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A Strange Stirring: The Feminine Mystique and American Women at the Dawn of the 1960sby Stephanie Coontz
Synopses & Reviews
In 1963, Betty Friedan unleashed a storm of controversy with her bestselling book, The Feminine Mystique. Hundreds of women wrote to her to say that the book had transformed, even saved, their lives. Nearly half a century later, many women still recall where they were when they first read it.
In A Strange Stirring, historian Stephanie Coontz examines the dawn of the 1960s, when the sexual revolution had barely begun, newspapers advertised for perky, attractive gal typists,” but married women were told to stay home, and husbands controlled almost every aspect of family life. Based on exhaustive research and interviews, and challenging both conservative and liberal myths about Friedan, A Strange Stirring brilliantly illuminates how a generation of women came to realize that their dissatisfaction with domestic life didnt reflect their personal weakness but rather a social and political injustice.
"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.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright PWyxz LLC)
Book News Annotation:
Author and history professor Coontz revisits Friedan's seminal work through two avenues: by discussing the book's effect with women who read it in the 1960s, and by moving beyond Friedan's primary audience to bring women of color and women of a lower economic class into the discussion of motherhood and domesticity. Coontz offers an evenhanded history of the feminist movement from 1920-1960, as well as personal accounts of women whose lives were affected by Friedan's work--or weren't, as the case may have been for African Americans and others. Annotation ©2011 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
An eminent social historian chronicles the extraordinary impact of Betty Friedans The Feminine Mystique on the lost generation” of American women
An illuminating analysis of the book that helped launch the movement that freed women to participate more fully in American society.”—Wall Street Journal
About the Author
Stephanie Coontz teaches history and family studies at Evergreen State College. Her books include Marriage, a History, The Way We Never Were, and The Way We Really Are. She lives in Olympia, Washington.
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History and Social Science » Feminist Studies » General