Friedan, Betty Naomi
FRIEDAN, Betty Naomi
(b. 4 February 1921 in Peoria, Illinois), prominent writer and political activist who helped start the feminist movement that began in the 1960s and flowered in the 1970s by publishing The Feminine Mystique (1963) and founding the National Organization for Women (NOW).
Friedan was born Bettye Goldstein, the first child of prosperous Russian-born Jewish jeweler Harry M. Friedan and his American-born second wife, Miriam Horowitz. Another daughter and a son followed Bettye (who dropped the "e" from her name in 1942). Short, with a chunky body, full face, and long nose, she received admiration for her high intelligence but not for her looks in an era when beauty mattered most in girls. A formidable character, even as a child, Friedan was earthy, strongly opinionated, easily frustrated, and had a notoriously bad temper.
A lover of debate, Friedan wrote for the school newspaper while attending Peoria's Central High School from 1934 to 1938. Excelling as a psychology major at Smith College from 1938 to 1942, she served as the editor of its newspaper. Already described as a radical, Friedan wanted to remedy her lack of knowledge concerning labor unions with the aim of perhaps using the information as a journalist or union organizer. Accordingly, in the summer of 1941, she went to Highlander Folk School in Monteagle, Tennessee. Unorthodox and controversial, Highlander trained people to fight for social justice on behalf of African Americans and women.
After graduating summa cum laude with a B.A. in psychology from Smith, Friedan gathered fellowships and a scholarship to pursue graduate study in psychology under Erik Erikson at the University of California, Berkeley. In March 1943 she won the prestigious Abraham Rosenberg Research Fellowship, the largest grant available at Berkeley, and one sufficient enough to last her through the end of doctoral studies. Rather than being overjoyed, Friedan approached the award with conflicted emotions. She observed that women who obtained doctorates rarely married, and she did not want to be an "old maid college teacher." Adding to the pressure, Friedan's boyfriend at the time reminded her that he would never win such an award, pushing her to sublimate her wishes to his by refusing the fellowship. Friedan later used this episode in The Feminine Mystique as an example of the hostile forces weighing down women who were struggling to reach their full potential.
Moving to New York City in 1943, Friedan found work as a labor journalist with the left-wing Federated Press. In 1946 the United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers hired her away as a reporter for their official organ the UE News. In June of the next year, Betty embarked on a tumultuous marriage to Carl Friedan (formerly Friedman), an entrepreneur and advertising executive. When she became pregnant with her second child in 1952, the union fired Friedan from her job. She later cited this event as an example of society forcing women to abandon work in favor of family.
The Friedans produced three children—Daniel in 1948, Jonathan in 1952, and Emily in 1956—while exchanging physical and verbal blows. Later, when she became prominent as a leader in the feminist movement, Friedan came to fear that her abusive marriage would become a matter of public knowledge, and that the movement would be hurt by her inability to maintain a happy home. Therefore, she always avoided the issue of violence against women, even after divorcing in 1969.
Friedan spent the 1950s as a freelance author for mass-circulation women's and family magazines, writing articles that contained muted critiques of the stereotyping and conformity of suburban life. Then in 1957 her Smith College class held its fifteenth reunion and, with the aid of two other women, Friedan prepared and distributed a detailed questionnaire for classmates. The idea for the survey grew out of the 1952 reunion, when many of the women had small children and had stopped focusing on intellectual matters. Friedan herself felt guilty that she had not lived up to the glorious future forecast for her in college, and she sought the reason why so many of the best and brightest women of her generation felt dissatisfied. Many of the survey questions were open-ended: What do you wish you had done differently? How do you feel about getting older? Do you put the milk bottle on the table? Most of the women professed to be happy with their lives, but 60 percent did not find fulfillment in their role as homemaker.
Friedan tried to turn the survey into an article, "Are Women Wasting Their Time in College?," which would add to a debate currently raging in the press on the appropriateness of advanced education for women. Editor after editor rejected the article, and with each rejection, Friedan interviewed more housewives, sociologists, and psychologists to add to and refine the article. She gathered masses of information, and eventually realized that she had been taking the wrong approach. Rather than disprove the popular notion that education had failed to train women for lives as wives and mothers, Friedan now began to argue that domesticity did not suit all women. She had discovered what she would term "The Problem That Has No Name," the deep-seated and confused dissatisfaction her classmates felt but could not fully articulate. Friedan found a publisher, W. W. Norton, and spent the next five years producing her masterpiece.
February 1963 saw the publication of The Feminine Mystique, so-named because it challenged the widespread myth that women could only find true fulfillment in the home as wives and mothers. Excerpted in the major women's magazines of the day, including McCall's, Ladies' Home Journal, Good Housekeeping, and Mademoiselle, the book combined the seriousness and rigor of the social and behavioral sciences with a lively and accessible style that grew out of Friedan's decades as journalist. Focusing on white, middle-class suburban women, Friedan provided a coherent explanation for the routine belittlement that women had experienced all their lives. In chapters on psychology, sociology, anthropology, economics, and the mass media, she argued that the feminine mystique required women to renounce their brains and deny their senses, retreat to a childlike state, and immolate themselves on the altar of their family's needs to find satisfaction in life. A distinctive aspect of the book was Friedan's use and gendering of contemporary psychology, particularly the theories of Abraham Maslow. She took what psychologists had written about men and turned it to feminist purposes by arguing that people developed a healthy identity not through housework but through commitment to purposeful and sustained effort.
Although critics noted that Friedan seemed indifferent to women outside of her race and class, the book clearly struck a nerve and became a huge best-seller. Demand for it soon surpassed supply. The book became the number-one-selling paperback of 1964, with 1.3 million copies of the hardback first edition sold. By 1970, 1.5 million copies of the paperback edition had also been sold.
In the meantime, an author tour turned Friedan into a national celebrity. A combative and not always likeable personality, she proved an enormously entertaining guest on television and radio shows. One of the more notable moments of the tour came on Girl Talk, a television show hosted by Virginia Graham, when Friedan found herself competing with other guests for time until she declared, "If you don't let me speak, I'm going to say 'orgasm' ten times." An intimidated Graham gave Friedan the floor, but then made the mistake of dismissing The Feminine Mystique by saying to her audience, "Girls, what better thing can we do with our lives than to do the dishes for those we love?" Friedan quickly pointed out on air that Graham would have no viewers or career if housewives went off to work.
In The Feminine Mystique, Friedan had argued that cultural attitudes were ephemeral and that women could be a force for change. Partly as a result of the book, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) received a flood of job-discrimination complaints from women. However, the EEOC simply ignored women's problems, continuing to permit such practices as categorizing help-wanted advertisements by the gender of the worker sought. Activists planning a civil rights organization for women invited Friedan to the 1966 conference of state women's commissions. Famous and fearless, she looked like the perfect choice for president of the new group, particularly when she described the goals of the organization as "to take the actions needed to bring women into the mainstream of American society—now, equality for women, in fully equal partnership with men."
Membership in the National Organization for Women (NOW) reached 1,200 by the end of 1966. In 1969, NOW held a protest at the Plaza Hotel in New York that received media coverage as far away as Hong Kong. The week of 9–15 February had been designated Public Accommodations Week to protest the common practice among upscale restaurants of barring women during certain hours, and the Plaza became the focus because it had embarrassed a number of women, including Friedan, by refusing to seat them at business lunches. The protest helped bring down barriers. Friedan served as NOW president until 1970. None of the women who followed her had such an enormous impact.
The founding mother of modern feminism, Friedan also played a significant part in other groups. In 1969 Friedan helped found the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL). The first Congress to Unite Women, called by Friedan, took place in New York in 1969. The 500 women who attended approved resolutions for the repeal of all abortion laws and passage of the Equal Rights Amendment. Friedan and NOW also came out in support of complete reproductive choice in 1969. To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of women's suffrage on 26 August 1970, Friedan called for a strike that would paralyze the workplace by denying women's labor to all businesses. Scaled down, the strike became a march in which Friedan led 50,000 women down New York's Fifth Avenue at the height of the evening rush hour. She hoped that the mass display of unity would impress men in power with the seriousness of the movement, as well as bring together the many disparate women's groups.
When the women's movement turned more radical, Friedan objected. Never comfortable scorning femininity and men, she feared that radicals, especially lesbians, would destroy the credibility of the movement, since the media habitually disparaged feminists as man-haters or lesbians. Friedan's prejudice against homosexuals had been lifelong, perhaps a reflection of her Middle American background. In her book, she had warned that for an increasing number of sons, the consequence of the feminine mystique was that "parasitical" mothers would cause homosexuality to spread. Well before gay rights became a national issue, Friedan coined the term "lavender menace," a play on the Red menace of the 1950s, to describe the women that she regarded as a potential public-relations disaster.
Friedan continued to attack lesbians long after other feminists had accepted them. As the dispute with radicals in NOW illustrated, Friedan tried to expel from the movement everyone who disagreed with and everything that deviated from her original vision. She made peace with lesbians in 1977, but by then she had collaborated in her own decline.
Unable to work well with others, Friedan found herself shunted aside as women such as Gloria Steinem rose to the forefront of the feminist movement. In 1970 she cofounded an independent pressure group for women of both political parties, the National Women's Political Caucus. By 1977, however, so much of her power base had disappeared that she participated in the 1977 National Women's Conference in Houston as a delegate-at-large.
By the 1980s Friedan had virtually disappeared as a factor in organized feminism, although she continued to publish successfully. Both The Second Stage (1981), and The Fountain of Age (1993), became best-sellers. Living in Sag Harbor, New York, at the end of the twentieth century, Friedan has spent her later years enjoying the company of her children and grandchildren.
The publication of The Feminine Mystique marked the end of the days of doldrums for feminism. A turning point in the postwar period, the book raised the nation's awareness of the challenges faced by white middle-class women. By helping women comprehend the direction of their lives and encouraging them to make changes to reach their full potential, Friedan made an enormous contribution with her writing and extended this contribution through her political activities. A giant of the women's movement, Friedan helped women gain full rights as citizens.
Friedan's papers, including an oral history (1970) marking the Smith Centennial of 1971, are housed at the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe College. Her autobiography is Life So Far (2000), and many of her writings and the works that influenced her are reprinted in her book It Changed My Life: Writings on the Women's Movement (1976). Biographies of Friedan include Daniel Horowitz, Betty Friedan and the Making of The Feminine Mystique: The American Left, the Cold War, and Modern Feminism (1998), and Judith Hennessee, Betty Friedan: Her Life (1999). A number of books address aspects of Friedan's life in the 1960s, with the most coverage found in Marcia Cohen, The Sisterhood: The Inside Story of the Women's Movement and the Leaders Who Made It Happen (1988), and Ruth Rosen, The World Split Open: How the Modern Women's Movement Changed America (2000). Cohen's papers at the Schlesinger Library include interviews that she conducted with Friedan.
Caryn E. Neumann
Born February 4, 1921
Writer, women's rights activist
The feminist movement began sweeping American society in the late 1960s and early 1970s. It consisted of people who believed in equal rights for both sexes. It might have come about without Betty Friedan, but her presence within and her impact on the movement were vast. Friedan's book The Feminine Mystique (1963) clearly defined many issues concerning women's rights. Such ideas were central to what came to be known as the Women's Liberation Movement.
"The problem lay buried, unspoken, for many years.… As [each suburban wife] made the beds, shopped for groceries, matched slipcover material, … chauffeured Cub Scouts and Brownies, lay beside her husband at night—she was afraid to ask even of herself the silent question—'Is this all?'"
Early education and work
Betty Friedan was born Betty (possibly Bettye) Naomi Goldstein in Peoria, Illinois, on February 4, 1921. Her birth was less than one year after the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which allowed women across the United States the right to vote. Her father, Harry, was a jeweler. Miriam (Horowitz), her mother, had quit her job as the women's page editor of a local newspaper upon her marriage and became a homemaker. Miriam Goldstein missed her former job and encouraged Betty to attend college and become a journalist.
Friedan majored in psychology at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. She graduated summa cum laude, which is Latin for "with the highest praise," in 1942. At Smith, she established a literary magazine, edited the school newspaper, and became preoccupied with social justice issues and the plight of American workers. She started graduate work in psychology at the University of California at Berkeley. Friedan won a research scholarship that would have fully funded her studies, but after one year she quit graduate school and moved to New York City. Her first job there was reporting on labor-related issues for a small newspaper. Despite her good work, Friedan was forced to relinquish the job to a returning soldier at the end of World War II (1939–45).
The war had a major effect on women in terms of working outside the home as well as the types of jobs they could do. When men went off to fight the war, women were needed to assume many of the jobs left open by men. Some women worked in war munitions or bomber factories, others became reporters, accountants, farmers, and even baseball players. When the war ended and the soldiers returned home, many women were expected or forced to give up their jobs to them. Some women found other work, while others returned to life as homemakers. For many, the accomplishments they felt as working women stayed with them forever. Such feelings prompted some women to seek careers in addition to having families.
In 1947, Betty married Carl Friedan, a theater producer and advertising executive. For a time, she worked for a labor union paper. When she became pregnant, she went on maternity leave and came back to her job after giving birth. Upon learning that she was pregnant with her second child in 1949, Friedan asked for another maternity leave. Instead of granting her request, the paper laid her off. Her union refused to come to her assistance, even though her contract allowed for the maternity leave. Friedan settled into a life as a homemaker, mother, and occasional freelance writer for women's magazines. Carl and Betty Friedan eventually moved to the suburbs of New York. They had a third child together, but their marriage did not last. They divorced in 1969.
Friedan's married life was like that of many people who were married in the 1940s through the 1960s. In the 1940s, husbands provided most of the money for the family, and, upon marrying, women were expected to stay home to tend to household chores and raise children. In the 1940s and 1950s, some women attended university not to prepare for a career, but rather to find a "college man" to wed. Such women were looking for a man whose education would enable him to secure a high-paying job that would adequately support a family and a suburban-American lifestyle. Some women did enter the workforce briefly, but many, like Friedan, eventually left their jobs to take care of their growing families.
Evolution of a book
Being a homemaker and mother left Friedan feeling unfulfilled. She viewed her choices and those of other women as very limited. To see if others felt the same way, Friedan wrote a questionnaire and distributed it to her former college classmates in 1957. She discovered that many shared her frustration. She then sent out more detailed surveys and carried out interviews. Friedan discussed her findings with psychologists and behavioral experts, people who specialize in analyzing human behavior. Her findings, plus her own ideas and experiences, formed the basis for her first book, The Feminine Mystique (1963). Her book immediately sparked controversy. It became a bestseller, with more than three million copies in circulation. The work was translated into thirteen languages. More importantly, it helped spark the women's liberation movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s.
The Feminine Mystique was read and taken to heart by a generation of women who agreed with Friedan's point of view. At the same time, other readers with more conservative and traditional views opposed Friedan's work. They claimed that her ideas would upset the framework of American society. As of the early 2000s, the ideas in The Feminine Mystique continued to be approved by some and criticized by others. But over the years since its publication, the long-lasting and far-reaching impact of the book has been significant. The Feminine Mystique is looked upon as one of the most significant books published in the United States during the twentieth century.
Devotion to "The Movement"
In 1966, Friedan was one of the co-founders of the National Organization for Women (NOW). A political action group, NOW formed to win equal rights for women. As the group's first president, Friedan set out to integrate women into the economic and political mainstream of America. She organized drives to elect more women to political office, establish child-care facilities for working mothers, and halt the publication of job notices that specified gender. At the time, abortion was illegal. In 1969, Friedan also co-founded the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League (NARAL).
"The Problem That Has No Name"
In The Feminine Mystique, Friedan explored how women fit into American society in the fifteen years following the end of World War II. She argued that women were oppressed by what she called the "mystique of feminine fulfillment." This was the false notion that personal satisfaction came only through what she believed was a false femininity. According to traditional values, women were expected to be good wives and mothers and have pride in the accomplishments of their husbands and children. In this regard, they could only experience fulfilling lives if they married and became mothers. Women as a group also were discriminated against socially and in the job market. They were stereotyped in popular culture and were depicted in television shows and commercials as happy homemakers who were forever baking cookies for their children or mindlessly smiling as they ironed clothes or washed floors. In The Feminine Mystique, Friedan labeled this dilemma "the problem that has no name."
Friedan remained in the top position at NOW until 1970, when she left to help coordinate the Women's Strike for Equality, a national women's rights protest. It was held on August 26, 1970, marking the fiftieth anniversary of the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment. Friedan also became one of the more high-profile supporters for passage of the Equal Rights Amendment. The proposed constitutional amendment would make all individuals equal before the law regardless of gender. In 1971, she became a founding member of the National Women's Political Caucus. The group's goal was to increase women's involvement in American politics and to support women interested in gender equality in their efforts to win public office. Two years later, she was named director of the First Women's Bank and Trust Company, founded and operated by women. At the time, nearly all commercial banks showed prejudice against women who attempted to borrow money or secure mortgages. Her activism on behalf of her gender extended beyond the borders of the United States. She lobbied the United Nations to proclaim 1975 as the "International Year of Women." In 1989, she co-founded Women,Men, and Media, a yearly analysis of the manner in which women are reported on in newspapers, television, radio, and other media.
On occasion Friedan's ideas have conflicted with those of other women's movement leaders. She has maintained that the women's movement should focus on basic issues affecting all women, such as equal pay for equal work. Her vision was that women and men should cooperate with each other. In the early 1970s, she became distressed by the more radical feminists who pitted women against men in an attempt to gain equality. Nevertheless, Friedan has continued to work toward her own ideals.
More books written and awards won
Although The Feminine Mystique was Friedan's most notable book, it was not her only one. It Changed My Life: Writings on the Women's Movement, describing her involvement in the movement, was published in 1976. The Second Stage, published in 1981, reported on the significance of the movement to that date. The Fountain of Age, published in 1993 when Friedan was in her early seventies, explored what it means to enter one's "golden years" in a culture that reveres the young and sees no value in growing older. Beyond Gender: The New Politics of Work and Family (1997) explored and questioned the effect of the women's movement on relations between the sexes. In 2002, Friedan wrote a memoir, Life So Far. It was written in part as a response to two biographies—Judith Hennessee's Betty Friedan, Her Life and Daniel Horowitz's Betty Friedan and the Making of "The Feminine Mystique." Friedan felt these books portrayed her in an unflattering light.
Friedan also has written on the subject of feminism for dozens of publications. For example, between 1970 and 1973, she wrote a column for the woman's magazine McCall's. Titled "Betty Friedan's Notebook," it described her efforts to publicize the women's movement across the world. She lectured extensively around the world and held visiting university professorships. She taught at New York University, the University of Southern California, and other institutions of higher learning. She was a Chubb Fellow at Yale University and Adjunct Scholar at the Wilson International Center for Scholars at the Smithsonian Institution. Her many awards include the Wilhelmina Drucker Prize for contribution to the emancipation of men and women (1971); the Humanist of the Year award (1975); and the Eleanor Roosevelt Leadership Award (1989). In 1994, Columbia University granted her an honorary doctorate.
For More Information
Archer, Jules. Breaking Barriers: The Feminist Revolution from Susan B. Anthony to Margaret Sanger to Betty Friedan. New York: Viking, 1991.
Friedan, Betty. Beyond Gender: The New Politics of Work and Family. Washington, DC: Woodrow Wilson Center Press, 1997.
Friedan, Betty. The Feminine Mystique. New York: Norton, 1963.
Friedan, Betty. The Fountain of Age. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1993.
Friedan, Betty. It Changed My Life: Writings on the Women's Movement. New York: Random House, 1976.
Friedan, Betty. Life So Far. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000.
Friedan, Betty. The Second Stage. New York: Summit Books, 1981.
Hennessee, Judith. Betty Friedan, Her Life. New York: Random House, 1999.
Horowitz, Daniel. Betty Friedan and the Making of "The Feminine Mystique." Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 1998.
Sherman, Janann, ed. Interviews with Betty Friedan. Jackson, MS: University of Mississippi Press, 2002.
Wolfe, Alan. "The Mystique of Betty Friedan." Atlantic Monthly (September 1999): pp. 98-105.
Born 4 February 1921, Peoria, Illinois
Daughter of Harry and Miriam Horowitz Goldstein; married Carl Friedan, 1947 (divorced 1969); children: Daniel, Jonathan, Emily
Credited with having begun the current women's movement with her earliest book, The Feminine Mystique (1963), Betty Friedan represents a middle ground in the various ideological differences in the movement since the 1970s and remains a devoted advocate for a more equitable society. She describes the different stages of the movement as part of an evolutionary force. Writing in 1983 in her introduction to the 20th-anniversary edition of The Feminine Mystique, she claims that she has become "increasingly convinced that the whole process [the women's movement]…is not really a revolution at all, but simply a stage in human evolution, necessary for survival."
One of three children of parents who encouraged neither her reading nor her feminism, Friedan attributed her later awareness of oppression partly to being Jewish. In high school Friedan founded a literary magazine and graduated as class valedictorian. At Smith College she studied psychology with noted Gestalt psychologist Kurt Coffee and graduated summa cum laude in 1942. After winning her second research fellowship at the University of California at Berkeley, she realized that to go on would commit her to a doctorate and a career as a psychologist. She gave in to what she called the pressure of the feminine mystique, quit Berkeley for a nonprofessional job in New York City, and soon married and began raising her three children.
By the mid-1950s Friedan was deeply dissatisfied with her life. Approaching the resulting crisis thoughtfully, she wondered if other women shared her dissatisfaction. Through a questionnaire sent to her Smith College classmates, she discovered her ailment was widespread, and she began several years of research which culminated in The Feminine Mystique. She analyzed the post-World War II pressures that forced promising young women out of colleges and into suburbs to raise children. Its central thesis is that those forces supposed to be "the chief enemies of prejudice"—that is, education, sociology, psychology, and the media—have, in effect, conned American women into believing their entire identity and worth could be derived from being wives and mothers. Her revolutionary book focused national attention on "the problem that has no name."
After publishing The Feminine Mystique, Friedan actively campaigned against the feminine mystique in its variety of guises. She founded NOW, the National Organization for Women, in 1966. NOW has remained the largest and most visible feminist organization in the U.S., although it has been criticized since its start by more radical women's groups who believe it is too middle class, hierarchically structured, and conservative in its aims. After leaving the presidency of NOW in 1970, Friedan continued her activism through writing, lecturing, and teaching. She wrote a column for McCall's, "Betty Friedan's Notebook," and contributed to many magazines, including Saturday Review, Harper's, the New York Times magazine, Redbook, Ladies' Home Journal, and Working Women.
In 1976 Friedan published It Changed My Life: Writings on the Women's Movement. In a series of essays and open letters, Friedan assesses the progress of the women's movement and her relationship with it. The book provides a personal as well as a movement history. While arguing that women have demanded and received new opportunities and more equality, she warns that their gains are threatened by divisiveness among themselves. Friedan sees that a necessary change in the women's liberation movement is needed: it must transcend polarization and become "human liberation." She has been attacked not only as a radical but for not being radical enough by those who want her to speak out strongly against men and in support of lesbians, and for black and working women. Friedan feels that to denounce men and to have the issues involving homosexuals become a major concern of the women's movement is counterproductive, that "an overfocus on sexual issues, on sexual politics, as opposed to the condition of women in society in general, may have been accentuated by those who wish to immobilize the movement politically."
In The Second Stage (1981), Friedan further pursues the goal of human liberation. She states that the failures of the women's movement are due to "our blind spot about the family." After years of activism, research, and observation of women's lives, she concludes many women are now caught in a new "feminist mystique," where they're doing two demanding jobs: the work of the family and the work of a career. They are forced to be "superwomen," juggling two roles and feeling guilty about both. The solution, she argues, is to take control of the family policy agenda and restructure family and work so both men and women are freer to share roles. She insists men will become allies when they see that changing outmoded institutions will also improve their lives. Citing the specific issues of flexible work schedules, parental leave, and child care as the new agenda for the women's movement, she calls for reclaiming the family as "the new feminist frontier." Reaction to her new agenda ranged from calling her a "repentant feminist" to reaffirming her importance in the movement and to recognizing, as Marilyn French did in an Esquire article in December 1983, that the affirmation of the family in The Second Stage was a "passionate plea for general awareness of the inclusive nature of feminism."
In the 1983 anniversary edition of The Feminine Mystique, Friedan angrily denies the media's pronouncements that the "postfeminist generation" has abandoned feminist ideas: "Of course the postfeminist generation is in a different place. The women's movement put it there." Sounding the theme of evolutionary change, she wrote, "It's hard to go on evolving, as we all must, just to keep up with a revolution as big as this when some…want to lock it in place forever, as an unchanging ism." In this stage of her life, she sees the importance of linking the redefinition of the family with issues and interests of single women and older women.
In The Fountain of Age (1993), Friedan urges older people to draw on their strengths and not "forfeit these years with a preoccupation with death." She also notes her feelings of déjà vu when she hears geriatric experts talk about the aged "with the same patronizing, 'compassionate' denial of their personhood" she heard 20 years before when the experts talked about women.
During the 1980s Friedan saw the defeat of the Equal Rights Amendment in Congress, but despite the setback she was hopeful about the new political power of women represented by the vice presidential nomination of Geraldine Ferraro at the 1984 Democratic National Convention, to which she was a delegate. In "Back to the Feminist Mystique," published in the Humanist in 1991, Friedan notes that the decade of the 1980s had made it more difficult to move to the "second stage" because the support systems and social programs so necessary to restructure work and home had been almost destroyed in a political environment hostile to change.
In Beyond Gender: The New Politics of Work and Family (1997), Friedan focuses her attention on the plight of American workers. While a guest scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Institute in 1994, Friedan brought together in the New Paradigm Seminars a diverse assortment of leaders in labor, women's organizations, business, social movements, and other groups. Participants tackled important issues facing American workers, including corporate downsizing, options for flexible work schedules, welfare reform, and changes in affirmative action programs. Using direct quotations of seminar participants and her own commentary, Friedan again argues in Beyond Gender that society must go beyond issues of men vs. women and sexual politics if it wants to create a "new community." Equality of opportunity, care for children, and economic restructuring to reduce income inequality remain cornerstones of Friedan's vision for a better society, but she now emphasizes their importance for the American worker in general, not solely for women. Despite the wide-ranging and often conflicting opinions shared within the seminar itself, Friedan steadfastly believes a consensus on these important issues is necessary and possible.
Contributed to Anatomy of Reading (ed. by L. L. Hackett and R. Williamson, 1966). Voices of the New Feminism (ed. by M. L. Thompson, 1970). "The Mystique of Age" in Productive Aging: Enhancing Vitality in Later Life (1989).
The papers of Betty Friedan are in the Schlesinger Library of Radcliffe College, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Dubin, M., "At 75, Betty Friedan Remains an Independent Thinker Who Has More to Write," in Knight-Ridder/ Tribune News Service (6 Mar. 1996). Gardels, N., "The New Frontier of Feminism" in New Perspectives Quarterly (Winter 1998). Janeway, E., Man's World, Woman's Place (1971). Lerner, G., The Female Experience: An American Documentary (1977). Ryan, M. P., Womanhood in America from Colonial Times to the Present (1975). Sochen, J., Herstory: A Woman's View of American History (1974). Sochen, J., Movers and Shakers: American Women Thinkers and Activists, 1900-1970 (1973).
CANR 18 (1986). CB (1970, 1989).
Esquire (Dec. 1983). Feminist Review (Autumn 1987). LAT (26 Apr. 1992). Nation (14 Nov. 1981, 1 Dec. 1997). National Review (5 Feb. 1982). NR (20 Jan. 1982). NYT (5 July 1981, 25 Apr. 1983, 27 Feb. 1983). NYTBR (22 Nov. 1981). TLS (30 July 1982).
—BILLIE J. WAHLSTROM
AND MARY GRIMLEY MASON,
UPDATED BY JANETTE GOFF DIXON
Excerpt from The Feminine Mystique
Originally published in 1963; excerpt taken from 1997 reprint.
"The problem lay buried, unspoken, for many years in the minds of American women. It was a strange stirring, a sense of dissatisfaction, a yearning that women suffered in the middle of the twentieth century in the United States."
Betty Friedan gave voice to the suffering of many American women in her book The Feminine Mystique, in which she documented the damage American society did to women by insisting that the acceptable roles for them were limited to wives and mothers. Betty Friedan was born Betty Naomi Goldstein on February 4, 1921, in Peoria, Illinois, to Harry (a jeweler) and Miriam (Horowitz) Goldstein. Miriam Goldstein, who had worked as a newspaper editor but left her job to raise her family, encouraged her daughter to pursue her education and work as a journalist. Friedan graduated summa cum laude, which in Latin means with highest praise, from Smith College with a bachelor's degree in psychology and went on to study at the University of California, Berkeley; University of Iowa; and Esalen Institute. She worked as a newspaper journalist in 1943 but gave up her job to a returning veteran after World War II (1939–45) to take another job at a labor union newspaper. She married Carl Friedan (a theater producer) in June of 1947. Friedan continued to work for the newspaper while the couple started a family. She took a one-year maternity leave for the birth of her first child but was fired when she asked for a second maternity leave in 1949. The couple had a third child together, while Friedan remained a housewife.
Friedan soon became dissatisfied with simply being a wife and mother. She began working as a free-lance journalist, a writer who is hired for a writing task rather than working full- or part-time for a company, while continuing to raise her children. In order to figure out whether she was alone in her thinking about domestic life, she conducted interviews with other housewives and sent out surveys to her former college classmates. Her research proved she was not alone. When no magazines would publish her findings, she put together all the interviews and surveys of housewives she received from across the country to create her first book, The Feminine Mystique.
Her study reported the dissatisfaction of housewives and mothers, no matter their education level. Her book expressed the feelings of many women and became a best-seller soon after its publication in 1963. Her book exposed the myth, or widely held but unrealistic belief, that said women were happy homemakers who were content to care for their husbands and families without regard for their own interests. Labeling this myth "the feminine mystique," Friedan analyzed how this "ideal" denied women complex, interesting lives. The popularity of The Feminine Mystique launched Friedan into the center of the women's liberation movement. By 1966 she had become one of the founding members of the National Organization for Women (NOW). Through her political activism, Friedan worked hard for such causes as the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, which stated that women and men are equal and must be treated equally by law, and the legalization of abortion, a medical procedure to end a pregnancy.
Things to remember while reading the excerpt from The Feminine Mystique:
- It took Betty Friedan five years to turn her original magazine article into The Feminine Mystique.
- As a solution to the discontent felt by so many housewives, Friedan suggested that women continue to support their families and begin to develop other interests through employment, a profession, volunteer work, or further education.
- Betty Friedan participated in the government's special committee to investigate the portrayal of women in the media that contributed to the President's Commission on the Status of Women's report, American Women.
- As influential as the government American Women report was, the government only distributed 83,000 copies before its publication in 1965 by Charles Scribner's Sons. But The Feminine Mystique sold five million copies by 1970, reaching far more people.
- Friedan's description of suburban homes as "comfortable concentration camps" struck a chord with readers.
Excerpt from The Feminine Mystique
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What happened next…
Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique reinforced the issues documented in the President's Commission on the Status of Women's report published the same year. But rather than calling on bureaucratic decision makers to reshape laws and set up governmental programs to help women, Friedan's book called on women to help themselves. Friedan went further in her own life, devoting herself to the betterment of others.
On October 29, 1966, Friedan and other women founded the National Organization for Women (NOW), a lobbying group committed to pushing for women's rights. Friedan was elected president and co-wrote the organization's Statement of Purpose, which outlined women's rights to develop to their fullest human potential. Successes NOW had under Friedan's leadership included getting employers to stop listing jobs under the headings of "men" and "women" in the classifieds; getting more companies to let women apply for traditionally male jobs; and insisting that President Lyndon B. Johnson issue a presidential order outlawing sex discrimination by the government. Her last act as president of NOW was organizing a simultaneous Women's Strike for Equality in several American cities in 1970 on the fiftieth anniversary of women's gaining the right to vote. She organized demonstrations, marches, and speeches in forty major cities and led a parade of over ten thousand down Fifth Avenue in New York City.
Friedan also organized the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL) in 1969. NARAL persuaded the New York legislature to pass laws giving women the right to choose to have an abortion. To help change public policy, she became a founding member of the National Women's Political Caucus in 1971. In 1975 Friedan went on to found the First Women's Bank & Trust Company in order to offer women discrimination-free access to credit, mortgages, and loans. As her political career developed, Friedan continued to write, publishing several books about the women's movement and other topics.
Did you know…
- The Civil Rights Act of 1964 made sexual discrimination in employment illegal.
- Sometimes people refer to the law that made sexual discrimination illegal as Title VII. Title VII is the section of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that details the law against sexual discrimination in employment. The Civil Rights Act contains eleven titles.
- Women's issues such as childcare, abortion rights, and maternity leave all became important topics of political debate in the 1960s and 1970s.
- Although women's presence in the workforce increased into the 1970s, most women continued to retain primary responsibility for household chores and childcare.
- Feminists gained attention for the women's liberation movement by protesting against the Miss America Pageant in Atlantic City, New Jersey, in 1968, which they felt treated women as sexual objects and not as people.
- The first national women's liberation conference was held in Chicago in 1968.
- More women than men entered college for the first time in history in 1978.
Consider the following…
- Do you think Betty Friedan's book would have been as popular if it had encouraged women to leave their families to pursue a career?
- Describe some of the difficulties women following Friedan's advice might have encountered in the 1960s.
- Some women did not consider Friedan to be a feminist. Explain why you agree or disagree.
For More Information
Friedan, Betty. The Feminine Mystique. New York: Norton, 1963; 1997 reprint.
Hurley, Jennifer A. The 1960s. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven, 2000.
Skrentny, John D. The Minority Rights Revolution. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 2002.
Stearman, Katy. Women's Rights: Changing Attitudes, 1900–2000. Austin, TX: Raintree, Steck-Vaughn, 2000.
Betty Friedan (born 1921) was a women's rights activist, author of The Feminine Mystique, and a founding member of the National Organization for Women, the National Abortion Rights Action League, and the National Women's Political Caucus.
Betty Friedan appeared suddenly in the national limelight with the publication of her first book, The Feminine Mystique, in 1963. It became a national best seller and propelled Friedan to a leadership position in the burgeoning movement for women's liberation. In that book Friedan identified a condition she claimed women suffered as the result of a widely accepted ideology that placed them first and foremost in the home. Attacking the notion that "biology is destiny," which ordained that women should devote their lives to being wives and mothers at the expense of other pursuits, Friedan called upon women to shed their domestic confines and discover other meaningful endeavors.
Friedan was herself well situated to know the effects of the "feminine mystique." She was born Betty Naomi Goldstein in 1921 in Peoria, Illinois, the daughter of Jewish parents. Her father was a jeweler, and her mother had to give up her job on a newspaper when she married. The loss of that potential career affected her mother deeply, and she urged young Betty to pursue the career in journalism that she was never able to achieve. The daughter went on to graduate summa cum laude from Smith College in 1942. She then received a research fellowship to study psychology as a graduate student at the University of California at Berkeley. Like her mother, she did some work as a journalist, but unlike her mother she did not end her career to build a family. She married Carl Friedan in 1947, and during the years that she was raising their three children she continued her freelance writing. After her husband established his own advertising agency they moved to the suburbs, where Friedan experienced what she later termed the "feminine mystique" first hand. Although she continued to write she felt stifled in her domestic role.
In 1957 Friedan put together an intensive questionnaire to send to her college classmates from Smith 15 years after graduation. She obtained detailed, open-ended replies from 200 women, revealing a great deal of dissatisfaction with their lives. Like Friedan herself, they tried to conform to the prevailing expectations of wives and mothers while harboring frustrated desires for something more out of life. Friedan wrote an article based on her findings, but the editors of the women's magazines with whom she had previously worked refused to publish the piece. Those refusals only spurred her on. She decided to investigate the problem on a much larger scale and publish a book. The result of her effort was The Feminine Mystique, which became an instant success, selling over three million copies.
Friedan began her book by describing what she called "the problem that has no name." In words that touched a sensitive nerve in thousands of middle-class American women, she wrote, "the problem lay buried, unspoken, for many years in the minds of American women. It was a strange stirring, a sense of dissatisfaction, a yearning that women suffered in the middle of the 20th century in the United States. Each suburban wife struggled with it alone. As she made the beds, shopped for groceries, matched slipcover material … she was afraid to ask even of herself the silent question—'Is this all?"'
With the publication of The Feminine Mystique Betty Friedan rose to national prominence. Three years later in 1966 she helped found the first major organization established since the 1920s devoted to women's rights, the National Organization for Women (NOW), and became its first president. Under Friedan's leadership NOW worked for political reforms to secure women's legal equality. The organization was successful in achieving a number of important gains for women. It worked for the enforcement of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prohibited employment discrimination on the basis of sex. As a result of the organization's efforts, the Equal Opportunities Commission ruled that airlines could not fire female flight attendants because they married or reached the age of 35, nor could employment opportunities be advertised according to male or female categories.
NOW also lobbied for passage of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), which had remained dormant since it was first introduced in Congress by Alice Paul in 1923. In addition, the organization called for federally funded day care centers to be established "on the same basis as parks, libraries and public schools." NOW also worked to achieve the legalization of abortion and the preservation of abortion rights. Friedan was among the founders of the National Abortion Rights Action League in 1969. Finally in 1973 the Supreme Court legalized abortions. Deaths of women resulting from abortions dropped by 60 percent.
In 1970 Friedan was one of the most forceful opponents of President Nixon's nomination of G. Harrold Carswell to the Supreme Court. She argued before the Senate Judiciary Committee that in 1969 Carswell defied the Civil Rights Act by ruling in favor of the right of employers to deny jobs to women with children. That same year, at the annual meeting of NOW, she called for a Women's Strike for Equality, which was held on August 26—the 50th anniversary of the day women gained the right to vote. Women across the country commemorated the day with demonstrations, marches, and speeches in 40 major cities. Friedan led a parade of over 10,000 down Fifth Avenue in New York City.
The following year Friedan was among the feminist leaders who formed the National Women's Political Caucus. During the next several years she moved away from central leadership in the movement to concentrate on writing and teaching. She wrote a regular column for McCall's magazine and taught at several colleges and universities, including Temple University, Yale University, Queens College, and the New School for Social Research.
Friedan became an influential spokeswoman for the women's movement nationally as well as internationally. In 1974 she had an audience with Pope Paul VI in which she urged the Catholic Church to "come to terms with the full personhood of women."
As the women's movement grew and new leaders emerged with different concerns, Friedan's centrality in the movement dwindled. Nevertheless, she remained an out-spoken feminist leader for many years. In 1977 she participated in the National Conference of Women in Houston, Texas, and called for an end to divisions and a new coalition of women. Her writing, teaching, and speaking continued throughout these years, as her ideas concerning the feminist movement evolved. In 1976 she published It Changed My Life: Writings on the Women's Movement, which was followed by her 1981 book, The Second Stage. In that publication Friedan called for a shift in the feminist movement, one that would address the needs of families and would allow both men and women to break from the sex-role stereotypes of the past.
In 1993, Friedan released The Fountain of Age, in which she began to explore the rights of the elderly and aging, just as she had once become attuned to women's issues. Friedan's focus is not on mere economics, but rather on helping the elderly find fulfillment in their latter years. In The New York Times she said, "Once you break through the mystique of age and that view of the aged as objects of care and as problems for society, you can look at the reality of the new years of human life open to us."
In 1996 new scholarship arose about Friedan's life when Daniel Horowitz published a controversial article in American Quarterly. Horowitz, who teaches at Friedan'salma mater, Smith University, draws a link between Friedan's feminism and her undergraduate years at Smith during the 1940s. Horowitz presents a new outlook on the work of Friedan, who has often said her feminism first emerged during the 1960s; in his article, Horowitz makes a strong case that it can be traced to the 1940s. But regardless of the time that Friedan's feminism first surfaced, she remains a significant influence on societal expectations and equality for women.
Betty Friedan's own writings are the best source of information on her life and work. She wrote extensively in popular magazines and was interviewed numerous times after 1963. She published four books: The Feminine Mystique (1963), It Changed My Life: Writings on the Women's Movement (1976), and The Second Stage (1981), and The Fountain of Age (1993). □
Born: February 4, 1921
American women's rights activist, author, and organization founder
Betty Friedan is a leader of the feminist (women's rights) movement, author of The Feminine Mystique, and a founding member of the National Organization for Women (NOW), the National Abortion Rights Action League (an organization that supports a woman's right to end a pregnancy), and the National Women's Political Caucus. She helped spark the women's movement in the 1960s.
Following her mother's advice
Betty Naomi Goldstein was born on February 4, 1921 in Peoria, Illinois, the first of Harry and Miriam (Horwitz) Goldstein's three children. Her father worked his way up to become the owner of a jewelry store; her mother had to give up her job on a newspaper when she married. The loss of that career affected her mother deeply, and she urged young Betty to pursue the career in journalism that she herself was never able to achieve.
Betty went on to graduate from Smith College in 1942. She then studied psychology as a graduate student at the University of California at Berkeley. Like her mother, she did some work as a journalist, but unlike her mother she did not end her career to build a family. She married Carl Friedan in 1947, and during the years that she was raising their three children she continued to write articles. After her husband established his own advertising agency, the family moved to the suburbs. Although she continued to write, she felt unfulfilled by her role as wife and mother.
Others feel the same way
In 1957 Friedan put together a list of questions to send to her Smith College classmates fifteen years after graduation. She received detailed replies from two hundred women, many of which revealed that these women were also unhappy with their lives. Friedan wrote an article based on her findings, but the editors of the women's magazines with whom she had previously worked refused to publish it. Those refusals only made her more determined to share her findings with the world. She decided to investigate the problem on a much larger scale and publish a book. The result of her effort was The Feminine Mystique, which became an instant success, selling over three million copies.
Friedan began her book by describing what she called "the problem that has no name." In words that touched a nerve in thousands of middle-class American women, she wrote, "the problem lay buried, unspoken, for many years in the minds of American women. It was a strange stirring, a sense of dissatisfaction, a yearning [that is, a longing] that women suffered in the middle of the 20th century in the United States. Each suburban wife struggled with it alone. As she made the beds, shopped for groceries … she was afraid to ask even of herself the silent question—'Is this all?'" Attacking the notion that "biology is destiny," under which women were expected to devote their lives to being wives and mothers and give up all other pursuits, Friedan called upon women to do whatever it took to discover other meaningful activities.
Organizing for change
In 1966, three years after the book's publication, Friedan helped found the first major organization established since the 1920s devoted to women's rights. The organization was called the National Organization for Women (NOW), and Freidan became its first president. Under Friedan's leadership NOW worked for political reforms to secure legal equality for women. The organization was successful in achieving a number of important gains. It worked for the enforcement of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prevented employers from discriminating (denying opportunities to or providing unequal treatment to) against workers on the basis of sex. As a result of the organization's efforts, the Equal Opportunities Commission ruled that airlines could not fire female flight attendants because they married or reached the age of thirty-five and that job opportunities could not be advertised as only for male or female applicants.
NOW also lobbied for passage of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), which had been introduced in Congress by Alice Paul (1885–1977) in 1923 but had never passed. In addition, the organization called for government-funded day-care centers to be established "on the same basis as parks, libraries and public schools." NOW also worked to make abortion (a woman's right to end a pregnancy) legal and to preserve abortion rights. Friedan was among the founders of the National Abortion Rights Action League in 1969. Finally, in 1973, the Supreme Court legalized abortion.
In 1970 President Richard Nixon (1913–1994) chose G. Harrold Carswell (1919–) to sit on the Supreme Court. Friedan made a strong stand against the president's choice. She argued that Carswell had defied the Civil Rights Act by ruling that employers had the right to deny jobs to women who had children. Carswell's appointment did not go through. That same year, at the annual meeting of NOW, Friedan called for a Women's Strike for Equality, which was held on August 26—the fiftieth anniversary of the day women gained the right to vote. Women across the country marked the day with demonstrations, marches, and speeches in forty major cities. Friedan led a parade of over ten thousand down Fifth Avenue in New York City. The following year Friedan was among the leaders who formed the National Women's Political Caucus.
Still an important voice for women
As the women's movement grew and new leaders emerged with different concerns, Friedan's popularity decreased. Still, she remained an outspoken leader for many years. In 1974 she had an audience with Pope Paul VI in which she urged the Catholic Church to "come to terms with the full personhood of women." In 1977 she participated in the National Conference of Women in Houston, Texas, calling for an end to divisions in the movement and the creation of a new coalition (alliance) of women. Friedan continued writing, teaching, and speaking throughout these years. In 1976 she published It Changed My Life: Writings on the Women's Movement, which was followed by her 1981 book, The Second Stage. In that publication Friedan called for a shift in the feminist movement, one that would address the needs of families and would allow both men and women to break free of the roles they had been pressured to fill in the past.
Friedan remains an important voice in women's struggle for equality. Also, in 1993, she wrote The Fountain of Age, turning her attention to the rights of the elderly and aging. In the New York Times she said, "Once you break through the mystique [air of mystery] of age and that view of the aged as objects of care and as problems for society, you can look at the reality of the new years of human life open to us." Betty Friedan's genuine interest in helping others improve and enjoy their lives is as strong today as it was when she first began writing.
For More Information
Blau, Justine. Betty Friedan. New York: Chelsea House, 1990.
Friedan, Betty. The Feminine Mystique. New York: Norton, 1963.
Friedan, Betty. It Changed My Life: Writings on the Women's Movement. New York: Random House, 1976.
Friedan, Betty. Life So Far. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000.
Friedan, Betty. The Second Stage. New York: Summit Books, 1981.
Hennessee, Judith Adler. Betty Friedan: Her Life. New York: Random House, 1999.
(b. February 4, 1921) Influential feminist, author of The Feminine Mystique.
Bettye (later changed to Betty) Naomi Goldstein was born on February 4, 1921, in Peoria, Illinois, to a jewelry store owner and a society page editor. She graduated from Smith College in 1942 and went on to study psychology at Berkeley. Saying she did not want to become "an old maid college teacher," she quit graduate studies after a year to become a staff writer for the left-wing Federated Press from 1943 to 1946. She married Carl Friedman (later Friedan) in 1947 and had three children; the couple divorced in 1969. In the early 1960s Betty Friedan became one of the nation's most influential activists on behalf of women. Female involvement in World War II, the expansion of the middle class and consumer society following the war, and the expanded role of women in politics and the economy during the Cold War (1946– 1991) had created the context for women to reexamine their personal and social identities.
Betty became a labor journalist for the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America in 1951, writing the pamphlet UE Fights for Women Workers (1952). She taught some classes at New York University and the New School for Social Research. An occasional magazine journalist from 1955 on, she contributed articles she would later critique as "propaganda" to Charm, the old Cosmopolitan, Coronet, Family Circle, McCall's, Mademoiselle, Parents' Magazine, and Redbook, bearing titles like "I Was Afraid to Have a Baby." It may have been "deradicalization" in the Cold War climate of McCarthyism, as some now suggest, that shifted Friedan's work away from trade unionism and Popular Front journalism in 1952.
In 1957 Friedan began writing what would become a landmark book. It grew, she wrote, out of her own uneasiness, "first as a question mark in my own life, as a wife and mother of three small children, half-guiltily and therefore half-heartedly, almost in spite of myself, using my abilities and education in work that took me away from home." She wondered if she was crazy for analyzing the "schizophrenic split" between the reality of women's lives and the attempt to conform to an ideal image of womanhood as projected by the media. The problem had "burst like a boil through the image of the happy American housewife," Friedan wrote; "by 1962 the plight of the trapped American housewife had become a national parlor game."
Published in 1963, The Feminine Mystique spoke of a new neurosis or "identity crisis" among the educated, the "problem that has no name." It was the frustration of middle-class women trying to conform to the postwar ideal of being suburban housewives and mothers. Girls grew up "feeling free and equal to boys," only to have their ambitions squelched. The media and "experts" projected the "image to which [women] were trying to conform," a new "cult of domesticity."
As a solution, Friedan called for self-realization out-side family and home, urging women to formulate a "new life plan" involving "creative work" and "professional achievement" to be combined with marriage and motherhood. Her approach entailed individual rather than social solutions, although she did argue for maternity leaves and professional nurseries. Friedan's book struck a chord and became a best seller.
In 1966 Friedan and her colleague Betty Furness formed the National Organization for Women (NOW), which grew out of state commissions on the status of women. Elected the first president of NOW, Friedan announced that "discrimination against women in this modern world is as evil and wasteful as any other form of discrimination."
Disliking younger, radical feminists who proclaimed "women's liberation," Friedan proved more conservative in ideology and style. Friedan lent her growing prestige to the formation of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League (NARAL) in 1969. She resisted the drive by Kate Millett and others to make defense of lesbianism part of the NOW agenda, dubbing them the "lavender menace." She and Bella Abzug, a congresswoman from New York State, convened 300 activists in 1971 to form the bipartisan National Women's Political Caucus (NWPC), but it became divided between those who wanted to support all women candidates and those insisting on backing only liberals with feminist ideas. Sharply critical of some elements of the women's movement, Friedan suggested there were FBI and CIA plots to disrupt women's organizations through "lesbianism and hatred of men," a "sexual red herring that would divide the movement and lead ultimately to sexual McCarthyism." She derided her arch rival Gloria Steinem as "The Hair," suggesting she was a CIA agent.
Friedan denounced feminist "extremism" in The Second Stage (1981), arguing that the movement had a "blind spot about the family." The "superwomen" trying to "have it all," she argued, had become as frustrated as the stay-at-home mom. Friedan urged that "family" become "the new feminist frontier." In 1993 she took up the subject of aging in her book The Fountain of Age, in which she urged seniors not to "forfeit these years with a preoccupation with death." The book criticizes geriatric experts who engage in "the same patronizing, 'compassionate' denial" of the "personhood" of the elderly once heard in "experts" characterizing women. Her memoir Life So Far appeared in 2000. Friedan has remained as angry and outspoken in
her stance on aging in contemporary society as she was in her heyday as a leading voice of feminism.
Hennessee, Judith. Betty Friedan: Her Life. New York: Random House, 1999.
Horowitz, Daniel. Betty Friedan and the Making of the Feminine Mystique: The American Life, the Cold War, and Modern Feminism. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1999.
Horowitz, Daniel. "Rethinking Betty Friedan and The Feminine Mystique: Labor Union Radicalism and Feminism in Cold War America." American Quarterly 48, no. 1 (1996): 1–42. Kaledin, Eugenia. Mothers and More: American Women in the 1950s. New York: Twayne, 1984.
Linden-Ward, Blanche, and Green, Carol Hurd. Changing the Future: American Women in the 1960s. New York: Twayne, 1993.
Linden-Ward, Blanche. "The ERA and Kennedy's Presidential Commission on the Status of Women." In John F. Kennedy: The Promise Revisited, edited by Paul Harper and Joann P. Krieg. New York: Greenwood Press, 1988.
Wolfe, Alan. "The Mystique of Betty Friedan." Atlantic Monthly 284, no. 3 (Sept. 1999): 98–105.
Blanche M.G. Linden
Betty Friedan was born on February 4, 1921, just one year after women in the United States won the right to vote. Friedan's parents encouraged her to excel in everything she did, and she grew up a self-confident, intelligent young woman with plans to graduate from college and raise a family.
College and beyond
Friedan's mother, a former newspaperwoman, encouraged her daughter to become a journalist. Friedan began writing for her junior high school
newspaper and continued writing throughout high school. She entered Smith College in Massachusetts at seventeen. While there, she continued to develop her writing skills but also followed her interest in psychology by majoring in the field. She graduated with honors in 1942.
The following year, she moved to Berkeley, California , to study at the University of California. After one year, she was offered a scholarship to study for her Ph.D. Friedan turned down the offer for fear that it would delay marriage too long. Friedan moved to New York City in 1944 and became a newspaper reporter.
The workers' newspaper Friedan wrote for covered labor union strikes and disputes. With World War II (1939–45) just beginning, many American men were overseas; this left women at home to take over men's jobs. Friedan investigated discrimination in the workplace, both by employers against male workers and by employers and unions against women. Women were paid a fraction of what men received to do the same jobs. When men returned from the war, women often were fired from their jobs without warning and expected to go back to lives spent inside the home. Labor unions did not take women's complaints seriously, and the women had nowhere to turn.
During this time, Friedan became politically active by attending antiwar rallies. She also helped arrange illegal abortions for women she knew. She met Carl Friedan in 1947. They married shortly thereafter and had a son.
Friedan continued to work for the newspaper until 1949. When she asked for a second maternity leave (time off to have a baby), she was fired. Again, she was struck by the unfair, unequal treatment of men and women: Men were allowed to have families and careers; women were forced to choose between the two. Friedan became a full-time wife and mother, and soon she and her husband had a third child.
As her life as a homemaker progressed, Friedan developed a theory on women. To her it was a myth that women should be completely satisfied with their roles as wives and mothers and that women are abnormal if they want a career or an identity separate from the family. At that time, U.S. society told women this was how they should live their lives, but Friedan felt incomplete.
To admit feeling dissatisfied was not something women easily did in the mid-1950s. Instead, they suffered silently, often to the point of depression. When Friedan learned that many other women felt the same way, she was glad to know that she was not alone, and she also knew she must write about the problem. She developed a questionnaire about women's issues and sent it to other Smith College graduates.
Friedan organized the data she collected from the questionnaire and wrote an article, which was rejected by male editors of every women's magazine to which she sent it. They told her only “sick” women felt dissatisfied being full-time wives and mothers. Friedan persisted; while her children were in school, she wrote a book based on her findings. She conducted interviews and did five years of research. In 1963, she labeled the silent suffering that millions of women were experiencing “the feminine mystique.”
Leads a movement
When Friedan finally found a publisher for The Feminine Mystique, the company issued only a few thousand copies because it had low expectations for sales. However, sales were phenomenal, and by 1966 the book had sold three million copies.
Friedan's book advised women to develop an identity besides that of mother and wife, while continuing to care for their families. She encouraged them to fight for equal respect and equal pay for the work they performed. She never planned to launch a revolution, but that is exactly what she did. Friedan began the modern women's liberation movement in the United States with her groundbreaking book.
She began traveling around the country, giving lectures that explained her ideas for change. Not content to simply criticize, Friedan offered solutions to women's predicament in society. She was in favor of professional training and shared jobs, the development of on-site day care centers, and an end to sexual discrimination.
Friedan recognized the need for national organization if women were to make real progress on these issues. She and several other women activists met in June 1966 to structure the first formal organization of the women's movement. The National Organization for Women (NOW) was officially established on October 29, 1966. Friedan became its first president, an office she held through 1970. By that time, NOW was making great strides in its campaign for equality. Although her professional life was flourishing, Friedan's marriage had fallen apart. She divorced in 1969.
Friedan next focused on political reform by promoting the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution , and by teaching and writing. She often was at odds with other women's liberation leaders whom she believed were advocating not equality, but instead a turning of the tables against men. Friedan saw this as hurting the women's movement; she wanted the focus to be on choices and equal opportunities for everyone—both women and men.
Humanist of the Year
Friedan was named Humanist of the Year in 1975 for her efforts in promoting equality of the sexes. Though she continued to push for passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, the bill was repeatedly defeated and still had not passed by the time of her death in 2006.
FRIEDAN, BETTY (1921–2006), U.S. writer and feminist. Born Naomi Goldstein in Peoria, Illinois, she received her B.A. in psychology from Smith College in 1942. She then held a research fellowship in psychology at the University of California at Berkeley, assisted in early group dynamics at the University of Iowa, and worked as a clinical psychologist and in applied social research. She also turned to freelance writing, contributing to various magazines.
After her marriage in 1947, her main efforts were devoted to raising her three children. In 1963 she published The Feminine Mystique, which focused on the plight of women and their lack of equality with men. An immediate and controversial bestseller, it is now regarded as one of the most influential American books of the 20th century. This represented the start of the women's movement in the United States.
Friedan was the founder of the National Organization of Women (now) and served as its president from 1966 to 1970. The organization aimed at bringing women into full equal participation in American society, exercising all privileges and responsibilities. In 1970, she organized a march of 50,000 women through New York City. She was also a founder of the National Women's Political Caucus (1971) and the National Abortion Rights Action League (naral). In 1973 she became director of the First Women's Bank and Trust Company.
In 1978 Friedan chaired the Emergency Project for Equal Rights and the following year the National Assembly on the Future of the Family. Her second book, The Second Stage (1981), outlined new directions for the women's movement based on shared female experience. Friedan was seen in the 1980s as one of America's senior statespersons in the struggle for equal rights and was outspoken over what was perceived as backsliding on the issue of women's rights under the Reagan administration. During the span of her career she became more closely identified with Jewish issues and served on the board of Present Tense – the Magazine of World Jewish Affairs. She also denounced antisemitism and anti-Zionism at the un.
Friedan traveled and lectured all over the world and wrote for such diverse publications as McCall's, Harper's, The New York Times, The New Republic, and The New Yorker. She was a Visiting Distinguished Professor at the University of Southern California, New York University, and George Mason University, an adjunct scholar at the Wilson International Center for Scholars at the Smithsonian, and Distinguished Professor of Social Evolution at Mount Vernon College.
In 1993 she was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame.
Other books by Friedan include It Changed My Life: Writings on the Women's Movement (1976); The Fountain of Age (1993), based on 10 years of research on changing sex roles and the aging process; Beyond Gender: The New Politics of Work and Family (1997); and Life So Far: A Memoir (2000).
M. Meltzer, Betty Friedan: A Voice for Women's Rights (1985); S. Henry and E. Taitz, Betty Friedan, Fighter for Women's Rights (1990); S. Taylor-Boyd, Betty Friedan: Voice for Women's Rights, Advocate of Human Rights (1990); J. Blau, Betty Friedan (1990); J.A. Hennessee, Betty Friedan: Her Life (1999).
[Susan Strul /
Ruth Beloff (2nd ed.)]
FRIEDAN, Betty. American, b. 1921. Genres: Women's studies and issues, Autobiography/Memoirs. Career: McCalls Magazine, contributing editor, 1971-. National Organization for Women, founding president, 1966-70. Publications: The Feminine Mystique, 1963; It Changed My Life: Writings on the Women's Movement, 1976; The Second Stage, 1982; The Fountain of Age, 1993; Beyond Gender: The New Politics of Work and Gender, 1997; Life So Far, 2000. Address: 2022 Columbia Rd NW Apt 414, Washington, DC 20009-1304, U.S.A.