"the Comfortable Concentration Camp": The Significance of Nazi Imagery in Betty Friedan's the Feminine Mystique (1963) (Critical Essay)

By American Jewish History

  • Publication Date: 2003-06-01
  • Genre: Social Science

Book Summary

In one of the most shocking passages of her 1963 feminist classic, The Feminine Mystique, Betty Friedan claimed that "the women who 'adjust' as housewives, who grow up wanting to be 'just a housewife,' are in as much danger as the millions who walked to their own death in the concentration camps.... " (1) Friedan went on to explore this analogy for several pages, and then continued to use the phrase "comfortable concentration camps" to refer to suburban homes throughout the rest of The Feminine Mystique. Scholars have since castigated Friedan for her inaccuracy and insensitivity in developing the concept of the "comfortable concentration camp." Feminist scholar bell hooks, for example, has charged Friedan with "narcissism, insensitivity, sentimentality, and self-indulgence." (2) Historian Daniel Horowitz called Friedan's comparison "problematic," "trivializing," "careless and exaggerated." (3) And Friedan herself has backed away from her imagery, saying in her recent memoir, "I am ashamed of that analogy.... The American suburb was no concentration camp." (4) Indeed, in a 2001 interview, Friedan refused to discuss her camp analogy in any detail, repeating several times that she had made an error in judgment. (5)

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