Fifty years ago Betty Friedan made waves with the publication of The Feminine Mystique. Many credit this book with the start of the 2nd wave of feminism which, building on the political success of the first wave, was able to address less obvious forms of gender inequality and focus on more subtle issues that affect women’s quality of life.
The virtue of canonical literature is that it can feel timeless or at least continue to teach a lesson to its readers. So the question this year has been, “What can Betty Friedan teach us fifty years later?” And it’s a valid question. When Friedan wrote this book 60% of women dropped out of college to get married or, as the book jacket says, “to prevent themselves from becoming unmarriageable.” It was nine years before the (failed) ratification of the Equal Right Amendment and ten years before Roe V. Wade was passed.
So it’s easy to think the book has lost its cultural relevance. That it was important “then” but that it can no longer be more than an interesting historical look at the feminist movement and life in the 60s. One might also argue however, that if we take a closer look at the last few years, we may see that Friedan’s message still rings true today. Considering the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act was passed just 3 years ago and the social pressure for women to achieve an ideal body type is just as great as ever, it seems as though we have yet to clear all the hurdles Friedan pointed out in the 1960s.
What do you think? What value does the Feminine Mystique add to discourse in today’s do readers gain from reading the Feminine Mystique fifty years later? Maybe it’s time to revisit (or visit for the first time) Friedan’s “Problem That Has No Name” and see how or if these questions still apply, how they’ve become more or less ubiquitous, and if there’s a new call to arms to be had.