Betty Friedan (1921-2006): Biography, Famous Works, and Influences

Betty Friedan (1921- 2006) was an American feminist writer, political activist, and one of the leading figures of the second-wave feminist movement. She was born Bettye Naomi Goldstein in Peoria, Illinois. She attended Smith College and graduated in 1942 with a degree in psychology. Friedan then pursued graduate studies in psychology at the University of California, Berkeley. However, she dropped out to work as a journalist.

During the 1950s, Friedan actively participated in multiple women’s organizations but became disenchanted with the dominant perception of women’s societal roles. She conducted a survey of her former classmates from Smith College and discovered that many highly educated women were deeply unhappy with their lives as housewives and mothers. As a result of this realization, Friedan was inspired to pen “The Feminine Mystique,” a widely successful book that has a profound impact on igniting the feminist movement of the 1960s and 1970s. Friedan’s book spoke of that claustrophobic existence of the suburban ‘housewife’ and as later feminist critics would point out she seems to
have been oblivious of class, ethnicity, race, and the other cultural and legal barriers to equality that women face. Nevertheless, her book
was a rallying cry for women to demand the right to define their own social roles. The feminine mystique she spoke of was the social role
constructed for women by men that women have been persuaded or coerced into accepting, namely that women are caregivers, that they
are nurturers and so on, by reason of biology, and therefore better suited to jobs in fields like nursing and teaching. This book challenged the idea that women could find fulfillment only through marriage and motherhood. Friedan argued that women had the same intellectual capacity as men and should have the opportunity to pursue their ambitions and careers. The book addressed the frustrations and limitations experienced by middle-class women and called for gender equality in all aspects of life. As a result of her book’s success, Friedan co-founded the National Organization for Women (NOW) in 1966. NOW aimed to fight for women’s rights and equality in areas such as employment, education, and reproductive rights. Friedan served as NOW’s first president and played a vital role in shaping the organization’s goals and strategies.

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Throughout her life, Friedan continued to advocate for women’s rights. She campaigned for the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), which sought to guarantee equal legal rights for all American citizens regardless of sex. Although the ERA was not ultimately ratified, Friedan’s activism and leadership helped to elevate women’s issues on the national agenda. Her contributions to the feminist movement and her groundbreaking work in challenging societal norms and expectations have had a lasting impact on women’s rights and gender equality. Her courage, intellect, and determination continue to inspire generations of feminists, and her ideas remain relevant in the ongoing pursuit of gender equity and social justice. Betty Friedan passed away on February 4, 2006, but her legacy as a trailblazer and advocate for women’s rights lives on.

Friedan’s other famous works include

  1. “It Changed My Life: Writings on the Women’s Movement” (1976): This collection of essays and speeches by Friedan provides an overview of her thoughts and experiences as a feminist leader. It explores issues, including the women’s liberation movement and gender roles in society.
  2. “The Second Stage” (1981): In this book, Friedan discusses the need to redefine feminism and expand its focus beyond traditional gender roles. Friedan advocates for a brand of feminism that encompasses a broader spectrum, acknowledging the obstacles encountered by individuals of all genders when trying to find equilibrium between their professional lives, family responsibilities, and personal satisfaction.
  3. “The Fountain of Age” (1993): In this work, Friedan examines the experiences and aspirations of aging men and women. She challenges the stereotypes and cultural attitudes surrounding aging and advocates for a more positive and empowering view of older adults.
  4. “Life So Far” (2000): Friedan’s memoir provides a personal account of her life and her involvement in the feminist movement. It offers insights into her motivations, struggles, and achievements as a prominent feminist leader.

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