The Feminine Mystique
The Feminine Mystique is a 1963 book written by Betty Friedan which attacked the popular notion that women of that time could only find fulfillment through childbearing and homemaking. According to The New York Times obituary of Friedan in 2006, it “ignited the contemporary women's movement in 1963 and as a result permanently transformed the social fabric of the United States and countries around the world” and “is widely regarded as one of the most influential nonfiction books of the 20th century.”
The Feminine Mystique came about after Friedan sent a questionnaire to other women in her 1942 Smith College graduating class. Most women in her class indicated a general unease with their lives. Through her findings, Friedan hypothesized that women are victims of a false belief system that requires them to find identity and meaning in their lives through their husbands and children. Such a system causes women to completely lose their identity in that of their family.
Friedan specifically locates this system among post-World War II middle-class suburban communities. She suggests that men returning from war turned to their wives for mothering. At the same time, America's post-war economic boom had led to the development of new technologies that were supposed to make household work less difficult, but that often had the result of making women's work less meaningful and valuable.