An Analysis of The Feminine Mystique, Chapter 1
The problem lay buried, unspoken, for many years in the minds of American women. It was a strange stirring, a sense of dissatisfaction, a yearning that women suffered in the middle of the 20th century in the United States. Each suburban wife struggled with it alone. As she made the beds, shopped for groceries, matched slipcover material, ate peanut butter sandwiches with her children, chauffeured Cub Scouts and Brownies, lay beside her husband at night—she was afraid to ask even of herself the silent question—‘Is this all?
The ever lovely Sunshine Mary has organized a reading and discussion of The Feminine Mystique, by Betty Friedan – the book which is credited with kicking off second wave Feminism. The inspiration for this event came from Return of Kings “Traditional Sex Roles Week”, specifically a conversation between a Feminist named Ashley M, and Karl from Radish Mag:
For her part, Ashley agreed to read Mencken’s In Defense of Women if he were to read Friedan’s novel.
Sunshine Mary entered the fray, and offered to organize a Book Club-style analysis – saying “I think The Feminine Mystique is just about due for a full scale dissection around here.” She’s been kind enough to offer the following questions to reflect on while reading Chapter 1:
1a. Do you think the average housewife at the time Friedan was writing this was experiencing similar symptoms? If so, why might they have been?
1b. Do you think women in the 50s expected to find housework fulfilling? Did women find it so in previous generations? Do women find it so now? Do men?
1c. Friedan implies that making a career out of having children was part of the cause of the “problem with no name”. Do you think having children in lieu of a job was depressing for women?
1d. Were the women more or less isolated or lonely than previous generations of women?
1e. Given that she cites no sources, do you find Mrs. Friedan’s assertions credible? Because she states that she was a housewife herself at times, does that lend credibility to her words?
The primary discussion can be read on her blog ( for your convenience I hyper-linked to the first comment of the official discussion, but Mary’s written quite a bit of an opener which is worth reading through), and if you wish to follow along by reading Friedan’s work, Chapter 1 can be found here (thanks to Free Northerner) (Ed: full book here, thanks to Puzzle Pirate).
As for myself, I decided to expound at length here on my own webzone. Let’s begin.
Making You Hungry
Let’s start with a Dennis Leary quote:
Happiness comes in small doses folks. It’s a cigarette butt, or a chocolate chip cookie or a five second orgasm. You come, you smoke the butt you eat the cookie you go to sleep wake up and go back to fucking work the next morning, THAT’S IT! End of fucking list!
The softness present in today’s world sickens me. Without sacrifice, there is no value; without struggle, there is no victory. Things have become so convenient that people themselves have become conveniences; the reasons that marriages fall apart are the same reasons that friendships fail. Why bother going to the sacrifice and struggle to bond with another human being, when you can meet another of Palahniuk’s “single serving friends” on your next flight? Join the Cult of Niceness, and you get a steady supply of casual sex, casual friendship, and casual videogames.
When Friedan writes about the existential ennui of the housewife, all I hear is the whining of a people grown soft.
Furthermore, by describing this problem she’s also manufacturing it. It’s not that hard to make people miserable; simply offer them a choice, a comparison to what they presently have. Not only will they be burning up willpower defending the choice they’ve made, the opportunity costs (of, for instance, having a loving family which truly fulfills you, versus a soul numbing job where you at least get to wear a sexy dress) will be ever-present in their mind. As Yudkowsky writes in his essay, Harmful Options:
I don’t know if this story has ever been written, but you can imagine a Devil who follows someone around, making their life miserable, solely by offering them options which are never actually taken—a “deal with the Devil” story that only requires the Devil to have the capacity to grant wishes, rather than ever granting a single one.
This is what the whole field of marketing has done to us: with our basic needs taken care of, the big money is in feeding our solipsism. Just last night I saw some scenes from the latest Star Trek movie, and the sheer beauty of those Special Children in Starfleet makes my own life look like crap. You want to know why the Social Justice Warriors glorify in their own depravity? It’s this innundation with The Perfect Life being fed to them by the narcissists in Hollywood. “I’m never going to be as beautiful as the TV People – so instead I’ll glorify my filthiness by writing about Clean Privilege!”
Rather than write three paragraphs about “The Grass is Always Greener,” and “Count Your Blessings”, I’m going to trust that my readership already understands this: that by describing the minor failings in a housewife’s life (the children smeared banana into the carpet, she never gets to dress up, she’s feeling starved for adult company because her husband is exhausted when he comes home from work), she emphasizes them-
-and that’s exactly what I do; that’s exactly what the Manosphere does!
When we write about the lack of masculinity and femininity, we’re trying to make you hungry; we’re trying to make you feel like you’re performing at less than full capacity – and we’re doing it because we’re trying to light a fire under your ass so that you self-improve, so that society starts to resemble something a bit healthier than what it presently is. It’s still Marketing: the important question is “To what end?”
The TV wants you to feel like a failure until you buy the Latest Model.
The Manosphere wants you to feel miserable, because if you keep living the way you are, you’ll be a washed-up, overweight, failure of a human being by the time you’re 40 (either a cringing Beta, or a used-up slut).
The question we need to put to Friedan, then, is what does she want to do to people with this book?
Historical Context: The Fourth Turning
The Fourth Turning by Strauss and Howe is one of the most influential works of Historical Theory that I’ve read; and when Friedan quotes statistics, it’s important to remember whom those statistics are about – the Silent Generation of Artists.
The Silents were the over-protected children of the Lost Generation Nomads, dressing in starched formal wear and having adventures in Narnia while the G.I. Heroes fought World War II under the Lost’s leadership, who then grew into elders who wanted to imitate the Boomer Prophets, which led to the term “Mid-Life Crisis” being coined.
By the end of the nineteen-fifties, the average marriage age of women in America dropped to 20, and was still dropping, into the teens. Fourteen million girls were engaged by 17. The proportion of women attending college in comparison with men dropped from 47 per cent in 1930 to 35 per cent in 1958.
The picture she’s painting is that of a generation whose entire lives had been plotted out ahead of time. The G.I.s had just spent twenty years suffering through Depression and War; upon their return, they were more than happy to settle into boring normality, living in the suburbs and having dinner parties with the neighbours. The Lost, moving into elderhood, were focused entirely on survival; they hadn’t had time in their lives to consider anything else. The Silents, meanwhile, had been taught to trust in society to guide them. They were raised on the equivalent of Disney movies, without the Gen-X hostility and suspicion of such promises.
They were suckers, who believed what they were told about The Good Life, without question. Unlike the Prodigal Son, who learned from his mistakes, they’d been so coddled that they never made mistakes in the first place, they never took any chances – and so they got married to their High School Sweetheart, only to realize around the age of 25 that the Instruction Manual they’d been following had run out of pages: they were left on their own, without the coping skills they needed to survive.
The first wave of the Baby Boomer children – those birthed by single mothers and cowards who didn’t fight in the war – were behind the Silents with their Sex, Drugs, and Rock n’ Roll. Ahead of the Silents were the G.I.s, those who’d gone through Hell, and were now enjoying domestic tranquility and bliss.
The Silents couldn’t fit into either category: they were a ripe market for the sale of Existential Ennui.
Friedan’s writing is a fascinating study in just how manipulative you can be as a Rhetorician – something I take pride in myself (though I try and use this power for Good). You could write an exhaustive treatise on this, but I think bullet points will suffice:
- “Birth rates skyrocketed during the 1950s [paraphrased]” – by skyrocketed, she means returned to the historic norm.
- “Marketing promoted living as a vacuous Blonde [paraphrased]” – these days, marketers sell women hair dye by saying “Who says Blondes have the most fun?” Marketing is usually vacuous.
- “Many women never left their homes, except to shop, chauffeur their children, or attend a social engagement with their husbands.” She just covered 99% of the reasons anybody ever leaves their home, aside from going to slave away at the office. It’s pure non sequitor, but note her use of the word “never”: emotionally, she just painted a picture of a Muslim woman who’s not allowed in public without a ninja suit.
- “Their only dream was to be perfect wives and mothers; their highest ambition to have five children and a beautiful house, their only fight to get and keep their husbands.¹” How foolish they were! What paltry, mundane things those are to achieve!
- “…they wanted the men to make the major decisions.” Women still want men to make the decisions. I’ll revise this assertion when I hear about a Feminist who loves taking her husband out on dates, where she plans surprises for him.
The Housewife Syndrome
Reversed stupidity is not intelligence.
For the remainder of the chapter, Friedan expounds upon the existential ennui of the Silent Generation housewife; repeating the dissatisfaction, and asking the question “Is this all?” in as many different ways as she can muster. Eventually, for any woman, one of the questions will hit home.
A generation of women “Had it all!” – a loving husband, children, modern appliances, et cetera – and yet still felt that there was something missing. There was a mass problem, she argued; a widespread inadequacy in life… and as far as that goes, I’m ready to agree with her.
However: what is her diagnosis of the cause? And what is her prescription for a solution? As it’s an introductory chapter, she leaves these questions hanging – but I suspect I know where she’s headed (as do you, gentle reader): I fully expect to hear that it’s a lack of self actualization which is at fault, and the cure is to join the Corporate World. Not an outright rejection of the nuclear family… but only because, at the time, that sort of subversive Marxism would have stood out even to the uneducated. I predict that it’ll be a far more subtle argument in that direction.
A counter theory, then: since obviously something was wrong with women, but equally obviously, blaming it on the fact that they’re fulfilling their biological purpose is patently absurd.
Quite simply: the Silent Generation never had to struggle, and they never earned their happiness. They were living life with Cheat Mode Enabled – doing whatever they were told to do – and they hadn’t fought or struggled for the life that they lived.
Even if you do all the right things, if you’re doing them for the wrong reasons, it’s still going to result in failure. Marriage, family, differentiated sex roles – all of these are great things. But if you don’t know why they’re so great, and you just try and go through the motions because that’s what you were told to do, you’re going to wind up just as miserable as the women Friedan describes.
I’d like to end this piece by contrasting one of Friedan’s quotes, with a similar one from Palahniuk’s Fight Club:
“Once she determined the boiling point of sulphuric acid; now she determines her boiling point with the overdue repairman…”
How many women actually did this? How many of them actually had any interest in being a chemist? The outfit of the chemist is sexy and cool, granted – but were these women sneaking off to the garage to play with their son’s chemistry set after he went to bed? I doubt it. Contrast to Palahniuk, writing about things men do as hobbies, and the false promises fed to us:
We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won’t. And we’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very pissed off.
The Manosphere and the Feminists are doing the same things… but looking beneath the surface, it’s evident that only one of us cares about the Truth.
1. What a poorly written sentence; either use two commas, or (better yet) two semi-colons, since they’re three self-supporting statements which are nonetheless connected.