The Feminine Mystique | Study Guide

Betty Friedan

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The Feminine Mystique | Chapter 14 : A New Life Plan for Women | Summary

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Summary

In order to break the hold of the mystique, each woman must ask herself, "What do I want to do?" The steps toward a life of fulfillment are simple, Betty Friedan says. First, think of housework as what it is: a series of chores that maintain reasonable order and that should be done as quickly as possible. Second, see marriage for what it is. For a women who has a purpose of her own, marriage is simply a part of it—no longer romanticized, and a husband no longer objectified. Find creative work that suits your individual talents. Women come to know themselves through a serious commitment to work. In a series of interviews with women in the process of breaking the shackles of the mystique, Friedan reveals the difficulties of change—disapproval of husbands and religious authority figures, and personal guilt. She also shows the rewards, including money that makes life easier for the family, refreshed relations with husbands and children, a sense of independence, pleasure in creativity, and a worldly life.

Establishing that education is key to surviving the mystique, Friedan conducts a survey with women in her 1941 graduating class at Smith College 15 years after graduation and compares them with a larger survey in 1962 of 10,000 women graduates of Mount Holyoke College. The results confirm her contentions about the mystique and higher education. Although the same percentage of women got married in each case and the divorce rate was similarly low, the 1942 graduates in both surveys combined marriage and family life with serious commitments of their own, and turned to those commitments or new ones once their children were grown. The later Mount Holyoke graduates married young, had more children, and assumed the role of housewife with all the negative effects of a life dominated by the mystique. "The declining area of commitment to the world outside the home," Friedan states, clearly demonstrates "the effect of the feminine mystique on educated women."

The balance of the chapter offers advice on education as liberation, discussing the necessity of competition with men and how to meet inevitable discrimination head on. Friedan reminds the reader that every woman who fights the "barriers to full equality" makes it easier for the next woman. Finally, she reminds readers that every man and woman must engage with the struggle for change to keep up with "the explosive pace of history, and find or keep individual identity in our mass society."

Analysis

The reiteration of the feminine mystique and the potential for resistance close the book on a hopeful note. The most urgent message, perhaps, is the invocation to men and women to work together, the sense that the work is continuous and cannot stop. Social change is not so much an accomplishment as it is a process with obstacles along the way, and the curious "explosive pace of history" demands both men and women not merely keep up but forge ahead with their best, most determined energies.

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