• Betty Friedan is shown at a press interview in her New York apartment on May 25, 1970. (Anthony Camerano/AP, Anthony Camerano)

    Feminist Dream

    We’re Partway There

    Fifty years after ‘The Feminine Mystique,’ how close are women to living Friedan’s dream? By Eleanor Clift.

    In the 50 years since Betty Friedan published The Feminine Mystique, women’s lives have been transformed, almost entirely for the better. The college-educated suburban mothers that Friedan focused on suffered from a problem that had no name, a kind of malaise that stemmed from stunted ambitions. Family life wasn’t all that fulfilling, they wanted more, and they felt guilty for feeling that way. Friedan’s book let women know they were not alone, that what they were experiencing was universal, and that was hugely liberating for the women of America.

    It was like a match dropped on dry tinder, igniting what we know as the women’s movement. Seldom does a book interact so powerfully with an historical moment, says New York Times op-ed columnist Gail Collins. Women went crazy for Friedan’s book. She would be criticized for not including women of color or poor women, but that was the strength of The Feminine Mystique, says Collins. “It was one primal howl” from a particular segment of society, middle-class women who had gone to college and were mad as hell about shelving their degrees.