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What Is the Problem That Has No Name?

Betty Friedan's Analysis of "Occupation: Housewife"


Betty Friedan circa 1975

Betty Friedan circa 1975

David Montgomery/Getty Images

In her groundbreaking 1963 book The Feminine Mystique, feminist leader Betty Friedan dared to write about “the problem that has no name.” The Feminine Mystique discussed the idealized happy-suburban-housewife image that was marketed to many women as their best if not their only option in life. What was the cause of the unhappiness that many middle-class women felt in their "role" as feminine wife/mother/homemaker? This unhappiness was widespread - a pervasive problem that had no name.

Who Was Behind the Problem That Has No Name?

The Feminine Mystique implicated women's magazines, other media, corporations, schools and various institutions in U.S. society that were all guilty of relentlessly pressuring girls to marry young and fit into the fabricated feminine image. Unfortunately, in real life it was common to find that women were unhappy because their choices were limited and they were expected to make a "career" out of being housewives and mothers, excluding all other pursuits. Betty Friedan noted the unhappiness of many housewives who were trying to fit this feminine mystique image, and she called the widespread unhappiness “the problem that has no name.”

According to Betty Friedan, the so-called feminine image benefited advertisers and big corporations far more than it helped families and children, let alone the women playing the "role." Women, just like any other humans, naturally wanted to make the most of their potential.

How Do You Solve a Problem That Has No Name?

In The Feminine Mystique, Betty Friedan analyzed the problem that has no name and offered some solutions. She emphasized throughout the book that the creation of a mythical “happy housewife” image had brought major dollars to advertisers and corporations that sold magazines and household products, at a great cost to women. She called for society to revive the 1920s and 1930s independent career woman image, an image that had been destroyed by post-World War II behavior, women’s magazines and universities that encouraged girls to find a husband above all other goals.

Betty Friedan's vision of a truly happy, productive society would allow men and women to become educated, work and use their talents. When women ignored their potential, the result was not just an inefficient society but also widespread unhappiness, including depression and suicide. These, among other symptoms, were serious effects caused by the problem that had no name.

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