Betty Friedan: a broader understanding



“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 the 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?”’

My activist history project was about Betty Friedan, an author and activist. Though it began with her and all of her many accomplishments, my search took me some place else as well. The above quote is from the first page The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan. This is where my search began. I originally wanted to do a project about women’s sexual liberation. Somewhere amongst my simple google searches I stumbled upon the title of her famous book. There was a moment of recognition and I instantly thought of that scene from 10 Things I Hate About You. I was instantly intrigued and knew I wanted to learn more about her and the book. The feminine mystique was easy to find in 200_sthe library. When I opened it and read the first few pages I was drawn in.

In biographies of Betty Friedan she is frequently described as the mother of second wave feminism. Her book opened the door for many women to question their role within family and home. It allowed them to ask, “Is this all?” Thus Betty Friedan and The Feminine Mystique play a very important role in understanding the history of second wave feminism. It is no doubt an important moment for women of the 1960’s. But, which women?

From the few Gender and Women’s studies classes I had taken I knew that second wave feminism held some negative connotations, specifically for its lack of recognition of the intersectionality within women’s rights. One major goal of second wave feminism was to allow women access to work outside of the home. This does not take into account the many women of color who had been working for years in order to provide for their families.

All of this brought me back to one of the very first lessons of our class: there are many different histories. And activism can often times be the telling of unknown history. I asked myself, what else was going on during the 1960’s. The answer: A lot…

This question led me to names of several black women:

  • Florynce Kennedy
  • Akasha Gloria Hull
  • Barbara Smith
  • Margaret Sloan Hunter
  • Shirley Chisholm

All of these women have played a role in feminist movement during the 1960’s. As authors, activists, and politicians, their stories and their roles in history are extremely important in understanding feminism and feminist activism.

I am glad that my search began with Betty Friedan but I am also glad that it ended with a broader understanding of feminist activism and its contributors.


  • All the Women Are White, All the Blacks Are Men, But Some of Us Are Brave: Black Women’s Studies edited by Barbara Smith, Akasha Gloria Hull, Patricia Bell-Scott
  • The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan

Watch Shirley Chisholm ’72: Unbought and Unbossed

Betty Friedan’s Bio



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