February
10th 2013
No wonder Betty Friedan published The Feminine Mystique

Posted under: American history, captivity, class, Gender, weirdness, women's history

As most of you probably know, this year is The Feminine Mystique‘s fiftieth anniversary. For those of you who wonder why she wrote it, here’s a two-minute and 46-second explanation.

It’s worth seeing the whole video to get to the woman in diamonds and furs peeling potatoes at the end. Can you guess what’s on her head? (I kind of felt for the daschund in the jeweled toque.) The Pathé Fashion Archive is full of fascinating little timewasters–enjoy!

17 Comments »

17 Responses to “No wonder Betty Friedan published The Feminine Mystique

  1. Anonymous on 10 Feb 2013 at 9:24 am #

    Wow, this is really helpful. If I don’t have time to do my hair tomorrow before I lecture, I am just going to wear a jelly mold on my head.

    Does anyone dry dishes anymore? Isn’t that what a dishrack is for?

  2. Nursing Clio on 10 Feb 2013 at 10:34 am #

    Umm…What did I just watch?
    No wonder Valium was Mommy’s best friend.

  3. Janice on 10 Feb 2013 at 10:34 am #

    *fulminates*

    The “don’t you worry your pretty little head” narration was the icing on the cake, wasn’t it?

  4. Comradde PhysioProffe on 10 Feb 2013 at 2:45 pm #

    Wait. That was really serious? Not satire?

    Regardless, the salad bowl hat with the wooden utensils actually looked kind of cool.

  5. Historiann on 10 Feb 2013 at 3:26 pm #

    Here’s what you get when you Google “famed Mayfair Milliner Madge Chard.” So although I think some of those hats were one-offs created just for fun, this video doesn’t appear to be a parody at all. Chard was a real person who appears to have been an important hat designer at midcentury.

    This is why I love this clip, and why it helps explain Friedan: it’s all there, with its mix of consumerism, frivolity, and mockery in its portrayal of both Chard and her models. Of course all of the women portrayed in the clip were in fact women who worked outside their homes for real money, but they still had to be portrayed within the domestic realm (and even more specifically in the kitchen.) No wonder Madge Chard started making headgear for the slightly batty (and/or Valium addicted, per Nursing Clio’s suggestion) bored housewife!

  6. Comradde PhysioProffe on 10 Feb 2013 at 6:49 pm #

    The women modeling the hats looked disgusted, and also like they had to hold their heads at just the right angle, or the hats were gonna come plummeting off.

  7. Indyanna on 10 Feb 2013 at 7:16 pm #

    1962 was just about when American men stopped wearing hats (not sure how this chronology maps with _Mad Men_, as I haven’t seen it, save on-blog here), which has often been attributed to John Kennedy’s decision not to wear one for his inauguration, contra the retiring incumbent. I wonder if there’s a similar trajectory for women, with an attributable symbolic precipitant? I think that Jacqueline K. continued on for quite some time with her so-called pillbox hats, some of which were quite striking. And Bob Dylan got a whole song out of a “Leopard-Skin Pillbox Hat” as late as maybe 1965-1966. It was derisive about the style choice, as was most of his stuff derisive.

  8. Western Dave on 10 Feb 2013 at 8:17 pm #

    On Kennedy and hats. Snopes says no. http://www.snopes.com/history/american/jfkhat.asp

    I can’t even figure out how I am going to use this in class. I just know that I am.

  9. Susan on 11 Feb 2013 at 6:40 am #

    Oh, my. Yes, it really does explain Friedan. The one thing I thought was really good in the NPR story yesterday was the focus on The Feminine Mystique as both very personal, and angry.

    I like wearing hats, and still do sometimes. I think they went away around the time white gloves did. It was a whole different ethos about going outside. I vividly remember walking into one of the NYC 5th avenue department stores with my grandmother in 1968, and she was offended that a young woman had gone to the store wearing jeans. Her sense of those places was that you dressed to go to them – maybe not a hat by then, but certainly a dress and hose, heels, etc. She adjusted over time, but I’ve always thought of that as a window into a different culture.

    Also, while I can’t imagine wearing the hats shown, I love thinking about moving shapes from one realm to another. I actually thought the plunger hat was quite attractive in an odd way.

  10. smalltownprof on 11 Feb 2013 at 7:26 am #

    My mom said that in the mid-60s (up until about 1966 or 67) women NEVER went out without a hat and gloves. This was in the deep South yall. But still.

  11. Historiann on 11 Feb 2013 at 8:24 am #

    My impression was that hats and gloves went by the wayside sometime between the Summer of Love (1967) and the end of the tumultuous year of 1968. As smalltown prof suggests, the custom died various deaths depending on region, context, and the age of the ladies in question.

    This video of a 1967 Mary Quant collection
    shown in London shows only two models wearing hats, and none at all with gloves. (It’s from the Pathe Fashion archive again.) But I would imagine that Swinging London led the way in chucking out the hats and gloves even earlier than 1967.

  12. Historiann on 11 Feb 2013 at 8:26 am #

    p.s. to Susan: I too kind of loved the bejeweled and feathered plunger hat! But it’s difficult to imagine that it would be practical if one had to do more during the day than model hats (i.e. walk down the street, get in and out of cars or public transport, work, etc.)

  13. Indyanna on 11 Feb 2013 at 10:47 am #

    Then there was that notorious 1960s authoritarian culture figure, Dr. Seuss, who the NY Times informs us last week not only collected enough wild hats to outfit every cat in the country, but held dinner parties at which he apparently strong-armed his guests into wearing them. There is an exhibit of these chapeaux about to open at the New York Public Library.

  14. Historiann on 11 Feb 2013 at 11:42 am #

    FYI, there’s an interesting intergenerational conversation about The Feminine Mystique at The Daily Beast featuring Jessica Bennett, Letty Cottin Pogrebin, and Alisa Solomon.

  15. ellemarie on 11 Feb 2013 at 2:20 pm #

    Thanks Historiann for linking to the Daily Beast discussion. I enjoyed reading it, but as a woman of color, the first thing I noticed was that there were none offering commentary. I don’t think it’s intentional, but it seems The Daily Beast is reinforcing some of the blind spots that were part of feminism as a movement.

  16. Historiann on 11 Feb 2013 at 2:28 pm #

    ellemarie–I agree. I was also a little concerned that their notion of generational difference seemed pretty compressed. I thought hearing from a woman in her 20s would have been refreshing.

    Tina Brown has done a lot to highlight global feminist issues & transnational feminist activists at The Daily Beast, but I think you are right on when you question the portrayal of American feminism as 3 generations of white women.

  17. Jo on 28 Mar 2013 at 2:47 pm #

    Quaint hats and white gloves don’t begin to describe that sterile and suffocating time for women.
    February 11, 2013 was 50 years to the day that Sylvia Plath one extraordinary poet committed suicide in London, 8 days before the Mystique was published. How many women did we lose to suicide including alcohol and dope of every kind in the 20th century and how many women we are losing today? Wonder where we are? Let’s check the statistics on obesity, diabetes, and heart attack, and then tune in to Hoda and Kathy Lee and weep.