A Pivotal Survey
The questionnaire began as an attempt to figure out what women were doing with their education and how they felt about it. Betty Friedan disagreed with the idea that education was to “blame” for making women unhappy in their “role” as housewives. In The Feminine Mystique, she noted that 89% of the Smith alumnae who answered the questionnaire were homemakers.
Discovering "The Problem That Has No Name"
This pre-Feminine Mystique survey brought Betty Friedan more questions than answers, and she sensed that she was onto something. She tried to publish an article in a women’s magazine, but Ladies’ Home Journal, McCall’s and Redbook either rejected her story or tried to revise it. Eventually, Betty Friedan realized the magazines’ editors were threatened by her results, which questioned the status quo. She spent several years turning what she learned from her questionnaire into a book, The Feminine Mystique, often credited as the beginning of 1960s feminism.
What did Betty Friedan ask the Smith alumnae? This is a sampling of the questions from the pre-Feminine Mystique survey, as detailed by Betty Friedan in Life So Far: A Memoir.
- How does it compare with your expectation of marriage?
- To what extent do you talk to your husband about your deepest feelings?
- How do you make major decisions – together? Which are his/which are yours?
Your Sex Life
- Is your sex life less important than it used to be?
- At 35-37, do you feel almost over and done with sexuality? Or just beginning to feel the satisfaction of being a woman?
- Did you plan your children’s births?
- Did you enjoy pregnancy? Were you depressed after birth?
- Do you feel you are a good mother? Or guilty that you aren’t?
- Does your home reflect your taste, your husband’s or what?
- How much time do you spend on housework?
- What part of housekeeping do you enjoy? Detest?
- Does your husband complain about your housekeeping? What does he do around the house?
- Who manages the family finances, you or your husband?
- Do you worry about money? Live above your income?
“The Other Part of Your Life”
- Did you have career ambitions?
- Have you given it up? Or postponed until kids are older?
- If you don’t work, is it: From preference? Not qualified? Would feel guilty about kids?
- If your main occupation is homemaker, do you find it totally fulfilling?
Your Intellectual Life
- How many books have you read in the last year?
- Do you read a newspaper every day?
- What television programs do you watch regularly?
Your Political Life
- Do you vote regularly? Straight Republican? Democrat? Or cross party lines?
- Are your politics the same as your husband’s?
- Have you ever taken a public stand in your community?
Your Religious Life
- Which church? How often?
- Do you believe in a personal god? Or in religion as a system of human values and social ethics?
- Or does religion have no place in your life at all?
Your Social Life
- How do you spend most of your evenings during the week? Weekends?
- How much time do you spend alone? Enough?
- Are there things you do because everybody else where you live does them, that do not reflect your own individual values?
- How has your appearance changed?
- Have you had psychotherapy? Do you feel you need it?
- What are the chief satisfactions of your life today? The chief frustrations?
- What do you think of as the best time in your life?
Betty Friedan wrote in Life So Far that when she worked on the survey with her friends Mario Ingersoll Howell and Anne Mather Montero, they were putting into words the questions they had not yet voiced to themselves. The responses of Betty Friedan's Smith classmates would resonate beyond what they could imagine, in The Feminine Mystique and the revolutionary women's movement.