Our History

Friedan Exposed 1950s Women's Emotional Core

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Betty Friedan's "The Feminine Mystique" helped unravel the myth of the 1950s and 1960s housewife as completely satisfied and happy, says Stephanie Coontz in her book "A Strange Stirring." In this excerpt, Coontz shows just how Friedan did so.

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Signs of Trouble

In 1962, the Saturday Evening Post was still assuring readers that few housewives even daydreamed about any life other than that of a full-time homemaker and that their occasional "blue" moods could easily be assuaged by a few words of praise for their cooking or their new hairdo.

Yet for those who cared to look, Friedan pointed out, signs of trouble had been clear for some time. Some doctors had begun to refer to women's persistent complaints of fatigue and depression as "the housewife's syndrome." Women's magazines were publishing articles with such titles as "Why Young Mothers Feel Trapped" or "The Mother Who Ran Away."

Social commentators, revisiting Freud's famous question "What does a woman want?" had fretted about why the American woman was "dissatisfied with a lot that women of other lands can only dream of," as one journalist mused in the March 7, 1960, issue of Newsweek.


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Stephanie Coontz is the director of research and public education at the Council on Contemporary Families and teaches at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash. The author of "Marriage: A History, The Way We Never Were" and "The Way We Really Are," she has written about marriage and family issues in many national publications including The New York Times, Washington Post, Slate, and Psychology Today.

For more information:

Stephanie Coontz's Web site:

A Strange Stirring: The Feminine Mystique and American Women at the Dawn of the 1960s

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