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Betty Friedan and Her Contribution to Fight for Women’s Rights

Abstract

Looking at our society today, we can say progress has been made in the areas of gender equality and female empowerment. However, there is a noticeable difference when we look at the earlier years of the 20th century and even further back into history. Advocating for gender equality at the various places of employment wasn’t really an organized movement like it is nowadays. Few women who were in employment at these industries were held at different (or lower) standards when compared to their male counterparts. Even though such traits can still be seen in today’s society, back then they were seen as the norm. Few women dared to oppose this status quo and those that did risk losing their jobs.

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It was widely accepted that the role of women was to take care of the household and raise children. Even the ones who were educated could not participate in any income-generating activity which in the long run could be more beneficial to the family. Most of the girls growing up knew they would follow their mother’s paths and their mothers encouraged them to do so as it was deemed to be a noble cause. It was inevitable that some of them would question this balance of power and demand for equality mostly at the places of employment.

Murmurs of equality began to be heard at the turn of the 20th century but it was the year 1963, when a not-so-well-known activist, Betty Friedan, wrote a book, The “Feminine Mystique”, which set the wheels of change in motion. “Many of us think of her as one of the mothers of the modern women’s movement”. (Sullivan)

The Beginning

Born in 1921 to Jewish parents Harry and Miriam Goldstein in Peoria, Illinois, her childhood can be described as uneventful. Her mother wrote a society column for the local newspaper after her father became sick and could not continue working. Betty Friedan observed that her mother seemed happier when she was working than when she stayed at home. If her father did regain full recovery and was able to return to work, would her mother continue working? Probably not because the argument would be someone had to raise their daughter (Justine 1990).

It is worth noting that she later wrote “I feel isolated from the community at times.”(Justine 1990). During this time, the 2nd World War was about to break out and Hitler was fanning the flames of anti-Semitism not only in Europe but the world over. This wave of anti-Semitism flamed a passion inside her that she would later use to champion women’s rights (Justine 1990).

Betty Friedan was successful in her academic pursuits and she graduated from high school to join Smith College. During her time as the chief editor of the college newspaper, her intensely political and strong antiwar columns did raise a few eyebrows. Her political activism followed her to the University of California, Berkeley, where she continued with her involvement with the Marxists drawing the attention of the FBI (A&E Television Networks).

Looking at her life in college we can see that the wheels of change were set in motion and the question really is whether she will continue with her activism or just simply conform to the norms of society. It requires a lot of strength and willpower to advocate for change in any society that has adapted to a routine where everyone plays their position

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Change

What comes as a surprise is when Betty Friedan abandons her academic carrier after being pressured by her then-boyfriend. Maybe the continued surveillance by the FBI did affect their relationship. However, what comes as surprise is she did not oppose her boyfriend’s position yet she has already formed an image of an activist who is not afraid to speak her mind. She became a journalist for the Federal Press and it was here that she noticed the open discrimination that women faced at the workplace (A&E Television Networks).

The turning point reached when she went to ask for maternal leave during her second pregnancy. She was immediately fired. With a full-time job of raising the kids, we can say that life had come full circle for her whereby she was playing the role society expected of her. However, the seeds that were sown from a tender age watching her mother work and the passions inflamed by the anti-Semitic wave drove her towards asking the tough questions that the male-dominated society wasn’t ready to answer.

Friedan conducted a study of other college graduates and discovered that they were all having the same feelings of discontent but they didn’t know how to channel it or even where these feelings were really coming from. It is worth noting that these women were housewives and they all had these similar problems (Justine 1990).

Through their responses, she published the groundbreaking book, “Feminine Mystique”. It challenged the woman’s role as a homemaker and a full-time housewife yet deep down there was this “trapped’ feeling that most women related to. The book further added that though most women were content with staying at home, they were not happy and they wanted to be a part of the social and economic changes that were taking place.

The book elicited massive debate from all sides with women finally getting a voice to channel their frustrations and call for an amendment of the retrogressive laws that were discriminating against women. We can say this book laid the groundwork for activism amongst women and the desire to fight for equality and their own rights.

In 1966 Betty Friedan together with Pauli Murray formed the National Organization for Women which had over 500,000 members and fought tirelessly for women’s rights. The body advocated for equal pay for women at the workplace and equal employment. Her argument was that most women were doing the same kind of work as men in the industrial societies and therefore it beat logic why they were being paid less and some of these women had to rush home from work to prepare food for their families and take care of the kids. She also called for a ban on job advertisements that discriminated against particular sex or race (Justine 1990).

Furthermore, she pushed for maternity leave for parents and the creation of daycare centers for working parents. However, her stand on abortion where she called for its legalization created a division amongst women with some thinking that this was quite radical but eventually abortion was legalized in certain states. In the field of politics together with Gloria Steinem and other women who advocated for their rights, she pushed for the rights of women voters and their equal representation in the political processes such as vying for office and raising campaign funds through contributions. She also addressed the income inequality between men and women. The contribution of these women has led to society having a totally different view of today’s modern woman. The process towards change wasn’t an easy path. Members of the press dismissed the women’s movement that was spurred by the publication “Feminine Mystique”. Besides this, the book was nearly not published because most publishers who were male did not want to be associated with that book (A&E Television Networks).

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The number of writers and career women that Betty Friedan has had an effect on cannot be counted but the basis she should be judged on is a movement she started that revolutionized every working woman. Her movement not only changed the rules of society to provide equal opportunities for women but also empowered women to believe in themselves and strive to be the best as they pursue their dreams. Naomi Betty Freidman will best be remembered as one of the leading 20th Century feminist and women’s rights movement voices.

References

A&E Television Networks: Betty (Naomi) Friedan Biography: Web.

Blau, Justine (1990) Betty Friedan. New York: Chelsea House, Betty (Naomi) Friedan Sullivan Patricia: Voice of Feminism’s 2nd Wave. Web.

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StudyCorgi. (2021, November 17). Betty Friedan and Her Contribution to Fight for Women’s Rights. Retrieved from https://studycorgi.com/betty-friedan-and-her-contribution-to-fight-for-womens-rights/

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StudyCorgi. (2021, November 17). Betty Friedan and Her Contribution to Fight for Women’s Rights. https://studycorgi.com/betty-friedan-and-her-contribution-to-fight-for-womens-rights/

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"Betty Friedan and Her Contribution to Fight for Women’s Rights." StudyCorgi, 17 Nov. 2021, studycorgi.com/betty-friedan-and-her-contribution-to-fight-for-womens-rights/.

1. StudyCorgi. "Betty Friedan and Her Contribution to Fight for Women’s Rights." November 17, 2021. https://studycorgi.com/betty-friedan-and-her-contribution-to-fight-for-womens-rights/.


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StudyCorgi. "Betty Friedan and Her Contribution to Fight for Women’s Rights." November 17, 2021. https://studycorgi.com/betty-friedan-and-her-contribution-to-fight-for-womens-rights/.

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StudyCorgi. 2021. "Betty Friedan and Her Contribution to Fight for Women’s Rights." November 17, 2021. https://studycorgi.com/betty-friedan-and-her-contribution-to-fight-for-womens-rights/.

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StudyCorgi. (2021) 'Betty Friedan and Her Contribution to Fight for Women’s Rights'. 17 November.

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