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The Feminine Mystique | Quotes


Women who once wanted careers were now making careers out of having babies.

Betty Friedan, Chapter 1

As Betty Friedan notes, it would seem women would stop at nothing, including their own deaths or a "dead or defective" child, in order to fulfill their femininity in childbirth. She points out in the 15 years after World War ll, the average marriage age dropped to 20. Fourteen million girls were engaged at 17, and the proportion of women to men in college dropped from 47% in 1920 to 35% in 1958. Femininity, the ideal of womanhood, was realized first and foremost in maternity.


I helped create this image ... that makes [women] deny the reality of the changing world.

Betty Friedan, Chapter 2

Betty Friedan is responding to the refusal by a male editor of a leading women's magazine to introduce a few worldly ideas to the content. Rhetorically, she is brilliant in taking some blame—implying she is part of the problem, having bought into selling the feminine mystique in her work for women's magazines. She is also, however, a model for urgently needed change.


I think women [have] to suffer this crisis of identity ... simply to become fully human.

Betty Friedan, Chapter 3

Betty Friedan cites developmental psychologist Erik H. Erikson, who defined the "identity crisis" as the forging of one's sense of self "out of the effective remnants of childhood and the hopes of anticipated adulthood." She notes "in some cases, the crisis will be minimal" and in others "a second birth." Friedan argues this crisis is essential to women's lives as well. And in quoting Erikson, she accepts the difficulties that the "second birth" may be exacerbated by the resistances of family, individual psychology, and the historical moment.


It is a cliché ... that ... women [now wonder] whether they wanted them.

Betty Friedan, Chapter 4

This is Betty Friedan's observation about women who have gained rights. Reviewing the triumphs of first-wave feminism and the successes in the decades that followed, Friedan wonders about the post–World War II return to the constraints of femininity, and the embrace of the feminine mystique, which seemed to have forgotten the gains of mid-19th-century and early-20th-century feminism.


Protectiveness has often muffled the sound of doors closing against women.

Betty Friedan, Chapter 6

This observation questions functionalism—in this example, the anthropologist's study of a sexual division of labor. Betty Friedan questions the assumption that women should be spared the "pains of growing up." Such studies, grounded in unexamined prejudices, serve to scientifically sanction the subordination of women.


True equality between men and women would not be 'functional.'

Betty Friedan, Chapter 6

Betty Friedan again takes issue with the functionalist perspective on sex roles, which ties women's roles in society to their biology. She demonstrates the key point of the chapter: change for women is problematic when influential thinkers and researchers create barriers to change. Here, she takes anthropology to task for appropriating a model from biology—functionalism—to "make a social science more 'scientific.'"


Girls who went to college could hardly escape ... a course in 'Marriage and Family Life.'

Betty Friedan, Chapter 7

As women's enrollment dropped and women students avoided more demanding courses of study, universities capitulated to women students' apathy by designing courses relevant to their supposed interests. Betty Friedan shows how such courses provided essentially a "functional indoctrination" of "how to play the role of woman."


The feminine mystique ... filled real needs in those who seized on it for others.

Betty Friedan, Chapter 8

Betty Friedan speculates on the enduring power of the feminine mystique and the social function it serves in maintaining the status quo.


The GI neurosis became ... 'proof' that American women had been seduced from feminine fulfillment by ... education.

Betty Friedan, Chapter 8

Betty Friedan shows how blaming mothers for problems is part and parcel of the feminine mystique. She cites Edward Strecker, consultant to the Surgeons General for the Army, Navy and Air Force, in his assessment that mothers were to blame for the widespread psychiatric problems he describes among G.I.s (noun used to describe the soldiers of the United States) and potential G.I.s. Statistics showed that 1.825 million men were rejected for military service because of psychiatric disorders; 600,000 were discharged from the Army for neuropsychiatric reasons; and 500,000 more tried to evade the draft. Strecker claims they lacked maturity "to face life, think for themselves and stand on their own two feet."


It would take a clever economist to ... keep our ... economy going if the housewife market [fell off].

Betty Friedan, Chapter 9

Betty Friedan shows women are big business, accounting for 75 percent of purchases and 75 percent of the advertising budget. Sexual fulfillment beckons in goods marketed as erotic necessities. For the unfulfilled woman, survival is based on accumulating (i.e., consuming these eroticized objects). If they are household goods, their promise includes her mastery and expertise; if they are cosmetics or other beauty aids, that is even better!


Reisman found no boy or girl with that emerging sense of ... self which used to mark human adolescence.

Betty Friedan, Chapter 12

Betty Friedan cites David Riesman and other scholars investigating apparent changes in the "American character" in the 1950s. The mothers of the mystique who strive for perfection outside of their own needs overprotect or overnurture their children. Their children are insulated by material things and protected from the life-changing crises that encourage individual development. They, too, have become consumers of comforts both material and psychological, which discourage self-confidence and, therefore, autonomous choice.


[Insights about women's loss of self can be gleaned from] psychological observations ... of prisoners in Nazi concentration camps.

Betty Friedan, Chapter 12

The topic of this quote is dehumanization. The startling parallel between the plight of postwar American women and concentration camp victims is the clearest example of the author's heightened rhetoric to support her convictions. In her millennial memoir, Life So Far, Betty Friedan admitted, "I am ashamed of that analogy."


And the most 'emancipated' women ... showed a far greater capacity for complete sexual enjoyment.

Betty Friedan, Chapter 13

Betty Friedan here cites the massive midcentury study of human sexuality by Alfred Kinsey. The Kinsey data confirm what psychologist Abraham Harold Maslow had posited, that the "self-actualized" (educated) woman has the greatest capacity for sexual pleasure.


The coincidental sexual emancipation of American men ... was surely related to the American male's new regard for the American woman as an equal.

Betty Friedan, Chapter 13

Betty Friedan refers to the shift in attitudes about sex (for the better), which the Kinsey data show to coincide with women's emancipation. Here, readers also see the roots of the subordination of women in the distant past and masculine hostility to women. When sex is felt to be a degrading activity and woman the temptress, women cannot win. This is an instance of the potential change in the American psyche Friedan seeks.


[Women] will not have to sacrifice the right to honorable competition and contribution anymore than they will have to sacrifice marriage and motherhood.

Betty Friedan, Chapter 14

Betty Friedan says when more women begin to plan their lives around their abilities and interests, and speak out for adequate maternity leave and childcare, they will truly be free. The rallying cry of second-wave feminism, "the personal is the political," is demonstrated here.

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