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Friedan in 1960
|Born||February 4, 1921
|Died||February 4, 2006 (aged 85)
|Cause of death||Congestive heart failure|
|Nationality||United States of America|
|Known for||Reshaping the attitudes of Americans toward the lives and rights of women, and actively campaigning for those rights thereafter.|
A leading figure in the "Second Wave" of the U.S. Women's Movement, her 1963 book The Feminine Mystique is sometimes credited with sparking the "second wave" of feminism. Friedan co-founded National Organization for Women in 1966 which aimed to bring women "into the mainstream of American society now [in] fully equal partnership with men".
In 1970, after stepping down as NOW's first president in 1969, Friedan organized the nation-wide Women's Strike for Equality on August 26, the 50th anniversary of the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution granting women the right to vote. The national strike was successful beyond expectations in broadening the feminist movement. The New York City march alone attracted over 50,000 women.
Friedan joined other leading feminists (including Gloria Steinem, Shirley Chisholm, Fannie Lou Hamer, Bella Abzug, and Myrlie Evers-Williams) in founding the National Women's Political Caucus in 1971. In 1977 she joined some of the movement's most visible and influential leaders, and 20,000 other women, at the International Women's Year federally-funded convention, the National Women's Conference, a legislative conference which sent a report to President Jimmy Carter, the United States Congress, and all the states on how to achieve equality.
Friedan was a strong proponent of the repeal of abortion laws, founding the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws, which after abortion was legalized in 1973, became the National Abortion Rights Action League. She was also a strong supporter of the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution and of many women's laws.
Though somewhat eclipsed by Gloria Steinem as America's preeminent feminist, Friedan continued to be an influential author and intellectual and remained active in politics and advocacy for the rest of her life, authoring six books. One of her later books, The Second Stage, critiqued what Friedan saw as the extremist excesses of some feminists who could be broadly classified as gender feminists.
Friedan was born Betty Naomi Goldstein on February 4, 1921 in Peoria, Illinois, to Harry and Miriam Goldstein. Harry owned a jewelry palace in Peoria, and Miriam wrote for the society page of a newspaper when Betty's father fell ill. Her mother's new life outside the home seemed much more gratifying.
As a young girl, Betty was active in Marxist and Jewish circles; she later wrote how she felt isolated from the community at times, and felt her "passion against injustice...originated from my feelings of the injustice of anti-Semitism". She attended Peoria High School where she became involved in the school newspaper. When she was turned down for a column, she and six other friends launched a literary magazine called Tide. In this magazine, Betty and her friends talked about home life as opposed to school life.
She attended the all-female Smith College in 1938. She won a scholarship prize in her first year for outstanding academic performance. In her second year, she became interested in poetry, and had many poems published in campus publications. In 1941, she became editor-in-chief of the college newspaper. The editorials became more political under her leadership, taking a strong anti-war stance and occasionally causing controversy. She graduated summa cum laude in 1942, majoring in psychology.
In 1943, she spent a year at the University of California, Berkeley having won a fellowship to undertake graduate work in psychology with Erik Erikson . She became more politically active, continuing to mix with Marxists (many of her friends were investigated by the FBI). Friedan claims in her memoirs that her boyfriend at the time pressured her into turning down a Ph.D fellowship for further study, and abandoned her academic career.
After leaving Berkeley, Friedan became a journalist for leftist and union publications. Between 1943-46 she wrote for The Federated Press and between 1946-52 she worked for the United Electrical Workers' UE News. One of her assignments was to report on the House Un-American Activities Committee.
Friedan was dismissed from the union newspaper UE News in 1952, because she was pregnant with her second child. After leaving UE News, she became a freelance writer, and wrote for various magazines, including Cosmopolitan.
For her 15th college reunion in 1957, Friedan conducted a survey of College graduates, focusing on their education, their subsequent experiences and satisfaction with their current lives. She started publishing articles about what she called "the problem with no name," and got passionate responses from many housewives grateful that they were not alone in experiencing this problem.
Friedan then decided to rework and expand this topic into a book, The Feminine Mystique. Published in 1963, it depicted the roles of women in industrial societies, especially the full-time homemaker role, which Friedan deemed stifling. Friedan speaks of her own 'terror' at being alone, and observes in her life never once seeing a positive female role-model who worked and also kept a family. She provides numerous accounts of housewives who feel similarly trapped. With her psychology background, Friedan offers a critique of Freud's penis envy theory, noting a lot of paradoxes in his work. And she attempts to offer some answers to women who wish to pursue an education.
The "Problem That Has No Name" was described by Friedan in the beginning of the book:
Friedan noted that women are as capable as men to do any type of work or follow any career path, and the mass media, educators, and psychologists argued to the contrary. The restrictions of the 1950s, and the trapped, imprisoned, feeling of many women forced into these roles, spoke to American women who soon began attending consciousness-raising sessions and lobbying for the reform of oppressive laws and social views that restricted women.
Friedan published six books. Her other books include The Second Stage, It Changed My Life: Writings on the Women's Movement, Beyond Gender, and The Fountain of Age. Her autobiography, Life so Far, was published in 2000.
In 1966 Betty Friedan co-founded, and became the first president of, the National Organization for Women. She, with Pauli Murray, the first black female Episcopal priest, wrote its mission statement. Friedan stepped down as president in 1969.
Under Friedan, NOW advocated fiercely for the legal equality of women and men. They lobbied for enforcement of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Equal Pay Act of 1963, the first two major legislative victories of the movement, and forced the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to stop ignoring, and start treating with dignity and urgency, claims filed involving sex discrimination. They successfully campaigned for a 1967 Executive Order extending the same Affirmative Action granted to blacks to women and a 1968 EEOC decision ruling illegal sex-segregated help want ads, later upheld by the Supreme Court. NOW was vocal in support of the legalization of abortion, something that divided some feminists. Also divisive in the 1960s among women was the Equal Rights Amendment, which NOW fully endorsed; by the 1970s the women and labor unions opposed to ERA warmed up to it and began to fully support it. NOW also lobbied for national day-care.
In 1973, Friedan founded the First Women's Bank and Trust Company.
In 1970, NOW, with Friedan leading the cause, was instrumental in bringing down the nomination of G. Harrold Carswell, who had opposed the 1964 Civil Rights Act which granted women and men workplace equality, to the Supreme Court. On August 26, 1970, the 50th anniversary of the Women's Suffrage Amendment to the Constitution, Friedan organized the national Women's Strike for Equality, and led a march of 50,000 women in New York City. Unbelievably successful, the march expanded the movement widely, to Friedan's delight.
Friedan spoke about the Strike for Equality:
"All kinds of women's groups all over the country will be using this week on August 26 particularly, to point out those areas in women's life which are still not addressed. For example, a question of equality before the law; we are interested in the equal rights amendment. The question of child care centers which are totally inadequate in the society, and which women require, if they are going to assume their rightful position in terms of helping in decisions of the society. The question of a women's right to control her own reproductive processes, that is, laws prohibiting abortion in the state or putting them into criminal statutes; I think that would be a statute that we would addressing ourselves to.
"So I think individual women will react differently; some will not cook that day, some will engage in dialog with their husband, some will be out at the rallies and demonstrations that will be taking place all over the country. Others will be writing things that will help them to define where they want to go. Some will be pressuring their Senators and their Congressmen to pass legislations that affect women. I don't think you can come up with any one point, women will be doing their own thing in their own way."
Friedan founded the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws, renamed National Abortion Rights Action League after the Supreme Court legalized abortion in 1973.
In 1970 Friedan led other feminists in derailing the nomination of Supreme Court nominee G. Harold Carswell whose record of racial discrimination and antifeminism made him unacceptable and unfit to sit on the highest court in the land to many in the civil rights and feminist movements. Friedan's empassioned testimony before the Senate helped sink Carswell's nomination.
In 1972, Friedan unsuccessfully ran as a delegate to the 1972 Democratic National Convention in support of Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm. That year at the DNC Friedan played a very prominent role and addressed the convention, though she clashed with other women, notably Steinem, on what should be done there, and how.
One of the most influential feminists of 20th century, Friedan opposed equating feminism with lesbianism. As early as 1964, very early in the movement, and only a year after the publication of The Feminine Mystique, Friedan appeared on television to address the fact the media was, at that point, trying to dismiss the movement as a joke and centering argument and debate around whether or not to wear bras and other issues considered ridiculous. In 1982, during the second wave, she wrote a book for the post-feminist 1980s called The Second Stage, about family life, premised on women having conquered social and legal obstacles.
She pushed the feminist movement to focus on economic issues, especially equality in employment and business and provision for child care and other means by which women and men could balance family and work. She tried to lessen the focus on abortion, as an issue already won, and rape and pornography, which she believed most women did not consider to be high priorities.
When she grew up in Peoria, Ill., she knew one gay man. She said, "the whole idea of homosexuality made me profoundly uneasy." She later acknowledged that she had been very square and was uncomfortable about homosexuality. "The women's movement was not about sex, but about equal opportunity in jobs and all the rest of it. Yes, I suppose you have to say that freedom of sexual choice is part of that, but it shouldn't be the main issue . . . ." She ignored Lesbians in the National Organization for Women (NOW) initially but objected to what she saw as demands for equal time. "'Homosexuality . . . is not, in my opinion, what the women's movement is all about.'" While opposing all repression, she wrote, she refused to wear a purple armband or self-identify as a Lesbian (although heterosexual) as an act of political solidarity, considering it not part of the mainstream issues of abortion and child care. In 1977, at the National Women's Conference, she seconded a Lesbian rights resolution "which everyone thought I would oppose" in order to "preempt any debate" and move on to other issues she believed were more important and less divisive in the effort to add the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) to the U.S. Constitution. She accepted Lesbian sexuality ("'Enjoy!'"), albeit not its politicization. In 1995, at the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women, in Beijing, China, she found Chinese advice to taxi drivers that naked Lesbians would be "cavorting" in their cars and so drivers should hang sheets and that Lesbians would have AIDS and so drivers should have disinfectants to be "ridiculous", "incredibly stupid", and "insulting". In 1997, she wrote that "children . . . will ideally come from mother and father." She wrote in 2000, "I'm more relaxed about the whole issue now[.]"
She supported the concept that abortion is a woman's choice, that it shouldn't be a crime or exclusively a doctor's choice, and helped form NARAL (now NARAL Pro-Choice America) at a time when Planned Parenthood wasn't yet in support. Death threats against her speaking on abortion led to two events being canceled, although subsequently one of the host institutions, Loyola College, invited her back to speak on abortion and other issues and she spoke then. Her draft of NOW's first statement of purpose included an abortion plank but NOW didn't include it until the next year. In 1980, she believed abortion should be in the context of "'the choice to have children'", a formulation supported by the Roman Catholic priest organizing Catholic participation in the White House Conference on Families of that year, although perhaps not by the bishops above him. A resolution embodying the formulation passed at the conference by 460 to 114, whereas a resolution addressing abortion, ERA, and "'sexual preference'" passed by only 292â291 and that only after 50 anti-abortion advocates had walked out and so hadn't voted on it. She disagreed with a resolution that framed abortion in more feminist terms that was introduced in the Minneapolis regional conference of the same White House Conference on Families, believing it to be more polarizing, while the drafters apparently thought Betty Friedan's formulation too conservative. As of 2000, she wrote, referring to "NOW and the other women's organizations" as seeming to be in a "time warp", "To my mind, there is far too much focus on abortion. . . . [I]n recent years I've gotten a little uneasy about the movement's narrow focus on abortion as if it were the single, all-important issue for women when it's not" She asked, "Why don't we join forces with all who have true reverence for life, including Catholics who oppose abortion, and fight for the choice to have children?"
She joined nearly 200 others in Feminists for Free Expression in opposing the Pornography Victims' Compensation Act. "'[T]o suppress free speech in the name of protecting women is dangerous and wrong,' says Friedan. 'Even some blue-jean ads are insulting and denigrating. I'm not adverse to a boycott but I don't think they should be suppressed.'"
Betty Friedanâs activist work and her book The Feminine Mystique have influenced many individuals like authors, educators, writers, anthropologists, journalists, activists, organizations, unions, and your everyday woman to take part in the feminist movement. Betty Friedanâs book The Feminine Mystique has inspired many people for her active role during the 60âs in the feminist movement to write books, be activist and join part in feminism. She is credited for starting the contemporary feminist movement and writing one of the most powerful works in America. Allan Wolf is an author very much inspired by Friedanâs and writes about Friedanâs life and individuals who have studied The Feminine Mystique in great detail in his article The Mystique of Betty Friedan. Wolf states that âShe helped to change not only the thinking but the lives of many American women, but recent books throw into question the intellectual and personal sources of her work.â His work, like the works of Judith Hennessee's Betty Friedan: Her Life and Daniel Horowitz's Betty Friedan and the Making of the Feminine Mystique: the American Left, the Cold War, and Modern Feminism, go into detail of Friedanâs works and life. Although there have been some debates on Friedanâs work in The Feminine Mystique her work for equality for women was sincere and committed.
Allan Wolf, Judith Hennessee, and Daniel Horowitz are three individuals who have looked closely into Friedanâs work in "The Feminine Mystique" and have studied her ideals and concepts. Daniel Horowitz, a professor of American Studies at Smith College, has written extensively on Friedan's life and work. Horowitz's book, "Betty Friedan and the Making of "The Feminine Mystique"" studies Friedanâs life and feminism. In his book he focuses on Friedanâs appearance into feminism. Horowitz is also trying to explain how thorough and deep Friedanâs engagement was with womenâs issue before she began to work on her book, The Feminine Mystique. Horowitz argues that Friedanâs feminism did not start in the 1950âs but rather before that in the 1940âs. Horowitz focuses his study on Friedanâs ideas in feminism rather than on her personal life. Horowitzâs book overall is trying to connect Friedanâs life to the history of American feminism.
Justine Blau was also greatly influenced by Betty Friedan and wrote Betty Friedan: Feminist. Blau writes about the personal and professional life of Friedan through the feminist movement. Lisa Fredenksen Bohannon also wrote about Friedanâs life in her book Womanâs work: The story of Betty Friedan. In this book Bohannon goes deep into Friedanâs personal life and writes about her relationship with her mother. There are also individuals like Sandra Henry, Emily Taitz who wrote Betty Friedan, Fighter for Womanâs Rights and Susan Taylor Boyd who wrote Betty Friedan: Voice of Womanâs Right, Advocates of Human Rights who wrote biographies on Friedanâs life and works like The Feminine Mystique. Janann Sheman a journalist was very influenced by Friedan and got to work with Betty Friedan while she was still alive and wrote a book on her twenty- two interviews she had with Friedan. Her book took thirty-six years in publication. Her book Interviews with Betty Friedan has interviews with the New York Times, Working Women, and Playboy. Sheman has interviews that relate to her views on men, women and the American Family and traces her life and interviews on The Feminine Mystique. Betty Friedan has influenced many individuals into writing about her and topics about women's rights and equality.
The New York Times obituary for Friedan noted that she was "famously abrasive" and that she could be "thin-skinned and imperious, subject to screaming fits of temperament." And in February 2006, shortly after Friedan's death, the feminist writer Germaine Greer published an article in The Guardian, in which she described Friedan as pompous and egotistic, somewhat demanding, and sometimes selfish, as evidenced by repeated incidents during a tour of Iran in 1972.
Betty Friedan "changed the course of human history almost single-handedly." Her ex-husband, Carl Friedan, believes this; Betty believed it too. This belief was the key to a good deal of Betty's behaviour; she would become breathless with outrage if she didn't get the deference she thought she deserved. Though her behaviour was often tiresome, I figured that she had a point. Women don't get the respect they deserve unless they are wielding male-shaped power; if they represent women they will be called "love" and expected to clear up after themselves. Betty wanted to change that forever.
â Germaine Greer, "The Betty I Knew," The Guardian (February 7, 2006)
Indeed, Carl Friedan had been quoted as saying "She changed the course of history almost singlehandedly. It took a driven, super aggressive, egocentric, almost lunatic dynamo to rock the world the way she did. Unfortunately, she was that same person at home, where that kind of conduct doesn't work. She simply never understood this."
Betty Friedan wasn't afraid to be called abrasive. She pursued her feminist principles with a flamboyant pugnacity that has become all too rare in these yuppified times. She hated girliness and bourgeois decorum and never lost her earthly ethnicity.
â Camille Paglia, December 29, 2006/January 5, 2007 double End of the Year issue, section Farewell, pg. 94
The truth is that I've always been a bad-tempered bitch. Some people say that I have mellowed some. I don't know. . . .
â Betty Friedan, Life So Far
Betty married Carl Friedan, a theatre-producer, in 1947 whilst working at UE News. Betty Friedan continued to work after marriage, first as a paid employee and, after 1952, as a freelance journalist. Betty and Carl divorced in May 1969. Betty claimed in her memoir, Life So Far (2000), that Carl had beaten her during their marriage; friends such as Dolores Alexander recalled having to cover up black eyes from Carl's abuse in time for press conferences (Brownmiller 1999, p. 70). Carl Friedan denied abusing her in an interview with Time magazine shortly after the book was published, describing the claim as a "complete fabrication". She later said, on Good Morning America, "I almost wish I hadn't even written about it, because it's been sensationalized out of context. My husband was not a wife-beater, and I was no passive victim of a wife-beater. We fought a lot, and he was bigger than me." Carl Friedan died in December, 2005.
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|President of the National Organization for Women
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