A Strange Stirring
The Feminine Mystique and American Women at the Dawn of the 1960s
Basic Books 2014
Stephanie Coontz is an award-winning social historian, the director of Research and Public Education at the Council for Contemporary Families and teaches history and family studies at The Evergreen College in Olympia, Washington. In A Strange Stirring: The Feminine Mystique and American Women at the Dawn of the 1960s (Basic Books, 2014), Coontz reveals why so many women in the early 1960s found Betty Friedan’s book The Feminine Mystique (1963) speaking to them personally. Freidan identified an unnamed problem allowing women to see the self-doubt and depression they suffered as no longer a personal issue, but a social one. Coontz’s work is both a social history of women at mid-century and a reception history of Friedan’s book: A book regarded as one of the most influential in the twentieth century and a catalyst for the 1960s women’s movement. Coontz’s narrative provides a vivid picture of the realities and the contraction in the post-war lives of many women. She also critically examines Friedan and responds to the charge that the Feminine Mystique was too white and middle class. Including the voices of minority and working class women’s response to the book, Coontz provides a fresh way for understand Friedan’s legacy. This is not a story only trying to make sense of the past, but shows how the feminine mystique in new guises continues to reproduce itself in contemporary society. Consumerism, the search for meaningful work, and equity between men and women both a home and at work, are enduring issues we all continue to contend with.