It was 1963, a year before segregationist Howard Smith of Virginia added “sex discrimination” to the Civil Rights Act—to guffaws. Employment ads read “Help Wanted, Men” and “Help Wanted, Women.” “Stewardesses” were fired upon marrying or turning 30. That was the year Betty Friedan’s first book, The Feminine Mystique, launched the modern women’s movement. The book grew out of a college-reunion survey on “the problem that has no name”—how housewives like her had no purpose or identity besides cooking, cleaning, and rearing children.
“Never in history had educated women married so young and had so many babies,” Friedan recalls in her new memoir, Life So Far. The few with careers “looked much more vital, alive, even their skin, eyes, hair, than the suburban housewives I had interviewed.”
Just as the first American feminists had modeled their drive on the abolitionist movement, so the second wave followed the civil-rights struggle—from marching and lobbying to launching “an NAACP for women,” which shook out into the National Organization for Women, the National Women’s Political Caucus, and the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League. Friedan’s memoir chronicles setbacks and triumphs, the infighting, and the backlash.
The recent multimillion-dollar sex-discrimination settlement by Voice of America is the latest reminder that the struggle continues. It’s good that young women can take change for granted, Friedan says, but we can’t stop here. Like its author, Life So Far is lively, down to earth, and passionate.
Simon & Schuster