I'd never read the book myself until recently. My reason for not reading it was that I'd regarded it as something that addressed the troubles of my parents' generation. I went to college in 1969, when everyone was reading "Sexual Politics" and "The Female Eunuch." "The Feminine Mystique" seemed really old fashioned — about June Cleaver and her cohort.
[W]hat hit me was Betty’s howl of frustration. It’s primal, and you feel its desperate force on almost every page. God, did she feel trapped among the slipcovers of the suburbs and in the pages of the women’s magazines she wrote for, where big ideas and questions were entirely unwelcome. The only way to escape was to pulverize the image of the Happy Housewife Heroine who is the title of Chapter 2. Betty’s fiercest critique in this book is of the “mistaken choice” she thinks traditional gender roles forced middle-class women and their husbands to make....What made me dislike the book — when I finally read it — was that Freidan was not in the role of the housewives she purported to understand so well. She was in the role of writing for women's magazines. She didn't like the limited topics that were the stuff of that kind of magazine. She makes an assumption that women who buy a magazine are only interested in the topics covered by that magazine. But that's absurd! If you bought a magazine about cooking/childcare/fashion, that wouldn't mean you aren't interested in politics or science or whatever else is supposed to be more important. You might have other magazines — or books — for that.
Why the assumption? It might be frustrating for a journalist who's interested in politics to crank out material about topics she doesn't care about, but it was wrong to project those frustrations onto the unknown women who bought the magazines for their own purposes and used the information in those magazines in their individual private lives — perhaps to make a nice dinner efficiently so there would be time to read a good book in the extra time one can make in a day when you don't have a job. The notion that A Job belongs at the center of everyone's life is a huge scam, and the blithe rejection of the 1-earner marriage was an amazing, tragic shift in American culture. The equality of women — the ambition and the fulfilment of women — did not demand that we all get a job.