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Betty Friedan November 16, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — americancivilizationclaire @ 7:48 pm

Women were considered as a minority for a very long time: they were seen as second-class citizens and had no right to vote until the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920. Betty Friedan was one of the major figures of the “second wave[1]” of American feminism: she founded 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.

Born in 1921, Betty Friedan studied psychology as a graduate student at the University of California at Berkeley. She was also a journalist and continued to write articles while she was raising her three children. However, she realized that she felt unfulfilled by her role as a mother and a wife. That is why, fifteen years after graduation, she wrote to her classmates to ask them a series of question. She discovered that she was not the only woman who felt unhappy. She then decided to write an article based on her findings but the magazines with which she decided to work refused to publish it. Rather than abandoning her project, she became more motivated than ever and she decided to write a whole book on this subject, The Feminine Mystique.

Her book describes what she called “the problem that has no name.” She encouraged women to find other meaningful activities, defying the idea that “biology is destiny,”, according to which women should abandon other occupations and devote their lives to being a mother and a wife.  She received responses from many grateful housewives experiencing this problem. The book also argued that women are as capable as men to do any type of work, contrary to what educators, psychologists and the mass media considered as the fulfillment of every woman’s dream. The book had a great influence on many women who began to campaign against social views that restricted women. It also encouraged them to push for reforms.

There have been some controversy and debates on Friedan’s work, and she was accused of being involved in radical politics in her youth. Others said she was only focused on the plight of middle-class white women, not giving enough attention to women in less stable economic situations, or women of other races. Besides, she has been criticized for prejudice against homosexuality. However, she also received letters from many housewives, who wanted to thank her.

In 1966, Friedan cofounded the National Organization for Women and became its first president. The aim of this successful organization was to secure legal equality for women. For instance, they campaigned for Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prevented employers from discriminating against workers on the basis of sex. They also spoke in favor of abortion, which was finally legalized in 1973 by the Supreme Court. In 1970, Friedan organized the national Women’s Strike for Equality, and led a march in New York City.

Betty Friedan also became involved in politics. She founded the National Women’s Political Caucus, and in 1972, she ran as a delegate to the 1972 Democratic National Convention in support of Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman elected to Congress. She also continued writing, teaching, and speaking throughout these years. Her second book, It Changed My Life (1976) is an account of her campaigns of the 1960s and early 70s. It is mainly composed of speeches, interviews and essays.

Betty Friedan was a very influential figure of the feminist movement. The Feminine Mystique is said to be one of the cornerstones of American feminism. Her work influenced many women who felt incomplete and lonely, and she set up several feminist movements that are still active today. The fight for equality is not completely over: women are still under-represented in the highest levels of politics and business management. But, despite the problems she encountered, Betty Friedan inspired women and pushed them to take action to achieve full equality.



American Civilization: An Introduction, by David Mauk and John Oakland

Britannica Encyclopedia, 15th edition

[1] From the early 1960s to the early 1990s