A Strange Stirring: The Feminine Mystique and American Women at the Dawn of the 1960s

A Strange Stirring: The Feminine Mystique and American Women at the Dawn of the 1960s

Stephanie Coontz

Language: English

Pages: 256

ISBN: 046502842X

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

In 1963, Betty Friedan unleashed a storm of controversy with her bestselling book, The Feminine Mystique. Women wrote to her by the hundreds to say that the book had transformed, even saved, their lives. Nearly half a century later, many women still recall where they were and what they were doing when they first read the book. In A Strange Stirring, prominent historian of women and marriage Stephanie Coontz strips away the myths, examining what The Feminine Mystique actually said, and which groups of women were affected. Coontz takes us back to the early 1960s – the age of Mad Men – when the sexual revolution was barely nascent, middle class wives stayed at home, and husbands retained legal control over almost every aspect of family life. Based on extensive research in the magazines and popular culture of the 1940s, 1950s, and early 1960s, as well as interviews with women and men who read The Feminine Mystique shortly after its publication, A Strange Stirring brilliantly illuminates how Friedan’s book emboldened a generation of women to realize that their boredom and dissatisfaction stemmed from political injustice rather than personal weakness.

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for ads segregated by sex. The New York Times did not abolish gender-segregated ads until 1968. In September 1965, activists in the stewardesses’ union managed to get a hearing before the House Labor subcommittee to protest the airlines’ policy of forcing them to retire when they reached their early thirties, but the legislators failed to take their complaints seriously. Representative James Scheuer, a liberal who by his 1991 retirement supported women’s rights, facetiously asked the complaining

was struck by the sight of her mother, who was not normally much of a reader, “hunched over this paperback, frowning, twin divots between her dark brows.” In a three-page handwritten letter dated October 20, 1963, one woman wrote in response to reading Friedan’s article in LIFE magazine, “Education, I have none of. But every single word you wrote was and always did go round and round in my mind till I absolutely had to stop thinking that way, so sure was I that I was some kind of nut.” “My

high school, and she noticed that this improved her mother’s depression. “I could see that it was very good for her to be working and I admired her for going to work,” she recalls. But Parker had also absorbed the tremendous social disapproval of working mothers, so she chose to “lie on school forms that asked for mother’s occupation. I continued to check the housewife box, because I feared my teacher would judge her poorly.” Friedan blamed these conservative cultural trends on the growing

husband wasn’t really “okay enough,” and she initiated a separation. “When my mother heard we’d separated, she called my husband and told him, ‘If Lillian wants to come back, treat her like a dog in the street. She doesn’t deserve what you’ve given her.’” Fearing that she would not be able to support her child, Lillian agreed to reconcile three months later. She also consented to move from central Los Angeles, where she was a community activist, to the suburbs where her husband worked. For

did not ask her to give up the career she had once thought could preclude marriage. IT HAS OFTEN BEEN CLAIMED THAT THE FEMININE MYSTIQUE MADE women dissatisfied with their marriages. Certainly many women who felt trapped in unhappy marriages credit Friedan with giving them, as Janet C. said, “the courage to decide that the world wouldn’t end if I left my husband.” Sandra G. wrote that in 1953, at age eighteen, she had married the first boy she had sex with, “and he threw that up to me every

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