‘What’s Happening in America’

  • Sylvia Plath
  • Susan Sontag
  • Joyce Carol Oates


For feminists in the 1960s, to address ‘reality’ was to engage in revolutionary and revisionist acts of storytelling. The pioneers of second-wave feminism suggested that basic womanly narratives had been obscured; their revolutionary polemics were acts of storytelling and recoveries of undocumented reality. Thus Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique (1963) unleashed a powerful political energy through its collation of anecdotage, personal memoir and interview. The book originated in a questionnaire Friedan sent to her fellow-graduates in 1957 about education and women’s role in society. The finished volume was structured around the freed voices of women, speaking out from the margins to place their angst at the centre of the culture. The Feminine Mystique achieved its vital impetus in moments of confession and collective recognition:

But on an April morning in 1959, I heard a mother of four, having coffee with four other mothers in a suburban development fifteen miles from New York, say in a tone of quiet desperation, ‘the problem.’ And the others knew, without words, that she was not talking about a problem with her husband, or her children, or her home. Suddenly they realized they all shared the same problem, the problem that has no name. They began, hesitantly, to talk about it. Later, after they had picked up their children at nursery school and taken them home to nap, two of the women cried, in sheer relief, just to know they were not alone.1


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Copyright information

© Guy Reynolds 1999

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sylvia Plath
  • Susan Sontag
  • Joyce Carol Oates

There are no affiliations available

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