January 2015: “The Second Sex” (1949) and “The Feminine Mystique” (1963)

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It was so encouraging to see on social media how many book club participants checked out Simone de Beauvoir’s “The Second Sex” and Betty Friedan’s “The Feminine Mystique” for our first discussion!

It is not the purpose of this club to make you feel like you’ve gone back to school. Please do not feel like the months’ book selections are assignments – you should not feel guilty if you don not have the time to read the whole thing, or any of it for that matter. The important thing is to be thinking about these issues and talking about them, thus expanding our understanding of gender in today’s world. If you feel that you only have time to read about the chosen book, I want you to still feel included in this group. Perhaps the discussion will prompt you to read the book sometime in the future.

In order to participate in the Lit. and a Latte January discussion on “The Second Sex” and “The Feminine Mystique”, simply follow these instructions.


Please submit your comments by January 31, 2015


“The Second Sex” (1949)

by Simone de Beauvoir

“The Feminine Mystique” (1963)

by Betty Friedan

The introduction of “The Second Sex”  CHAPTER 1: The Problem That Has No Name
Wikipedia Study guide on ENOTES
Goodreads Goodreads
SparkNotes Study guide on BOOKRAGS
  1. Either read the texts themselves or follow the links about to learn more

  2. Jot down any notes, questions, or passages in the book you’d like to cover in the discussion

  3. Review these discussion questions

    1. Was there an idea/concept, quote, or passage in either book that has shifted your understanding of gender?
    2. Do you think the role of women in society has changed a great deal since these books were published?
    3. In what ways and to what extent do you feel that the ideas in these books will have influenced women’s views of themselves in society?
    4. Are there any ideas/concepts presented in these texts that are still relevant to the women’s movement of the 21st century (the “Third Wave” of feminism)
  4. Leave a comment below including the following

    1. Your initial thoughts about reading the book – how far you got, if you enjoyed it, etc.
    2. Your responses to any or all of the discussion questions
    3. Any questions you have for the group
    4. Would you be interested in participating in a Skype discussion about these texts? If so, what day and time would work best for you?
  5. Share this post with your friends on social media!


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2 thoughts on “January 2015: “The Second Sex” (1949) and “The Feminine Mystique” (1963)

  • Judy

    Thoughts on “The Feminine Mystique”
    -My new mantra is “Anatomy is not my destiny.”
    -I cannot believe that, having been 2 years old when this book was written, I had not yet read it…or even considered reading it. Glad I finally got acquainted with this thought-provoking book.
    -I wonder what my Mom would have thought about the book. I think she would have thought that it was not as relevant to her (a rural farm woman who was an equal partner with her husband…where one does what needs to be done to acquire one’s daily bread and keep things going with little regard to gender roles, where no one knew how to play bridge and with all around being one-car families–the nearest neighbors a farm away–there was little daily socializing). She did folks taxes, worked for the District Justice and at a tax office, doing jobs to bring cash in (just like my Dad who also worked at a shirt factory and was Justice of the Peace). College was not an option for most of the women or men in that farming community. Just getting to a college would have taken hours. Farmers had little time, energy or money for college, but they were not stupid, which is to say that they knew a lot about a lot. This leads to my only deep-seated issue with the book: it discounts what I believe would probably have been a majority overall population–rural and working class women. Rural women were not sluicing down their valium with highballs. My Mom and her peers were on a whole other Maslow rung. My concern is not a criticism or meant to devalue the book, it’s just a caution—a reader beware—that the problem without a name did not concern EVERY woman or even a majority of women of that era, and the remedy of education would not have been a panacea. (BF does say that the frontier made women almost equal from the beginning, but she perhaps did not recognize that was applicable to the ranchers and farm and factory women that were her contemporaries.)
    -I really like the statement on page 83 that “Rights have a dull sound to people who have grown up after they have been won.” I think many of us do tend to take them for granted.
    -So glad she included in her historical review of feminism Sojourner Truth’s ain’t I a woman rebuke “Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted and gathered into barns…”
    -“No social scientist can completely free himself from the prison of his own culture.” True that.
    -That said, perhaps Margaret Mead would have been better served to wade in and wallow in her culture rather than holding herself above it.
    -I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, “Freud was a dick.”
    -Wonder what Mead thought of “The Feminine Mystique?”
    -Even in the late 70s and early 80s the majority of students in my community did not go to college. They got jobs, learned a trade, went into the military. Some went to college, yes, but not the majority.
    -Page 332, today she would have to include Islam, not just of orthodox Catholic or Jewish origin.
    -Regarding the Ugly Duckling irony on page 337. There is some truth to that. Reminds me of Judge Judy’s comment that it is better for girls to be smart than pretty. A bold truth?
    -More than “college” individual growth and confidence in oneself are key, BF FINALLY mentions in
    passing on page 348. It is not so much education, but learning how to learn things…and learning to be
    alone, to be confident, to do things. You must begin to “not be afraid to be yourself.” Often that means
    being BY yourself.
    -It is not surprising that most of the hostility she received was from other women. Even today many women haven’t shed middle-school meanness, bringing it to the workplace. It is perplexing that women often do not hold the ladder for other women. We should emulate men in this regard…men help out other men. Every one of my professional breaks was facilitated by males, and my strongest opposition always came from females. Sad but true.

    • margaretperry.mc@gmail.com Post author

      Judy, I think you’ve pointed out something that many critics have noticed about Friedan’s book – her scope was very narrow, almost exclusively limited to the college-educated white upper/middle class. In her defense, the film and literary texts of the day were putting the most pressure on this slice of society to conform to Victorian gender roles, so it was this demographic that was reacting most violently to those false expectations.
      And yes, Freud was a prat.
      Thanks for getting the discussion rolling, Judy!