Historian Martin Seymour-Smith places Betty Friedan’s “The Feminine Mystique” firmly on a list of the 100 most influential books ever written. It shares that space with, among others, the Bible and the Koran. Futurist Alvin Toffler says the book “pulled the trigger on history. ”
Like many great works, this one almost didn’t get written. The genesis came from a survey Friedan did of her Smith College classmates that exploded the myth that they were happy housewives cleaning ovens and mopping floors, desiring nothing in the way of professions. A magazine writer at the time, she asked three women’s magazines to buy her article about that survey but had no luck because, she believed, it contradicted the image of fulfilled suburban women the magazines sold. But she did interest a book publisher – who paid her $1,000. A Yale University administrator suggested the title over lunch.
Published in 1963, “The Feminine Mystique” sold 300,000 copies its first year out and spent six weeks on The New York Times Best Seller List. As of 2011, it had sold more than three million copies and been translated into at least a dozen languages.
Five more books were to follow. “It Changed My Life,” published in 1976, reflected what women said to her after reading her first book but also spoke about changes that had occurred in her own life – “It made me famous,” she told one interviewer, and her husband couldn’t take that. “The Second Stage,” calling for more emphasis on child care and other developments to complement the changes occurring in women’s lives, is a fascinating and controversial reappraisal of the effects of “The Feminine Mystique” on families. “The Fountain of Age” was a real departure; “Beyond Gender” laments the zero-sum game too often played in sexual politics; and “Life So Far” is her autobiography. Among other things, she writes about the loneliness of growing up Jewish in Peoria.
Betty Friedan wrote six books; almost two dozen have been written about her. The most noted of these is probably Daniel Horowitz’s “Betty Friedan & The Making of the Feminist Mystique. ”
Books written by Betty Friedan
- Feminine Mystique (1963)
- It Changed My Life (1976)
- The Second Stage (1981)
- The Fountain of Age (1993)
- Beyond Gender (1997)
- Life So Far (2000)