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Stirring Up 'The Feminine Mystique' 47 Years Later.

On Fresh Air, social historian Stephanie Coontz explains how the publication of Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique in 1963 helped women view themselves differently. But Coontz, author of A Strange Stirring, also critiques many aspects of Friedan's pioneering book, including its omission of minority women.

44:20

Other segments from the episode on January 26, 2011

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, January 26, 2011: Interview with Stephanie Coontz; Review of CD set "Next Stop is Vietnam, the War on Record 1961-2008."

Transcript

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Stirring Up 'The Feminine Mystique' 47 Years Later

TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

In 1963, when it was still largely assumed that the chief role of a woman was
to be wife, mother and homemaker, Betty Friedan's book "The Feminine Mystique"
addressed yearnings that many women felt but had not yet articulated - the
desire to find meaning outside the home as well as in it.

Friedan asked questions she thought many women were afraid to ask themselves
about why they weren't as content as they thought they should be. The book
helped launch a new wave of feminism.

My guest, Stephanie Coontz, has written a new book about the impact of "The
Feminine Mystique" based on interviews with women who read it and responded to
its message. Coontz also writes about the laws, stereotypes and prejudices that
limited women's lives at the time "The Feminine Mystique" was published and the
book's impact on how feminism has been seen by its advocates and opponents.

Coontz is the director of research and public education at the Council on
Contemporary Families, and she teaches history and family studies at the
Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. Her new book is called "A
Strange Stirring: The Feminine Mystique and American Women at the Dawn of the
1960s."

Stephanie Coontz, welcome back to FRESH AIR.

Ms. STEPHANIE COONTZ (Author, "A Strange Stirring: The Feminine Mystique and
American Women at the Dawn of the 1960s"): Thank you.

GROSS: In your book, you say that the opening paragraph of "The Feminine
Mystique" is a paragraph that really sticks in the minds of women who read it
when the book was first published. So I'm going to read that paragraph so our
listeners get a chance to hear it. This is Page One of "The Feminine Mystique."

(reading) The problem lay buried, unspoken, for many years in the minds of
American women. It was a strange stirring, a sense of dissatisfaction, a
yearning. Each suburban wife struggled with it alone as she made the beds,
shopped for groceries, matched slipcover material, ate peanut butter sandwiches
with her children, chauffeured Cub Scouts and Brownies, lay beside her husband
at night. She was afraid to even ask of herself the silent question: Is this
all?

So what did the women who you interviewed say about the impact that that
paragraph had on them?

Ms. COONTZ: Well, there was this just shock of recognition that they all
reported. When you go back, and you look at how women in the 1950s and early
'60s were living, especially housewives, and especially, for some reason,
educated housewives, the people who tend to be the most confident today, it is
just stunning to realize how self-doubting they were about every feeling they
had.

And so they'd been going along thinking something was wrong. Later on in the
book, Friedan says: Sometimes they think it's their husband's fault. Sometimes
they think they need more things, or they need better sex, or they need an
affair, but that's not really the problem.

And that's exactly what was going on in these women's head. They were saying:
Something's wrong. What is it? Is it me? Is it my kids? Am I a bad mother? Is
my husband a bad husband? What is the matter with me?

And when they read that somehow they weren't alone in this feeling, it
occasioned this relief that they can recall vividly and describe to me often
exactly where they were when they read it almost a half a century later.

GROSS: What was the diagnosis of the problem that "The Feminine Mystique"
offered to women?

Ms. COONTZ: Well, it was very simple. It said, look, it's not because you're
ungrateful. It's not because you're unfeminine, the way the Freudian
psychiatrists have been telling you. And it's not because there's something
particularly wrong with your marriage or your children or anything else in your
life except you're a real human being. And here we have a world, the post-war
world, where men were being encouraged to be all they can be, and women were
encouraged to make their men be all they could be and to get all their
satisfactions out of that.

She said something that now seems so simple it's astonishing that it evoked
such controversy. She said: Women are people, too. Women are human beings. They
have a need for meaning in their life not as an alternative to but in addition
to their personal lives, their loves, their family.

GROSS: And you write about how a lot of women at this time felt guilty for not
feeling satisfied, middle-class women, because they had nice homes, they had
families, they had material possessions. And yet they felt somehow incomplete,
that something was missing, that there was something wrong.

And in "The Feminine Mystique," Betty Friedan wrote: Part of the strange
newness of the problem is that it cannot be understood in terms of the age-old
problems of poverty, sickness, hunger, cold. It's not caused by lack of
material advantages. It may not even be felt by women preoccupied with
desperate problems of hunger, poverty or illness. And women who think it will
be solved by more money, a bigger house, a second car, often discover it gets
worse.

Ms. COONTZ: Yes. Friedan was talking to a new group of women. This was one of
the weaknesses of the book and one of its incredible strengths, actually. A
group of women, usually from working-class backgrounds but who had, in the
post-war prosperity, moved into the middle class, usually through marriage,
through marrying a man who'd taken advantage of the GI Bill or taken advantage
of the new jobs and been able to move himself up into the middle class and
often to buy her a home in suburbia, to give her the things that had been held
out, after the Depression and World War II, as the absolute epitome of the
American dream.

And these women were saying: I'm not satisfied. What's wrong with me? And
sometimes people criticize Friedan for speaking to a privileged layer of women.
After all, one woman wrote to me when she heard I was doing this book, she
said: I don't have time to be worried about people who were just bored with
their lives.

But these women weren't just bored with their lives. They were working very
hard. They actually felt guilty. But, you know, knowing that you don't have a
right to feel bad actually often makes you feel worse.

GROSS: Because you feel guilty for feeling bad.

Ms. COONTZ: That's right, exactly, and that's what they did. And Betty Friedan
said to them: You know, yes, maybe you do have some privileges. And Friedan
herself had been, in her youth, very conscious of working for women who faced
real material deprivation.

But she said: Privileges or not, you need to be treated like a human being, and
you have every right in the world to feel frustrated when you're simply treated
as an appendage of your husband and your children.

GROSS: And when you don't have the opportunity of doing work outside the home.

Ms. COONTZ: Exactly.

GROSS: When your whole sense of fulfillment is supposed to depend on raising
children and taking care of your husband, as well, even if you have yearnings
outside the home.

Ms. COONTZ: That's right, and that's what these women were being told. And
ironically, it was the women who had a few years of college, often, or a little
more education than usual and were reading the magazines that were filled with
this, who were being told over and over again: If you want anything else, you
are unnatural. You're not a real woman. You must have sexual hang-ups. You must
be making your children neurotic.

And so these were the ones who felt tremendously guilty. You know, working-
class women had many, many problems, many of them much more serious and
immediate, but one of the interesting things from the sociological studies of
those days, is they were much less likely to feel guilty about their feelings,
to feel - to second-guess themselves all the time.

And these women were going around in a cloud, second-guessing themselves,
crying, thinking they were crazy, going to psychiatrists, often being told they
were crazy, taking tranquilizers. And Friedan said to them: Wait a minute. You
know, wait a minute. This is not your problem. It's a social problem that we're
wasting your capacities.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Stephanie Coontz. She's the
author of the new book "A Strange Stirring: The Feminine Mystique and American
Women at the Dawn of the 1960s."

Why did you want to study the impact that Betty Friedan's book, "The Feminine
Mystique," had on American women and on American culture?

Ms. COONTZ: Well, I'm kind of embarrassed to answer that question because the
idea didn't even come from me. It came from my editor then at Basic Books, who
said, look, we're doing a series of biographies of great books. And given all
your research on family and gender, why don't you do one on "The Feminine
Mystique"? And I said, oh, gosh, that would be great. I'll have to reread that
book.

And then I went back to it, and I picked up the book to, quote, reread it and
realized I never had read it. Now, I'd heard a lot about it, not only from the
conversation that was going on - it was a very provocative best-seller in '63
and '64 - but also even before that from my own mother, who had read it and
adored it.

And somehow, ideas from it had seeped into me, and I had imposed some of my own
ideas on it. The phrase, of course, was just wonderful and you can make it mean
what you want. And I had thought I had read the book.

So I claim no credit for going back, and in fact, when I first started, I said,
what in the world have I embarked upon? I don't even like this book. But then
as I started to interview these women who had read it at the time, I began to
study, restudy, the history of the 1960s and all the changes that had occurred
for women since the suffrage movement.

I got more and more attached, and ironically, every time I reread it, I got a
little more out of the book, despite the fact that I still consider it very
dated.

GROSS: Why don't you like the book? It's amazing, like, you finally read it and
you decide, I don't even like the book.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. COONTZ: Well, for one thing, it was a very hyperbolic, you know, it was a
work of, you know, indignation and journalism that was very good in some ways,
but as an academic who often has to quote other academics' work, I was really
put off by her failure to give credit to the people who gave her these ideas
and gave her these research leads. So that was off-putting about it.

She also accepted, ironically, a lot of the Freudian ideology that she
attacked. You know, people don't realize this but the 1940s and '50s and early
'60s were a time when housewives were not glorified and romanticized.

They were constantly being attacked by people who told them that they were
smothering their children, infantilizing their husbands, making too many
demands upon their husbands.

And, you know, what Friedan did is she accepted these critiques. And some of
the things that she accepted were, for example, the Freudian idea, very common
at the time, that women were responsible for homosexuality, they produced
homosexual sons by overinvesting in their kids, for schizophrenic, that they
were nagging their husbands all the time.

So all of this was a little off-putting to me when I first read the book and
still is off-putting. It's just that after listening to these women, I
interviewed almost 200 women and men who read the book, and reading the history
and reading what they were reading and how they must have felt reading it, I
began to appreciate the text.

When you scrape away the stuff that's become historically irrelevant, she did a
very important thing for one layer of women, a layer of women that I've come to
think of as the sidelined wives of the greatest generation.

GROSS: You just used the word the greatest generation, the wives of the
greatest generation, which is interesting because when people talk about the
greatest generation, as you point out in the book, they're almost always
talking about the men.

Ms. COONTZ: That's right. That's right, you know, I mean, usually, of course,
it's associated with the war, and the...

GROSS: World War II, yeah.

Ms. COONTZ: In fact, I asked several of the women I interviewed, you know,
you're a member of the greatest generation. And they immediately got very
uncomfortable. They said, well, my husband, he's the one who fought in the war.
These women did not think of themselves as the greatest anything.

GROSS: So you were able to actually able to see some of the copies of "The
Feminine Mystique" that the women you interview read, in other words, the
original book that they had, which was dog-eared and underlined. And you say
the chapter that had the most underlinings in it in many of the women's copies
was the chapter titled "The Sexual Sell." What was this chapter about?

Ms. COONTZ: Well, it's so interesting, and it's the one piece that, when I
assigned this book to my students, still resonated for them, as well. She does
this lovely just - she dissects the advertising industry and the way that they
told women in these days, and still do in more sophisticated ways but still the
same message, that if you will just buy the right appliance, the right food, do
the following things in your home, furnish yourself so that you feel more
attractive to your husband, you will find these immense satisfactions, almost
sexual satisfactions, certainly meaning and fulfillment, in the shopping.

And she just took it apart. She analyzed. She got access to the files of the
motivational researchers who were doing this and how they consciously said what
we want, our ideal consumer, is a woman who is smart enough to know there's a
little something missing in her life but whom we can convince to buy things to
fill that hole.

GROSS: What did "The Feminine Mystique" have to say about actual sex?

Ms. COONTZ: Not very much. Friedan, you know, was certainly not a permissive
type of person. I've been told by people who knew her well that she loved men
and she loved flirting with men but she was not into the sort of sexual
fulfillment.

And in fact, what she argued to people, and I think actually, despite maybe
some prudery that she may have had, this is an idea worth discovering today,
that she said, you know, sometimes people, when they find something missing in
their life, think that they can fill it not just with things but with sex, that
women become sex-seekers. They look for new sensations and new feelings in
sexuality that they ought to be getting from believing that they are doing
something meaningful, that they are competent in their own lives and that they
are contributing something worthwhile to society. So she would be very much
against "Sex And the City" feminism.

GROSS: Well, if you're just joining us, my guest is Stephanie Coontz, and her
new book is called "A Strange Stirring: The Feminine Mystique and American
Women at the Dawn of the 1960s." And it's about the impact of Betty Friedan's
1963 book, "The Feminine Mystique," and about the cultural climate it was
published in. Let's take a short break here, and then we'll talk some more.
This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Stephanie Coontz. She's the
author of the new book "A Strange Stirring: The Feminine Mystique and American
Women at the Dawn of the 1960s."

What was this book credited for and blamed for?

Ms. COONTZ: Well, it has been credited by many for launching the women's
movement, awakening women to their discontent and, of course, it's been blamed
for the same thing. You will read these, if you just go online and look at what
people say about "The Feminine Mystique," social conservatives often say that
she convinced women that there was something wrong with their lives and made
them march out of the home, and actually, they are so much more unhappy now
than they used to be because of what she did.

And the fact is that the book did nothing of the kind. For one thing, these
discontents had been recognized. In fact, physicians had a name for it, the
housewives' syndrome: irritability, nervousness. So, Betty Friedan didn't
discover that. She didn't even name it. Lots of articles were being written
about it.

So, but what she did was she called it a different thing. She called it the
problem with no name and then proceeded to describe where that problem came
from. So that was a very important contribution.

But she didn't invent the problem, and she certainly didn't drive women out
into the workforce. Women had been entering the workforce during the 1950s at
an ever-increasing rate. And they began to, of course, even more in the '60s
and '70s.

So she didn't start this, but she explained to women the mixed messages they
were getting because what they were being told at the time was, you certainly
do not want to be a career woman. You don't want to aspire to be a breadwinner
or to compete with a breadwinner or to be like men in any way.

But neither do you want to be a parasite all your life. What you ought to do is
to be completely devoted to your husband until all your kids are off to school.
And then you can get a job that is something that won't threaten him, that
won't take up too much of your time.

And she said: No, you should start thinking about a job when you're young, and
you should start thinking about educating yourself and preparing yourself for
something that is meaningful and that really means something to you, something
besides your husband and kids that means something to you.

The other thing she's been credited and blamed for is launching the women's
movement, but that's not true. There isn't a word in "The Feminism Mystique"
about going out and organizing.

And there already were many feminists who had been working behind the scenes
ever since the 1920s and '30s and were beginning to regroup long before that
book came out.

But the book was helpful in terms of getting these people, some of them in
touch with each other, more of them, though, who were already in touch with
each other, with Betty Friedan who could use the fame she'd gotten from 1963 to
be a public spokesperson. But NOW was not formed until three years after the
publication of "The Feminine Mystique."

GROSS: So, you know, it's interesting. As you point out in the book, a year
before "The Feminine Mystique" is published, Helen Gurley Brown writes her
famous bestseller, "Sex and the Single Girl." And the message of that book is
so different from Betty Friedan's message, although both books sense
dissatisfaction. What's Helen Gurley Brown's message to young women in "Sex and
the Single Girl"?

Ms. COONTZ: Well, Helen Gurley Brown considered herself a feminist, and she was
very supportive of Betty Friedan's book when it came out. But I think Betty
Friedan was far less approving of what Helen Gurley Brown had to say.

Helen Gurley Brown said: Look, women are - don't earn the same salaries as men,
and they're told constantly that all they should do is just be virgins and
prepare themselves for the happy day when they get married.

And what Helen Gurley Brown said was, hey, marriage is not going to be the best
day of your life. It's insurance for the worst days of your life. What you
should do is take advantage of it when you're young and pretty and sexy and hot
and get a little - get a job, and you should feel free to explore your
sexuality just the way men do. And you should use your sexuality because, after
all, you earn less than men, you are going to be supported by a man in
marriage, and in the meantime, you should make sure that you're supported by
the men you date.

So she had this idea that you use your sexuality, you embrace your sexuality.
It was feminist in the sense that it told women that they didn't have different
urges than men and that they had a right to express them and to be themselves.
And she did explain to people that they should try to get jobs that they like
because that can be, she called it a happy pill for you.

But the real difference between her and Friedan was that she said you should
use the existing discrimination and prejudices and stereotypes about women to
your own advantage. Flirt with the butcher to get him to give you a better
piece of meat. Make sure that any man you're dating buys the booze - not only
buys all the meals when you're out but buys the booze that you keep at your
house when you have him over and that he gives you gifts every once in a while.

And so it was a very different message than Friedan.

GROSS: My guest, Stephanie Coontz, will be back in the second half of the show.
Her new book is called "A Strange Stirring: The Feminine Mystique and American
Women at the Dawn of the 1960s." She's the director of research and public
education at the Council on Contemporary Families.

I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with Stephanie Coontz. Her new
book is about Betty Friedan's 1963 book "The Feminine Mystique," the impact it
had on the women who read it and its place in launching a new era of feminism.
Coontz's book is called "A Strange Stirring: The Feminine Mystique and American
Women at the Dawn of the 1960s." Coontz teaches history and family studies at
the Evergreen State College.

So when you started this biography of the book "The Feminine Mystique" and
started to study its impact on women who read it when it was published in the
'60s, you realized although you thought you'd read it, you actually had never
read it. So you sat down to read it. But your mother had read it. And when she
read it, she talk to you about the impact it had on her life. What did she tell
you?

Prof. COONTZ: Well, by this time, I was away at college. She was a homemaker in
Salt Lake City who had recently experimented with going to classes and maybe
started a part-time job. Eventually, she got one where she was the executive
director of a community organization. And she would - you know, there wasn't
email in those days, so she would call me once a week and we would chat. And by
that - of course, this was back in the early '60s.

And for me, what I was very interested in was the civil rights movement. And I
was always running off to picket stores that discriminated or restaurants that
would not hire African-Americans. So, you know, I was sort of like, oh, okay
mom. We've got to hurry up and talk. And then she started talking to me about
this book she was reading called "The Feminine Mystique." And she was so taken
by it, and she would try to explain to me - you know, and I'm so embarrassed
now that I was sort of a little bored by it, because she'd say this is how I
felt. And you know what the advertisers did? And they made me think I was
worthless. I just - I was this housewife for so long, and I felt so worthless.
And I would sort of like roll your eyes, you know. I love you mom. But after
all, you know, my generation is never going to end up like that.

GROSS: So how did you know and when did you know that you didn't want to live
your mother's life, that you wanted to be - you wanted a life outside the home?
You wanted to have your own work or your own cause, whatever it would turn out
to be.

Prof. COONTZ: Well, I think that I was very typical of a whole generation of
older daughters of the, quote, "greatest generation." And that was that our
parents were very excited about the fact that they were moving up, that at
least the man was moving up and the woman was getting more things in her life,
more possibilities and she could eventually go back to school if she wanted.
But the men were not very supportive of their wives' efforts to approve
themselves.

On the other hand, part of their notion of social mobility was that they
encouraged their daughters to do so. And so some of us were raised by our
fathers to be different than our mothers. Others of us, and many other women I
interviewed, said that they grew up in loving families, but they noticed that
their dad really didn't respect their mom. You know, he loved her, but he
didn't respect her, and they didn't want to grow up the same way. So we decided
that we did want something else. And our moms encouraged us.

Even - you know, it's really interesting. There was a poll taken in 1962 where
90 percent of the housewives - even the ones who were totally happily married -
said we don't want our daughters to do the same thing. We want them to wait
longer to get married. We want them to have some job experience. We don't want
them to have as few options as we do.

GROSS: If this is too personal, let me know, but was your father an example of
the kind of father who you could see loved your mother but didn't respect her?

Prof. COONTZ: Yes. I adored my father. He was a great father, but he was not a
good husband, and eventually they did divorce. But even when things were okay,
one of the ways that he encouraged my self-confidence was at her expense. He
would say: I bet your mom can't figure this problem out, but you can. You know,
and now I cringe when I look back at that. It's a wonder to me that my mom
loved me as much as she did and that we became best friends when we got older.

GROSS: So did you ever talk to your mother about that?

Prof. COONTZ: Yes, many years later we talked about it. And we had a very
painful conversation where she, you know, told me how much she loved me and how
proud she was of me and my sister and all the things we were learning, but how
frustrated she was at how left out she was of some of the conversations. Now,
we made up for that later because, you know, she went back to school. She
became an English teacher. She was - she founded the first women's center in
Washington State. She was beloved by her students and her colleagues and
respected by her second husband who just adored her and still adores her, even
though she's dead now. And she and I just became best friends. So I feel not so
guilty as I did for a while.

GROSS: You say that your biggest surprise in researching "The Feminine
Mystique" and the larger culture at the time it was published was how few
rights women actually had in 1963 and how many social prejudices they still
faced.

Let's start with that Gallup poll that you referred to that was the cover story
in December 1962. This was about three months or two months before "The
Feminine Mystique" was published. It's a cover story of the Saturday Evening
Post. And the opening page featured a photo of someone named Mrs. Charles
Johnson. She was surrounded by her husband and children, and the caption read:
I just want to take care of Charlie and the children. And the caption explained
that this was the collective attitude of quote, "American women in total."

Tell us about the Gallup poll that the story was based on.

Prof. COONTZ: They excluded old maids, is what they call them, working women,
divorced women. They said those people exist, but they are just not in the
mainstream of American society. So we're going to interview just housewives.
And what we find is that they're the happiest people on earth. Why? Because
George Gallup himself interpreted their answers as saying because they know
exactly why they're here on earth. Unlike men, they don't have to search for
meaning in life. They find it in being a wife and mother. And then he went on
to describe what these women told him they wanted from being a wife, in
particular. And that is, one of them said, a woman needs a master-slave
relationship, whether it's at work or in marriage. Women said over and over
again, you know, he must be the boss. He must tell me what to do.

But you go back to this article, and you realize just how pervasive these ideas
were, that even people who may have harbored secret doubts had to keep assuring
the pollsters that no, they didn't believe in - that a man and a woman should
be doing the same things, that yes, they found all the fulfillment in pleasing
their husband and pleasing their kids. And then that led me into looking at the
actual laws at the time. You know, and these homemakers are so happy, right?
What kinds of - were they really better off then?

And there's this big myth that homemakers had higher social status and more
security back before the feminist movement. My goodness, I discovered that was
not true at all. I was stunned. And I lived in the '60s, and yet I hadn't even
realized how pervasive the discriminatory laws were, not only against women who
wanted to work, but against women who were homemakers.

GROSS: Well, what were some of the legal rights you had or didn't have as a
married woman to the house that you lived in, to your joint bank account with
your husband?

Prof. COONTZ: Well, there were some states that did have community property
laws. But even in those states, the man had the right to manage the property
without consulting the wife, and even to bequeath his share of the community
property - like his half of the house - to someone else without consulting her,
which the woman didn't have. But many states did not even have those rights,
that the laws were that anything a man earned or required during marriage was
his. She had no legal claim on it. He didn't have to share it with her. She
supposedly had the legal right to be properly supported, but that left a lot of
leeway for judgment.

Now, these laws meant that if you wanted to leave your husband or your husband
left you, you were not entitled to the earnings that he had accumulated. If you
could prove fault, then you could do some alimony. You might have some claim on
it. But there was none of what we now take for granted, that a homemaker who
has raised the children, helped her husband get through school, acquire and
hold down a really demanding job, that she had some point of vested stake, had
contributed to and therefore deserved to share in the accumulations he'd made.
That was totally lacking back in 1963 in all but eight states.

GROSS: My guest is Stephanie Coontz. Her new book is called "A Strange
Stirring: The Feminine Mystique and American Women at the Dawn of the 1960s."

We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Stephanie Coontz. She's the
author of the new book "A Strange Stirring: The Feminine Mystique and American
Women at the Dawn of the 1960s."

So what you're presenting here in this conversation - and there's two
incredibly compelling reasons why women needed a women's movement. One was the
personal reason, that a lot of women felt this yearning for something that they
couldn't quite define while they were full-time homemakers and mothers, but
wanting something outside the home, as well. And the other was, like, the legal
reasons, all the restrictions on women's rights that I think a lot of women
hadn't really thought about or realized, but that was the climate that they
were living in.

Prof. COONTZ: Absolutely. And it's important to note - because people think
that the women's movement was taken on behalf of working women, and it was just
as much on behalf of homemakers. And it's one of the reasons that stay-at-home
moms have more protections than they used to. But if you did want to have a
job, this was still an era when there was help wanted male, help wanted female.
I went through the ads of The New York Times back in 1963 and '65, and they
were all, you know, for the women's section, pretty gal Friday. You know, one
asked for college gal, but she had to be single. One employer said you must be
really beautiful. I mean, imagine.

When you got hired, there was no protection against being asked all of these
sort of personal questions. The employer could fire you if you got married,
certainly if you got pregnant. Women had a different pay scale than men. Many
jobs were not open to them. It wasn't until, I think, the 1980s that the
Supreme Court ruled that a law firm couldn't deny partnership to a woman just
on the basis of her sex.

GROSS: Let's jump ahead. You say that "The Feminine Mystique" today has been
replaced by the hottie mystic. What do you mean by that?

Prof. COONTZ: I think "The Feminine Mystique," as we knew it back in the '60s,
when it said women can't do these things, they shouldn't want to do these
things, they're neurotic and unfeminine if they want to succeed at work or be
good at sports or any of these kinds of things, I think that feminine mystique
is practically gone. But I think it's sort of morphed into two other ones. One
kicks in in the teens and young 20s, when women are told yes, indeed, you can
be anything you want. But, you also have to be hot while you're doing it. And
there is this tremendous pressure on young women no longer not to achieve.

You know, when I grew up, I was once pulled aside by my teacher and told don't
use such big words. It will make the boys unhappy. And my best friend was told
don't be so good at sports. Lose at the sports. Now, we're no longer told that.
But we're told win at sports. Use big words if you like, but be hot. Be hot.
And I think that this can be very destructive to young girls when they are
channeled into this sort of sense that the way to empowerment is to display
your sexuality.

The other mystique, I think, that kicks in after marriage or non-marriage and
motherhood, is this idea that you have to be the perfect mother and make every
moment a teachable moment, and that somehow what you do as a mother counts for
so much. It's so much more pressure, in some ways, than mothers faced in the
'60s when they were told over and over again, just be there. Don't do anything
special. Don't intervene too much. Now we're told: Intervene constantly, or
your kid will not be the best he or she can be.

GROSS: You know what I find kind of interesting? And this isn't anything I can
prove with sociological data, but it just seems to me that the first generation
of women that came of age during the women's movement of the '60s and early
'70s, during that phase of the women's movement, many of them kind of rejected
the idea of being the full-time homemaker and wife and decided, and you know
what? I'm not even going to have children. I want a life really different from
my mother's, and I'm going to head in the opposite direction. I'm not going to
have to have children.

But I think if you look around today, there's very few women making that
choice. And most women who can have a family and a career are trying to have
both, are trying very hard to balance both, but are managing to do it, to be
frustrated a lot, but to do it. And who isn't frustrated, no matter what your
choices are?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Prof. COONTZ: Mm-hmm. Well, you know, one of the tragedies of Friedan's book
was that she left out the example of African-American women, who, in fact, have
a long tradition of combining work, motherhood, social activism and being
wives, not seeing them as contradictory. And she could, I think, Friedan could
have used those as a model for women. But many of the white middle-class women
she talked to and she spoke to, had grown up in that period when it really was
all or nothing. And yes, I think a minority of them, it was always a minority,
who chose either not to marry at all or if they married, not to have children.
And nowadays, I think women feel entitled, in a good way, that yeah, I can have
a job and I can also have a family. I can also have children. I'm entitled to
that. I see that in my graduate students. Many of my brightest graduate
students now have one or two kids before they've even gotten their tenure-track
position.

I limited myself to one child. And I'm ditzy about kids. But I just couldn't
imagine, you know, making it in a career, you know, for my generation with more
than one child. And I'm so happy that I see educated women, career women, being
able to say we can have kids too.

GROSS: In your book about “The Feminine Mystique” you described how when the
book was published it reached a lot of women because a lot of women felt that
there was a hole in their lives and that this was explaining what that yearning
was about. But that the book didn't offer a women's movement as an idea. It
didn't say women have to join together and actually work to change laws and
work for a new more equal social structure - although Betty Friedan went on to
co-found and then become the president of the National Organization for Women.
That was 1963. Here we are in 2011. Do you think that there is still the need
for a movement?

Prof. COONTZ: Well, I think that yes, that there are many areas in which women
are particularly vulnerable and need support. But I think that now more than
ever the idea that Friedan and others had that NOW’s name was consciously not
the National Organization of Women but the National Organization for Women was
very important because they were trying to seek male allies.

We might have to go beyond that today. For example, when we think about the
issues of work-family conflict, these are not women's issues anymore and it's
not a women's interest to see them as women's issues. Men are now more likely
than women to say they're experiencing work-family conflict. Just as women have
expanded their sense of identity to say I can be a worker, I can be an achiever
in addition to being a family person; men have begun to expand their sense of
identity to say I can be a family person. I can be a father. I can be a
partner, in addition to being a worker. And a lot of these issues have to
involve men as well as women.

Americans are hungry to get beyond things like the mommy wars or the male-
female wars and to actually develop a society where men can have access to
family life and women can have access to work life and achievement. And there's
tremendous progress being made at the individual family level, in terms of
people's values changing, but there hasn't been this progress at the societal
level. Our work policies, our social policies are still 50 years out of date
and a good 30 years behind what most men and women want.

GROSS: That’s a really interesting point. What did doing the research for this
book change your mind about or tell you that you didn't know?

Prof. COONTZ: I think there were two really important, emotionally important -
this was the most emotionally moving book I've ever researched. Partly because
I started by resenting so much - that she had left out black women and working-
class women and was focusing on a relatively privileged section of American
society; those people who could afford to be housewives, a little bit more
education than normal, people who were moving into the middle class. And as I
studied this more I began to realize that you can't - it's wrong to set up this
big hierarchy of pain. That black women and working-class women were facing
really severe problems but that doesn't mean we have to write off the
tremendous pain that these middle-class women were feeling in the culture of
the era.

And I think the other big thing that I got from researching this book was just
to appreciate how far we have come as women. It's so easy to look around and
complain. But when you actually see, not only how women were treated by
society, their legal status, but how they thought of themselves, how low their
self-esteem was at all income levels in all racial ethnic groups, and compared
today to the self-confidence that women have. I mean it's stunning to see how
much can be accomplished in just 47 years.

GROSS: Well, Stephanie Coontz, thank you so much for talking with us.

Prof. COONTZ: Thank you.

GROSS: Stephanie Coontz is the author of a new book “A Strange Stirring: The
Feminine Mystique and American Women at the Dawn of the 1960s.” You can read an
excerpt on our website, freshair.npr.org.

Coming up, our rock historian Ed Ward reviews a new box set of music about war
called “Next Stop Is Vietnam: The War on Record, 1961-2008.”

This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)
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..DATE:
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'Next Stop Is Vietnam': The War In Music

TERRY GROSS, host:

Popular music and war have been together in America since Yankee Doodle came to
town in the Revolution. Wars have inspired songs, supporting the boys, hating
the enemy, and praising the country. But in the mid-60s, for the first time,
anti-war songs, relating both to the new war in Vietnam and the need for world
peace became the norm.

Bear Family has released a mammoth 14 CD set called “Next Stop Is Vietnam: The
War on Record, 1961-2008.” Rock historian Ed Ward has a review.

(Soundbite of song, “Hello Vietnam”)

Mr. JOHNNY WRIGHT (Country singer): (Singing) Kiss me goodbye and write me
while I'm gone. Goodbye my sweetheart, hello Vietnam.

ED WARD: Quite frankly, I've never seen anything like “Next Stop Is Vietnam,”
as much a very long documentary in sound as it is a comprehensive collection of
songs. From the very first arrival of the American advisers, as they were
called, to the veterans still struggling today with the psychological and
physical effects of the Vietnam War, the course of events - as mirrored in
popular culture and the occasional spoken moment - is presented in over 16
hours of sound on CDs devoted to themes like prisoners of war and life in
Vietnam.

There are obvious things, like Johnny Wright's huge country hit "Hello Vietnam"
and Country Joe and the Fish's "Fixin' to Die Rag," from which the collection
takes its title, to things you'd probably never even have heard at the time,
some of which were recorded over there.

(Soundbite of song, “Goodbye Travis Air Force Base”)

Mr. HERSHEL GOBER (Singer): (Singing) Goodbye Travis Air Force Base, hello
Vietnam. Got a little job to do for my Uncle Sam. Well, it’s not the kind of
job I like but I do the best I can. Goodbye Travis Air Force Base. Hello
Vietnam.

Just a few short months ago I was down on the farm. Lived a good ole country
life and doing no harm. Then I got a letter saying, greetings son. Goodbye home
sweet home. Hello Vietnam.

WARD: Hershel Gober was an Arkansas boy whose story was pretty much exactly the
one told in this song. He became part of the Hearts and Minds campaign to win
the Vietnamese people over to our side, and the songs he wrote in Vietnam were
played on Armed Forces Radio.

Country music, in fact, was part of the propaganda effort to win support for
the war in the United States. The antiwar side is also very well-represented,
certainly better than it was on AM radio during the war - although by 1971,
songs like this one from Freda Payne were scoring in the Top 20.

(Soundbite of song, "Bring the Boys Home")

Ms. FREDA PAYNE (Singer): (Singing) Fathers are pleading, lovers are all alone.
Mothers are praying, send our sons back home. Tell them about it. You marched
them away. Yes, you did now, on ships and planes. To the senseless war, facing
death in vain.

Bring the boys home. Bring 'em back alive. Bring the boys home. Bring 'em back
alive. Bring the boys home. Bring 'em back alive. Bring the boys home. Bring
'em back alive. Why don’t you, turn the ships around.

WARD: Unfortunately, some of the most important songs aren't here. The most
grievous omission is the grunts' national anthem, The Animals' "We Gotta Get
Out of This Place," represented by a pallid version by Paul Revere and the
Raiders, who also contribute versions of two essential Creedence Clearwater
Revival songs, "Fortunate Son" and "Run Through the Jungle." For whatever
reasons, the copyright holders denied the compilers permission to use the
originals.

But there's a deeper problem here. It seems that, in an effort to be thorough,
virtually any song meeting the description about Vietnam was included. This
means that there are hours and hours of material released on tiny labels by
long-vanished artists which were never played on the radio, and languished in
deserved obscurity until they were included here.

This one kind of sums it up for me.

NANCY (Singer): I'd like to dedicate this song for all the prisoners of war and
to their families.

(Soundbite of song, “I Promise I’ll Wait”)

NANCY: (Singing) I promised we'd meet again but you can't say when and you
can't say when. But if we ever meet again I promise I'll wait. Till then we
never know.

WARD: “I Promise I’ll Wait” is by Nancy on the Mercede label, and the picture
sleeve - reprinted in the CD booklet here - shows the singer sitting on the
hood of a Mercedes. Past the mumbled intro, the song is pretty generic, and
what's with the car?

And there are songs included for reasons that defy logic: It never occurred to
me that REM's "Orange Crush" was about Agent Orange, the noted overall fan
consensus, notwithstanding.

Fortunately, around the same time as this behemoth arrived, the tiny Tompkins
Square label in New York sent me a 15-track, 45-minute CD called “Bloody War,”
a collection of songs recorded between 1924 and 1939 that sums up many of the
themes, both pro and con, of the Vietnam collection - and helps benefit the
Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. That one, I'll be listening to again.

GROSS: Ed Ward reviewed “Next Stop Is Vietnam: The War on Record 1961-2008.”

I'm Terry Gross.

(Soundbite of song, "Masters of War")

Mr. ROBERT ALLEN ZIMMERMAN (Singer/Songwriter): (Singing) Come you masters of
war...
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Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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