Publication of "The Feminine Mystique" by Betty Friedan
February 17, 1963
The publication of Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique, on February 17, 1963, is often cited as the founding moment of second-wave feminism. The book highlighted Friedan's view of a coercive and pervasive post-World War II ideology of female domesticity that stifled middle-class women's opportunities to be anything but homemakers.
A survey she conducted of her Smith College classmates indicated that many felt depressed even though they supposedly enjoyed ideal lives with husbands, homes, and children. Enlarging her inquiry, Friedan found that what she called "the problem that has no name" was common among women far beyond the educated East Coast elite. In The Feminine Mystique, she showed how women's magazines, advertising, Freudian psychologists, and educators reflected and perpetuated a domestic ideal that left many women deeply unhappy. In suppressing women's personal growth, Friedan argued, society lost a vast reservoir of human potential.
Friedan's book is credited with sparking second-wave feminism by directing women's attention to the broad social basis of their problems, stirring many to political and social activism. Although Friedan faced some negative reactions, she also received hundreds of letters from women who said that The Feminine Mystique had changed their lives. Since 1963, the book has sold over two million copies and has been translated into a dozen languages. Thousands of copies are still sold every year.
Friedan went on to help found the National Organization for Women (NOW), the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL), and the National Women's Political Caucus. She taught at colleges and universities from coast to coast, and published in magazines from The New Republic to Ladies' Home Journal. Her more recent work, including the 1993 book Fountain of Age, addresses what Friedan called the "age mystique." Friedan died at home in Washington, D.C. on February 4, 2006, her 85th birthday.
To learn more about Betty Friedan, visit Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia and We Remember: Betty Friedan.
See also: "Betty Friedan, Feminism, and Jewish Identity"; This Week in History for June 30, 1966 and August 26, 1970; Happy Birthday NOW, Jewesses with Attitude; Israel Women's Network; photo: "The March into the National Women's Conference".
Source:Jewish Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia, pp. 482-485; Betty Friedan, The Feminine Mystique (New York, 1963); Jewish Women and the Feminist Revolution, jwa.org/feminism.