Betty Friedan's monumental book is nearly a half century old. Today, Terry Gross interviewed Stephanie Coontz, who, at the request of her publisher, wrote a "biography" of the book.
1st paragraph allegedly a landmark.
Coontz spoke to 200 women and men on the book. The women said the first paragraph offered a “shock of recognition.”
She discusses how middle class women recognized their discontent in Friedan’s writing. What I remember from the years before the publication of Mystique were the articles from my mother’s magazines on women as closet drinkers.
Friedan offered that women were not allowed to be human beings.
Gross adds that middle class women had nice homes, etc. She then quotes Friedan on how these women had not faced the problem of poetry.
Coontz offers that these women were a new class and this is the book’s weakness and, simultaneously, its strength. It seems to me – and I have not read the book – that Coontz overlooks two things: That societal change often occurs but is not recognized until long after the change has occurred and, in a completely other vein, that these middle class women were, in some respects, a population like earlier society women of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. Both groups were somewhat freed from aspects of child-rearing and homekeeping. However, unlike the earlier, wealthier women, these mid-20th C., middle class women seemed to lack the social connections and obligations that their predecessors had. They also were not encouraged to cultivate “accomplishments” to fill their time and to enrich social events. What I see is that middle class, mid-20th C women filled the same niche that “ladies,” in the old sense of the term, filled in society without any of the benefits women had before. To Coontz, the mid-20th C women were a new population but I wonder whether they simply had stepped into an outdated situation.