Betty Friedan and the Making of the Feminine Mystique: The American Left, the Cold War, and Modern Feminism

Betty Friedan and the Making of the Feminine Mystique: The American Left, the Cold War, and Modern Feminism

Betty Friedan and the Making of the Feminine Mystique: The American Left, the Cold War, and Modern Feminism

Betty Friedan and the Making of the Feminine Mystique: The American Left, the Cold War, and Modern Feminism

Synopsis

Ever since the 1963 publication of her landmark book, The Feminine Mystique, Betty Friedan has insisted that her commitment to women's rights grew out of her experiences as an alienated suburban housewife. Yet as Daniel Horowitz persuasively demonstrates in this illuminating and provocative biography, the roots of Friedan's feminism run much deeper than she has led us to believe.

Drawing on an impressive body of new research -- including Friedan's own papers -- Horowitz traces the development of Friedan's feminist outlook from her childhood in Peoria, Illinois, through her wartime years at Smith College and Berkeley, to her decade-long career as a writer for two of the period's most radical labor journals, the Federated Press and the United Electrical Workers' UE News. He further shows that even after she married and began to raise a family, Friedan continued during the 1950s to write and work on behalf of a wide range of progressive social causes.

By resituating Friedan within a broader cultural context, and by offering a fresh reading of The Feminine Mystique against that background, Horowitz not only overturns conventional ideas about "second wave" feminism but also reveals long submerged links to its past.

Excerpt

In a certain sense it was almost accidental—coincidental— that I wrote The Feminine Mystique, and in another sense my whole life had prepared me to write that book; all the pieces of my own life came together for the first time in the writing of it.

BETTY FRIEDAN, "It Changed My Life," 1976

In 1951, a labor journalist with a decade's experience in left-wing movements described a trade union meeting where rank-and-file women talked and men listened. Out of these conversations, she reported, emerged the realization that the women were "fighters—that they refuse any longer to be paid or treated as some inferior species by their bosses, or by any male workers who have swallowed the bosses' thinking." The union was the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America, commonly known as the UE and one of the most radical American unions in the postwar period. In 1952, that same journalist wrote a pamphlet, UE Fights for Women Workers, which in 1993 the historian Lisa Kannenberg, then unaware of the identity of its author, called "a remarkable manual for fighting wage discrimination that is, ironically, as relevant today as it was in 1952." At the time, the pamphlet helped raise the consciousness of Eleanor Flexner, who in 1959 would publish Century of Struggle, the first scholarly history of American women. In 1953-54 Flexner relied on the pamphlet when she taught a course at the Jefferson School of Social Science in New York on "The Woman Question." Flexner's participation in courses at the school, she later wrote, "marked the beginning of my real involvement in the issues of women's rights, my realization that leftist organizations— parties, unions—were also riddled with male supremacist prejudice and discrimination." The labor journalist and pamphlet writer was Betty Friedan.

Yet in 1973 Friedan remarked that until she started writing The Feminine Mystique (1963) "I wasn't even conscious of the woman problem." In 1976 she commented that in the early 1950s she was "still in the embrace of the feminine mystique." Although at one point in the 1970s she alluded, in often vague terms, to a more radical past, even then she left the impression . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.