The women's movement 50 years after 'The Feminine Mystique'

ERA anniversary
Devon Hartsough (L) and Keyanna Wigglesworth of the Alice Paul Institute join members of Congress and representatives of women's groups for a rally to mark the 40th anniversary of congressional passage of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) outside the U.S. Capitol March 22, 2012 in Washington, DC.
Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

"Gradually, without seeing it clearly for quite a while, I came to realize that something is very wrong with the way American women are trying to live their lives today."

Betty Friedan opened "The Feminine Mystique" with these words, a book that galvanized a generation of women and gave birth to second-wave feminism 50 years ago.

Historian Stephanie Coontz, who explored the impact of "The Feminine Mystique" in her book "A Strange Stirring," thinks that after decades of progress, gender equity has stalled. She wrote in The New York Times:

Today the main barriers to further progress toward gender equity no longer lie in people's personal attitudes and relationships. Instead, structural impediments prevent people from acting on their egalitarian values, forcing men and women into personal accommodations and rationalizations that do not reflect their preferences. The gender revolution is not in a stall. It has hit a wall.

Our goal should be to develop work-life policies that enable people to put their gender values into practice. So let's stop arguing about the hard choices women make and help more women and men avoid such hard choices. To do that, we must stop seeing work-family policy as a women's issue and start seeing it as a human rights issue that affects parents, children, partners, singles and elders. Feminists should certainly support this campaign. But they don't need to own it.

Coontz joins The Daily Circuit Tuesday, March 5, along with sociologist Philip Cohen, to discuss the state of gender equity 50 years after "The Feminine Mystique."


PBS Documentary: "Makers: Women who Make America"

Video roundtable from The New York Times: The Feminine Mystique, 50 Years Later

"Why Gender Equality Stalled," by Stephanie Coontz

Read: The Skeptical Early Reviews of Betty Friedan's "The Feminine Mystique" (The Atlantic)

Before you go...

MPR News is dedicated to bringing you clarity in coverage from our reporters across the state, stories that connect us, and conversations that provide perspectives when we need it most. We rely on your help to do this. Your donation has the power to keep MPR News strong and accessible to all during this crisis and beyond.