A new portrait of Betty Friedan, the author and activist acclaimed as the mother of second-wave feminism
Finalist, 2024 National Book Critics Circle Awards in Biography • A New Yorker Best of the Week Pick “A lucid portrait of Friedan as a bold yet flawed advocate for women’s equality.”—Publishers Weekly
The feminist writer and activist Betty Friedan (1921–2006), pathbreaking author of The Feminine Mystique, was powerful and polarizing. In this biography, the first in more than twenty years, Rachel Shteir draws on Friedan’s papers and on interviews with family, colleagues, and friends to create a nuanced portrait.
Friedan, born Bettye Naomi Goldstein, chafed at society’s restrictions from a young age. 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 (1963), 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.
Shteir considers how Friedan’s Judaism was essential to her feminism, presenting a new Friedan for a new era.
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.
A New Yorker Best of the Week Pick
“Rigorously fair.”—Moira Donegan, New Yorker
“A lucid portrait of Friedan as a bold yet flawed advocate for women’s equality.”—Publishers Weekly
“An evenhanded biography of a pugnacious revolutionary.”—Kirkus Reviews
“In her nuanced, insightful biography, Shteir recovers the life and legacy of women’s rights activist Betty Friedan. . . . [A] vivid portrait of an activist icon.”—National Book Review, “Hot 5” list
“A work of excellent scholarship. . . . Shteir tells all—[Friedan’s] triumphs, her failures; her strengths and weaknesses.”—Fran Castan, East Hampton Star
“[A] delightful, well-researched piece of work.”—Women in Judaism
2024 National Book Critics Circle Awards Finalist, Biography category
“Rachel Shteir offers a vivid portrait of Friedan as a person—her difficult character, her immense accomplishments, her relationships with friends and family, her struggles in personal, professional and political life. The time is ripe for a reevaluation of Friedan.”—Katha Pollitt, author of Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights
“Sympathetic but never less than clear-eyed, Rachel Shteir explores the achievements that put Betty Friedan at the center of the movement for women’s rights. An insightful and meticulously detailed portrait of one of America’s most successful political activists.”—Sigrid Nunez, author of Sempre Susan: A Memoir of Susan Sontag