Sunday, October 30, 2005

Betty Friedan: Feminist of the Day?

Betty Naomi Friedan
Author, Founder
"If divorce has increased by one thousand percent, don't blame the women's movement. Blame the obsolete sex roles on which our marriages were based."

One of my least favourite scene in 10 Things I Hate About You takes place in a bookstore. Heath Ledger is pursuing Julia Stiles and finds her in the feminist section. When she asks him what he's doing there he says he's lost his copy of 'Feminine Mystique', this ruse seems to work, because at the end of the scene she presents him with a copy of the book.

I can't think of a feminist book that it is less plausible that a teenage boy would own, or that would have any importance to Kat. I'm left wondering if the writer used The Feminine Mystique as a generic stand in for any feminist text, or if the inappropriateness was the point, but as the director, actors, and 99.9% of the audience didn't understand that the 0.1 of us who care about this sort of thing just get annoyed.

The Feminine Mystique is an impressive discussion of the situation of women in a particular time and place. Its research and analysis is incredibly thorough. She describes the situation women are in, and has done enough research to explain why (the answer is capitalism, by the way). The Feminine mystique resonated with enough women that its position as a book that sparked a movement isn't entirely hyperbole. But it is the analysis of one of the problems that women faced in the 1960s, it is not a programme for feminist change.

Since publishing the Feminine Mystique Betty Friedan's sisterhood has been a little spotty (to put it generously), she complained about Lesbians within NOW and later wrote a book about how the feminine mystique had been replaced by the feminist mystique.

I think too many people, including Betty Friedan herself, have treated her work as something it is not. It is not a general feminist treatise, but an analysis of a specific problem women faced.

Conclusion: Go and read The Feminine Mystique it's really interesting. It is a shame that fame doesn't agree with some people, but that shouldn't discredit the work they have done (I'm pretty sure she has a secret red past as well.)


  1. Anonymous11:40 pm

    "surrendering the independance of body and mind to the slavery of idolisation." S.Schama

  2. Anonymous11:39 pm

    Yes, The Feminine Mystique stands on its own as a classic and is well worth a read, no matter what Friedan said in later years.

    The Women's Room, by Marilyn French, is also a critique of the lot of women in post-war America, though in fictional form. It was a huge hit when it came out in the late 1970s as it reflected the aspirations and frustrations of women at the time of the early feminist movement. Like the Feminist Mystique, it is best seen as a book of its time, not a prescription for the future.