The Feminine Mystique | Study Guide

Betty Friedan

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The Feminine Mystique | Chapter 2 : The Happy Housewife Heroine | Summary

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Summary

To a large extent, popular culture formulates the accepted sense of femininity. Herself a contributor to women's magazines, Betty Friedan begins her account with a table of contents from an issue of McCall's (July 1960). Samples include an article on baldness in women, a long poem called "A Boy is a Boy," a work of short fiction about an uneducated teen who wins a man away from a college girl, a story about a baby throwing his bottle from the crib, and an article about the pastimes and clothes of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. All of this without a single reference to noteworthy global events. Friedan cites examples from her own experience of editors at major women's magazines refusing to consider women capable of or interested in reading about world affairs or advances in science. Rhetorically, she prods readers with the Nazi slogan that held women to their biological roles ("Kinder, Kuche, Kirche": Children, Kitchen, Church), declaring, "this is America" as well.

The stories in the popular magazines in the 1920s and '30s celebrated the career woman, the individualist, while 1950s' and '60s' stories extolled the occupation of housewife and narratives that ended with the lucky girl getting her guy. Friedan also notes a distinction between topics selected by female editors and those by men. The former focused on the adventures, lives, and loves of career women, and the latter gave attention to motherhood and femininity. The return of men after the war contributed to the shift in values. Women left the workplace to be replaced by men deeply nostalgic for the solace of homelife after all they had suffered. And women publishers showed increasing interest in selling the things they advertised. They reinforced the role of woman as both consumer and an object of consumption in the prevailing economy of masculine nostalgia.

Analysis

In this chapter's exploration of the changing role of femininity, Betty Friedan asks, "What happens when women grow up in an image that makes them deny the reality of the changing world?" She notes the material burdens of domesticity—cooking, cleaning, caring for the family—did define women's roles 100 years earlier in pioneer times. But the pioneer women were literally traveling as well, acting as pioneers alongside men. However, "now the American frontiers are of the mind, and of the spirit." That is, there was a time when the division of labor did not separate women from the world of concerns outside her family—when femininity was crucial to the family's survival in the larger world. That time is past. This section explores the nature of traditional practice when the need for such practice has expired, when progress and modern conveniences have eased demands on the homemaker's time and energy. This is the clearest statement of a need for change to benefit all, and one that is not a simple matter but likely a long process that only can begin in recognition of the myth of the chapter's title: "The Happy Housewife Heroine." Friedan was known for her humor and her temper. Here, her rather heavy-handed wit makes the case.

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