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  1. Book ImageThe Feminine Mystique

    Betty Friedan, Anna Quindlen

    “If you’ve never read it, read it now.”—Arianna Huffington, O, The Oprah Magazine

Discussion Questions

  1. “The image by which modern American women live also leave[s] something out….This image—created by the women’s magazines, by advertisements, television, movies, novels, columns and books, by experts on marriage and the family, child psychology, sexual adjustment and by the popularizers of sociology and psychoanalysis—shapes women’s lives today and mirrors their dreams.” Betty Friedan first published these words in 1963 when the media’s picture of a woman as wife and mother was certainly leaving something out. What has changed from the image of thirty years ago and what has not? What is today’s image leaving out?
  2. “The feminine mystique says that the highest value and the only commitment for women is the fulfillment of their own femininity….But however special and different, [this femininity] is in no way inferior to the nature of man; it may even in certain respects be superior.” Does the idea that women’s differences give them a kind of superiority—or at least a certain advantage—have any currency today? In what ways do you see it expressed? Do you think it holds any truth?
  3. Betty Friedan writes: “I never knew a woman, when I was growing up, who used her mind, played her own part in the world, and also loved, and had children.” Discuss how the tension between work and family operates for women today. Are the expectations of men and women different in this regard? Have expectations changed? Do the scars of the feminine mystique play a role in this issue today?
  4. Friedan argues that women were choosing marriage in order to avoid their fears about establishing their own identity and handling the fear and uncertainty that come with being alone. Do you agree with her assessment? Do you agree with the causes she cites: Margaret Mead, Freud and sex-directed education, the aftermath of World War II? Do women today marry for the same reasons?
  5. Are immaturity and dependency words that are still associated with femininity? What are the qualities that the word “woman” connotes today? Discuss the possible origins of these connotations.
  6. In many of her interviews with housewives, Betty Friedan found that the overwhelming sentiment was: “I feel empty— as if I don’t exist.” However, as the author continues, her inter- views reveal that these unhappy women are not trying to improve their situations. What is the cause of their anguish? Is society forcing women to be unhappy? To what extent are these women responsible for their own situations?
  7. “Perhaps it is only a sick society, unwilling to face its own problems and unable to conceive of goals and purposes equal to the ability and knowledge of its members, that chooses to ignore the strength of women.” Was the society of 1963 sick? What problems was society unwilling to face?
  8. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word “feminine” first appeared in old French and was derived from the Latin word for woman (femina). The first definition of “feminism” is “the qualities of females.” What are “the qualities of females”? Are they simply qualities that men do not possess, such as the ability to bear children? If so, is it possible for men to treat women completely equally, despite being unable to share their defining characteristics? If not, what is it that makes men and women different, if anything at all?
  9. Most of the text concerns the experiences of middle-class women. Are their experiences, then and now, different from other women’s?
  10. In “Metamorphosis: Two Generations Later,” Friedan moves into a new generation, which is not as plagued by the feminine mystique as the preceding one. What has changed in the space of time between the first publication of The Feminine Mystique and today? In light of these changes, what is the relevance today of the original text?

Watch: 50 Years of The Feminine Mystique: Melissa Harris-Perry

Watch: 50 Years of The Feminine Mystique: Stephanie Coontz

Watch: 50 Years of The Feminine Mystique: Sandra Gilbert & Susan Gubar

About Betty Friedan

Betty Friedan (1921–2006), a transformational leader of the women’s movement, founded the National Organization for Women (NOW) and authored many works, including The Second Stage, The Fountain of Age, and Life So Far.

Books by Betty Friedan

  1. Book CoverThe Feminine Mystique

    The first student edition of Betty Friedan’s national best seller published in honor of its fiftieth anniversary. The Feminine Mystique forever changed America’s consciousness by defining “the problem that has no name.”More

  2. Book CoverThe Feminine Mystique

    “If you’ve never read it, read it now.”—Arianna Huffington, O, The Oprah MagazineMore

About Anna Quindlen

Anna Quindlen is an award-winning columnist and novelist. She left journalism in 1995 to write fiction full time and has published three bestsellers. She lives in New York City.

Books by Anna Quindlen