Betty Friedan’s 1963 bestseller The Feminine Mystique launched a feminist movement that has profoundly altered millions of lives; however, its legacy has come under severe criticism by scholars and theorists both feminist and nonfeminist alike. These challenges center around its scope, inspirations, and messages to women.

Friedan believed American culture forced college-educated, middle-class women into unfulfilling jobs and then made them feel guilty for leaving to care for children or raise family. Her anger towards this social construct inspired the book she would write later known as The Feminine Mystique.

When this book first came out, it struck a chord among American women feeling trapped by domestic responsibilities and stagnant careers. The Feminine Mystique encouraged these women to find new life goals that transcend housewifery cultural expectations.

Friedan and her editors did not realize just how limiting this approach was until much later.

Daniel Horowitz’s 1998 book Betty Friedan and the Making of The Feminine Mystique revealed an eye-opening truth about Friedan and her work: she wasn’t simply an incestuous suburban housewife who discovered political consciousness through domestic captivity; rather she was an experienced radical with years of leftist politics experience under her belt. Black feminist theorist bell hooks wrote an effective critique in 1984 in From Margin to Center that refuted many of The Feminine Mystique’s miscalculations.

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