March is National Women’s History Month – and in 2010, the month’s celebratory theme is: writing women back into history. On that note, I can think of no better person to honor as this week’s Repair the World hero than Betty Friedan (1921-2006), whose writing forever shaped the feminist movement, and the country’s very understanding and estimation of women:
When Betty Friedan (nee Bettye Goldstein) graduated from Smith College in 1942, women’s rights and opportunities in America were severely restricted. Despite a stunning academic record and a degree in psychology, she spent many years suppressing her professional ambitions to live out the suburban homemaker’s life, so typical of post-WWII society. But Friedan would ultimately grow beyond her limited surroundings.
In 1963 she wrote the highly provocative, best-selling book, The Feminine Mystique, which is credited for almost single-handedly sparking the feminist movement’s second wave. The book critiqued what Friedan called the “strange, stirring…sense of dissatisfaction and yearning” that she had personally felt and observed in many other women. It also called for a vast societal shift in thinking about women’s capabilities and rights in the traditionally “male” workplace. Friedan would go on to co-found the largest feminist organization in America, the National Organization for Women (NOW), play key roles in advancing women’s career equality, and overturning anti-abortion laws, and write several other watershed books.
Friedan grew up in a staunchly secular family and neglected her faith for many years. But later in life she would seek to reclaim her heritage, and ultimately blur the lines between her work as a feminist and her identity as a Jewish woman.