In this episode, we’ll discuss the life and work of Betty Friedan. The feminist writer and activist acclaimed as the mother of second-wave feminism, and pathbreaking author of The Feminine Mystique, was powerful and polarizing. As a journalist she covered racism, sexism, labor, class inequality, and anti-Semitism. As a wife and mother, she struggled to balance her work and homemaking. Her malaise as a housewife and her research into the feelings of other women resulted in The Feminine Mystique, which made her a celebrity.
Using her influence, Friedan cofounded the National Organization for Women, the National Women’s Political Caucus, and the National Association to Repeal Abortion Laws. She fought for the Equal Rights Amendment, universal childcare, and workplace protections for mothers, but she disagreed with the women’s liberation movement over “sexual politics.” Her volatility and public conflicts fractured key relationships.
For this episode we are pleased to discuss the full complexity and impact of Friedan with scholars Rachel Shteir and Katherine Turk. Shteir is the author of Betty Friedan: Magnificent Disruptor. Turk is the author of The Women of NOW: How Feminists Built an Organization That Transformed America. You can read their full bios below.
Rachel and Katherine are interviewed by Nate King, Digital Content Associate at the American Writers Museum. This conversation originally took place August 25, 2023 and was recorded over Zoom.
Rachel Shteir is an award-winning essayist, writer, and critic, and is head of the Dramaturgy and Dramatic Criticism Program at the Theatre School at DePaul University. She is the author of Striptease: The Untold History of the Girlie Show, Gypsy: The Art of the Tease, and The Steal: A Cultural History of Shoplifting. She lives in Chicago, IL.
Katherine Turk is the author of Equality on Trial: Gender and Rights in the Modern American Workplace, which was awarded the Mary Nickliss Prize in U.S. Women’s and/or Gender History from the Organization of American Historians. She is an Associate Professor of History and Adjunct Associate Professor of Gender Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.