The Feminine Mystique, 1963
It Changed My Life: Writings on the Women’s Movement, 1976
The Second Stage, 1981
The Fountain of Age, 1993
Beyond Gender: The New Politics of Work and Family, 1997 (Brigid O’Farrell, editor)
Life So Far, 2000
Betty Friedan (free-DAHN) was born Betty Naomi Goldstein in 1921. Her father was a jeweler; her mother was a journalist who left her journalism career to marry. After graduating from Smith College in 1942, where her liberal arts curriculum included courses in sociology and psychology, she was for one year a graduate student in psychology at the University of California, Berkeley.
In 1947, she married the theatrical producer Carl Friedan and gave up full-time work as a journalist to care for their three children. During her marriage she wrote articles on so-called women’s subjects for magazines such as Redbook, McCall’s, Ladies’ Home Journal, and Harper’s. She became frustrated with covering noncritical issues, however, and troubled by the choices that were forced upon women and left them hovering guiltily between career and family. For more than twenty years Friedan was a suburban housewife before obtaining a divorce in 1969. Out of the conviction that neither she nor her peers were living up to their potential, she began in 1957 to write The Feminine Mystique, which appeared in 1963 and proved to be enormously influential, causing men and women alike to question the societal boundaries within which most women lived. Friedan addressed “the problem that had no name,” the fact that women were denied the right that men have to exist both professionally and in their families. The Feminine Mystique reignited the women’s movement, which had in the United States been almost dormant since the suffrage days of the 1920’s.
Friedan’s writing in her first book, though repetitive at times, is clear, focused, and strong in its attempt to awaken American society to its treatment of women. In no way did Friedan, as some critics charged, call for the destruction of the family or for sexual war against men. Rather, she wanted women’s roles to be reinterpreted in a broader context and with respect for women’s individual talents and rights. As a result of The Feminine Mystique, the fight for the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA)–so bitterly fought for by the leaders of the women’s movement and presented to Congress in 1923 by the National Woman’s Party before being abandoned–was resumed.
In 1966 Friedan founded the National Organization for Women (NOW), which has since its inception led the lobby for women’s rights in the United States. Friedan was NOW’s first president until 1970. She led the National Women’s Strike for Equality in a nationwide protest on August 26, 1970, the fiftieth anniversary of woman suffrage in the United States, and in 1971 she helped start the National Women’s Political Caucus, an organization to encourage women seeking political office. In 1975 she was named Humanist of the Year by the American Humanist Association and awarded an honorary doctorate from Smith College. She also received the Eleanor Roosevelt Leadership Award in 1989.
It Changed My Life: Writings on the Women’s Movement is a compilation of material documenting Friedan’s social and political experience between 1957 and 1976. Notebooks, essays, speeches, and magazine columns, as well as letters from supporters, are part of the anthology. In 1981 Friedan published The Second Stage, in which she discussed women’s adoption of the male model of equality and called instead for an equality that would encompass values and experience intrinsic to women. Some critics perceived this new perspective as a slackening of Friedan’s radical position.
In The Fountain of Age Friedan summed up her thinking and activities up to the early 1990’s. Here she approaches issues from the standpoint of a writer, a women’s activist, a political catalyst, and a grandmother to emphasize the vitality and possibilities inherent in age. On the basis of having participated in studies of gerontology, she warns that traditional views on aging need to be reassessed, particularly because human longevity is continuing to increase. Beyond Gender attempts to effect a “paradigm shift” in Friedan’s work, moving from a concentration solely on women’s issues to ways in which both women and men are affected by rigidly defined gender roles. Life So Far, Friedan’s memoir, is an honest presentation of Friedan’s own experiences and interpretations of the events she lived through and, indeed, often created. Life So Far was published in 2000, and after a long period of declining health, Friedan died at her home in Washington, D.C. on February 4, 2006.
To read Friedan’s series of writings is to follow the history of the women’s movement in America in the second half of the twentieth century. No other contemporary writer had more of an effect on the momentum and the evolution of the struggle for women’s equality under the law and in the personal realm.