Assessing the "Feminine Mystique" Fifty Years On

Historians in the News
tags: NYT, Feminine Mystique, Betty Friedan

When the proposal for a book about the plight of the American housewife by a little-known journalist named Betty Friedan began circulating at the publishing house W. W. Norton in early 1959, not everyone was convinced that it was a world-changing blockbuster....

“The Feminine Mystique” tends to be hailed simply as “the book that started second-wave feminism,” said Lisa M. Fine, a historian at Michigan State University and a co-editor of the first annotated scholarly edition, just published by Norton. “But it’s a much more complicated text.”

Indeed, some cracking its spine for the first time — as more than one commentator on the 50th anniversary has sheepishly confessed to doing — may be surprised at just how scholarly the book is. Friedan, who claimed she gave up a prestigious Ph.D. fellowship in psychology after a boyfriend said it would threaten their relationship, spent years in the New York Public Library, digging as deeply into the theories of Freud, Margaret Mead, A. H. Maslow and David Riesman as into the women’s magazines she blasted for perpetuating the mythology of the “happy housewife.”...

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