In an excerpt from her book, “The Feminine Mystique”, Betty Friedan defines women’s unhappiness during the Fifties as ”the problem that has no name.” She identifies “the problem that has no name” as upper-middle class suburban White women experiencing dissatisfaction with their lives and an inarticulated longing for something else beside their housewifely duties. She pins the blame on a media perpetuated idealized image of femininity, a social construction that tells women that their role in life is catch a man, keep a man, have children and put the needs of one’s husband and children first.
According to Friedan, women have been encouraged to confine themselves to a very narrow definition of “true” womanhood, forsaking education and career aspirations in the process by experts who wrote books, columns and books that told women during that era that their greatest role on the planet was to be wives and mothers. The role of a “real” woman was to have no interest in politics, higher education and careers and women were taught by these experts to pity women who had the nerve to want a life beyond the cult of true womanhood.
If women expressed dissatisfaction with their charmed lives, the experts blamed their feelings on the higher education they received before becoming a housewife. During the fifties, little girls as young as ten years were being marketed by underwear advertisers selling brassieres with false bottoms to aide them in catching boyfriends and American girls began getting married in high school. America’s birthrate during this time skyrocketed and college educated women made careers out of having children. The image of the beautiful, bountiful Suburban housewife was accepted as the norm and women drove themselves crazy, sometimes literally to achieve this goal.
Friedan ultimately concluded that “the problem that has no name” is not a loss of femininity, too much education, or the demands of domesticity but a stirring of rebellion of millions of women who were fed up with pretending that they were happy with their lives and that solving this problem would be the key to the future of American culture.