We’re less than a month into 2018, and I already have a contender for best nonfiction book of the year: The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan. And it will probably bring back my end of the year category, “I can’t believe I waited until this year to read this book.” I have, after all, been hearing about it for…well, ever since I was old enough for my mom to start talking about it, so I’d have to guess early teens. I probably should have read it sooner–or maybe now was the perfect time, for it to feel scarily relevant.
In 1963, fifty-five years ago, Betty Friedan wrote her ground-breaking book about “the problem that has no name,” why so many educated, intelligent housewives with good husbands and beloved children still felt deeply unhappy. She explores the cultural pressures forcing women to stay in the home–convincing them that’s the best and most noble place to be–and why this is having terrible outcomes. She looks at relevant history, from the suffragettes to Freud, and gets in-depth about the cultural norms of her time and how we got there.
It’s hard to believe that most of it is anything I didn’t know on some level before–and yet it still felt mind-blowing. It’s like a painting you’ve been looking at forever, then moving two steps to the right and seeing a whole new pattern emerge from the changed angle. Friedan really did bring new ideas (for me, anyway) about the pattern of women’s place in society, from the suffragettes of the twenties, to the “working girl” of the thirties, to Rosie the Riveter in WWII, and then, somehow, swinging backwards to June Cleaver in the home in the fifties. Those were dots I’m not sure I ever put together, and it puts a different shape on the twentieth century for me. Continue reading