A Controversial Book that Influenced Me

The Feminine Mystique

This week’s topic is a book that influenced me. Had to think about that one for a little while. I’ve read a lot of books, and many influenced me, my opinions, thinking and behaviour.

But looking back, one book did spring to mind rather quickly. Perhaps because it sparked so much discussion!

Betty Frieden wrote The Feminine Mystique in 1963. By the time I read it at university, it was already two decades old and as much criticised as praised.

The book changed my thinking about feminism. I already knew feminism had made a positive difference in the world. The Feminine Mystique showed how far we had to go in achieving real equality. It articulated that feminism could, and should, be both pragmatic and noble. It spoke to me in language I understood, perhaps because I was becoming an educated white, middle-class feminist myself. And also because I knew so many women, my friend’s mothers and others, who fit right into the group of women Ms Friedan was writing about.

Now, while I still appreciate how groundbreaking it was in its day, I tend to notice the book’s flaws.

The Feminine MystiqueIt focuses on the 1950’s and 1960’s dilemma for educated, middle-class married white women in America. Housewives who were bored with a narrow focus on their home, and children, and with too much leisure time, who wanted more out of life. It’s interesting, from a historical perspective, that this post war period took several conservative steps backwards from the 1930’s and 40’s when women joined the workforce in droves.

The Feminine MystiqueMs Friedan totally ignored unmarried women, women without children, non-white women and poor white women who had to work to stay alive. At no point in the book does she discuss the impact of sexism and sexist oppression on the lives of all women in American society. But, the success of the book (over 3 million copies sold) led to many other authors picking up on these omissions, and to discussion and debate that busted way beyond academia.

She also completely ignored the rights of the LGBTQ community, in fact many writers coming after her argued that the book is disturbingly homophobic.

But in this post I’m talking about a book that influenced me, and this one did. It made me realise that women unknowingly pin themselves (and other women) into pigeonholes. Even more so, I understood that men could be just as much victims of sexism as women.

The book isn’t perfect. It’s outdated, repetitive, rather dry at points, and a number of scholars have questioned her scientific research. But I do believe it was one of the primary levers of change back in the sixties. It is credited with starting the Second-wave Feminism movement. A movement which eventually worked with civil rights and students unions and succeeded in changing beliefs and opinions around the world.

This is week 5 in the MFRW 52 week challenge! You can read about the books that influenced other authors in the hop by clicking here.


Kim Cleary, Author

Kim Cleary

Kim writes paranormal stories with a intrigue, suspense and a hint of romance. She loves all animals, especially her dogs; and thrives on coffee and chocolate while writing and researching.

11 thoughts on “A Controversial Book that Influenced Me”

  1. Holly BargoHolly Bargo

    I’ve not read The Feminine Mystique, but I know its influence in my own life.

  2. Ed HoornaertEd Hoornaert

    This is certainly a more serious tome than I chose — a Davy Crockett comic book.

  3. Robin MichaelaRobin Michaela

    Back then, people had a more narrow view of women and minorities (unless they were one). They say to write what you know, which probably explains Friedan’s omission of unmarried, childless, non-white, poor women. I’d forgotten about her book, but I do remember hearing the controversy about it when I was in my teens.

  4. Meka JamesMeka James

    I’ve never heard of this book, but I appreciate your discussion on it. It sounds like it was (for it’s time) cutting age but still highlighted the ‘privilege’ of only an elite group. At least more discussion was brought from the book and those forgotten groups at that time, have been made part of the overall discussion.

  5. Linda McLaughlinLinda McLaughlin

    I remember reading Friedan, though I think Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch influenced me more, as I was single for a long time. I remember reading that one on a Greyhound bus traveling from UT Austin to a friend’s house in the Houston area.

  6. Helen HendersonHelen Henderson

    Interesting post. When we evaluate we have to take into account the time and space it was written in which you did very nicely.

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