This book makes you feel like you're right there with Friedan in the 1950's and early 60's, interviewing housewives who feel a vague but desperate emptiness in their lives. This fascinating book shows exactly how post-WWII society subtly discouraged women from ever growing up. While boys received encouragement to grow and seek out their place in the world, girls were taught to get married and live through their husbands and children, never able to forge an identity for themselves and leaving a nagging hollow spot in their psyches. The focus of the book is on how society justified and perpetuated this system (which was still going full-steam-ahead at the time the book was written), often by merely playing upon people's unquestioned assumptions.
I read this book for the first time a year ago, and I was absolutely enthralled. I had never liked history before because it never seemed real, but The Feminine Mystique opened up the past for me like no book or class ever has. The examples she gives from her interviews are very disturbing, especially considering that they were taken less than fifty years ago. She interviews students at Smith College (which was and is women-only) who unabashedly say that they would rather give up their dreams of being microbiologists or physicists because the men don't like "brainy" women. Unengaged students search frantically for men, and those who still enjoy applying themselves to their studies admit it to her in hushed tones, as if confessing a dark secret. There's not a boring page in the entirety of this thought-provoking, fascinating book.
In 1963, Betty Friedan was the first to publicly stand up for the right of women to acheive. Reading her book made me appreciate how incredibly far we've come, and how much we owe it to people like Friedan who fought for our right to become full human beings. She has earned my lifelong respect and gratitude.