le 25 avril 2010
A la lecture de cet essai, on comprend pourquoi il a interpellé des milliers de femmes américaines lorsqu'il est paru. Lors de sa publication, les Etats-Unis connaissaient une sorte de mouvement réactionnaire, un retour en arrière de la part des américaines, qui, alors que les générations précédentes avaient obtenu de haute lutte des droits fondamentaux pour les femmes, revenaient à des valeurs "domestiques" et n'arrivaient plus à exister que par et au travers de leurs enfants et de leur mari, incapables de se définir par elles-mêmes en tant qu'individus.
Friedan nous livre une analyse extrêmement poussée et pertinente du phénomène, bousculant au passage un certain nombre de tabous, dont les conceptions freudiennes du développement féminin, ce qui, à l'époque, nécessitait un certain courage.
Assez long, l'ouvrage reste néanmoins abordable, car le style est vif et les citations, très nombreuses, donnent vie à l'ensemble. Il n'est pas nécessaire d'être sociologue ou psychanalyste pour apprécier ce livre, accessible à tous ceux qui s'intéressent à la condition féminine.
le 19 janvier 2015
In the fifties, after the first feminist wave of the beginning of the twentieth century, and after the great women’s move toward the factories of the Second World War, suddenly, women were expected to go back to the kitchen.
Context: the economy was booming, there were enough jobs for everyone, even women, and home appliances could replace 90% of the housework women used to have to put in. So basically, just at the time in history when the concept of housewife was being rendered obsolete, and should therefore have disappeared - and women had already fought to be considered man's equal - there was a massive counter-revolution in the western world, led by the experts and the industries, telling women that, yes, they were equal, but different from men, complementary to men. And had to stay at home.
The feminine mystique is the term used by the author to describe the way the media and the experts were sublimating the role of women as housewives and mothers in order to force women back inside the homes, just when they were increasingly becoming more educated, and therefore could not be told they were inferior to men and couldn't work. At a time when you really didn't need someone doing housework full time (thanks to the new technology of dish-washer for instance) an new ideology (but really just a variation of a sexist principle) was created to convince women that they would somehow harm their children and their husband’s career if they didn't stay at home and take care of this huge suburban house. So in fact, women were bored to tears, with almost nothing to do around the house, but were consistently and systematically being guilted out into doing more and more nonsensical chores such as making their own bread, sowing their children’s clothes, waxing the floor 4 times a week, changing the sheets to times a week, etc. And the industries and the marketers were getting huge profits from women’s spare time (to shop!) and their sensation of emptiness that could easily be manipulated into buying something nice for the house.
Betty Friedan, a house-wife herself, a women's magazine writer, and a psychologist by training, was really the only person who could have told this story, the whole story, this way. She had a theoretical and psychological perspective from her academic training, a professional experience of the work place where the mystique was being created, and a personal experience of the reality behind the mystique. And she did a ton of research.
This book is comparable in quality to Beauvoir’s “Second sex” and is just as relevant today as it was in the fifties. Because this mystique continues to harass psychologically so many women today who feel guilty working once they have children or who quite their job when they have kids because they think that’s the only way to do right by their family. I was deeply moved, understanding the cynical roots of the mystique around childbirth, breast-feeding, motherhood and impeccable homes for one’s children…and understood my mother and my grandmother so much better after reading this book.