When Betty Friedan wrote The Feminine Mystique — the now-classic book that turns 50 next week and is generally credited with launching the modern women’s movement in America — unmarried women in more than half the United States weren’t allowed access to contraception. Married women in some states couldn’t sit on juries, get a job without their husband’s permission, or keep control of their property and earnings.
Today that world seems almost quaintly remote: an exotic long-lost era we revisit with love-hate fascination by watching Mad Men. The “happy housewifes heroines” of those years are grandmothers now, and a great many — having found new lives beyond their homes in the 1970s (whether by choice or necessity) — bear little resemblance to the “sweet, simpering and sort of stupid” femininity that Friedan once described as the ideal of her day.
The above excerpt was originally published in TIME.
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