Political and Social Movements

Suffragist Movement

How did Betty Friedan’s Feminine Mystique launch the modern women’s rights movement?

American author and activist Betty Friedan’s (1921-) landmark work was published in 1963. She argued that in the postwar era American society expected women only to be devoted housewives and mothers. This was the ideal, the mystique, that was both promoted and accepted. In the Feminine Mystique Friedan challenged this prevailing notion, causing many women to reexamine their lives. After all, during World War II (1939–45) women had ably stepped into the workplace to keep industry running as the men went to war. When the servicemen came back, women returned to the home and were not expected to seek careers. But after nearly two decades of accepting the status quo, Friedan asked the question, “If women could successfully hold jobs, why shouldn’t they?” Assessing their happiness, many women opted to pursue work outside the home. The modern women’s movement had begun. Soon women were organizing to promote social and political reforms to do away with discrimination in the workplace and eliminate barriers to entry in education and politics. Friedan herself helped found the National Organization for Women (NOW) in 1966; the association grew rapidly and continues to fight for women’s equality in the twenty-first century.


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