Betty Friedan’s “The Feminine Mystique” turned 50 this week. At the time of its publication, “Singletons” (circa 1963 defined as an unmarried woman) did not have a legal right to birth control. Married women did not have equal access to credit. In some states, married women could not get a job without the permission of their husbands. Occupational segregation was the norm. The wage gap was more like a wage canyon. Sexual harassment of women in the workplace was not yet legally actionable. Abortion was illegal. Every state in the nation required “fault-based” grounds for divorce. Spousal rape was not a crime in most states.
All of this changed for all American women in the wake of Friedan’s tome. Second wave feminism was born. The National Organization for Women was founded. The call for equality and women’s rights would resound in every cell of the American body politic.
All American women owe Friedan a debt of gratitude.
Yet, despite all of the above, as an African American woman, I can say that I have never met a black woman who admits to having read “The Feminine Mystique.” I have never heard a black woman of a certain age recite with the nostalgia what I refer to as “the Friedan anthem” – “The Problem with No Name.”
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