02/19 – The Feminine Mystique

The Feminine Mystique, a book that was considered “unpublishable” because “no one cares about feminism”. (Abebooks)

On this day in 1963, The Feminine Mystique was published in the United States. Written by activist Betty Friedan, the book criticised the concept of the “happy housewife” and the idea that women find ultimate fulfillment in childbirth, cooking, and simple domesticity. In the postwar era, men returning from overseas began working productive jobs, while women – previously an integral part of the workforce – were expected to maintain the household. In her groundbreaking book, Friedan argued that many women did in fact desire education and meaningful careers, but were forced to accept the role of housewife while the men did the “serious” work.

Betty Friedan, pictured 2nd from left. (Smithsonian Institute)

Other works – notably The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir in 1949 – touched upon similar topics, but Friedan is generally credited with kicking off a new era in American feminist thinking. Known generally as the second wave (the first wave having been concerned with voting rights), the new era in feminism lasted well into the 1980s and drew attention to a broad range of issues like workplace inequality, domestic violence and reproductive rights. Although Friedan has faced historical criticism for focusing exclusively on white women’s issues (and ignoring those pertaining to the LGBTQ community), The Feminine Mystique is undoubtedly one of the most significant works of literature on gender equality – and a milestone in the feminist movement.

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