The Feminine Mystique

by

Betty Friedan

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Friedan focuses on the life of the American housewife after the Second World War. The American housewife was, presumably, a white, middle-class woman who lived in the suburbs. Some of them had graduated from college, while others left midway through, and others still had only attended high school. The American suburban housewife was believed to be an object of envy, for, she had a house, two cars, and a lot of purchasing power, which included her choice of appliances and supermarkets. Friedan observed through her research, which began during a survey of fellow alumnae at Smith College, that women who had become housewives were quietly suffering from the problem that has no name

The Housewife Quotes in The Feminine Mystique

The The Feminine Mystique quotes below are all either spoken by The Housewife or refer to The Housewife. For each quote, you can also see the other terms 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:

It is no longer possible to ignore that voice, to dismiss the desperation of so many American women. This is not what being a woman means, no matter what the experts say. For human suffering there is a reason; perhaps the reason has not been found because the right questions have not been asked or pressed far enough. I do not accept the answer that there is no problem because American women have luxuries that women in other times and lands never dreamed of; part of the strange newness of the problem is that it cannot be understood in terms of the age-old material problems of man: poverty, sickness, hunger, cold.

Related Characters: Betty Friedan (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Problem That Has No Name
Page Number: 26
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:
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:

According to Kinsey, the majority of American middle-class males’ sexual outlets are not in relations with their wives after the fifteenth year of marriage; at fifty-five, one out of two American men is engaging in extramarital sex. His male sex-seeking—the office romance, the casual or intense affair, even the depersonalized sex-for-sex’s sake…is, as often as not, motivated by the need to escape from the devouring wife. Sometimes the man seeks the human relationship that got lost when he became an appendage to his wife’s aggressive “home career.” Sometimes his aversion to his wife finally makes him seek in sex an object totally divorced from any human relationship. Sometimes, in phantasy more often than in fact, he seeks a girl-child, a Lolita, as sexual object—to escape that grownup woman who is devoting all her aggressive energies, as well as her sexual energies, to living through him.

Related Characters: Betty Friedan (speaker), Alfred Kinsey
Page Number: 273
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:

The comfortable concentration camp that American women have walked into or have been talked into by others […] denies women’s adult human identity. By adjusting to it, a woman stunts her intelligence to become childlike, turns away from individual identity to become an anonymous biological robot in a docile mass. She becomes less than human, preyed upon by outside pressures, and herself preying upon her husband and children. And the longer she conforms, the less she feels as if she really exists. She looks for her security in things, she hides the fear of losing her human potency by testing her sexual potency, she lives a vicarious life through mass daydreams or through her husband and children. She does not want to be reminded of the outside world; she becomes convinced there is nothing she can do about her own life or the world that would make a difference.

Related Characters: Betty Friedan (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Concentration Camp
Page Number: 308
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 13 Quotes

A woman today who has no goal, no purpose, no ambition patterning her days into the future, making her stretch and grow beyond that small score of years in which her body can fill its biological function, is committing a kind of suicide.

Related Characters: Betty Friedan (speaker)
Page Number: 336
Explanation and Analysis:
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The Feminine Mystique PDF

The Housewife Term Timeline in The Feminine Mystique

The timeline below shows where the term The Housewife appears in The Feminine Mystique. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1: The Problem That Has No Name
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Suburban housewives in the 1950s and early-1960s each struggled alone with the problem that has no name.... (full context)
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The image of the suburban housewife was part of the American Dream. The culture had convinced women that consumerism—the right to... (full context)
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...others blamed education which they believed had failed to prepare women for their roles as housewives. Some advocated eliminating four-year education for women altogether, while others suggested preparing for domestic work... (full context)
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The problem that has no name was dismissed by some who argued that housewives had an advantage in not having to go to work. Others said that their condition... (full context)
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Being housewives had made American women’s lives frantic. They spent all day doing chores or performing services... (full context)
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Doctors in the 1950s reported patients with “housewife’s fatigue.” These very tired women slept “as much as ten hours a day” and many... (full context)
Chapter 2: The Happy Housewife Heroine
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Many American housewives believed that they suffered alone from dissatisfaction and were relieved to discover that there were... (full context)
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...reports attending a meeting of magazine editors, most of whom were men. They claimed that housewives were not interested in world affairs, “unless it’s related to an immediate need in the... (full context)
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The New Women of 1930s fiction were almost never housewives. They were also not always young. Those who were young tended to be ambitious and... (full context)
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The “happy housewife heroines” had no vision of the future beyond having babies. Any ambition they exhibited was... (full context)
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...from the 1950s had a child-like sexuality and often played roles as child-like brides and housewives. Even in writing about an actress, the focus was on her role as a housewife.... (full context)
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...while men who had returned home from the war wrote the stories about the happy housewife heroine. They had channeled their longing for the comforts of home into these stories. (full context)
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...pity among “college guest editors.” Some female writers wrote fiction based on their lives as housewives and identified themselves as “just housewives.” (full context)
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...emasculated her husband and made him impotent and alcoholic. The second was the discontented suburban housewife who was envious of her husband’s career. The third was “the housewife-mother” who rejoiced in... (full context)
Chapter 3: The Crisis In Women's Identity
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...satisfy a boy whom she loved. She then married, had children, lived as a suburban housewife, and worked for newspapers with “no particular plan.” While talking to Smith seniors in 1959,... (full context)
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The younger women reported fears of growing up. They did not want to be housewives but had no other role models. In Friedan’s youth, the only other women were “old-maid”... (full context)
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...that they could do what men did. They found themselves ill-suited to their roles as housewives as a result. (full context)
Chapter 4: The Passionate Journey
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Feminists such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton were usually educated women who disliked the “housewife’s drudgery.” They were not, Friedan insists, “man-eaters.” The fight was not against men, but for... (full context)
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...and they did not want to have children for of fear of becoming trapped as housewives, as their mothers had been. The only images of women that existed for these freer... (full context)
Chapter 7: The Sex-Directed Educators
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...something to get out of the way with haste so that their “real” lives as housewives could begin. They had learned that if they wanted to have a normal, “adjusted” life... (full context)
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...Mead, that a proper education would only doom women to frustration when they inevitably became housewives. (full context)
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The sex-directed educator accepted responsibility for education being the cause of the housewife’s frustration. They encouraged a “feminized higher education” to counteract the “masculine” forces in the culture,... (full context)
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...Still, women were unfazed and, with the encouragement of sex-directed educators, only expected to be housewives. (full context)
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...minority of alumnae had complained that their educations had ill-prepared them for their roles as housewives. (full context)
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Sex-directed educators offered the following solutions for housewives who outlived their husbands: a course in law to help with matters, such as insurance... (full context)
Chapter 8: The Mistaken Choice
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...childhood, could not be blamed on career women. The GIs’ mothers had been “self-sacrificing, dependent” housewives. Research showed that they had little interest in anything beyond home, family, and beauty routines. (full context)
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...more delinquency or school truancy among the children of career women than among those of housewives, reports still warned that delinquency was more common among the children of working women. (full context)
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...Lois Meek Stolz found that the children of mothers who work are less likely than housewives’ children to be “disturbed,” to “have problems in school,” or to “lack a sense of... (full context)
Chapter 9: The Sexual Sell
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Friedan posits that the perpetuation of housewifery and the feminine mystique occurred when industry leaders realized that women were the chief consumers.... (full context)
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American businesses exploited the “uncreative” lives that many housewives led by making them think that they could find joy and purpose in buying things. (full context)
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...women into three categories to learn their opinions about electrical appliances. They included “The True Housewife Type,” “The Career Woman,” and “The Balanced Homemaker.” (full context)
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The True Housewife Type, whose existence was justified by housework, represented the largest market for appliances. However, she... (full context)
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“The Balanced Homemaker” was the ideal type for advertisers because, unlike “the true housewife,” she had some outside interests and was open to the help that appliances offered. She... (full context)
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Seventy-five percent of all consumer advertising was directed at housewives. Product designers created new gadgets that contributed to giving them a sense of achievement and... (full context)
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Advertisers and manufacturers tried to convince housewives that housework was fun. They made her feel like an expert in her field by... (full context)
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...them hated, sellers marketed more products and made the instructions more complicated. Sellers also exploited housewives’ “guilt over the hidden dirt” in their homes and encouraged a sense of achievement for... (full context)
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Advertisers exploited the teenage bride’s desire to find fulfillment and purpose in being a housewife. They exploited these desires in their campaign to sell sterling silver. They began trying to... (full context)
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...saying that a family would take pride in a mother who wears fur. Thus, the housewife’s guilt in doing something for herself is transformed into benefiting the whole family by looking... (full context)
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Any creative urges a housewife had were to be channeled into her home and family. The sewing industry combated the... (full context)
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...through shopping. Being in department stores relieved their isolation. Buying things at a bargain made housewives feel successful. (full context)
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Consumer researchers understood American housewives in ways that Freudian therapists and sociologists did not. However, they were guilty of using... (full context)
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...if it is only “a sick society,” or an “immature” one, that makes women into housewives instead of people. Maybe it is only immature men and women who can retreat from... (full context)
Chapter 10: Housewifery Expands to Fill the Time Available
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Friedan went in search of a real-life example of the happy, modern housewife. In some instances, she found women who had transitioned from housewifery to careers. In other... (full context)
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...depression or psychosis. Twelve of them were having extramarital affairs “in fact or fantasy.” These housewives, who were envied for their homes, marriages, and children, could not find fulfillment in anything.... (full context)
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Friedan noted that the housewives in this community were always busy with chores, chauffeuring their children, gardening, or helping with... (full context)
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Friedan found the same pattern when comparing women who identified as “housewives” to career women, both in the suburbs and in the cities. Housewives always seemed to... (full context)
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...the suburbs after deciding to give up a “job or profession” to become “a full-time housewife.” On the other hand, a woman who pursues a “definite professional goal is less likely... (full context)
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...“one free-flowing room where women can expand their housework and never really be alone.” The housewife convinces herself that she must always watch after her children, lest they be deprived of... (full context)
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...that their husbands share the housework, but that still did not compensate for the feeling housewives had of being “shut out of the larger world.” (full context)
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A male Minneapolis schoolteacher undermined the notion that a housewife’s work was an “interminable chore” by taking over a suburban home and performing all necessary... (full context)
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Housewives complained of an incessant “tired feeling” which doctors either dismissed or attempted to treat with... (full context)
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...to find honest enjoyment in one aspect of the job, such as cooking. For the housewives whom Friedan interviewed, the problem was not having too much to do, “but too little.”... (full context)
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...to find any other activities that would give them a sense of purpose. Though the housewife expanded her time available to perform housework, it still presented little challenge or stimulation to... (full context)
Chapter 11: The Sex-Seekers
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When Friedan asked housewives what they did with their time when they were not doing chores, or asked them... (full context)
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Many housewives staked their identities on their sex role, using sex to feel “alive” and thus, placing... (full context)
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Friedan reports on an island where attractive young housewives spent their summers. There, they enjoyed the company of “sexless boys right out of the... (full context)
Chapter 12: Progressive Dehumanization: The Comfortable Concentration Camp
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In the 1950s, “the housewife’s syndrome” included mild symptoms, such as “bleeding blisters” and “nervousness,” as well as more severe... (full context)
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The greater rate of breakdowns existed among “housewife-mothers” who shared certain characteristics in common. They had quit high school or college and came... (full context)
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Sometimes, in their drive to be very good wives and mothers, “housewife-mothers” ended up playing a very “masculine,” dominant role. The housewife-mother dominated her children’s lives, nagged... (full context)
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Friedan insists that being a housewife often resulted in “a sense of emptiness” and “non-existence” similar to that experienced by prisoners... (full context)
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...of mind and spirit.” If educated women were unable to “adjust” to their role as housewives, then, according to Friedan, they must have outgrown the role. (full context)
Chapter 13: The Forfeited Self
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...the world, “normal feminine adjustment” entails not realizing the full possibilities of one’s existence. The housewife lacked a personal purpose which extended into the future, a purpose that would help her... (full context)
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...needs for strength, self-esteem, achievement, and confidence in their abilities were not met. Being a housewife did not grant women self-esteem because the “occupation” did not allow for the full expression... (full context)
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To break out of the housewife trap, or the “comfortable concentration camp,” women could not find their identities through others, but... (full context)
Chapter 14: A New Life Plan for Women
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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... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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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.”... (full context)
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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... (full context)
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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,... (full context)
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...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. (full context)
Epilogue
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...outside of the home. Though it was no longer possible to live as “just a housewife,” women wondered how else they could live. (full context)
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...that fear because she, too, had experienced her own years of playing “the helpless little housewife” and staying in a bad marriage out of fear of being alone. (full context)
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...the women who started NOW were middle-class, they did not have easy access to money. Housewives could not get money “to fly to board meetings” and women who worked could not... (full context)