), founder of the United Farm Workers, was as impassioned as he was undeterred in his quest for better working conditions for farm workers. He was a natural communicator whose speeches and writings led to many improvements in wages and working conditions.
Richard Jensen and John C. Hammerback eds. The Words of César Chávez. College Station: Texas A & M University Press, 2002. General Collections, Library of Congress (101.00.00)
Part II – 1963
Eight-year-old Nancy Lotsey joined the New Jersey Small-Fry League – the first girl to participate in organized all-boy baseball games. Her superior pitching and batting skills enabled her team to win the League Title. (1963)
The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan became a best-seller. Debunking the myths that women, particularly housewives, were totally fulfilled by marriage and motherhood, Friedan said it was time for women “to stop giving lip service to the idea that there are no battles left to be fought for women in America.” (1963)
Illegitimate births among American teenagers were up 150% since 1940. (1963)
The Time Has Come: A Catholic Doctor’s Proposals to End the Battle Over Birth Control by Dr. John Rock, a Catholic who did breakthrough research on the contraceptive pill, was published. It was perceived as a head-on challenge to the Roman Catholic Church’s prohibition against artificial birth control. (1963)
A Senate Subcommittee on Employment and Manpower reported that women accounted for 60% of the growth of the labor force in the 1950s. (1963)
Irene Otillia Galloway, director of the Women’s Army Corps (1953-57), died at the age of 55. She was European Command staff director for four years (1948-52) and was named commandant of the WAC Training Center in 1952. (01/06/63)
After 20 years, the Equal Pay Act was passed by the U. S. Congress, amending the Fair Labor Standards Act to provide equal pay for equal work without discrimination on the basis of sex. Bills to achieve this goal were first introduced in Congress in 1943. (05/28/63)
Two remarkable actresses won Academy Awards this year for playing two remarkable women in The Miracle Worker. The best actress Oscar went to Anne Bancroft for her brilliant portrayal of Helen Keller’s teacher and mentor, Annie Sullivan, who taught Keller, a wild six-year old deaf mute, to communicate with the world via sign language and, finally, speech. Child actress Patty Duke won a supporting player Oscar in the role of Helen Keller. (03/63)
Barbara Tuchman won a “best non-fiction” Pulitzer Prize for her 1962 best-seller, The Guns of August, about World War I. In 1937, she covered the Civil War in Spain for Nation magazine. Another Pulitzer Prize, for best book on U.S. history, went to Constance McLaughlin Green for Washington, Village and Capital, 1800-1878. (05/06/63)
Alicia Patterson, publisher, founder and editor of Newsday in New York for 23 years, died at the age of 57. (07/02/63)
Sociologist Alice Rossi presented a paper at the American Academy of Arts and Sciences conference entitled, “Equality Between the Sexes: An Immodest Proposal.” (10/63)
The report of the President’s Commission on the Status of Women, entitled American Women, was published, documenting pervasive sex discrimination and the absence of support systems for women’s changing lives. Among many recommendations, it called for a clarification of the legal status of women under the Constitution by the U. S. Supreme Court. (10/11/63)
Maria Goeppert-Mayer was the first American woman to win a Nobel Prize for physics (for her work on the shell structure of atomic nuclei) and the second woman of any nationality to receive the award. Marie Curie was the first in 1903. (12/10/63)
Federal Judge Sarah Tilghman Hughes (1896-1985), the first (and so far, the last) woman to swear in a U.S. President (Lyndon Johnson), worked her way through law school by working as a Washington, D.C. policewoman. In the 1930s, the avowed feminist served two terms in the Texas House of Representatives and successfully sponsored a bill whereby women were finally allowed to serve as Texas jury members. (1963)
In the proceedings of the University of California Medical Center’s conference on “The Potential of Women,” Edmund W. Overstreet, a gynecologist, commented jokingly, on women’s capacity to live longer than men: “When you come right down to it, perhaps women just live too long! Maybe when they get through having babies they have outlived their usefulness.” (1963)
In The Feminine Mystique (pgs. 151-52), Betty Friedan quoted Lynn White, the male president of California’s women-only Mills College, who considered women non-creative and thought they should primarily be educated to become wives and mothers. “Why not,” asked White, “study the theory and preparation of a Basque paella . . . an authoritative curry. . . even such simple sophistications as serving cold artichokes with fresh milk?” (1963)
Signs of Trouble
In 1962, the Saturday Evening Post was still assuring readers that few housewives even daydreamed about any life other than that of a full-time homemaker and that their occasional "blue" moods could easily be assuaged by a few words of praise for their cooking or their new hairdo.
Yet for those who cared to look, Friedan pointed out, signs of trouble had been clear for some time. Some doctors had begun to refer to women’s persistent complaints of fatigue and depression as "the housewife’s syndrome." Women’s magazines were publishing articles with such titles as "Why Young Mothers Feel Trapped" or "The Mother Who Ran Away."
Social commentators, revisiting Freud’s famous question "What does a woman want?" had fretted about why the American woman was "dissatisfied with a lot that women of other lands can only dream of," as one journalist mused in the March 7, 1960, issue of Newsweek.
Stephanie Coontz is the director of research and public education at the Council on Contemporary Families and teaches at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash. The author of "Marriage: A History, The Way We Never Were" and "The Way We Really Are," she has written about marriage and family issues in many national publications including The New York Times, Washington Post, Slate, and Psychology Today.