From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Betty Friedan, 1960

Betty Friedan (February 4, 1921February 4, 2006) was an American feminist, activist and writer, best known for starting what is commonly known as the "Second Wave" of feminism through the writing of her book The Feminine Mystique. [1]

Early life and education[edit]

Friedan was born Betty Naomi Goldstein on February 4, 1921 in Peoria, Illinois,[2] to Harry and Miriam Goldstein. Harry owned a jewellery shop in Peoria, having started out selling buttons on street corners, and Miriam wrote for the society page of a local newspaper. After becoming pregnant with Betty, Harry forced Miriam to quit her job to become a homemaker.[3] Betty realized how frustrated her mother had been as a housewife when her mother took over the family shop after Betty's father fell ill. Her mother's new life outside the home seemed much more gratifying.

As a young girl, Betty was active in Marxist and Jewish circles; she later wrote how she felt isolated from the community at times, and felt her "passion against injustice...originated from my feelings of the injustice of anti-Semitism".[3] She went to high school in Peoria. She briefly became involved in her high school newspaper, but when turned down for a column, she and several friends launched a literary magazine called Tide.

She attended the all-female Smith College in 1938. She was a scholarship prize in her first year for outstanding academic performance. In her second year, she became interested in poetry, and had many poems published in campus publications. In 1941 became editor-in-chief of the college newspaper. The editorials became more political under her leadership, taking a strong anti-war stance and occasionally causing controversy. [3] She graduated summa cum laude in 1942, majoring in psychology.

In 1943, she spent a year at the University of California, Berkeley having won a fellow to undertake graduate work in psychology with Erik Erikson[4] . She became more politically active, continuing to mix with Marxists (many of her friends were investigated by the FBI[3]). Friedan claims in her memoirs that her boyfriend at the time pressured her into turning down a Ph.D fellowship for further study, and abandoned her academic career.


After leaving Berkeley, Friedan became a journalist for leftist and union publications. Between 1943-46 she wrote for The Federated Press and between 1946-52 she worked for the United Electrical Workers' UE News. One of her assignments was to report on the House of Un-American Activities[4].

Friedan claimed she was fired from the union newspaper UE News in 1952, because she was pregnant with her second child. This claim has been disputed and the true cause of her firing is not clear. [5] After leaving UE News, she became a freelance writer, and wrote for various magazines, including Cosmopolitan[4].

For her 15th college reunion in 1957, Friedan conducted a survey of Smith College graduates, focusing on their education, their subsequent experiences and satisfaction with their current lives. She started publishing articles about what she called "the problem with no name", and got passionate responses from many housewives grateful that they were not alone in experiencing this problem.

The Feminine Mystique[edit]

Friedan then decided to rework and expand this topic into a book, The Feminine Mystique. Published in 1963, it depicted the roles of women in industrial societies, especially the full-time homemaker role, which Friedan deemed stifling. Friedan speaks of her own 'terror' at being alone, and observes in her life never once seeing a positive female role-model who worked and also kept a family. She provides numerous accounts of housewifes who feels similarly trapped. With her psychology background, Friedan offers a critique of Freud's penis envy theory, noting a lot of paradoxes in his work. And she attempts to offers some answers to women who wish to pursue an education.

The book became a bestseller, which some people suggest was the impetus for the second wave of feminism, and significantly spurred the women's movement[6] .

Other works[edit]

Friedan's other books include The Second Stage, It Changed My Life: Writings on the Women's Movement, and The Fountain of Age. Her autobiography, Life so Far, was published in 2000.


Betty Friedan co-founded the U.S. National Organization for Women with 27 other people. She wrote its statement of purpose with Pauli Murray, the first African-American female Episcopal priest. Friedan was its first president, serving from 1966 to 1970. [7]

NARAL and abortion[edit]

Friedan helped found NARAL (originally National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws) in 1969 together with Bernard Nathanson and Larry Lader. Unlike Nathanson, she always remained a staunch advocate of legal abortion.

Controversy over gay and lesbian rights[edit]

One of the most influential feminists of the late 20th century, Friedan opposed "equating feminism with lesbianism." She later acknowledged that she had been "very square" and was uncomfortable about homosexuality.[8] She is said to have[citation needed] coined the anti-lesbian phrase "Lavender Menace" during a 1969 National Organization for Women (NOW) meeting. The term was later used by gay rights activists as the original name of the pro-lesbian group "Radicalesbians."[citation needed]

Betty Friedan subsequently softened her stance regarding lesbianism. At the Women's Conference held in Houston, Texas, in 1977 to ratify the United Nations Platform for Women she seconded the motion supporting lesbian rights. Approximately 10,000 women debated the resolutions during the conference.[citation needed] Friedan's pledge to support the lesbian rights motion elicited a tremendous response, accompanied by thousands of balloons and cheers.{citation: jocelynne a. scutt, Different Lives - Reflections on the Women's Movement and Visions of its Future, 1986 (Penguin Books Australia), Epilogue) Despite opposition from the right, the motion was overwhelmingly passed. Dr. Jocelynne A. Scutt described this as a defining moment for the U.S. Women's Movement, for lesbian rights, and for Betty Friedan.[9]

Personal life[edit]

Betty married Carl Friedman, a theatre-producer, in 1947 whilst working at UE News(the "m" was dropped after they were married). Betty Friedan continued to work after marriage, first as a paid employee and, after 1952, as a freelance journalist. Betty and Carl divorced in May 1969. Betty claimed in her memoir, Life So Far (2000), that Carl had beat her during their marriage; friends such as Dolores Alexander recalled having to cover up black eyes from Carl's abuse in time for press conferences (Brownmiller 1999, p. 70). Carl Friedan denied abusing her in an interview with Time magazine shortly after the book was published, describing the claim as a "complete fabrication". [10] She later said on Good Morning America, "I almost wish I hadn't even written about it, because it's been sensationalized out of context. My husband was no wife-beater, and I was no passive victim of a wife-beater. We fought a lot, and he was bigger than me." Carl Friedan died in December, 2005.

The Friedans had three children: Emily, Daniel and Jonathan. One of their sons, Daniel Friedan, is a noted theoretical physicist.

Friedan died of congestive heart failure at her home in Washington, D.C., on February 4, 2006, her 85th birthday. [1]


The New York Times obituary for Friedan noted that she was "famously abrasive" and that she could be "thin-skinned and imperious, subject to screaming fits of temperament." And in February 2006, shortly after Friedan's death, the feminist writer Germaine Greer published an article in The Guardian, [11] in which she described Friedan as egotistic, somewhat demanding, and sometimes selfish, as evidenced by repeated incidents during a tour of Iran in 1972.[1]

Betty Friedan "changed the course of human history almost single-handedly." Her ex-husband, Carl Friedan, believes this; Betty believed it too. This belief was the key to a good deal of Betty's behaviour; she would become breathless with outrage if she didn't get the deference she thought she deserved. Though her behaviour was often tiresome, I figured that she had a point. Women don't get the respect they deserve unless they are wielding male-shaped power; if they represent women they will be called "love" and expected to clear up after themselves. Betty wanted to change that for ever.

— Germaine Greer, "The Betty I knew," The Guardian (February 7, 2006)

Indeed, Carl has been quoted as saying "She changed the course of history almost singlehandedly. It took a driven, super aggressive, egocentric, almost lunatic dynamo to rock the world the way she did. Unfortunately, she was that same person at home, where that kind of conduct doesn't work. She simply never understood this."[12]

Writer Camille Paglia, who had been denounced by Friedan in a Playboy interview, wrote a brief obituary for her in Entertainment Weekly:

Betty Friedan wasn't afraid to be called abrasive. She pursued her feminist principles with a flamboyant pugnacity that has become all too rare in these yupified times. She hated girliness and bourgeois decorum and never lost her earthly ethnicity.

— Camille Paglia, December 29, 2006/January 5, 2007 double End of the Year issue, section Farewell, pg. 94


  • The Feminine Mystique (1963)
  • It Changed My Life (1976)
  • The Second Stage (1981)
  • The Fountain of Age (1993)
  • Beyond Gender (1997)
  • Life So Far (2000)


  • "The problem that has no name — which is simply the fact that American women are kept from growing to their full human capacities — is taking a far greater toll on the physical and mental health of our country than any known disease."[13]
  • "The shallow unreality, immaturity, promiscuity, lack of lasting human satisfaction that characterize the homosexual's sex life usually characterize all his life and interests."[14]
  • "Men weren't really the enemy — they were fellow victims suffering from an outmoded masculine mystique that made them feel unnecessarily inadequate when there were no bears to kill."[15]
  • "The problem lay buried, unspoken for many years in the minds of American women. It was a strange stirring, a sense of dissatisfaction, a yearning that women suffered in the middle of the twentieth century in the United States. Each suburban housewife struggled with it alone. As she made the beds, shopped for groceries, matched slipcover material, ate peanut butter sandwiches with her children, chauffeured Cub Scouts and Brownies, lay beside her husband at night, she was afraid to ask even of herself the silent question: Is this all?"[16]
  • "The only way for a woman, as for a man, to find herself, to know herself as a person, is by creative work of her own. There is no other way."[17]
  • "The only kind of work which permits an able woman to realize her abilities fully, to achieve identity in society in a life plan that can encompass marriage and motherhood, is the kind that was forbidden by the feminine mystique, the lifelong commitment to an art or science, to politics or profession."[18]
  • "If divorce has increased by one thousand percent, don't blame the women's movement. Blame the obsolete sex roles on which our marriages were based.[19]
  • "You know that you have brains as well as breasts, and you use them."[citation needed]


  1. ^ a b c "Betty Friedan, Who Ignited Cause In 'Feminine Mystique,' Dies at 85". New York Times. February 5, 2006. Retrieved 2007-07-21. Betty Friedan, the feminist crusader and author whose searing first book, The Feminine Mystique, ignited the contemporary women's movement in 1963 and as a result permanently transformed the social fabric of the United States and countries around the world, died yesterday, her 85th birthday, at her home in Washington. The cause was congestive heart failure, said Emily Bazelon, a family spokeswoman. ... For decades a familiar presence on television and the lecture circuit, Ms. Friedan, with her short stature and deeply hooded eyes, looked for much of her adult life like a 'combination of Hermione Gingold and Bette Davis,' as Judy Klemesrud wrote in The New York Times Magazine in 1970.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  2. ^ Wing, Liz (Summer 2006). "NOW Mourns Foremothers of Feminist, Civil Rights Movements". National Organization for Women. Retrieved February 19, 2007. 
  3. ^ a b c d Horowitz, Daniel (1998). Betty Friedan and the making of the Feminine Mystique. University of Massachesetts Press.  Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "dan" defined multiple times with different content (see the help page). Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "dan" defined multiple times with different content (see the help page). Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "dan" defined multiple times with different content (see the help page).
  4. ^ a b c Henderson, Margaret (July 2007). "Betty Friedan 1921-2006". Australian Feminist Studies. 22 (53): 163–166. doi:10.1080/08164640701361725.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help); Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "a" defined multiple times with different content (see the help page). Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "a" defined multiple times with different content (see the help page).
  5. ^ Horowitz, Daniel. "Rethinking Betty Friedan and The Feminine Mystique: Labor Union Radicalism and Femininsm in Cold War America", American Quarterly 48 (1998):1-42; Meltzer, Betty Friedan: A Voice for Women's Rights, Penguin 1985
  6. ^ Davis, Flora (1991). Moving the Mountain: The Women's Movement in America since 1960. New York: Simon & Schuster. pp. 50–53. 
  7. ^ NOW statement on Friedan's death
  8. ^
  9. ^ Dr Jocelynne A. Scutt, Different Lives - Reflections on the Women's Movement and Visions of its Future, 1986 (Penguin Books Australia), Epilogue
  10. ^
  11. ^,,1703933,00.html
  12. ^ Ginsberg L., "Ex-hubby fires back at feminist icon Betty," New York Post, 5 July 2000
  13. ^ Betty Friedan, The Feminine Mystique, 1963. NY: Dell Publ., 1974.
  14. ^ Betty Friedan, The Feminine Mystique, 1963. NY: Dell Publ., 1974.
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^
  19. ^

Further reading[edit]

  • Blau, Justine. Betty Friedan: Feminist (Women of Achievement), Paperback Edition, Chelsea House Publications 1990 ISBN 1-55546-653-2
  • Bohannon, Lisa Frederikson. Women's Work: The Story of Betty Friedan, Hardcover Edition, Morgan Reynolds Publishing 2004 ISBN 1-931798-41-9
  • Brownmiller, Susan. In Our Time: Memoir of a Revolution The Dial Press 1999 ISBN 0-385-31486-8
  • Friedan, Betty. Fountain of Age, Paperback Edition, Simon and Schuster 1994 ISBN 0-671-89853-1
  • Friedan, Betty. It Changed My Life: Writings on the Women's Movement, Hardcover Edition, Random House Inc. 1978 ISBN 0-394-46398-6
  • Friedan, Betty. Life So Far, Paperback Edition, Simon and Schuster 2000 ISBN 0-684-80789-0
  • Friedan, Betty. The Feminine Mystique, Hardcover Edition, W.W. Norton and Company Inc. 1963 ISBN 0-393-08436-1
  • Friedan, Betty. The Second Stage, Paperback Edition, Abacus 1983 ASIN B000BGRCRC
  • Horowitz, Daniel. "Rethinking Betty Friedan and The Feminine Mystique: Labor Union Radicalism and Feminism in Cold War America" American Quarterly, Volume 48, Number 1, March 1996, pp. 1-42
  • Horowitz, Daniel. "Betty Friedan and the Making of "The Feminine Mystique", University of Massachusetts Press, 1998, ISBN 1-55849-168-6
  • Hennessee, Judith. Betty Friedan: Her Life, Hardcover Edition, Random House 1999 ISBN 0-679-43203-5
  • Henry, Sondra. Taitz, Emily. Betty Friedan: Fighter For Women's Rights, Hardcover Edition, Enslow Publishers 1990 ISBN 0-89490-292-X
  • Meltzer, Milton. Betty Friedan: A Voice For Women's Rights, Hardcover Edition, Viking Press 1985 ISBN 0-670-80786-9
  • Sherman, Janann. Interviews With Betty Friedan, Paperback Edition, University Press of Mississippi 2002 ISBN 1-57806-480-5
  • Taylor-Boyd, Susan. Betty Friedan: Voice For Women's Rights, Advocate of Human Rights, Hardcover Edition, Gareth Stevens Publishing 1990 ISBN 0-8368-0104-0


External links[edit]

Preceded by
President of the National Organization for Women
1966 - 1970
Succeeded by
Aileen Hernandez