The Feminine Mystique | Study Guide

Betty Friedan

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The Feminine Mystique | Chapter 4 : The Passionate Journey | Summary



Maintaining the continuity of her argument, Betty Friedan returns to the last sentence of the preceding chapter: "I think women had to suffer this crisis of identity, which began a hundred years ago, and have to suffer it still today." Briefly, she names and addresses the negative responses to 19th-century feminism. These include calling women "neurotic victims of penis envy." She reviews the history of feminist thought and women's progress, beginning with Thomas Paine's condemnation of the position of women in 1775. She continues her history through the opening of Mount Holyoke College to women students in 1837 and the first woman's rights convention in Seneca Falls in 1848. She mentions Ibsen's 1879 play, A Doll's House, the groundbreaking story of the liberation of a homemaker from her domestic infantilization, to remind the reader of a patriarchy that believed in anatomy as destiny. Moreover, she notes the idea that is a "bright" and "sometimes dangerous thread through the history of the feminist movement": "equality between the sexes was necessary to free both men and women for true sexual fulfillment."

Friedan reviews the arguments of church and state against female liberation, and reminds readers that the "unnatural monsters" of feminism were dedicated to the principles of liberation and freedom for all. Furthermore, the feminist movement had its origins in the abolitionist movement and the fight for universal suffrage. She disputes the notion of feminists as man-haters or man-eaters or victims of penis envy; she describes lives of ardent feminists who were loved by men, as well as those who chose to live singly.


This chapter is appropriately named. Betty Friedan's convictions arrive in a passionate discourse, effectively managed. The energy of this chapter is in the liveliness of the historical account and her admiration for the efforts and accomplishments of women—some alone, some aided by evolved men at their sides. Readers can't help but join her in recognizing the accomplishments of feminists from the mid-19th century through the 1920s. Finally, she employs the metaphor of the bound feet of Chinese women to posit a story of the painful price for radical transformation and its far-reaching consequences. She returns at chapter's end to the mystique as a retreat from the difficulties of the identity crisis, particularly in a culture bent on subverting the revolutionary energies of feminism. "Permitted to escape identity altogether in the name of sexual fulfillment," she says, women in the present relive a "glorified femininity"—to the contemporary reader, a fragile bubble indeed.

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