It's a little shocking how much of this book is still relevant today, more than fifty years after it was first published. Friedan critiques the construction of femininity from the inside, drawing on her experience as an educated and accomplished housewife to interview educated and accomplished housewives, her former training in psychology to interview psychologists and break down the inconsistencies and inapplicability of the midcentury Freudian obsession, and her part-time work as a magazine writer to reveal the editorial-advertiser interactions that homogenized the view of femininity projected by publications for women.
I won't pretend this book never shows its age: Friedan is not as well-versed in the plights of underresourced women and so has only the occasional nod for race or working class labor issues, and there is a truly cringe-worthy chapter about the psychology of homosexuality. But for the most part, this is a book that offers sharp critique of problems that still plague us: the sanctification of motherhood even as mothers are offered little institutional support or recompense; the way femininity is constructed as special but also less than humanity; the ways of marketers play into these cultural images to get women to buy and keep buying. Friedan is extremely clear that femininity is mystified not by any one source but by a number of sources--advertisers, psychologists, educators, policymakers--that harmonize and exclude dissenting voices. She is also clear that men and woman are not brainwashed into their sex roles, but that they opt into them because circumstances--the aftermath of war, social recognition, and those harmonized authoritative voices--make it conducive for them to do so. This book is worth getting to know as more than as the book that launched a thousand Second Wave feminists--it offers an incisive critique of consumerism and sexism that demonstrates how inseparable the two are.