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The Name-Giver: A Tribute to Betty Friedan (1921-2006)

By February 6, 2006

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Betty Friedan, author of The Feminine Mystique (1963) and one of the leading individuals responsible for launching second-wave feminism, died February 4th.

It would be difficult to overstate Friedan's importance to the feminist cause. She was arguably the most visible American feminist of her generation, and one of the first to persuasively make the case before the American people that women have the right to pursue career tracks other than daughter-wife-mother-matriarch, the right to assert themselves, and the right to be taken seriously as a political force.

Feminist blogger Echidne of the Snakes explains Friedan's significance:

I regard her as a name-giver, one of those who sees something we all see but goes one step further and defines the phenomenom, organizes it and tells us what it is called. Because so many women identified with what she described the relief from having it named and explained was enormous. No longer did individual women feel all alone, vaguely disgruntled, worried about their mental health or their perfection as a loving wife; instead, it was possible to discuss this condition and that was the first stage of doing something about it.

Name-giving is powerful, because a name given at the right time can energize a movement that barely existed until that point, and this is what Friedan's book did, though only for straight, educated, middle- and upper-class women. But it was a start, and the start turned into something more when other name-givers joined Friedan in the effort.

Friedan's power is reflected in the animosity she still provokes among the anti-feminists and wingnuts ... Thanks to her and other feminists working hard and courageously (for it does take courage to attack the society) in the 1960's and 1970's we no longer see "Help Wanted" ads segregated by sex and we no longer automatically expect that a newly married woman will quit her job. Thanks to them we also have other names for phenomena that long existed unnamed and under the radar: "domestic violence", "marital rape", "sexual harassment". Once names are given the phenomena can be truly seen, analyzed, debated and corrected.

Thank you for the names you taught us, Betty Friedan.


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