Fifty years and five days ago exactly, in February of 1963, a college-graduate-turned-suburban-housewife named Betty Friedan changed the world with words. She set in motion the second wave of feminism by publishing a book (you may have heard of) called The Feminine Mystique. By naming and discussing the previously unspoken reality of American women’s lives, Friedan made her indelible mark on feminism, America, and history.
So swept under a country-sized rug was the widespread unhappiness and boredom of suburban American housewives in the 1950s and 1960s that Friedan referred to the issue in her introduction as “the problem with no name”. This act of naming the nameless helped Friedan lift that country-sized rug at the edges and expose staggering truths about gender inequality. The Feminine Mystique had such a widespread impact that 35 years later Friedan wrote a book whose title repeated the words that so many of her readers said to her: It Changed My Life.
The “feminine mystique” Friedan articulated was the false but ubiquitous notion that a woman should be a happy housewife and mother or else live and die in a lonely heap of neurosis. The word “mystique” had power because it inherently described something secret, shrouded in mystery, and accessible only to some.
With Women’s History Month right around the corner, the Narrator invites you to celebrate early and honor the 50th anniversary of this powerful text with a writing prompt inspired by Betty Friedan and her fearless articulation of the “problem with no name.”
In your writing, name something the world seems to lack words for. You might fill in the blank, “the _____ mystique.” Or you might invent a phrase or word, as Friedan did, or simply refer, throughout your piece, to a “problem with no name.”