Analysis of Betty Friedan’s The Problem That Has No Name

Analysis of Betty Friedan’s The Problem That Has No Name

In an excerpt from her book The Feminine Mystique, Betty Friedan defines women’s unhappiness in the 1950s as “the problem that has no name.” She identifies the “problem that has no name” as upper-middle-class suburban women’s dissatisfaction with life and an inarticulate longing for something other than household duties. She blames the media’s idealized image of femininity, a social construct that tells women their role in life is to get a man, keep a man, have children and put the needs of their husbands and children first.

According to Friedan, women were encouraged to limit themselves to a very narrow definition of “true” femininity, abandoning their education and career aspirations in the process by pundits who wrote books, columns, and books telling women of that era that their greatest role on the planet had to be wives and mothers. The role of the “real” woman was to be uninterested in politics, higher education, and careers, and women were taught by these pundits to pity women who had the courage to want a life beyond the cult of true femininity.

If women express dissatisfaction with their charmed lives, experts blame their feelings on the higher education they received before becoming housewives. In the 1950s, little girls as young as ten were sold by lingerie advertisers selling push-up bras to help them find boyfriends, and American girls started getting married in high school. During this time, the birth rate in America skyrocketed, and college-educated women made careers out of bearing children. The image of the beautiful, generous Suburban housewife is accepted as the norm, and women go crazy, sometimes literally, to achieve this goal.

Ultimately, Friedan concludes, the “problem that has no name” is not the loss of femininity, too much education, or the demands of domestic life, but the inciting rebellion of millions of women who are tired of pretending to be content with his life and that solving this problem would be the key to the future of American culture.

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