Finding our way: Friedan, Steinem, and the fight for the women's movement, 1960-1980

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Southern New Hampshire University
The recent re-emergence of the women’s movement after the 2016 presidential election has generated new interest in understanding the hardships that the second-wave of feminism faced in an effort to avoid those conflicts as the movement continues. Studying Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan from the time period of 1960-1980 provides a catalyst to understanding the challenges the women’s movement faced within itself and from outside the movement. By considering each activist’s writings, speeches, biographies, the historiography of their lives, and influence on the movement, as well as the media and the publics reaction to them, this project looks at how the movement began as one, fragmented into many parts, and in the end came back together to fight for women’s rights instead of against women’s progression. The central argument that drove the research was that Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem’s relationship was as complicated as the movement, and their disagreements were not detrimental to the movement, as often portrayed by the media at the time, but rather forced the leaders to consider their representation of all women within the movement. The early stage of the second-wave of feminism is often criticized for lacking diversity, and Friedan and Steinem are often pointed at as the cause. Through her iconic book, The Feminine Mystique, Friedan wrote of the plight of the housewife by interviewing her classmates from college, all middle-class and educated, white women. Her book was criticized for lacking any mention of black women, poor women, or uneducated women. Later, Steinem enters the women’s movement with the purpose of including more women and not just the housewife. However, her publication Ms. magazine was criticized in its early stages for employing mostly white women and encouraging women to see themselves as the “same”, essentially ignoring the fact that the movement was made up of many different kinds of women. The contradictions within the movement are a reflection of the women that led it. By delving deeper into Friedan and Steinem’s relationship with each other, as well as their relationship with the movement, one can grasp a better understanding of how these two feminist icons fought not only for women but for the movement they represented. (Author abstract)