The Feminine Mystique

by

Betty Friedan

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Themes and Colors
Domesticity and Femininity Theme Icon
Nature vs. Nurture Theme Icon
Psychoanalysis and Sexism Theme Icon
Consumerism and The Power of Advertising Theme Icon
Sex and Marriage Theme Icon
Work Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Feminine Mystique, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Domesticity and Femininity

The central problem of The Feminine Mystique is the prevalence of American women in the post-World War II era who identified as housewives, not only viewing themselves in relation to their husbands and children, but also seeking personal fulfillment through their performance of tedious and repetitive housework. Domesticity had created what Friedan calls a “trap” that prevented women from growing into fully self-actualized individuals with knowledge of their abilities beyond housework and mothering, and…

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Nature vs. Nurture

The social sciences, which had developed significantly since Friedan started researching and writing The Feminine Mystique, had not undermined the social prejudices that hindered women’s development but had instead validated them. Functionalism (a way of thinking about individuals and institutions that stressed the “function” they serve to their society) asserted that men and women must complement each other within their traditional roles so as not to duplicate functions. In other words, social scientists had…

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Psychoanalysis and Sexism

Psychoanalysis became very popular after World War II, particularly among Americans who became fixated on Freud’s notion of penis envy (the idea that a woman learns in girlhood that she lacks a penis and, to make up for her inability to get one, forms “masculine” ambitions, such as pursuing a career). Friedan argues that the problems regarding interpretations of Freud in the United States were two-fold. First, Americans had accepted Freud’s sexist, Victorian view…

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Consumerism and The Power of Advertising

The problem that has no name pervades The Feminine Mystique. It has no single cause, but manifests as a chronic sense of dissatisfaction with the things that housewives had been taught to want: a house in the suburbs, a husband with a career, children, and the purchasing power to buy as many appliances as they want. Advertising firms, eager to exploit the purchasing power of housewives, peddled the idea that women could feel the…

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Sex and Marriage

In the absence of valuable work or a sense of personal achievement, women often turned to sex to feel “alive” again. Friedan strongly objected to the notion that women could find a sense of identity through sex, believing it to be foolhardy. Many women reported gaining little pleasure from being with their husbands, while others sought sex outside of their marriages. As more and more women realized that having a marriage and a family did…

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Work

Friedan offers work outside the home as the true antidote to the problem that has no name. She does not advocate for just any kind of work (since purposeless work would only reinforce a woman’s sense of purposelessness), but for work that allows a woman to display her talents and to build relationships with people outside of the home. The feminine mystique had convinced women that their sole purpose was the performance of housework—menial…

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