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Publication of "The Feminine Mystique" by Betty Friedan

February 17, 1963

The publication of Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique, on February 17, 1963, is often cited as the founding moment of second-wave feminism. The book highlighted Friedan's view of a coercive and pervasive post-World War II ideology of female domesticity that stifled middle-class women's opportunities to be anything but homemakers.

A survey she conducted of her Smith College classmates indicated that many felt depressed even though they supposedly enjoyed ideal lives with husbands, homes, and children. Enlarging her inquiry, Friedan found that what she called "the problem that has no name" was common among women far beyond the educated East Coast elite. In The Feminine Mystique, she showed how women's magazines, advertising, Freudian psychologists, and educators reflected and perpetuated a domestic ideal that left many women deeply unhappy. In suppressing women's personal growth, Friedan argued, society lost a vast reservoir of human potential.

Friedan's book is credited with sparking second-wave feminism by directing women's attention to the broad social basis of their problems, stirring many to political and social activism. Although Friedan faced some negative reactions, she also received hundreds of letters from women who said that The Feminine Mystique had changed their lives. Since 1963, the book has sold over two million copies and has been translated into a dozen languages. Thousands of copies are still sold every year.

Friedan went on to help found the National Organization for Women (NOW), the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL), and the National Women's Political Caucus. She taught at colleges and universities from coast to coast, and published in magazines from The New Republic to Ladies' Home Journal. Her more recent work, including the 1993 book Fountain of Age, addresses what Friedan called the "age mystique." Friedan died at home in Washington, D.C. on February 4, 2006, her 85th birthday.

Source:Jewish Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia, pp. 482-485; Betty Friedan, The Feminine Mystique (New York, 1963).

3 Comments

In 1963, the mother of two preschoolers living in the high desert of California, I felt trapped and isolated, unable to go out for weeks because of spring sandstorms and no car available. I had everything most folks want--supportive husband, wonderful little girls, a cheerful rented home with backyard, washer/dryer and dishwasher, good food, yet unhappy and dissatisfied with my lifestyle. I felt guilty: I have everything, I thought; what right do I have to be unhappy?

One Sunday morning, I heard the beginning of a radio interview of a woman who had just written a book called "The Feminine Mystique." All over America, she said, there are women who have the appurtenances of what most people want, happy homes, enough to eat, etc., yet they feel dissatisfaction and that they're cut off from the mainstream of life. She explained that many of these had the beginnings of careers before having children or find themselves limited at work for advancement. They ask themselves, "Why am I unhappy, and how can it be when I have what most people want?"

I jumped out and yelled to my husband, "That's me! She's talking about me!" I learned how this concept called feminism was bringing together women such as I to tackle a challenge that could be fixed. Betty Friedan brought a reality check into the life of this college graduate, previously a New York editor and political activist, now isolated in desert sandstorms in a place where women had to iron their husbands' shirts because there were no corner laundries. I belonged to this fellowship of women and men working for full equality and opportunity, and there was nothing I had to feel guilty about. Thanks to Betty and Germaine Greer and the eloquent, knowledgeable sisters who helped us reframe and move forward.

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What a story! I would love to use your story in a blog post, could you email me at tmetal@jwa.org? Thank you!

Betty Friedan
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Born Bettye Naomi Goldstein, feminist revolutionary Betty Friedan (1921–2006) was considered by many to be the "mother" of the second wave of modern feminism. Her struggles against the "Feminine Mystique" and in favor of gender equality led to a fundamental transformation, not only in the way American society views women, but in the way American women view themselves.

Institution: Online repository.

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Publication of "The Feminine Mystique" by Betty Friedan." (Viewed on October 20, 2017) <https://jwa.org/thisweek/feb/17/1963/betty-friedan>.

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