The Feminine Mystique

by

Betty Friedan

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The Feminine Mystique Symbol Icon

The “feminine mystique” was the idea that women were most content as wives, mothers, and homemakers. The “mystique,” as Friedan sometimes calls it, was a ploy to convince women—many of whom had worked in factories and in other jobs during World War II—to return to traditional domestic roles. Friedan posits that the return to the home may have resulted from a desire to address the needs of returning veterans who were too old to return home to their families, but still in need of the nurturing of a mother. Advertisers, seeking to capitalize on the booming postwar economy and the convenience of home appliances, promoted the “mystique” through ads that promised women fulfillment through cleaner homes. The “feminine mystique” had lured women with its promise of suburban middle-class comfort and a feeling of purpose without requiring the woman to do the work of maturing. The “mystique” promised to make things uncomplicated for women, reinforcing the idea that a feminine woman was a domestically-oriented one. In truth, however, this role did not leave women satisfied. Thus, the “mystique” comes to stand in for the empty promise peddled by American society, that striving to embody the popular ideal of femininity would lead women to happiness.

The Feminine Mystique Quotes in The Feminine Mystique

The The Feminine Mystique quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Feminine Mystique. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Domesticity and Femininity Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the W.W. Norton edition of The Feminine Mystique published in 1963.
Chapter 1 Quotes

The problem lay buried, unspoken, for many years in the minds of American women. It was a strange stirring, a sense of dissatisfaction, a yearning that women suffered in the middle of the twentieth century in the United States. Each suburban wife 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?”

Related Characters: Betty Friedan (speaker)
Page Number: 15
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 2 Quotes

The image of woman that emerges from this big, pretty magazine is young and frivolous, almost childlike; fluffy and feminine; passive; gaily content in a world of bedroom and kitchen, sex, babies, and home. The magazine surely does not leave out sex; the only passion, the only pursuit, the only goal a woman is permitted is the pursuit of a man. It is crammed full of food, clothing, cosmetics, furniture, and the physical bodies of young women, but where is the world of thought and ideas, the life of the mind and spirit? In the magazine image, women do no work except housework and work to keep their bodies beautiful and to get and keep a man.

Related Characters: Betty Friedan (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Feminine Mystique
Page Number: 36
Explanation and Analysis:

The feminine mystique says that the highest value and the only commitment for women is the fulfillment of their own femininity. It says that the great mistake of Western culture, through most of its history, has been the undervaluation of femininity. It says that this femininity is so mysterious and intuitive and close to the creation and origin of life that man-made science may never be able to understand it. But however special and different, it is in no way inferior to the nature of man; it may even in certain respects be superior. The mistake, says the mystique, the root of women’s troubles in the past is that women envied men, women tried to be like men, instead of accepting their own nature, which can find fulfillment only in sexual passivity, male domination, and nurturing maternal love.

Related Characters: Betty Friedan (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Feminine Mystique
Page Number: 43
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 3 Quotes

The feminine mystique permits, even encourages, women to ignore the question of their identity. The mystique says they can answer the question “Who am I?” by saying “Tom’s wife...Mary’s mother.” But I don’t think the mystique would have such power over American women if they did not fear to face this terrifying blank which makes them unable to see themselves after twenty-one. The truth is—and how long it has been true, I’m not sure, but it was true in my generation and it is true of girls growing up today—an American woman no longer has a private image to tell her who she is, or can be, or wants to be.

Related Characters: Betty Friedan (speaker)
Page Number: 71-72
Explanation and Analysis:

The expectations of feminine fulfillment that are fed to women by magazines, television, movies, and books that popularize psychological half-truths, and by parents, teachers, and counselors who accept the feminine mystique, operate as a kind of youth serum, keeping most women in the state of sexual larvae, preventing them from achieving the maturity of which they are capable.

Related Characters: Betty Friedan (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Feminine Mystique
Page Number: 77
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 5 Quotes

“Normal” femininity is achieved, however, only insofar as the woman finally renounces all active goals of her own, all her own “originality,” to identify and fulfill herself through the activities and goals of her husband, or son.

Related Characters: Betty Friedan (speaker), Sigmund Freud
Related Symbols: The Feminine Mystique
Page Number: 121
Explanation and Analysis:

Girls who grew up playing baseball, baby-sitting, mastering geometry—almost independent enough, almost resourceful enough, to meet the problems of the fission-fusion era—were told by the most advanced thinkers of our time to go back and live their lives as if they were Noras, restricted to the doll’s house by Victorian prejudice. And their own respect and awe for the authority of science—anthropology, sociology, psychology share that authority now—kept them from questioning the feminine mystique.

Related Characters: Betty Friedan (speaker), Sigmund Freud
Related Symbols: The Feminine Mystique
Page Number: 125
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 8 Quotes

The mystique spelled out a choice—love, home, children, or other goals and purposes in life.

Related Characters: Betty Friedan (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Feminine Mystique
Page Number: 183
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 10 Quotes

The very nature of family responsibility had to expand to take the place of responsibility to society.

Related Characters: Betty Friedan (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Feminine Mystique
Page Number: 240
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 11 Quotes

But what happens when a woman bases her whole identity on her sexual role; when sex is necessary to make her “feel alive?” To state it quite simply, she puts impossible demands on her own body, her “femaleness,” as well as on her husband and his “maleness.” A marriage counselor told me that many of the young suburban wives he dealt with make “such heavy demands on love and marriage, but there is no excitement, no mystery, sometimes almost literally nothing happens.”

Related Characters: Betty Friedan (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Feminine Mystique
Page Number: 265
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 12 Quotes

And so progressive dehumanization has carried the American mind in the last fifteen years from youth worship to that sick “love affair” with our own children; from preoccupation with the physical details of sex, divorced from a human framework, to a love affair between man and animal.

Related Characters: Betty Friedan (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Feminine Mystique
Page Number: 304
Explanation and Analysis:

We have gone on too long blaming or pitying the mothers who devour their children, who sow the seeds of progressive dehumanization, because they have never grown to full humanity themselves. If the mother is at fault, why isn’t it time to break the pattern by urging all these Sleeping Beauties to grow up and live their own lives? There will never be enough Prince Charmings, or enough therapists to break that pattern now. It is society’s job, and finally that of each woman alone. For it is not the strength of the mothers that is at fault but their weakness, their passive childlike dependency and immaturity that is mistaken for “femininity.”

Related Characters: Betty Friedan (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Feminine Mystique
Page Number: 304
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 13 Quotes

In our society, love has customarily been defined, at least for women, as a complete merging of egos and a loss of separateness— “togetherness,” a giving up of individuality rather than a strengthening of it.

Related Characters: Betty Friedan (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Feminine Mystique
Page Number: 323
Explanation and Analysis:
Epilogue Quotes

Perhaps women who have made it as “exceptional” women don’t really identify with other women. For them, there are three classes of people: men, other women, and themselves; their very status as exceptional women depends on keeping other women quiet, and not rocking the boat.

Related Characters: Betty Friedan (speaker), Margaret Mead
Related Symbols: The Feminine Mystique
Page Number: 382
Explanation and Analysis:

It seemed to me that men weren’t really the enemy—they were fellow victims, suffering from an outmoded masculine mystique that made them feel unnecessarily inadequate when there were no bears to kill.

Related Characters: Betty Friedan (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Feminine Mystique
Page Number: 386
Explanation and Analysis:
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The Feminine Mystique PDF

The Feminine Mystique Symbol Timeline in The Feminine Mystique

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Feminine Mystique appears in The Feminine Mystique. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 2: The Happy Housewife Heroine
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By 1949, editors began to publish more stories that promoted the feminine mystique . These stories encouraged women to use their talents inside of the home instead of... (full context)
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The feminine mystique , according to Friedan, “says that the highest value and the only commitment for women... (full context)
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...They realized that many of their readers were unhappy, but were, by then, paralyzed by the feminine mystique that magazines like McCall’s had promoted. (full context)
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Some female magazine editors acknowledged the role they played in validating the feminine mystique . One blamed it on psychoanalysis, which had made them “feel embarrassed about being career... (full context)
Chapter 7: The Sex-Directed Educators
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Under the influence of the feminine mystique , educators and administrators had discouraged critical thinking in young women. They worried, based on... (full context)
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The sex-directed educator had embraced the views of Freud and Mead, which validated the feminine mystique and encouraged “adjustment within the world of home and children.” Some really believed in the... (full context)
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Those few women who were college educators or presidents either conformed to the feminine mystique , or their authority was questioned. They did not speak on their experiences as women.... (full context)
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Sex-directed educators saw the danger in encouraging domesticity in boys but, due to the feminine mystique , no one thought it was a tragedy when a woman did only one thing... (full context)
Chapter 10: Housewifery Expands to Fill the Time Available
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...and were pregnant at or near the age of forty. They were so devoted to the feminine mystique that they encouraged their daughters to become “a wife and mother, like mummy.” (full context)
Chapter 14: A New Life Plan for Women
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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... (full context)
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...that they must choose between a marriage and a career—that was the mistaken choice of the feminine mystique .” (full context)
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...“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... (full context)
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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... (full context)
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...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.... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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...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.” (full context)
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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... (full context)
Epilogue
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Friedan got letters from other women who wanted to escape the feminine mystique and pursue their own ambitions, outside of the home. Though it was no longer possible... (full context)