50 Years Since “The Feminine Mystique,” Has Anything Changed?

February 17 marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of “The Feminine Mystique.” Since 1963, millions of people have read this groundbreaking book.

As Gail Collins points out in The New York Times, it was a book that was able to “seize the moment – to perfectly encapsulate the problem of an era before other people even notice the problem exists.”

From NPR:

It was post-World War II America. The suburbs were growing exponentially and the economy was booming. A lot of women had worked outside the home during the war, and a significant number of women had gotten a college education. Now, they were all being told to stay home and find their fulfillment in taking care of their husbands and children.

“The moment was so pregnant and ready for an explosion,” Collins says, “that all you needed was somebody just sitting there and saying: Look at that ad. They think you are so stupid. They have contempt for you. They hate you. Take look at that again. That’s all you needed.”

Reading this book several years later, I realized at once that it was a completely personal outburst of anger. Friedan was not attempting to write a sociological treatise or a guide to the legal status of women. That’s important to note, since she has been faulted for barely mentioning poor women or African-American women.

Instead, Friedan was venting her own fury at the way intelligent, well-educated women were being kept out of the workplace, and turned into baby-producing and vacuum-pushing zombies. And if housewives dared to express frustration or depression with their lot, psychiatrists were ready to prescribe “mother’s little helper” to make them feel better and push them back into place.

The personal became the political as millions of women recognized themselves in Friedan’s life story.

But have things really changed since then? Or have they remained the same?

My own life has been profoundly shaped by the women’s movement.

As a teenage girl in the UK, I had attended a single-sex high school, where my male history teacher informed us that he never told anyone he was working in a girls’ school, since that would be too embarrassing. Then there was the local pub, with its lounge bar for everyone, and its public bar strictly for men, not to mention the Church of England where priests were always male and women were allowed to arrange the flowers.

In the late 1970s, on my arrival in the US from the UK, I began work at the Feminist Womens Health Center, a clinic and abortion center run entirely by women, and made possible by the passage of Roe vs. Wade.

Entering a work environment where women made all the decisions was liberating for me, and was a direct outcome of the Women’s Movement. Betty Friedan and her book, to say nothing of the first organization she founded, the National Organization for Women, may not have started the Women’s Movement, but were most certainly a major reason for its evolution.

But how much has not changed in these 50 years?

According to new data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, men spend more time than women at work each day, while women, even those with full-time jobs, do most of the household chores. The study shows 83 percent of women and 65 percent of men spent time each day in 2011 doing household chores such as cleaning, cooking, lawn care or financial and other household management.

The same holds true for Britain. From the Guardian:

Analysis by the Institute for Public Policy Research thinktank shows that eight out of 10 married women do more household chores, while just one in 10 married men does an equal amount of cleaning and washing as his wife.
Just over one in 10 women – 13% – say their husbands do more housework than they do, while only 3% of married women do fewer than three hours a week, with almost half doing 13 hours or more.

So is it true that women haven’t given up the domestic areas they were in charge of, but rather have added new duties and responsibilities?

That may be true in some households, but nevertheless, the world has changed drastically since “The Feminine Mystique.”  If you want to see how far we have come, and to understand that passion that fired up the modern women’s movement, you can do no better than pick up a copy of “The Feminine Mystique.”


Related Care2 Coverage

The Rumor of the Death of the Pro-Choice Movement Has Been Greatly Exaggerated

3 Ways Roe v Wade Is Not About Abortion

How Ending Violence Against Women and Girls Became My Passion


Photo Credit: FeglawX75


Freya S.
Freya S2 years ago

Progress has been made but things could still be better.

Kathy Perez
Kathy J5 years ago

we HAVE made progress, and more men are on our side now than ever before. I feel a lot of women still get pressured into having children, or getting engaged/married. As if one's life can't be complete without a man and kids. That needs to change.

Eternal Gardener
Eternal G5 years ago

We're not there yet!

Lika S.
Lika P5 years ago

The feminine mystique. Funny how that is put. A man must have come up with that term, maybe? Men have always been allowed their sexuality. Yet as women, we are supposed to be sultry, sensual, sexy, beautiful, coy, etc... all w/o being sexual. Yet many normal men want the whole wrap up of bringing home the "nice girl" to meet the parents, but, the "naughty girl" into his own bed.

I think it is a crock, that we have mystique. As women, we want to be loved, respected, desired, etc just like men do. Just like you can't say all men are pigs, not all of us women are quaint domestics, either. There is always that balance and it's different and unique for each individual. Same goes for men, as to why some are willing to work 2 jobs to ensure that his wife stay home to raise the kids, while another is fine with his wife working, so he can share the parental duties, or others, who like their wives to be the head of household and he's a stay-at-home-dad? Different strokes for different folks. The sooner we realize that and respect it, the better it is for all of humanity.

I also believe that girls need to learn to change tires and check the car fluids, just as boys need to learn how to cook and do laundry. You may not have a significant other to take care of those for you.

Inga S.
Inga S5 years ago

Things are Not the Same But are they better? As a girl who "came of age" in the 60s there are many more choices career wise. In the 70s employers were not allowed to ask if you took "the pill" now some states have enacted laws saying employers have control over if you do or not, and you have to have a Dr. tell them it's not for contraception purposes! As I see it, personally, the USA (especially the southern and conservative states) are trying to make females the new 'slaves'. We've Come a Long Way Baby... but it has been a circle... now we are to blame for much more than simply wanting to be who we are!

janice b.
jan b5 years ago

During WW2, the women ran the factories, the homes when the men went to war. Strangely enough, when the war was over.... then by the 50's everyone was convinced that men should be the breadwinners and women should be the houskeepers the stepford wives. In school the guys took shop classes and the gals took home-economics.

Jennifer U.
Jennifer A5 years ago

Reading this makes me feel lucky that my boyfriend believes that both need to do their own chores and take care of their own messes. I grew up in a house where my mom did everything for you (unless you were a girl, then you had to help her) and I see how that's negatively affected my brothers and their relationships with women. I really think that women taking care of all the chores on top of working is a bad example for children and you can see it once they grow up.

vicky t.
vicky T5 years ago

I'm one of the 13%, since I'm clueless in the kitchen and never used a washing machine in my life... My bf, on the other hand, is gifted in cooking, and is an extremely organized and tidy person who does everything around the house...

although if we ever have children, i'd definitely want to switch to a part time job and dedicate myself to them, not because i'm a woman, but because that's what i've always wanted to do!

Patricia H.
Patricia H5 years ago


Stephanie Reap
Stephanie R5 years ago

I was watching Family Feud last night and the question was what would a man hate to do that a woman does daily. I was really disappointed that in 2013, the answers remained cooking, cleaning, caring for the children, etc. Really?? Still??? Apparently.