“The Feminine Mystique,” written 50 years ago in 1963, became the kind of best seller that defines an author’s life.
In 1966, author Betty Friedan was researching another book in Washington when she wound up at a conference of state commissions on the status of women, where attendees were angry over the fact that the federal government had made it clear it had no intention of enforcing a law against job discrimination on the basis of sex that was included in the 1964 Civil Rights Act. (This is a good time to point out that “The Feminine Mystique” did not create the women’s rights movement. Those commissions on the status of women were started by the Kennedy administration before the book was published, and the Civil Rights Act was being debated in Congress while American housewives were still just starting to pass Friedan’s book around.)
It was in Friedan’s hotel room that the angry conference-goers met to discuss what they should do when the Johnson administration showed no interest in pursuing the issue. (Friedan was universally known as a difficult personality, and at one point she locked herself in the bathroom and told everyone to go home, but no one did.)
The next day, it was Friedan’s coterie that angrily passed around notes at lunch, creating, on the spot, the National Organization for Women, which Friedan would head. It would be NOW, under Friedan, that would file suits on behalf of exactly the kind of average, unglamorous, working women that “The Feminine Mystique” is always criticized for ignoring.
And in 1970, it was Friedan who called for the great march to celebrate the 50th anniversary of women’s suffrage, creating a mass turnout in cities around the country that would drive home to the nation exactly how determined women were to transform their lives and their society. In New York, the marchers were denied a parade permit for Fifth Avenue and were told to keep to the sidewalks. Friedan, at the head of the pack, took the lead again. “There was no way we were about to walk down Fifth Avenue in a little thin line,” she wrote later. “I waved my arms over my head and yelled, ‘Take to the streets!’ What a moment that was.”
Source: The New York Times Magazine, January 27, 2013 article excerpted from the introduction to the 50th-anniversary edition of “The Feminine Mystique,” by Betty Friedan, to be published by W.W. Norton & Company.