The Feminine Mystique

by

Betty Friedan

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The Feminine Mystique: Chapter 14 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
After years of sitting on an analyst’s couch, working out how to adjust to the feminine mystique, by the early 1960s, women had given up and were searching for their senses of identity. Each woman had to create a new life plan based on her own needs.
Psychoanalytic theory, due to its conformity to traditional sex roles, did not offer women the insights they had sought. However, through exploring their psyches, women began to think more about their own needs.
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The first step in discovering one’s own image was in rejecting the housewife image. Women must also stop thinking that they must choose between a marriage and a career—that was the mistaken choice of the feminine mystique.”
Women had to accept that the housewife image was a social construct. They also had to realize that women could have both domestic lives and careers, just as men did.
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Women must see housework for the menial labor that it is, not as a kind of career. When a woman stops trying to make chores into “something more,” she will be better able to resist “the manipulators” who try to run her life. She will begin to use appliances for what they were intended: to save time.
Housework could not offer the challenge that women sought because it was too simple and appliances could not make it any more interesting. The housewife’s dedication to housework revealed the extent to which she believed in a gimmick.
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The second step is to stop glorifying marriage and motherhood as the sole and final fulfillments of their lives. Each woman should recognize herself as an individual and not “as a mother with time on her hands.” She should use her time to make her own commitment to society, which she can integrate into her commitment to her family.
By thinking of themselves first as “mothers,” women were over-identifying with the services they performed for others. This prevented them from thinking about what interested them, beyond the roles they played in their families.
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The only way for a woman to find herself is through creative work. She should not merely get a job to help out with family income, for that would be a part of the housewife trap. Due to a lack of work in the suburbs, women often took community service positions, but this work does not use women’s intelligences. A woman is better off finding work that pays, that is of value to society, and that requires a commitment.
Friedan discounts the possibility that community service would fulfill women by giving them a creative outlet. She also dismisses the possibility of some women being committed to community service. Friedan defines work within a capitalist framework, which discourages women from valuing volunteer service as they would value paid work.
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Dabbling in art and music seemed to be an ideal solution for women, especially since they could practice certain arts, such as ceramics, at home. However, the dabbler cannot gain a sense self from her work because she is not paid. She does not gain any real status or personal identity because she has not done the work of becoming a professional.
Friedan posits that, if a woman uses a minor art, such as ceramics, as a creative outlet, she must be paid. Money would help her to focus on her work and make her aware of competitors in her field. This awareness would push her to produce better art.
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Some women who had worked and left their professions believed that they had been away for too long. Others feel guilty about finding work outside of the home.
Both the feminine mystique, which contended that women should stay home, and feelings of inadequacy kept women from working.
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The idea of “the happy housewife” doing artistic work at home—painting, sculpting, writing—is one of the “semi-delusions of the feminine mystique.” Women, Friedan asserts, are better off working outside the home where they can concentrate uninterrupted and make new friendships.
“Artistic work,” as housewives performed it, tended to isolate women and kept women from talking to each other and building relationships. This isolation partly explained why women believed they suffered alone.
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Women must resist all social pressures—from magazines, sociologists, psychoanalysts, educators, and clergymen—by saying “no” to the feminine mystique. They must confront the possible sense of threat that their husbands may feel and assert their right to work.
Women had to resist those who had proclaimed themselves authorities on women’s lives to learn their own personal truths. Also, they had to contend with their husbands’ expectation of their being a constant nurturing presence.
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Friedan observed that, in some instances, relationships grew as a result of husbands and wives giving up the feminine mystique. In these cases, men were often relieved to bear less of the financial burden. In other instances, men did not want to give up the fantasy of having “an ever-present mother.” If the wife became her true self and stopped acting out the fantasy, then maybe her husband could see her for the person she was. If not, he might be better served by finding “another mother.”
Friedan does not discount the possibility that divorce would be favorable in instances in which men expected their wives to fulfill the maternal role. These men were not interested in their wives as fellow human beings; they were interested in them as objects of fantasy who only existed to serve their husbands’ needs.
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Women who abandoned the “mystique” also faced the possibility of the hostility of other housewives. A woman who lives through her husband and children resents a woman who has her own life, though that resentment masks “a secret envy.” “Ambition,” like “career,” had become a bad word. Women who were ambitious and worked had suffered from “and solved the problem that has no name.” Work had made them feel that they were fully a part of the world, as opposed to just making extra money for their families.
Like prisoners in the concentration camp who attack other prisoners instead of the guards, women who felt powerless against the feminine mystique often only felt safe in attacking other women. Because they had dedicated their lives to serving their families and assumed that other women did the same, the presence who made other choices felt like an insult.
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Another key to escaping the housewife trap is education. Though some women believed that their educations had ill-prepared them for housewifery, it had actually saved them from some of the more dangerous aspects of the feminine mystique. Still, many women regretted not having taken their educations more seriously and putting them to real use. However, some women found ways of putting their educations to use through various community efforts, including new educational programs, efforts for and against segregated schools, the organization of arts programs and involvement in local politics.
Ambitious women who were still not entirely comfortable with roles outside of the feminine mystique spearheaded community and political efforts that were related to their traditional roles, but that were also connected to some of the most important issues of the day. This was a sly way of getting involved in politics while maintaining the stance of being unpolitical and only interested in the well-being of one’s children.
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Some women returned to school and pursued graduate study after their children grew up. They went on to earn advanced degrees in the arts, law, medicine, the sciences, and education. Women who did not go to college or those who dropped out to marry took enrichment courses, but they were not satisfactory because they were not serious pursuits of any subject. If a woman wanted to go back to university, she had to demonstrate her seriousness before joining a classroom with teenagers.
By earning advanced degrees, women proved, contrary to the opinions of sex-directed educators, that they were capable of doing the work. Some women still believed that the serious pursuit of education was not for them, while others were too embarrassed to sit in classrooms with students as young as their own children.
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The problem that has no name had resulted in a series of social problems, including alcoholism and suicide. The only way to address it was to reshape the model of femininity so that little girls do not grow up wanting to be “just a housewife” but were, instead, offered the same resources as boys to discover their own identities.
The hopelessness that had resulted in these conditions came from trying to fit into a mode of femininity that was sometimes completely unsuitable to the person. Women had accepted the roles that were designed for them instead of creating their own.
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To encourage students in the Eisenhower era to take their educations seriously, it was important to have female scholars—both married and unmarried educators—on campus as positive role models. Educators must also say “no” to the feminine mystique and abandon courses, such as “marriage and family.”
Female scholars could show young women that there was no shame in being intelligent. This might not have dispelled fears that their intelligence could make men feel inadequate, but it did provide women with female guidance outside of their mothers.
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Women who had fallen for the feminine mystique had to be “re-educated.” Women who did not go to college or who dropped out needed, according to Friedan, support in the form of a national educational program, similar to the GI bill that would cover tuition fees and other expenses, such as books.
This stipend would allow women who depended on their husbands for income to pursue education without first having to gain the approval of their husbands, who could veto the idea by refusing to help pay.
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To fulfill her commitment to a life of her own, women also needed to be involved in politics. In this arena, women could speak out for needs such as maternity leave and child care.
Second-wave feminists wanted state-sponsored childcare to help women pursue education and work without fear of abandoning their children or losing income.
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The wasted energy of women is destructive to themselves and to their husbands and children. Who knows, Friedan wonders, what women can be if they are allowed to be their full selves?
The untapped potential of women had not yet been realized because so many were committed to performing an ideal of womanhood.
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