Were American women in the 1950s not as happy as originally thought? Betty Friedan in her text “The Feminine Mystique” (1963) described “problem that has no name.”1 In other words, Friedan made an argument that socialization in American culture made women believe that their identities only existed within domestic realm, making them fundamentally unhappy. Friedan claims that the ideology that defined the ideal feminine woman only in terms of traditional marriage and motherhood was the real problem.
In 1963, a book that influenced the minds of millions of American women appeared. “The Feminine Mystique” became a world bestseller and a classic text of liberal feminism. Not only has it sold more than one million copies, but it has also been translated into multiple languages. Nowadays, it is one of the key texts in U.S. history classes and Women Studies. Linda Napikoski in her article “How Betty Friedan’s “The Feminine Mystique” Sparked Women’s Liberation” said: “Feminists of the 1960s and 1970s would later say The Feminine Mystique was the book that “started it all.” “2 Friedan’s book made a big impact on American society and lives of women.
Numerous women’s magazines, advertisements, television, argued that middle-class women were able to achieve the women’s American dream : a prosperous and caring husband, healthy children, a suburban house, a car, beautiful clothes etc. Their unhappy life was overshadowed only by internal dissatisfaction, causes of which they could not explain to psychoanalysts, nor to their husband, nor to themselves. Women felt strange awkwardness, inner dissatisfaction, and every woman struggled with it alone. “As she made the beds, shopped for groceries, matched slipcover material, ate peanut butter sandwiches with her children, chauffeured Cub Scouts and Brownies, lay beside her husband at night-she was afraid to ask even of herself the silent question- “Is this all?”3 Women have always been constrained by their own body, their beauty and attractiveness for men, caring for children, caring for their husbands, serving them and their children, and housekeeping. According to Friedan, such a state of affairs was the result of women losing their true identity and turning into just wives and mothers.
The author was able to determine the causes of disappointments. Moreover, she found causes of “the problem that did not have a name”. American women abandoned their careers and participation in the social and political life of the society trying to fulfill the “true” destiny of the mother, wife and mistress of the house, prescribed by the society. The feminine mystique prevented women from developing full personal identities. Friedan observes that the boring housework most women end up doing did not challenge them enough to give a greater sense of purpose. They turned into infantile, dependent beings, devoid of any idea of their capabilities. Women were pressured to pursue marriage and pregnancy above all other things. They went to college but were not expected to use their degrees. Instead, they pursued college to find a husband. “The feminine mystique has succeeded in burying millions of American women alive.”4 The problem turned out to be a drama of female identity, suppression, and loss of intellect, professional and social interests. Voluntarily following the established gender stereotypes, women found themselves in a trap.
All in all, American women in 1950s were not as happy as originally thought. “The Feminine Mystique” by Betty Friedan was one of the most important and influential texts of feminism in the 1960s. It was and is important because it helped encourage so many women, during that time and later, to re-examine their lives and their social roles. Since feminism has been one of the most influential social movements of the last fifty years, her book helped fundamentally change life in the United States during this period. The modern woman has not quite got rid of the obsession with the “feminine mystique”. However, the evolution of the gender roles of men and women aimed at expanding the social and professional roles of women and their economic independence. Moreover, it changed the nature of the relationship between men and women.