Fifty years ago this week, Betty Friedan published "The Feminine Mystique." The groundbreaking feminist text proclaimed that the stalled rigidity of sexual roles was out of step with the other transformations taking place in the 20th century. It was a call to action.
Friedan’s revolutionary book is widely credited with bringing women’s issues to the attention of mainstream America. However, there were serious shortcomings in her analysis, especially as it pertained to women of color in the US. Marcia Ann Gillespie, the first African American editor in chief of Ms. Magazine and freelance journalist Anna Holmes, founder of the website Jezebel, explain how Friedan's book resonated with women of color and the ways in which it has influenced the feminist movement.
When Gillespie read "The Feminine Mystique" for the first time in the late 1960s, she found the book to be a powerful testament to the struggles of middles class and upper-middle class white women -- but not necessarily women of color. "The world she was describing was not the world I knew," says Gillespie. "We come from a tradition in which we have always been here as workers. We were brought here to be workers."
Despite its shortcomings, Gillespie believes that aspects of "The Feminine Mystique" spoke to the gender inequality in the African American rights movement. According to her, the book served as a starting point for African American women to address those inequities. "Taking Friedan's message and reworking it-- putting it through the lens of our experience-- created our way of addressing those same issues," she says.
When freelance journalist Anna Holmes, founder of the website Jezebel, recently reread the book, she says even fifty years after its publication, some of its concerns felt a little too familiar. "I was struck by how little had changed in some ways -- in terms of the ways that consumer culture shapes a narrative about women's worth; their sexuality, their fertility, this kind of cult of parenthood -- the ways in which women are blamed for being mother's that are not good enough or too good."
"The issues are still with us," echoes Ms. Gillespie, "Anything that gets women and men thinking about these issues of inequality as they relate to gender, that's important."