Betty Friedan (free-DAHN) was born Betty Naomi Goldstein in 1921. Her father was a jeweler; her mother was a journalist who left her journalism career to marry. After graduating from Smith College in 1942, where her liberal arts curriculum included courses in sociology and psychology, she was for one year a graduate student in psychology at the University of California, Berkeley.
In 1947, she married the theatrical producer Carl Friedan and gave up full-time work as a journalist to care for their three children. During her marriage she wrote articles on so-called women’s subjects for magazines such as Redbook, McCall’s, Ladies’ Home Journal, and Harper’s. She became frustrated with covering noncritical issues, however, and troubled by the choices that were forced upon women and left them hovering guiltily between career and family. For more than twenty years Friedan was a suburban housewife before obtaining a divorce in 1969. Out of the conviction that neither she nor her peers were living up to their potential, she began in 1957 to write The Feminine Mystique, which appeared in 1963 and proved to be enormously influential, causing men and women alike to question the societal boundaries within which most women lived. Friedan addressed “the problem that had no name,” the fact that women were denied the right that men have to exist both professionally and in their families. The Feminine Mystique reignited the women’s movement, which had in the United States been almost dormant since the suffrage days of the 1920’s.
Friedan’s writing in her first book, though repetitive at times, is clear, focused, and strong in its attempt to awaken American society to its treatment of women. In no way did Friedan, as some critics charged, call for the destruction of the family or for sexual war against men. Rather, she...
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