The Feminine Mystique | Study Guide

Betty Friedan

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The Feminine Mystique | Chapter 13 : The Forfeited Self | Summary

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Summary

The goal of the "psychologically healthy man" is normality: happy, self-accepting, without guilt, and most of all, autonomous—in the process of becoming what he can be. The same should be true for women. The mystique, however, has one criteria, which is at odds with self-realization: adjustment to current culture. What eludes women is the possibility of taking risks to fulfill their "mysterious capacity to shape the future." A life of "deadly dailyness" is the polar opposite of this reaching for the future. Betty Friedan argues women's needs for self-esteem and accomplishment are the same as men's, and the mystique's femininity offers only substitutes in the forms of children and an immaculate home.

The author cites Abraham H. Maslow's work in the 1930s, which studied "high dominance" women. They were remarkable for their strong self-confidence and high evaluation of the self, "feelings of general capability or superiority, and lack of shyness, timidity, self-consciousness or embarrassment." Maslow advised either describing "high dominance" men and women as "masculine" and "low dominance" men and women as "feminine," or abandoning the terms "masculine" and "feminine" altogether. Anger is also the provenance of high-dominance women, as well as sexual vigor and capacity for pleasure. The Kinsey Reports confirmed Maslow's notion that the more self-actualized the woman, the more capable she is of sexual enjoyment; the higher the education, the greater pleasure there is for women in sex. Furthermore, women's equal participation in the workforce and in bed frees men from the notion of sexual intercourse as dirty or degrading. As early feminists foresaw, women's rights promoted "greater sexual fulfillment, for men and women." Love and work, then, would seem to be the appropriate resistance to the feminine mystique, the latter a pernicious set of values that removes women from culture and from life.

Analysis

This chapter remains relevant in the 21st century. As statistics demonstrate, an increasing number of women who can afford it are leaving the workforce in order to be home with small children. America has not yet evolved to the point where maternity leave and affordable childcare can liberate more than the middle-class population of mothers. But as this chapter shows, the potential is there and has been for decades. First-wave feminists prepared the ground, working with men on the quest for human liberation and experiencing their own liberation as well. That feminism is a project shared across all gender and sexual orientations is a hopeful sign of affiliation and community, as opposed to the soulless generation Friedan and others feared was in development in the post-World War II years. Finally and crucially, The Feminine Mystique serves as a reminder of the attention and hard work necessary to find and maintain the critical balance between love and work.

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