Cheerless Fantasies

A Corrective Catalogue of Errors

in Betty Friedan’s

The Feminine Mystique


Betty Friedan’s 1963 bestseller The Feminine Mystique is generally acknowledged as one of the most influential books to have been published in the United States since World War II. Though by no means the first treatise on feminism it was without any doubt a pioneering effort, setting in motion the modern American phase of a movement that has since branched out into any number of schools, tendencies and socio-political causes, and has taken credit –or been blamed– for at least as many social changes. Friedan herself has been a controversial figure inside and outside of feminist circles almost from the day The Feminine Mystique first appeared more than 40 years ago, as much for her personal style and conduct as for the subsequent evolution of her ideas on men and women.

On this simple Web site, however, neither Friedan’s personal behaviour, her brand of feminism nor feminism in general is at issue; rather, what is offered is a detailed scrutiny of the quality of her research and the accuracy of her claims. Though The Feminine Mystique is now remembered mainly as a popular work of social criticism that called for major changes in the role of American women, the greater part of the book was in fact devoted to an investigation of their status and their life choices at the beginning of the 1960s and how these had changed since World War II. A wide variety of materials were marshalled by Friedan in arriving at her portrayal of the post-war American female, but the essential core rested heavily on a large quantity of explicit and implicit statistical allegations. In the documents presented here under the title Cheerless Fantasies, it is demonstrated that the statistics and other related information Friedan used to describe many of the most central aspects of the lives of these women were poorly chosen, badly handled and seriously distorted, thus casting them in an unjustifiably negative and pessimistic light.

These deficiencies are organized and presented here around 80 quotations from The Feminine Mystique grouped into three major sections to match the three main aspects of the lives of 1950s women that Friedan felt were most unsatisfactory: their status as wives and mothers, that is, their vital statistics; their participation in higher education; and their involvement in the labour force. A fourth section examines a few additional social issues as they relate to women of that era. Finally, an overview of the errors in Friedan’s analysis is given in a brief summary.

Important information on the scope of the analysis and how it is structured is contained in the Introduction. This, the four main sections and the bibliography may be downloaded in MS Word format by clicking on the links listed below. Helpful comments and suggestions for improvement may be sent to the author, in any reasonably polite format, using the form below.


Part I The Feminine Mystique and Vital Statistics new material added, October 2020

Part II The Feminine Mystique and Higher Education new material added, October 2020

Part III The Feminine Mystique and The Labour Force

Part IV Some Social Problems and The Feminine Mystique


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