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Definition: Friedan, Betty from Philip's Encyclopedia

US feminist writer. Through her best-selling book, The Feminine Mystique (1963), she prompted women to examine their roles in society. She was a founder and first president (1966-70) of the National Organization for Women (NOW). The Second Stage (1981) called for new directions in the women's movement.

Summary Article: Friedan, Betty
From Encyclopedia of American Studies

Betty Naomi Goldstein was born on February 14, 1921, in Peoria, Illinois. She graduated from Smith College with a degree in psychology in 1942 and went to work as a journalist for the Worker's Press in New York. After being fired from her job for requesting maternity leave in the 1950s, Friedan became a full-time wife and mother. Her occupation as a housewife provided the material for her most famous book, The Feminine Mystique (1963).

The Feminine Mystique was based on an extensive questionnaire that Friedan sent to her cohort of two hundred Smith College graduates in 1957, fifteen years after graduation. “The feminine mystique” for Friedan was the image of the happy suburban housewife promulgated, studied, and praised by the American media, American politicians, and even American academics of the 1950s. It was an image that she posed as both false and damaging to American women. By identifying, articulating, and critiquing the feeling of emptiness that Friedan and her fellow Smith graduates shared on leaving the college and the workplace in order to become full-time housewives, Friedan gave voice to “the problem that has no name.” The Feminine Mystique struck a chord with millions of middle-class American women and, as some cultural critics suggest, spawned the second wave of feminism in the United States.

The success of The Feminine Mystique allowed Friedan to return to her work outside the home. In June 1966 Friedan attended the Third National Conference of the Commission on the Status of Women in Washington, D.C. The conference attendees formed the National Organization for Women (NOW) and elected Betty Friedan as the organization's first president, a position she held until 1970. After her NOW presidency, she remained a prominent activist, writer, and speaker.

In the 1990s Friedan moved from questioning The Feminine Mystique to the ideology of aging and even began to move beyond gender (the term later used as the title of her 1997 book) altogether. In The Fountain of Age (1993), Friedan rebukes popular perceptions of people over sixty-five as unproductive, frail, and physically unfit. The book also provides a paradigm for viewing the aging process in a more positive light.

Friedan herself provides a model for her own words in The Fountain of Age. In 1998 she joined Cornell University faculty on a four-year project with the Institute for Women and Work as a visiting professor in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations and as the director of New Paradigm: Women, Men, Work, Family and Public Policy. The appointment at Cornell built on Friedan's work with the Woodrow Wilson Center at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C., where she worked with other leaders from government and industry from 1994 to 1996. The Smithsonian project led to the publication of Beyond Gender, in which Friedan argues that trends in the labor market in the late twentieth century—downsizing, underemployment, and the move to a service economy—called for new ways of thinking about the politics of gender, work, and family.

Betty Freidan. 1960. Fred Palumbo, photographer. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

  • Bohannon, Lisa Frederiksen, Woman's Work: The Story of Betty Friedan (Morgan Reynolds Publishing 2004).
  • Friedan, Betty, Life So Far (Simon & Schuster 2000).
  • Hardman, M. J. On the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Publication of The Feminine Mystique by Friedan, Betty , Women and Language 36 (2013):57-61.
  • Hennessee, Judith Adler, Betty Friedan: Her Life (Random House 1999).
  • Horowitz, Daniel, Betty Friedan and the Making of the Feminine Mystique: The American Left, the Cold War, and Modern Feminism (Univ. of Mass. Press 1998).
  • Oliver, Susan, Betty Friedan: The Personal is Political (Longman 2007).
  • Sherman, Janann, Ed., Interviews with Betty Friedan (Univ. Press of Miss. 2002).
  • Michele Ren
    Copyright 2018 The American Studies Association

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