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Betty Friedan was born Bettye Naomi Goldstein in Peoria, Illinois, on February 4, 1921. She left the Midwest’s conservatism to attend Smith College in 1938. At Smith, Friedan concentrated her energy on academics as well as her involvement in the school newspaper. After graduating summa cum laude from Smith in 1942 with a degree in psychology, Friedan pursued graduate studies at the University of California, Berkeley. She took her first job as a journalist and later met and married Carl Friedan (whom she divorced in 1969).
Friedan was a feminist writer and activist in the post-World War II women’s movement for over forty years. She was best known for her first and most popular work, The Feminine Mystique (1963), which exposed the ill-effects of rigid postwar gender roles that implored women to forgo careers and return or stay home to be housewives and mothers. To substantiate claims that women were fundamentally dissatisfied with these roles, she employed social scientific methodology and queried her Smith College cohort. The cause of women’s discontent, Freidan suggested, resided in the legal, political, social, economic, and educational factors that mandated strict and polarized gender roles in American culture.
Friedan’s text was instrumental to the resurgence in feminism in the revolutionary climate of the 1960s. Women participating in various social movements in the Untied States at this time were beginning to think seriously about their position in society. Her book, then, gave voice to feelings of women’s secondary status relative to men at a time when women were paying more attention to their own experiences and relationships. The combination of these factors coupled with the release and success of The Feminine Mystique helped launch Friedan’s career as an early figurehead of the second wave of the women’s movement. Building on the success of her book she went on to become one of the founders, as well as the first president, of the National Organization for Women (NOW) in 1966.
Friedan went on to publish It Changed My Life: Writings on the Women’s Movement, 1976; The Second Stage, 1981; The Fountain of Age, 1993; Beyond Gender: the New Politics of Work and Family, 1997; and her personal memoir, Life So Far, 2000.
- Friedan, B. (1963) The Feminine Mystique. Norton Books, New York.