Saturday, February 05, 2011

Louis Menand: Why the women’s movement needed “The Feminine Mystique.”

The persistent characterization of “The Feminine Mystique” as some kind of bolt from the blue is part of a big historical mystery. Why did a women’s movement take so long to develop in the United States after 1945? “Our society is a veritable crazy quilt of contradictory practices and beliefs,” Komarovsky wrote, about gender roles, in 1953, and, as the revisionists have demonstrated, if you pick out the right data you can identify trends in the direction of gender equality in the nineteen-fifties. The number of women enrolled in college nearly doubled in that decade, for example, and the employment rate for women rose four times as fast as it did for men. At some point, presumably, the increasing numbers of women in the educational and vocational pipelines would have produced pressure to get rid of gender discrimination. Coontz concludes that a women’s movement “would have happened with or without Betty Friedan.”

That may be so, but it’s a counterfactual assertion. ...

From his review of Stephanie Coontz's A Strange Stirring: ‘The Feminine Mystique’ and American Women at the Dawn of the 1960s.