The Feminine Mystique

by

Betty Friedan

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Betty Friedan Character Analysis

The co-founder of the National Organization for Women (NOW) and the organization’s first president. Friedan was a feminist activist and sociologist whose first book, The Feminine Mystique, published in 1963, signaled the initiation of the second-wave feminist movement. Although she primarily writes in the third-person and makes herself scarce in the analysis she conducts, her writing is often classified as part of New Journalism, a type of non-fiction writing in which authors included their own voices or made themselves a part of the experience about which they were writing. Friedan draws on her own experiences in her writing—but not her personal experiences so much as her experiences as a researcher. In the book’s epilogue, she turns to focus more on her own life as a married woman, former homemaker, and feminist activist. In this way, Friedan makes it clear that she is writing about the experiences of white, middle-class American women not from the outside looking in, but very much from the inside—as she herself is embedded in the world of the housewives about which she writes.

Betty Friedan Quotes in The Feminine Mystique

The The Feminine Mystique quotes below are all either spoken by Betty Friedan or refer to Betty Friedan . For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Domesticity and Femininity Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the W.W. Norton edition of The Feminine Mystique published in 1963.
Chapter 1 Quotes

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 wife 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?”

Related Characters: Betty Friedan (speaker)
Page Number: 15
Explanation and Analysis:

It is no longer possible to ignore that voice, to dismiss the desperation of so many American women. This is not what being a woman means, no matter what the experts say. For human suffering there is a reason; perhaps the reason has not been found because the right questions have not been asked or pressed far enough. I do not accept the answer that there is no problem because American women have luxuries that women in other times and lands never dreamed of; part of the strange newness of the problem is that it cannot be understood in terms of the age-old material problems of man: poverty, sickness, hunger, cold.

Related Characters: Betty Friedan (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Problem That Has No Name
Page Number: 26
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 2 Quotes

The image of woman that emerges from this big, pretty magazine is young and frivolous, almost childlike; fluffy and feminine; passive; gaily content in a world of bedroom and kitchen, sex, babies, and home. The magazine surely does not leave out sex; the only passion, the only pursuit, the only goal a woman is permitted is the pursuit of a man. It is crammed full of food, clothing, cosmetics, furniture, and the physical bodies of young women, but where is the world of thought and ideas, the life of the mind and spirit? In the magazine image, women do no work except housework and work to keep their bodies beautiful and to get and keep a man.

Related Characters: Betty Friedan (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Feminine Mystique
Page Number: 36
Explanation and Analysis:

The feminine mystique says that the highest value and the only commitment for women is the fulfillment of their own femininity. It says that the great mistake of Western culture, through most of its history, has been the undervaluation of femininity. It says that this femininity is so mysterious and intuitive and close to the creation and origin of life that man-made science may never be able to understand it. But however special and different, it is in no way inferior to the nature of man; it may even in certain respects be superior. The mistake, says the mystique, the root of women’s troubles in the past is that women envied men, women tried to be like men, instead of accepting their own nature, which can find fulfillment only in sexual passivity, male domination, and nurturing maternal love.

Related Characters: Betty Friedan (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Feminine Mystique
Page Number: 43
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 3 Quotes

The feminine mystique permits, even encourages, women to ignore the question of their identity. The mystique says they can answer the question “Who am I?” by saying “Tom’s wife...Mary’s mother.” But I don’t think the mystique would have such power over American women if they did not fear to face this terrifying blank which makes them unable to see themselves after twenty-one. The truth is—and how long it has been true, I’m not sure, but it was true in my generation and it is true of girls growing up today—an American woman no longer has a private image to tell her who she is, or can be, or wants to be.

Related Characters: Betty Friedan (speaker)
Page Number: 71-72
Explanation and Analysis:

The expectations of feminine fulfillment that are fed to women by magazines, television, movies, and books that popularize psychological half-truths, and by parents, teachers, and counselors who accept the feminine mystique, operate as a kind of youth serum, keeping most women in the state of sexual larvae, preventing them from achieving the maturity of which they are capable.

Related Characters: Betty Friedan (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Feminine Mystique
Page Number: 77
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 4 Quotes

Only men had the freedom to love, and enjoy love, and decide for themselves in the eyes of their God the problems of right and wrong. Did women want these freedoms because they wanted to be men? Or did they want them because they were also human?

Related Characters: Betty Friedan (speaker), Lucy Stone
Page Number: 82
Explanation and Analysis:

Did women really go home again as a reaction to feminism? The fact is that to women born after 1920, feminism was dead history. It ended as a vital movement in America with the winning of that final right: the vote. In the 1930’s and 40’s, the sort of woman who fought for woman’s rights was still concerned with human rights and freedom—for Negroes, for oppressed workers, for victims of Franco’s Spain and Hitler’s Germany. But no one was much concerned with rights for women: they had all been won. And yet the man-eating myth prevailed.

Related Characters: Betty Friedan (speaker)
Page Number: 100
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 5 Quotes

“Normal” femininity is achieved, however, only insofar as the woman finally renounces all active goals of her own, all her own “originality,” to identify and fulfill herself through the activities and goals of her husband, or son.

Related Characters: Betty Friedan (speaker), Sigmund Freud
Related Symbols: The Feminine Mystique
Page Number: 121
Explanation and Analysis:

Girls who grew up playing baseball, baby-sitting, mastering geometry—almost independent enough, almost resourceful enough, to meet the problems of the fission-fusion era—were told by the most advanced thinkers of our time to go back and live their lives as if they were Noras, restricted to the doll’s house by Victorian prejudice. And their own respect and awe for the authority of science—anthropology, sociology, psychology share that authority now—kept them from questioning the feminine mystique.

Related Characters: Betty Friedan (speaker), Sigmund Freud
Related Symbols: The Feminine Mystique
Page Number: 125
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 8 Quotes

In the foxholes, the GI’s had pinned up pictures of Betty Grable, but the songs they asked to hear were lullabies. And when they got out of the army they were too old to go home to their mothers. The needs of sex and love are undeniably real in men and women, boys and girls, but why at this time did they seem to so many the only needs?

Related Characters: Betty Friedan (speaker)
Page Number: 182
Explanation and Analysis:

The mystique spelled out a choice—love, home, children, or other goals and purposes in life.

Related Characters: Betty Friedan (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Feminine Mystique
Page Number: 183
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 10 Quotes

The very nature of family responsibility had to expand to take the place of responsibility to society.

Related Characters: Betty Friedan (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Feminine Mystique
Page Number: 240
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 11 Quotes

But what happens when a woman bases her whole identity on her sexual role; when sex is necessary to make her “feel alive?” To state it quite simply, she puts impossible demands on her own body, her “femaleness,” as well as on her husband and his “maleness.” A marriage counselor told me that many of the young suburban wives he dealt with make “such heavy demands on love and marriage, but there is no excitement, no mystery, sometimes almost literally nothing happens.”

Related Characters: Betty Friedan (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Feminine Mystique
Page Number: 265
Explanation and Analysis:

According to Kinsey, the majority of American middle-class males’ sexual outlets are not in relations with their wives after the fifteenth year of marriage; at fifty-five, one out of two American men is engaging in extramarital sex. His male sex-seeking—the office romance, the casual or intense affair, even the depersonalized sex-for-sex’s sake…is, as often as not, motivated by the need to escape from the devouring wife. Sometimes the man seeks the human relationship that got lost when he became an appendage to his wife’s aggressive “home career.” Sometimes his aversion to his wife finally makes him seek in sex an object totally divorced from any human relationship. Sometimes, in phantasy more often than in fact, he seeks a girl-child, a Lolita, as sexual object—to escape that grownup woman who is devoting all her aggressive energies, as well as her sexual energies, to living through him.

Related Characters: Betty Friedan (speaker), Alfred Kinsey
Page Number: 273
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 12 Quotes

There is also a new vacant sleepwalking, playing-a-part quality of youngsters who do not know what they are supposed to do, what the other kids do, but do not seem to feel alive or real in doing it.

Related Characters: Betty Friedan (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Concentration Camp
Page Number: 282
Explanation and Analysis:

And so progressive dehumanization has carried the American mind in the last fifteen years from youth worship to that sick “love affair” with our own children; from preoccupation with the physical details of sex, divorced from a human framework, to a love affair between man and animal.

Related Characters: Betty Friedan (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Feminine Mystique
Page Number: 304
Explanation and Analysis:

We have gone on too long blaming or pitying the mothers who devour their children, who sow the seeds of progressive dehumanization, because they have never grown to full humanity themselves. If the mother is at fault, why isn’t it time to break the pattern by urging all these Sleeping Beauties to grow up and live their own lives? There will never be enough Prince Charmings, or enough therapists to break that pattern now. It is society’s job, and finally that of each woman alone. For it is not the strength of the mothers that is at fault but their weakness, their passive childlike dependency and immaturity that is mistaken for “femininity.”

Related Characters: Betty Friedan (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Feminine Mystique
Page Number: 304
Explanation and Analysis:

The comfortable concentration camp that American women have walked into or have been talked into by others […] denies women’s adult human identity. By adjusting to it, a woman stunts her intelligence to become childlike, turns away from individual identity to become an anonymous biological robot in a docile mass. She becomes less than human, preyed upon by outside pressures, and herself preying upon her husband and children. And the longer she conforms, the less she feels as if she really exists. She looks for her security in things, she hides the fear of losing her human potency by testing her sexual potency, she lives a vicarious life through mass daydreams or through her husband and children. She does not want to be reminded of the outside world; she becomes convinced there is nothing she can do about her own life or the world that would make a difference.

Related Characters: Betty Friedan (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Concentration Camp
Page Number: 308
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 13 Quotes

In our society, love has customarily been defined, at least for women, as a complete merging of egos and a loss of separateness— “togetherness,” a giving up of individuality rather than a strengthening of it.

Related Characters: Betty Friedan (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Feminine Mystique
Page Number: 323
Explanation and Analysis:

A woman today who has no goal, no purpose, no ambition patterning her days into the future, making her stretch and grow beyond that small score of years in which her body can fill its biological function, is committing a kind of suicide.

Related Characters: Betty Friedan (speaker)
Page Number: 336
Explanation and Analysis:
Epilogue Quotes

Perhaps women who have made it as “exceptional” women don’t really identify with other women. For them, there are three classes of people: men, other women, and themselves; their very status as exceptional women depends on keeping other women quiet, and not rocking the boat.

Related Characters: Betty Friedan (speaker), Margaret Mead
Related Symbols: The Feminine Mystique
Page Number: 382
Explanation and Analysis:

“What we need is a political movement, a social movement like that of the blacks.”

Related Characters: Betty Friedan (speaker)
Page Number: 382
Explanation and Analysis:

It seemed to me that 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.

Related Characters: Betty Friedan (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Feminine Mystique
Page Number: 386
Explanation and Analysis:
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Betty Friedan Character Timeline in The Feminine Mystique

The timeline below shows where the character Betty Friedan appears in The Feminine Mystique. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1: The Problem That Has No Name
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Friedan talked to women all over the country who reported similar feelings of dissatisfaction. The problem... (full context)
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Friedan does not accept the notion that American women in the 1950s should have been happier... (full context)
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Having interviewed many women who were listening to their inner voices, Friedan believes that they were realizing a truth that had eluded experts, such as educators and... (full context)
Chapter 2: The Happy Housewife Heroine
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...women all over the country who reported similar feelings. They took comfort in talking to Friedan instead of continuing to live in silence. Though the popularity of Freudian psychoanalytic theory had... (full context)
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...a popular image that left something out. For Victorian women, that missing element was sex. Friedan looked to women’s magazines to find out what that missing element was for American women.... (full context)
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Friedan reports attending a meeting of magazine editors, most of whom were men. They claimed that... (full context)
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Friedan contrasts contemporary short fiction with short fiction from the 1930s, which told stories of spirited... (full context)
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The feminine mystique, according to Friedan, “says that the highest value and the only commitment for women is the fulfillment of... (full context)
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...having babies. Any ambition they exhibited was quickly extinguished by their primary “job” as mothers. Friedan uses the example of “The Sandwich Maker,” a short story from an April 1959 issue... (full context)
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...that their readers could only identify with women whose lives were rooted in domestic concerns. Friedan recalls wanting to write an article about an artist. To ensure that the readership could... (full context)
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Friedan recalls meeting the editor of a women’s magazine, a woman older than she, who recalled... (full context)
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The new image of women, according to Friedan, was based on “mindlessness” and materialism: "two cars, two TVs, two fireplaces.” It was an... (full context)
Chapter 3: The Crisis In Women's Identity
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Friedan recalls preparing to graduate from Smith College in 1942 and being unsure of what to... (full context)
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Friedan had won a graduate fellowship to study at the University of California-Berkeley but gave it... (full context)
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...up. They did not want to be housewives but had no other role models. In Friedan’s youth, the only other women were “old-maid” high school teachers, the librarian, and a doctor... (full context)
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Friedan reasons that these dual images would not have so much power if young women were... (full context)
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“Forty percent” of Friedan’s graduating class at Smith had career plans, but quietly envied women who had left college... (full context)
Chapter 6: The Functional Freeze, the Feminine Protest, and Margaret Mead
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Friedan identifies Margaret Mead as the “most powerful influence on modern women” due to her influence... (full context)
Chapter 7: The Sex-Directed Educators
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Initially, Friedan thought that the reports were exaggerations or merely the result of the deterioration of some... (full context)
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Education, according to Friedan, is necessary for personal growth. For the girl, her evasion of growth in college was... (full context)
Chapter 8: The Mistaken Choice
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According to Friedan, the feminine mystique took hold after World War II, when both men and women sought... (full context)
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Friedan blames the retreat of women to the home on the “personal retreat” that both men... (full context)
Chapter 9: The Sexual Sell
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Friedan posits that the perpetuation of housewifery and the feminine mystique occurred when industry leaders realized... (full context)
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...power and intelligence of women was turned against them to groom them into good consumers. Friedan wonders if it is only “a sick society,” or an “immature” one, that makes women... (full context)
Chapter 10: Housewifery Expands to Fill the Time Available
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Friedan went in search of a real-life example of the happy, modern housewife. In some instances,... (full context)
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When Friedan looked deeper, she saw that “sixteen out of twenty-eight” of these women were in analysis.... (full context)
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Friedan noted that the housewives in this community were always busy with chores, chauffeuring their children,... (full context)
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Friedan found the same pattern when comparing women who identified as “housewives” to career women, both... (full context)
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Women, Friedan discovered, tended to move to the suburbs after deciding to give up a “job or... (full context)
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Friedan notes the popularity of open-plan houses and how they do not really offer any privacy—they... (full context)
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...honest enjoyment in one aspect of the job, such as cooking. For the housewives whom Friedan interviewed, the problem was not having too much to do, “but too little.” Those who... (full context)
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...social critics commented that when men performed chores, the chores interfered with their careers. However, Friedan found that men did not allow housework to interfere with their careers. When men did... (full context)
Chapter 11: The Sex-Seekers
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When Friedan asked housewives what they did with their time when they were not doing chores, or... (full context)
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...only frontier,” available to women living according to the feminine mystique. American women, according to Friedan, had been reduced to sex creatures as a result. The culture, too, had become “sex-glutted,”... (full context)
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Friedan wonders if the high incidence of “cramps with menstruation,” “depression with childbirth,” and other “female... (full context)
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Friedan reports on an island where attractive young housewives spent their summers. There, they enjoyed the... (full context)
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...literature, which was full of “images of the predatory female.” The male outrage, according to Friedan, was the result of “parasitic women” who stunted their sons’ and husbands’ development. (full context)
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Friedan wonders if the increase in “overt male homosexuality” is attached to the feminine mystique. She... (full context)
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Friedan found a correlation between education and the postponement of sexual activity. Better-educated people usually waited... (full context)
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Friedan voices concern over the prevalence of “sex without self,” or using sex to evade the... (full context)
Chapter 12: Progressive Dehumanization: The Comfortable Concentration Camp
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Friedan observes a “frightening passivity” and “boredom” in American children who perform all the activities they... (full context)
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The new passivity was evident, according to Friedan, in the apparition of the “bearded, undisciplined beatnik,” as well as in the rising rates... (full context)
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Friedan attributes the passivity in boys and girls to mothers who live within the feminine mystique,... (full context)
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To Friedan, noncommitment and vicarious living were the methods by which women who were trapped in the... (full context)
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Friedan insists that being a housewife often resulted in “a sense of emptiness” and “non-existence” similar... (full context)
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...If educated women were unable to “adjust” to their role as housewives, then, according to Friedan, they must have outgrown the role. (full context)
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...vulnerable to outside pressures, and fearful of losing their sexual potency. To escape the “camp,” Friedan insists that women needed to “recapture their sense of self” and “begin to grow.” (full context)
Chapter 13: The Forfeited Self
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...because people were using sex as a means to search for a sense of identity. Friedan argues that people are most likely to achieve self-actualization through work and by being in... (full context)
Chapter 14: A New Life Plan for Women
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...artistic work at home—painting, sculpting, writing—is one of the “semi-delusions of the feminine mystique.” Women, Friedan asserts, are better off working outside the home where they can concentrate uninterrupted and make... (full context)
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Friedan observed that, in some instances, relationships grew as a result of husbands and wives giving... (full context)
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...“re-educated.” Women who did not go to college or who dropped out needed, according to Friedan, support in the form of a national educational program, similar to the GI bill that... (full context)
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...energy of women is destructive to themselves and to their husbands and children. Who knows, Friedan wonders, what women can be if they are allowed to be their full selves? (full context)
Epilogue
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When The Feminine Mystique was being prepared for publication, Friedan decided that she would go back to school to earn her PhD, despite having been... (full context)
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Friedan got letters from other women who wanted to escape the feminine mystique and pursue their... (full context)
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After The Feminine Mystique was released, Friedan became a pariah in her own neighborhood. She realized that she had exposed a problem... (full context)
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Friedan argued that women (particularly, white, middle-class women) needed a political and social movement like the... (full context)
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A private conversation between Friedan and a young female lawyer who worked for the agency that would do nothing to... (full context)
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Friedan saw the women’s movement as a revolution in sex roles, not as a struggle for... (full context)
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Though radicals disliked the capitalist aspects of Friedan’s message, she insisted that equality and human dignity would not be possible for women who... (full context)
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Friedan did not see men as the enemies of women but as fellow victims, “suffering from... (full context)
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Friedan testified before a judge in 1966 regarding a sex discrimination lawsuit against airlines who were... (full context)
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Friedan “felt a certain urgency of history” which encouraged her to pursue the issue of abortion... (full context)
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Friedan spent the 1960s giving lectures and talks all over the country in a variety of... (full context)
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Friedan appreciated bold moves from young radicals, such as protesting the Miss America pageant. However, she... (full context)
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It became clear to Friedan that “someone’ was trying to take over the movement or splinter it. The radicals’ focus... (full context)
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...extreme left groups looking to “proselytize lesbianism” and others promoted sex and class “warfare” which Friedan believed was based on “obsolete or irrelevant analogies of class warfare or race separatism.” (full context)
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...Amendment, granting women the right to vote. The purpose was to unite women around what Friedan considered to be the most important causes: equal opportunity for jobs and education, the right... (full context)
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...McCarthy, the chief sponsor of the Equal Rights Amendment announced his campaign for the presidency, Friedan contacted New York Congresswoman and activist Bella Abzug to ask how she could help McCarthy’s... (full context)
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...Congresswoman from New York, stayed in the race as a presidential candidate “until the end.” Friedan predicated that, by 1976, a woman will run for vice-president or president, possibly even on... (full context)
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The agenda for what Friedan called “Stage 1 of the sex-role revolution” had been accomplished. The ERA had passed Congress,... (full context)
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Friedan had also been asked to organize groups in Europe, South America, and Asia. She was... (full context)
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Just as liquor sellers had lobbied against the Nineteenth Amendment, Friedan believed that there was a campaign to ‘block the ERA.” Employers in Ohio gave women... (full context)
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Friedan realized that she could not encourage others’ freedom without realizing her own, so she got... (full context)