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

Stephanie Coontz, Author
Stephanie Coontz, Basic, $24.95 (224p) ISBN 978-0-465-00200-9
Open Ebook - 249 pages - 978-0-465-02232-8
Paperback - 222 pages - 978-0-465-02842-9
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Social historian Coontz (Marriage, a History) analyzes the impact of Betty Friedan's groundbreaking 1963 book, The Feminine Mystique, on the generation of white, middle-class women electrified by Friedan's argument that beneath the surface contentment, most housewives harbored a deep well of insecurity, self-doubt, and unhappiness. The Feminine Mystique didn't call for women to bash men, pursue careers, or fight for legal and political rights, says Coontz; it simply urged women to pursue an education and prepare for a meaningful life after their children left home. Coontz contends that Friedan's great achievement was lifting so many women out of despair even if her book ignored the problems of working women, especially blacks, and tapped into concerns people were already mulling over. Friedan synthesized and made accessible scholarly research and personalized it with the stories of individual housewives. Friedan's self-representation as an apolitical suburban housewife, says Coontz, glossed over her 1930s and '40s leftist political activism so as not to be blacklisted or discredited because of prior associations. This perceptive, engrossing, albeit specialized book provides welcome context and background to a still controversial bestseller that changed how women viewed themselves. (Jan.)
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