On February 4, 2021, Betty Friedan would have turned 100 years old. Although she passed away 15 years ago (on her birthday, a 1-in-2,800 chance!), she has not been forgotten, and there are those working in an intentional way to keep her legacy alive.
Often called ‘the mother of second wave feminism’ (1960s to 1980s), Betty Friedan had a “passion for the possible,” and persevered in moving the needle toward greater gender equality as much as one woman could.
Far from perfect, yet brave, bold, and driven, this “visionary” accomplished more than is often realized. Her book The Feminine Mystique kicked off a movement from which women still benefit, and on which we continue to build.
In the article Why We Can’t Stop Talking About Betty Friedan, writer Rachel Shteir explores Friedan’s legacy, and quotes historian Rebecca Jo Plant who sums it up precisely: “As with everything Betty, it’s complicated.”
From the same New York Times article:
“In a 1963 letter to Ms. Friedan, the historian Gerda Lerner applauded the book [The Feminine Mystique] but also wrote, “Working women, especially Negro women, labor not only under the disadvantages imposed by the feminine mystique, but under the more pressing disadvantages of economic discrimination.” There is no record of Ms. Friedan’s reply, at least none that has been found.
“Nearly six decades on, the book still resonates, but so does that critique.
“The book may still be considered a “blueprint for young feminists,” said Ms. Nunes of NOW [National Organization of Women], but Jennifer Baumgartner, who co-wrote the 2000 “Manisfesta: Young Women, Feminism, and the Future,” said that Ms. Friedan’s book, which has “been labeled as retrograde” by scholars and activists, needs to be re-examined, especially in light of women’s backsliding because of the pandemic”(Shteir).
Although written over 50 years ago, with a narrower scope than was and is acceptable, this book is worthy of continual re-examination when it comes to women’s questioning of their place in society, including their expected roles in partnerships, parenthood, the family and household.
Although Friedan’s movement-inducing book may have fallen short on inclusivity, her founding of the National Organization of Women (NOW) “may be Ms. Friedan’s most enduring accomplishment – and certainly one of her more large-minded”(Shteir).
Betty Friedan’s 100th Birthday: Moving the Legacy Forward was produced by the Veteran Feminists of America, an organization with the mission “to honor, record and preserve the history of the accomplishments of women and men active in the feminist movement, to educate the public on the importance of the changes brought about by the women’s movement, and to preserve the movement’s history for future generation.”
The Veteran Feminists of America is considered “the foremost national source of information about the modern women’s movement for journalists, historians, archivists and writers”(http://www.veteranfeministsofamerica.org/).
To learn more about Betty Friedan and her accomplishments, view her virtual birthday celebration on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aztHHNUQINE. Speakers include Senator Elizabeth Warren, Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza, journalist and activist Gloria Steinem, NOW president Christian Nunes, two of Friedan’s grown children, and more.
And check out this post on our Feminist Booklist: The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan!
Betty Friedan is a #Nasty Woman Writer and Activist, for sure.
© Maria Dintino 2021
Shteir, Rachel. “Why We Can’t Stop Talking About Betty Friedan.” New York Times: In Her Words, 3 February 2021.