“The Feminine Mystique”

Posted: September 5th, 2013





“The Feminine Mystique”


            The Feminine Mystique is a captivating book written by Betty Friedan in the course of her rigorous research in an attempt to answer the question on the sadness of many American women. The sad American women happen to be oblivious on the cause of their unhappiness. Published in 1963, the book Feminine Mystique explores the roles of women in the society, however; it exuded contention among different people on roles highlighted but with time succeeded to bring women to the forefront. It is evident in the book that Friedan (1963) attempts to explain the cause of women’s unhappiness as she tags it “the problem that has no name” (Friedan, p9, 1963). She embarks on the idea of the feminine mystique as the cause of women’s unhappiness. Friedan terms it as an unattended situation which “lay buried, unspoken, for many years in the minds of American women” (Friedan, p5, 1963). The feminine mystique according to Friedan refers how American women are ‘caged’ by the housewife occupation limiting them to explore their inner potential as women. Her realization was based on the combined efforts of her opinion and the detailed research she carried out on the issue. Therefore, Friedan’s rhetoric in the text is constructed by three persuasive techniques namely, ethos, pathos and logos. She encapsulates different scenarios through detailed statistics in different categories, first-person accounts and her credibility. The aim of the paper is to internalize Friedan’s successful approach in determining the role of women in society.


            Logos is a category in rhetoric, which suggests logic where the rhetor gives reason for his or her persuasion. Friedan’s logical appeal in her text is based on several statistics from which she derives examples. She covers various topics such as marriage age, higher education and sex. In the aspect of the marriage age, Friedan elaborates the questionable drop of the marriage age in America in the 1950’s that continued to decelerate. Higher education was also compromised in the lives of women by the mid fifties with a high percentage of female college dropouts to tie the knot at this stage. According Friedan (1963), women rushed for marriage because of the insecurity of not getting husbands if they finished the level of education and became knowledgeable. Studies on permissive sex references were done on the American media, and they showed an increase in sex references from the 1950’s to the 1960’s. Friedan’s statistics are based on facts, which give her persuasion in the Feminine Mystique reasonable grounds. Therefore, her logic point of view is an effective appeal to readers to analyze the statistics and make sound judgments. The thought of the unhappiness of women in the American society springs up from the situations represented by the factual statistics. Friedan indicates how American women were barred from full human capacity growth by the social ethos that existed in the time.

The Feminine Mystique contains excerpts and paraphrases of academic theories as articulated by Friedan. Her cautious choices of academic theories increased compatibility with her ideas and opinions. Their purpose was to either contradict or support ideas. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is employed by Friedan when she uses it in support of her assertion, which the higher level of sexual orgasm in an individual is reached by the individual if they have a partner with the realization of his or her own personality (Friedan, 1963). Friedan discusses Sigmund Freud, a renowned Victorian psychologist, by dating his ideas. She includes some of Freud’s ideas supporting the feminine mystique ideal noting that the concepts of Freud’s ideas could be compatible with modern science since they were undergoing reinterpretation in the 1940’s. Friedan further asserts the absence of an update for theory of femininity as per Freud, therefore, after World War II; they were applied to women in the American society since the Victorian was considered similar to those of today.

Pathos refers to the emotional appeal displayed by the rhetor in his or her persuasive action to involve the emotions of the audience or readers in the context. The approach and language choice is bound to determine the degree of familiarization audience or readers will have on the persuasion. Friedan noticed academic theories and statistics would not give her opinion a strong foundation so she decided to add first-person accounts to add the emotional touch and make people understand her perspective (Friedan, 1963). Theories and numbers can confuse the readers sometimes, and in addition, they can find difficulty in interpreting them in terms of emerging issues. Hence, Friedan incorporates first-person scenarios to increase the authenticity of her text. Readers are mostly emotionally touched by first hand experience from people they can relate to because all of them are human. The first hand experiences encompass the ordeals and occurrences of the individuals narrating their side of the story. Therefore, this adds more “flesh” to the “skeleton” or framework of the rhetoric. Friedan (1963) conducted interviews with middle-class homemakers and mothers who spoke on their struggles in the domestic lives because they felt as if they had no meaning. She also structured questionnaires to get favorable responses on women’s lives in the American society. Friedan bases her argument in the Feminine Mystique on real situations of American women.

The choice of words, which Friedan employs, is full of semantics as shown by her instances of mirage. She captures the story of the experience of the victims in the Nazi concentration camps and equates it to the situation of the American housewives. The research done on the torture the victims endured as inmates in the concentration camps is heart felt and Friedan intelligently relates the scenario encapsulating the psychological torment to the feminine mystique. According to Friedan (1963), just as the inmates were forced into mass submission and denied their individuality by the SS, so have the American housewives subdued to the American culture of female submission. Friedan indulges in a metaphor by mirroring the slavery that denied the victims their identity. The ‘comfortable concentration camp’ as Friedan supposes stands for the houses the women are trapped in causing the feminine mystique. Her language enhances understanding among readers since it grasps their emotions and gives them a platform to judge. She involves rhetorical questions in her text to evoke action. For example, she asks, “have women who live in the image of the feminine mystique trapped within the narrow walls of their homes?”(Friedan, p.248, 1963) her questions are direct and encourage the response of the reader. However, critics challenge her questions and perspective because they believe it is an exaggeration since it appears as if she blames the women for their dissatisfaction and unhappiness.

Friedan’s book contains excerpts of interviews with homemakers with a feeling of depression. One of the featured women in The Feminine Mystique says she begins to feel that she has no personality. She describes herself as a server of food and a putter-on of pants and a bed maker and as someone who can be called on because incase anyone needs help. She feels as if she is worthless (Friedan, 1963). Another woman expresses herself by explaining that the problem comes from being the mother of the children or the wife of the minister and not having her own identity. As her books suggests, Ferdinand speaks of women embracing the ideal image of femininity through the voices of other women with an aim of convincing the readers to employ her point of view. Friedan discusses the way the society was overpowered by the sex-directed educators, and through her, we see young women thinking their emotional problems were because of the traditional education system that sidelined women and focused on males and careers. One young woman says she has realized her prior education was man oriented and presently it is upon her to learn how to be a successful woman. However, other methods of research by Friedan challenge and nullify these first-person accounts since they prove further that the women expressing themselves were blinded by the feminine mystique. She conducted a study of college women, which shows women who progressed to levels of seniority depicted a sense of ‘masculinity’ due to their active personality (Friedan, 1963). However, these college women were emotionally vulnerable in their inner selves just as femininity suggests.

Ethos refers to the convincing power possessed by a rhetor due to his or her reputable character in the society. People in the society tend to believe respectable people. Friedan is depicted as a person with a reputable personality due to her hard work in determining substantial evidence from her various researches. It shows her interest, and passion to emancipate the women of America emotionally. Ratings show that her book transformed the lives of women in America as they still use it as a reference book. However, critics base their argument on the fact that she had omitted the working-class and minority women such as the African Americans. According to them, Friedan generalized the plight for women for all those in the American society whereas excluding the middle-class and focusing on whites only. Nevertheless, being the founder of the National Organization for Women, the National Women’s Caucus and the National Abortion Rights Action League, Friedan was among the influential pioneers of women movements in America. The National Organization for Women was initiated by Friedan in 1966 with an aim of appealing to the white, middle-class women highlighting the struggles of women. Friedan attempted to provide solutions to the problems the women were facing, hoping that it would be a stronghold as years passed. Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique is captivating and stimulating as per most reviewers and since its publication, it has had significant effect on most American women. The book was a starting point and a thrust feminine elevation in the society enabling the rise of womanhood in basic societal roles.


            Concisely, Friedan employed the three categories of rhetoric namely, ethos, pathos and logos in her persuasive argument. Despite the criticism on her work, Friedan’s persuasion skills paved the way for a dynamic social revolution highlighting the rights of women. She incorporated statistics and academic theories to build a factual foundation and used first-person accounts to win the hearts of readers and to support her perspective women and their roles in the American society. She presented an idea that would instigate people to question it but she had a back up plan of including facts to encourage critical thinking. According to me, Friedan was successful in her persuasion. She cushioned her controversial ideas by conducting in-depth researches on the issue. Friedan’s plan is to help women to stop being passive in the American society and develop active roles which will emancipate them from their personal slavery. The American women are encouraged to overcome the obstacles of oppression and negate the predominant culture to realize self-actualization (Friedan, 1963). Women today need to have goals and ambitions to design their future. Therefore, Friedan redefines the role of women in the society as one with a vision that must be achieved by woman’s choice.


Work Cited

Friedan, Betty. The Feminine Mystique. New York: W.W. Norton, 1963. Print.



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