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The Feminine Mystique, Betty Friedan (1963)

What do women want? To work.

Irin Carmon
September 17, 2013

It is a book said to have changed everything for American women that few of them actually read, according to historian Stephanie Coontz’s book on The Feminine Mystique. But 3 million copies of the book by the archetypal mouthy Jewess (often an imperfect, myopic prophet for the cause) somehow did the work. Part reportage, part critique of Freudian hegemony, and a good deal of media criticism—“I could not fit the quiet desperation of so many women into the picture of the modern American housewife that I myself was helping to create”—Friedan’s book sought to free women from “the comfortable concentration camp.” (Yes, really). She proposed in its place a model of female fulfillment through meaningful work that lingers on.

Irin Carmon is a senior correspondent at New York magazine and co-author of The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Her Twitter feed is @irin.