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Call it a feminist coincidence: Two books published in 1963 examine gender, sex, and marriage, but arrive at diametrically opposite conclusions. In The Feminine Mystique, Betty Friedan complains that "the only passion, the only pursuit, the only goal a woman is permitted is the pursuit of a man." Meanwhile, Helen Andelin’s Fascinating Womanhood urges women to embrace that primary passion, because it leads to ultimate fulfillment and complete happiness. We all know how The Feminine Mystique changed the world for countless women. But Fascinating Womanhood, while lesser-known than Friedan’s polemic, has had its own powerful impact on notions of women and their potential.
Now in its sixth edition, Fascinating Womanhood has sold more than 2 million copies. Over the years, the book has grown from less than 200 pages to more than 400, with most of the additional pages featuring testimonials from women whose miserable marriages were saved once they began following the book’s advice. And Andelin’s legacy is still very much in effect—not only for the adherents who blog about the book’s wisdom or enroll in online "Marriage, the Fascinating Way" classes offering personalized advice on how to act like a little girl, but in the female infantilization enthusiastically embraced by popular culture.