Modern Feminist Beginnings

Betty Friedan is often credited with launching modern feminism through her 1963 book The Feminist Mystique. The major thrust of her book was an attempt to describe "The Problem That Has No Name.”

 

The problem lay buried. For over fifteen years there was no word of this yearning in the millions of words written about women, for women, in all the columns, books and articles by experts telling women their role was to seek fulfillment as wives and mothers…

What was the cause of the unhappiness that many middle-class women felt in their “role” as feminine wife/mother/homemaker? This unhappiness was widespread—a pervasive problem that had no name.

Friedan did not blame men. She was, in fact, quite empathic to men’s own unhappiness. She referred approvingly to a 1962 Redbook magazine article titled “Why Young Husbands Feel Trapped.”

Unlike today’s feminist discourse, Friedan’s book asserted no allegations of male oppression of women. Quite to the contrary, she wrote

 

I never did see [the women’s movement] in terms of class or race: women, as an oppressed class, fighting to overthrow or take power away from men as a class, the oppressors. I knew the movement had to include men as equal members.

That call for inclusiveness and partnership with men was about to change.