Betty Friedan: Feminist of the Month
Betty Friedan was more than just a women’s rights activist, she was a well-known American activist, journalist, and feminist writer. Her 1963 book titled, Feminine Mystique, was the bringing of her fame as it brought social issues to light. The ideology she defended in her book was that women had the right to break past the limits they were forced to follow and deserved to have the freedom to pursue their own desires. It is known that she was a large part of the second wave of American feminism in the 20th century.
Betty Naomi Goldstein was born on February 4, 1921, in the Mid-Western state of Illinois. Her mother, Miriam Horowitz Goldstein, was a Hungarian-Jewish immigrant who worked in the journalism field until Friedan was born, and her father, Harry Goldstein, was a Russian immigrant and jeweler. Throughout her College career, Friedan was excluded from participating in sorority and fraternity activities due to her Jewish origins. This resulted in her spending most of her time studying and exceeding at school. Miriam was a large supporter of her children's education since she, herself, was prevented from attending Smith College by her mother. In 1942, Friedan graduated from Smith College with a bachelor's degree in Psychology. She later went to the University of California Berkeley for her graduate fellowship but left after a year and became a reporter for the Federated Press in New York. 3 years later, she was employed as a writer for the UE News and continued to share her feminist and political knowledge as well as her opinions. In 1947, she married Carl Friedman (whom she later divorced) and had three children, Emily, Daniel, and Jonathan Friedan. When she was pregnant with her second child, she lost her job at the UE News because her employer refused to grant her a second maternity leave which later led to her doing freelance journalism in women's magazines as well as organizing around community issues.
During this time in her career, Friedan began researching for her soon to be best-seller book, Feminine Mystique. She spent five years researching and interviewing other graduates of Smith College to see women’s desires and their reflection on the way they live. When Feminine Mystique was published it instantly became a hit and was one of the most influential non-fiction books of the 20th century. It has since sold over 3 million copies. The book was very eye-opening and encouraged many women to use their voices and protest against prejudice and discrimination based on gender. In 1966, Friedan got together with other famous women’s rights activists, Pauli Murray, Aileen Hernandez, and created the leading feminist organization, NOW (National Organization of Women). The organization's first goal was to achieve equality in employment. Friedan worked as the first president of NOW until she resigned from her position in 1970.
Throughout her life, she conducted countless protests like the Women's Strike for Equality on August 26, 1970, helped found National Abortion Lives Action League, and was the co-founder of the National Women’s Political Caucus alongside Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm and Congresswoman Gloria Steinem. However, in 1972, she left the organization due to a conflict with Gloria Steinem over Friedan’s ownership of the organization and egocentrism. Friedan then started to frequently travel around the world and work at famous universities like New York University while writing her other works such as The Problem That Has No Name, The Second Stage, and Fountain of Age.
Betty Friedan fought gender inequality in many ways such as making changes in pregnancy discrimination, unfair hiring, and gender wage inequality. She became so successful that some even called her the “mother” of modern feminism. However, as feminism became a more diverse movement, she started to lose her leadership and get criticized for her works. One of her biggest criticisms was that the issues she was working on were primarily for the middle class, educated, white women. She was also disliked for beginning to focus more on how she could keep her seat in the movement rather than working towards change. On February 4th, 2006, Betty Friedan passed away because of congestive heart failure in Washington DC while celebrating her 85th birthday.