The Feminist Mystique and Mass Media:
Implications for the Second Wave
In 1962, the editor-in-chief of the New York publishing house, the Norton
Company, was skimming Harper's magazine in a routine trolling for possible
Norton writers. What caught George Brockway's eye was an article predicting the
consequences of a meltdown of the arctic ice cap--not such an odd subject for a
nation in expectation of nuclear meltdown. "The piece was well organized and
well written," he recalled. "I thought Betty might have a book in her, although
perhaps not on this particular subject. So I wrote her."
What later arrived on Brockway's desk was the prospectus for Betty's Friedan's
The Feminine Mystique, initially titled, "The Togetherness Woman." "I fell in
love with in at once," Brockway recalled. " The title, of course, traded on The
Organization Man, which then was, or had recently been, a best seller; and one
of the women's magazines had been running an ad campaign about the Togetherness
Woman" (Brockway 1996).
The welcome Norton gave the prospectus illustrated the company's effort to
replicate the success of the mass media women's magazines in reaching the women
who had settled in the suburbs following the post-war building boom and a
market, except for cook books, largely untapped by major book publishers.
Doubleday Company was on the same track, having hired a longtime magazine
editor, Margaret Cousins, to find that mode of entry (Bradley 1995). Norton's
welcome to Friedan's idea was thus not a revolutionary matter. Here was an idea
that was actually about the very market to whom Norton sought to sell. "I don't
remember anything extraordinary or important that I did," Brockway said. "Betty
knew what she wanted to say, and she said it well" (Brockway 1996).
The Feminist Mystique sold well in hardcover, 70,000 copies by 1970, but
achieved best-seller status when it moved to paperback sale--1.5 million copies
by the end of the decade. The quick publication of the book in paperback also
represented the intersection of the book with changes in the paperback market.
No publishing house was more involved in the paperback revolution than Friedan's
paperback publisher, Dell, which had begun as a house publishing standard
romance, mysteries, westerns and comic books, but like other houses was finding
new profits in subjects that had once been in the purview of hardback houses.
This was no rush into academic publishing. Dell titles were "carefully edited
to make exciting and understandable presentations that would interest the
average readers" (Lyles 1983: 20). Friedan's book easily met this standard.
Nonetheless, the book was primarily selected, according to editor Don Fine,
because of pressure "from every woman in my office." At Dell, "every women in
the office" carried some weight; the women included Arlene Donovan, former
receptionist who had risen to be editor of Dell's First Editions, Marcia
Nassatir, assistant editor at Del Books, and, most formidably, the company's
chief executive officer, Helen Meyer, once a file clerk herself but by this time
the powerful, imperious and demanding chief executive officer who was exerting
new control over Dell's paperback roster. Under Meyer, Dell paperbacks had
already broken new ground in publishing books by women who were not shy about
writing about women's sexuality, as in Francois Sagan's A Certain Smile, and
conclusively demonstrated by the nine-million-book bestseller, Peyton Place.
Friedan's book was not expected to compete in the Peyton Place arena, although
it could be considered Dell's answer to Bantam, which had already published
Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex. Despite Fine's claims to be "bulldozed"
into the decision to published Friedan's work, the book's purchase price
indicated that the house recognized the book's commercial possibility. "We
didn't pay much, but it was considered a lot for a book of its kind," Fine
recalled. The judgment quickly proved sound. "Within months after it was
published, there was an interesting sign. I think it was Vassar that bought
copies of the Dell edition for its freshman kits for the incoming class. That's
a hell of a tip-off. It had already become something for young, intelligent
women. And then it just spread. Garden clubs started calling to talk to Betty.
She was all over the country. Again it was the exposure of the book. It sold
millions of copies" (Davis, K. 104).
The publishing history of The Feminine Mystique is offered here to make the
point that is sometimes forgotten in the references to the book as the benchmark
event that ushered in the second wave: The Feminine Mystique was a mass media
product aimed at meeting the market demands of its time. Similarly, the book was
marketed in ways that distanced Friedan from her radical past. Friedan was not
the simple suburban housewife of the standard portrayal, but was instead a
professional author who shaped her ideas to be acceptable to the mass media
While there is no doubt that The Feminist Mystique deserves its place as a
benchmark event, to examine the book as a mass media product is to begin an
examination of the influence of mass media on the second wave of feminism. I
suggest these influences were several. As a commercial product, The Feminist
Mystique helped define the second wave by connecting it to the popular ideas of
the day-- one consideration in understanding the short crest of the second wave.
As a commercial success, however, The Feminist Mystique set the second wave
along a trajectory that encouraged feminism to be defined in the simple
characterizations that fit the needs of mass media. The news tradition that
calls for balance, for example, encouraged the presentation of oppositional
points of view so that second-wave feminism often seemed to be an either-or
choice. Such shaping of feminism by mass media was further encouraged by
Friedan as she moved from bestselling author to feminist leader. She would
become the first of a phalanx of feminist leaders who would emphasize mass media
to achieve feminist goals despite their recognition of the institutional biases
of mass media.
The Familiar Framing of The Feminist Mystique
The success of the book and Friedan's subsequent career as a feminist leader
has clouded the commercial underpinnings that prompted her to write the book.
The Feminist Mystque emerged from a time when she was establishing a freelance
magazine career, as suggested by her article in The Writer, "How to Find and
Develop Article Ideas," which appeared shortly after the book's publication
(Friedan 1964). By her own account, Friedan saw the book in terms of a single
event, not the opening salvo of her connection to a social reform movement,
noting that she expected to go to graduate school once the manuscript was
completed (Friedan 1997: 379). However, the marketing of the book, then her
leadership positions, later encouraged Friedan to define the book in terms of
revolutionary concepts rather than commercial values. She wrote the book, she
has said, because the women's magazines would not publish what she really wanted
to say (Friedan 1997:7)--although, of course, women's magazines were not the
only market available to her. But as early as 1960, she had already framed
feminism in commercial terms. The book's thesis, in fact, was published in Good
Housekeeping in her article that year, "I Say: Women are people too!" "It not
easy to put into words a feeling and problem that women find harder to talk
about than almost anything else--including sex," the article began in describing
almost exactly what the book would later identify as "the feminine mystique."
"It is in fact such a complex and elusive problem that--as prevalent as it
is--there is not as yet a psychological term to describe it" (Friedan 1960:59).
To examine The Feminist Mystique as a mass media product is to view the book in
developmental rather than revolutionary terms. As Joanne Meyerowitz argues, the
book did not present alternatives to what the women's magazines offered as much
as it expanded upon themes that were already under discussion in those
magazines, and, as I explore, presented in ways that were familiar to their
readers. Indeed, as part of its marketing plan, the book was excerpted by
several of the women's magazines, indicating both its style and substance were
consistent with other editorial matter. The style and substance, I suggest, was
not only in gathering up the feminist strains that Meyerowitz mentions, but in
the way Friedan put in service to its theme of feminist awakening a variety of
Cold War fears that were marginally related to twentieth century feminism but
were meaningful to the readers of the time.
Re-reading Friedan is to be still overrun by the assertive voice and the
barrage of evidence that Friedan marshals to support her cause. Like the
shelves of the Fifties' supermarket, the contents of The Feminine Mystique run
to abundance, culling evidence from recognizable sources--mass media,
institutional icons, government reports, extracts from newspapers, and her
famous Smith College survey. Friedan's work was far from sociological or
scientific, but presented the kinds of proofs that readers of service magazines
had come to expect and trust. Friedan's Smith College survey would have a
familiar ring to readers of women's magazines and their long tradition of reader
surveys as would be her anecdotal style. Indeed, the book, represented a
compilation of magazine strategies-- the professional voice of the advice
columnist; the anecdotal and other "proofs" of the non-fiction articles; the
small but achievable steps presented by the self-help articles, and the
epiphanic moments of realization that routinely climaxed romantic fiction.
Overarching it all was Friedan's didactic tone, as authoritarian as any taken by
Edward Bok in addressing Ladies' Home Journal readers a half century before.
But as in her article on the arctic ice cap, Friedan's brilliance as a
commercial writer was demonstrated not only by her ability to introduce feminism
by way of a familiar journalistic framework, but also in the way she gathered up
the themes of the period and focused them into the cause. Most telling is the
organizing principle of the book: feminism as a reaction against the
anti-feminist, the difficult-to-define, only slowly understood, "mystique."
As we know from Brockway's account, the book was first to be called "The
Togetherness Woman," a title that would have reflected the theme of McCall's
magazine, "the magazine of togetherness." Apart from avoiding the possibility
of McCall's' objections, Friedan's final title was also the better choice. In
fact, its very vague exoticism, a matter of concern Carl Friedan who played a
role in the book's promotion (Wilkes 1970) may be thought to represent the Cold
simmering below the surface of the Fifties' prosperous security. As we know,
fear of the bomb was translated into a number of popular culture venues in the
white America of the period, from alien invasion movies to the "invasion" of
open sexuality in the music emerging from the black underclass. The astonishing
success of Mickey Spillane's novels has been to connected to Mike Hammer,
Spillane's hero, as the "ultimate Cold War warrior" who battled the evil of
Communism with "a blast from his forty-five, a kick that shattered bone on
impact, strangulation from Hammer's meaty hands." After the 1960 U-2 spying
incident, the anti-Communism theme was carried forth by a new paperback hero,
James Bond, "a high-tech Mike Hammer" (Davis 1884: 182, 286). In both cases,
the anti-Communist fighters were also sexist, racist, homophobic and
anti-Semitic. Not surprisingly, then, the anti-communist culture in the 50s
carried with it overtones that had little to do with Soviet domination and
played a role in the discomfort of the age. "For all their comforts," Todd
Gitin writes, "the middle- class parents were afflicted by 'insecurity,' to use
another of the decade's code words." The apprehension could be found in several
spheres: a growth of the life insurance business, the use of psychiatrists, and
a series of best sellers where success had to be justified "as an instrument of
self-fulfilment." Cutting across all its expressions, however, was the common
terror: the Bomb. "Everything might be possible? So might annihilation" (Gitlin
1987: 17,18, 22).
Friedan was to identify the amorphous dread that characterized so much of the
Fifties' decade as the "feminist mystique," although the unsettledness of female
suburban readers may have had to do with a multitude of factors that included
but was not limited to the role of women in U.S. society. However, what may
have accounted for the life-changing experience that the book provided to so
many readers (Friedan 1988) was how Friedan took on the mystique, a virtual
one-woman dismantlling of the ultimate weapon. In hyperbolic prose (notably
when she drew an analogy between American housewives and Nazi concentration
camps, certainly one example where her style did not mesh with the service
magazines), Friedan deconstructed and defused the mystique with as much
confidence and with the same meat-cleaver approach as Mike Hammer. The mystique
had taken hold because of a confluence of circumstances: Sigmund Freud and his
followers; missteps in sociology; the anthropology of Margaret Mead; women's
magazines; advertising; the glorification of housework. The damage was already
considerable -- women's passivity, uneasiness and suicidal tendencies,
altogether a kind of virile sickening of American women in yet another
translation of another Fifties' great fear, polio. Friedan, ever the authority,
was also a diagnostician: "As a magazine writer I often interviewed women about
problems with their children, or their marriages, or their houses, or their
communities. But after a while I began to recognize the telltale signs of this
other problem" (Friedan 1997: 20). Like the domestic Communist threat, the
mystique was insidious and unexpected.
Friedan could be both expert and front-line crime fighter, but in the end, like
the authors of The Organization Man, The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, and
Marjorie Morningstar, she could only point to solutions by individual roads.
Friedan looked back to the themes of the Fifties rather than acknowledge those
themes emerging The silences in The Feminine Mystique are considerable.
Systemic perpetrations of female inequality go unquestioned. Political activity
is mentioned briefly in the historical terms of the first wave--the "passionate
journey" in Friedan's emotional language, rather than the ongoing activities of
the Women's Party to pass the Equal Rights Amendment or the campaign to
establish the Commission on the Status of Women. Despite the blossoming civil
rights movement, issues of race and class are ignored. Similarly passed over
are the benefits of inexpensive female labor to American business, a major
denial of her work as a labor journalist. These absences can be better
understood when the The Feminist Mystique is considered a Cold War document.
The hyperbolic language notwithstanding, the conservatism of the book had less
to do with its emphasis on suburban woman than its transformation into a
feminist context the fears and expressions of the previous decade. There is
little in the pages of The Feminist Mystique, for example, that reflected the
optimism that emerged with presidency of President John F. Kennedy, noting only
in passing the establishment of the President's Commission on the Status of
Women (Friedan 1997:372).
The strategic silences of the book become even more telling when it is
considered that Friedan subsumed her own background in order to fashion a
commercial vehicle. As Daniel Horowitz has explored, Friedan was far from the
traditional suburban housewife that she characterized herself in the book (and
forever after in her speeches and writings). Friedan was most different from
the readers to whom the book was marketed because of the dozen years, from 1941
to 1952, she had spent as a radical political activist and labor journalist.
Friedan was first a paid writer for the Federated Press, a left-wing news
service, and then wrote for publications sponsored by the United Electrical,
Radio and Machine Workers, the most pro-Communist of all American unions in the
postwar period. In 1952, under her unmarried name, Betty Goldstein, she wrote
the pamphlet, UE Fights for Women Workers, calling for an end to wage
discrimination. Friedan's work for the leftist United Electrical Workers Union
clearly connected her to the radical left thought that was increasingly
addressing the concerns of women (Horowitz 1996).
In the mid-Forties, 1945, during the period when Friedan was likely to be
influenced, the party began to examine its position on women in ways that were
to influence the second wave (Weigand 1995). Even if Friedan had not been
actively part of these discussions, it is likely, given her role as a writer for
the left, that she would have been influenced by the ether of the time -- from
Mary Inman's 1940 book, In Woman's Defense, which called for housework to be
regarded as productive labor to the founding of the Congress of American Women
(CAW) in 1946 by Party women. In 1947, at a meeting that Friedan could hardly
have overlooked given her job and her location, the CAW brought together
affiliates of 57 women's organizations for its first northeastern conference
(NYT 6/7/47: 11).
Finally, it should be noted that attention to women's concerns was not only in
the purview of the left. New York in the mid-Forties was the center of activism
on behalf of women as illustrated by the continuing activity of the National
Women's Party for the Equal Rights Amendment, the United Nations' attention to
women's concerns around the world, which received attention in the New York
press, an explosion of "women of the year" awards that were based on individual
achievement rather than husbandly status, the ubiquitous presence of Eleanor
Roosevelt in the public sphere; and a mounting account of women's "firsts" (New
York Times Index 1945-47). Every indication of her early adulthood, beginning
with her study at Smith College at a time when the college was known for its
radicalizing effect on students, followed by her years as a labor journalist,
give evidence that by the time she wrote The Feminist Mystique, Friedan was not,
herself, the emerging, tentative feminist of "the problem that has no name."
Given the period in which she was writing, it is hardly surprising that Friedan
chose not to acknowledge her own influences, although it is less clear why, even
today, she continues to present her own awakening to feminism in terms of her
reaction to her suburban "housewife" experience (Friedan 1997: 5). On the few
occasions when she has discussed her Marxist period, it has been done in
dismissive terms: "[We] had considered ourselves part of the vanguard of the
working-class revolution, going to Marxist discussion groups and rallies at
Madison Square Garden and feeling only contempt for dreary bourgeois capitalists
like our fathers--though we still read Vogue under the hair dryer, and spent all
our salaries on clothes at Bergdorf's and Bendel's, replacing our college
Braemar sweaters with black cashmeres and Gucci gloves on sale" (Friedan 1976:
Because of the influence of her book, Friedan's disinclination to acknowledge
the sources of her feminism is of more than anecdotal interest. Friedan may
indeed have given up Marxist political philosophy after she left labor
reporting--there certainly has been no indication in the many intervening years
that she seeks to promote a Marxist agenda. Nonetheless, it is to strain
credulity to believe that the activities of the CAW at the time she was writing
on women's issues for the UE played less of a role in her formation as a
feminist than the suburban activities she chronicles. Her rejection of her
radical influences, consciously or unconsciously, is of concern because it set
feminism along a road that excluded consideration of systemic issues that
surely had been part of her "Marxist discussion groups" in favor of an
understanding of feminism in a therapeutic, self-help model favored by mass
magazines. Each woman, on a one-by-one basis, needed only to understand the
conglomeration of forces that prevented her from achieving her full potential.
These were forces that were more accidental than designed so that feminism was
finally a matter of realization, a moment when the pieces fell together.
Friedan, to be sure, provided the heavy hand of guidance to these epiphanies,
the words of advice from an outsider who had herself just discovered the road.
(Friedan was an outsider, and this background may have been as much of an
influence on this mode of discussion as her understandings of commercial needs).
But with Friedan as the advice giver, showing others how to find a way in a
world not constructed for their benefit, the book was very much in tune with
another characteristic of mass women's magazine, the advice that in previous
generations had taught immigrant woman how to decorate their houses, dress, and
generally fit in with the majority culture. The book, indeed, concludes with a
chapter of "steps" for the reader to take on this road of self fulfillment
Feminism in this mode of epiphanic self understanding and self help was hardly
the call of the Congress of American Women for equality of all women across
racial, ethnic and class lines. If Friedan came to feminism by way of left
influences, as her early work record suggests, her construction of feminism in
The Feminist Mystique was not only a distortion of left ideas, but was, in the
mode of the time, even more insidious. Friedan was not simply presenting the
folk mote of unsophisticated feminist thought as she was putting forward a mask
of her own making in the guise of pulling away the veil of another. In this
sense, Friedan was not exploding any myths, mystique or otherwise, as much as
spinning familiar material, although, as in the concentration camp metaphor, in
sometimes baroque ways. Because the book demanded no shifts from a familiar
base, it might be argued that second wave feminism had already hobbled itself
even as it began its ascent.
The role of promotion
Norton had modest ambitions for the book, an initial press run of 3,000 volumes
after the Book-of-the-Month Club turned the book down because it had already
done a book on women (Brockway 1996). It does not discount Friedan's commercial
abilities to suggest the book may have not been successful if its publication
had not been accompanied by Friedan's promotional efforts. "I knew it was big,"
Friedan was quoted in a 1970 article, "but the book had to be promoted" (Wilkes
However, Norton's decision to go after the suburban market was not accompanied
by any new marketing plan, relying instead on the usual avenues of review. The
book received mixed reviews. A strong affirmation from Marya Mannes in the New
York Herald Tribune (NYHT 4/28/63), but a poor one in the New York Times Book
Review (NYTBR 4 /7/63:4), and those only after the New York newspaper strike
was over. Norton's lack of plans moved Friedan and her then-husband, Carl, an
advertising businessman, to insist Norton hire a publicist, not a usual
practice at the time. In a bitter episode that Friedan did not forget and led
to a break with Norton, the firm consented to hire Tania Grossinger (Wilkes).
As a result of Grossinger and the Friedan's' efforts, the women's magazines,
although attacked by Friedan in the book for helping establish the "mystique,"
were nonetheless helpful in marketing the book to the desired reader.s. Various
parts of the book were excerpted in Mademoiselle, McCall's, and the Ladies Home
Journal. Another excerpt appeared in the Saturday Review (Friedan 1962-64).
The marketing strategy carried out the book's emphasis--Friedan as the
frustrated suburban housewife who came to feminism as a way to put meaning in
her life. Long before the manuscript was completed, Friedan was called
a'"suburban housewife and mother of with three children" in the blurb
accomcompanying her 1960 Good Housekeeping article.(Friedan 1960:59). The
dedication of the book to her husband and children, even after her divorce,
furthered the perception that the book was primarily the result of her
experiences in domestic realms. Other parts of mass media picked up the theme.
In 1964, Life magazine called her as "an impassioned New York suburbanite" and
three of the accompanying four photographs place Friedan, smiling and
attractive, in domestic settings. (In contrast, the fourth photograph and lead
picture, where she is lecturing in a living-room setting, shows Friedan at her
most unattractive, an early evidence of the mass media framing of which
second-wave feminists so frequently complained) (Life 1964: 84). By 1970, by
then a national leader, Current Biography did not question the tether to her
suburban past, at this point calling her "an ex-suburban housewife" (Current
Biography 1970:146). Friedan made no effort to change this perception. When
pressed to tell more about her early life, Friedan produced the stereotype of
the unmarried career girl, telling a New York Post reporter in 1966 that before
her marriage she lived in Greenwich Village "with a bunch of other Smith and
Vassar girls" and held "the usual kinds of boring jobs that lead nowhere" (NYP
The success of the book coupled with its marketing strategy gave the Friedan
version of feminism an early start. Authenticated by her book as an "expert,"
Friedan (subsequently followed by other feminist leaders), was able to find a
place on newly developing talk shows aimed at women, and, by the late sixties, a
place on the television news agenda. Friedan's status as a best-selling author,
then as a feminist
leader, also made her popular speaker on the college lecture circuit. Although
the college lecture circuit as a promoter of feminism in the 1960s and 1970s has
not been explored, the availability of paid speaking engagements clearly served
as financial support for Friedan and many other feminist leaders and helped
build support for feminism across the nation.
The rise of opposition
Outside of the generally non-confrontal environment of the women's magazines
(the women's magazines did not "balance" the excerpts from The Feminist Mystique
with opposing points of view) and sympathetic venues such as the college lecture
halls, the argument of that each woman needed to identify the mystique on a
case-by-case basis was not so easy to sell. If feminism was a matter of
personal awareness, then individuals who opposed feminism could also base their
arguments on personal reaction. In retrospect, one can only be amazed by the
number of professional women of the time who initially rejected feminism. The
Washington Post publisher, Katherine Graham, only came to feminism after
personal consultation with Gloria Steinem in the 1970s. Her friend, columnist
Midge Greenfield, posted a sign on her office door, "If liberated, I will not
serve" (Graham 1997:421). Some of that resistance may be attributed by the
perception that feminism demanded a conversion, an awakening experience.
However, for Americans who did not respond to the rhetorical strategies of The
Feminist Mystique -- for whom conversion did not occur or for whom suburban
angst was not an issue -- feminism, like the anti-war movement, translated into
an either-or position that media attention exacerbated.
One result of the marketing of the book was its immediate framing in terms of
opposition. Oppositional framing fit easily into the journalistic ethic of
balanced reporting as well as the mass media entertainment ethic of something
for everyone. But it also turned feminism into something to be confronted.
Feminism became an issue that media framed as demanding an opposite point of
view. This served to put feminism in a defensive posture even as the second
wave was being invented. Unlike the 1940s, where feminism seemed a matter of
finding a place along a spectrum of thought (perhaps because feminism was not a
mass media "story" at the time), in the early 1970s the works of Helen Andelin,
George F. Gilder and Phyllis Schafley found national publishers eager to reach
yet new audiences made possible because such authors offered alternative
What is interesting is how quickly Friedan came to represent feminism as an
issue to be confronted. In the 1964 LIfe magazine story, Friedan was
characterized in its headline copy as an "Angry Battler for Her Sex" accompanied
by the picture already noted. Another early example of opposition was the
television "documentary," also in 1963, "Philco Presents The World's Girls,"
purporting to examine women's power around the world. Accompanied by jolly
music, a male commentator, and many shots of women in bikinis, the ABC "special"
found women's power not wanting. As in the Life article, Friedan was
characterized in negative ways. Utilizing film clips from her speech to the
National Women's Press Club, where, slim and well-groomed as appropriate to the
suburbanite woman whom she sought to represent, Friedan spoke clearly and calmly
about closing opportunities for young women, once again defining feminism in
terms of the magazines' therapeutic sensibility: "The terrible thing we are
doing in the name of femininity. We are preventing them from their growth as
human beings." These comments, hardly revolutionary, were nonetheless abutted
to an interview with Simone Signoret, who seemed to be answering Friedan
she said, "It's too complicated for me" as she affirmed her own satisfaction
with womanhood. "I"d rather be a woman," Signoret said, in an common framing of
the feminist movement as disaffection with female gender rather than the status
of female gender.
The following year, promoting her book newly out in a Dell paperback, Friedan
appeared on the daytime talk show "Girl Talk,"hosted by Virginia Graham, a woman
who had her own difficult climb in the male-dominated world of early television
broadcast (Graham 1967). Beginning in 1961 "Girl Talk" was syndicated by ABC
Films, a profitable compromise for networks uncertain about a show's
acceptability. While syndication could be slow to build an audience, as stations
could choose to take a program outside of network affiliation, the process also
gave the program time to develop appeal, and syndication probably contributed
to "Girl Talk's" eight-season run (1961-1968) on some 800 stations. As the
first successful television program to have a female host and female guests, the
format was designed to be gossipy and informal, its spark generated by bringing
unlike women together. As Graham described it, her guests were "people who
would never meet in life, never sit next to each other at a dinner party, never
glare at each other in contempt or purr silken insults at each other"
(Graham 1966:168). This concept led to a varied mix of guests, most
celebrities, but also writers and professional women--the primary necessity
being able to talk easily and wittily. Graham's job was to bring out the
opposite points of view in a lively, entertaining way, while she took on a
moderate or conservative road, presumably representing the point of view of her
viewers. Subjects for the show often reflected what was appearing in the mass
magazines of the day, and, like them, sometimes had an undercurrent that
questioned, mildly to be sure, accepted practices as demonstrated in the choice
of subject of its first show: Should husbands and wives take separate vacations?
Primarily, there was a mix to the daily shows, from the purely frivolous--the
Gabors were frequent guests-- to the timely, as a program on LSD, each subject
with a pro and con represented in a chatty, conversational style from a
comfortable, living room set (Graham 1978). For Friedan and her publisher, the
show offered a way to reach the female audience for whom the book had been
Friedan appeared on the show in 1964, three years into the show's run, when the
concept of spark by way of opposites was well established. Friedan was paired
with the arch English comic actress, Hermione Gingold, as her foil. Graham
prodded to instigate confrontation, as she did with all her guests, and was
delighted when "Hermione and Betty went after each other tooth and claw." She
recalled the program in terms of its entertainment values--"one of our funniest
shows" (Graham 1966:172) .Friedan, however, recalled Graham promoting
confrontation by asking her audience, "'Girls, how many of us really need
bylines? What better thing can we do with our lives than do the dishes for the
one we love?'" In response, Friedan recalled that she turned to the camera,
"Women, don't listen to her. She needs you out there doing the dishes, or she
wouldn't have the captive audience for the television program, whose byline she
evidently doesn't want you to compete for." (Friedan 1976:40).
In terms of the program, Friedan's response was not any more confrontal than
many on a program that sought lively and oppositional discussion. Nonetheless,
the "Girl Talk" episode furthered the idea that feminism as confrontal that
would frame the movement for years afterward as stridency became the
often-described characteristic of the movement. Notions of feminist stridency
were in full bloom in 1970 when Grossinger recalled her experience with Friedan
in a New York Times Magazine piece: "At first, Betty's enthusiasm was her worst
enemy; she would talk so fast nobody could understand. My pitch to the stations
was that she had an important book but that she had to be shut up. She was
willing to take some direction then, but now I see her on television and shudder
at this all-knowing monster I created. There were few stations that asked her
back because she was a tough interview. I can remember her confronting,
Virginia Graham on 'Girl Talk' and screaming, "if you don't let me have my say,
I'm going to say orgasm ten times'" (Wilkes 1970:30). Friedan's assertiveness
has never been in doubt, but as the second wave came to fruition, it seemed most
marked by hostility, even held by those women whom The Feminist Mystique had
originally sought to serve. In one of its surveys, McCall's' readers found
"stridency" the most objectionable part of feminism (McCall's April 1976:91).
Moving into Leadership
How did it happen that Betty Friedan, the commercial writer, led to Betty
Friedan, an accepted leader of feminism, a status she achieved even before she
helped establish the feminist organizations of the National Organization for
Women or the Women's Political Caucus?
First is to note Friedan's own willingness to take on the mantle of leadership,
although is not clear that when she wrote The Feminist Mystique if this was her
aim. But some time after she wrote The Feminist Mystique, Friedan evolved from
a writer on a reform issue to a leader of a social reform movement. This was
made possible not only by her own choice, but by the fact that the media allowed
her to take that position, first as part of the marketing of the book, and
secondly on the basis of the sale of her book. Its upshot, however, was, that
Friedan's leadership encouraged the second wave to put emphasis and faith in
media attention. Bella Abzug, no stranger to publicity herself, sounded a
caution in her 1972 memoir. "What distresses me most is that I know deep down
that Betty understands politics in the same way I do. This is why I can't
understand what she's up to. It doesn't add up." She concluded: "I'm
beginning to wonder ... if she realizes that forming a political movement is a
more complicated thing than giving lectures, writing books, having one-shot
demonstrations, and press conferences and appearing on the Dick Cavett Show. It
takes a lot more than that. It takes organizing and a real knowledge of how the
political machinery works" (Abzug 1977:160-161).
Abzug accurately identified the importance Friedan placed on mass media as she
took on the feminist leadership mantle that had been made possible by the fame
the book and its marketing had provided her. From the beginning, the founding
of NOW had a central role for mass media. In an early meeting even before the
national leadership had been established, Friedan brought together her friend,
the actress, Betty Furness, the ABC reporter and documentary producer, Marlene
Sanders, and the public relations expert, Muriel Fox, vice president of the
well-known public relations firm, Carl Byoir and Associates, to discuss NOW
"image.". The organization's board was established with a news conference on
October 29, 1966 in Friedan's apartment called by the experienced Muriel Fox,
who, with Furness, were members of NOW's first board (Carabillo 1993: 31). Fox,
in fact, was one of the several national NOW officials with substantial media
experience. The NOW Statement of Purpose specifically drew attention to the
mass media: "In the interests of the human dignity of women, we will protest and
endeavor to change the false image of women now prevalent in the mass media."
(Carabillo 1993:163). A Task Force on the Image of Women was established as one
of the eight original committees with the New York Committee on Image targeted
as its "nucleus" "because of its geographical location in relation to the
centers of the communication media" (Carabillo 1993:176). Friedan warned that
to achieve its goals NOW would use every lever available, including media: "We
don't even exclude the possibility of a mass march on on Washington" (Friedan
1976:98), a telling comment in its implication that media attention was the
penultimate political tactic.
In addition to its task force on the image of women, NOW also included a public
relations component for the organization that Fox chaired. In its first report,
the public relations committee reported its successes in terms of mass media:
Friedan's appearance as part of a two-hour program devoted to the subject by
NBC's "Today Show"; an article favorable to NOW in the Sunday newspaper
supplement, This Week ; major stories quoting NOW. Local NOW chapters were
urged to provide local angles to national NOW event but with cautions: "Don't
let the press lure you into a battle-of-the sexes approach...Don't participate
in a discussion that pokes fun at women" (Carabillo 1993:215-16).
The use of media to further NOW aims was soon demonstrated when NOW picked up
on the commission's goal of activating the Equal Employment Opportunity
Commission on behalf of women. NOW's first petition was to have the EEOC find
it illegal for newspapers to segregate "help wanted" advertisments by gender.
Here was a subject related to equal employment practices that affected many
women and was one of manageable scope. Under the leadership of Dolores
Alexander, a reporter at Newsday and member of the New York Task Force on the
Image of Women, NOW members picketed EEOC offices. One picket line was set up
outside the The New York Times. Picketers chanted "The New York Times is a
sex-offender" (Carabillo 1993:52). Early the next year Friedan threatened to
sue the government on the issue at an event at which television crews had been
invited. The publicity worked, a congressional hearing was called, and
segregated "help wanted" advertisements were eventually banned.
From its first success with the EEOC campaign, few NOW goals did not have a
media component. A "Pubic Accommodations Week" was designed to draw attention
to restaurants, bars and other pubic areas that barred women. The "action" also
served to be a training ground for its national coordinator, Karen DeCrow, who
held an undergraduate journalism degree and whose later administration as a NOW
president (1974-1977) depended heavily on mass media actions.Chapters in
Syracuse, Colchester (CT.), Pittsburgh, Washington, Atlanta, Chicago and Los
Angeles served up media events. New York was the most active of all, center of
national media as well as professional women in media, in events that have been
often summarized (Davis, F. 1991:110-133; Beasley and Gibbons 1993: 143-262).).
When Friedan stepped down from the NOW presidency, it was with the announcement
of an event that promised to dwarf all others, the "Women's Strike Day for
Equality" scheduled for August 26, 1970 in celebration of the fiftieth
anniversary of women's suffrage. In the style of her labor past, Friedan called
on a work stoppage to protest wage differentials between men and women: "[T]he
women who are doing menial chores in the office as secretaries put the covers on
their typewriters and close their notebooks and the telephone operators unplug
their switchboards, the waitresses stop waiting, cleaning women stop cleaning
and everyone who is doing a job for which a man would be paid more stop" (Hole
and Levine 1971:92). Strike committees were set up in cities across the nation.
Friedan was to be involved in the New York City march.
But not all feminists were pleased with the proposal. By the planning time of
the strike day, the splintering of the women's movement had led to the first
regional conference, the Congress to Unite Women, that included varied
oppositional women's groups. Although Friedan had not initially proposed the
strike day as a day to bring oppositional women's groups together for show of
unity, as the strike day approached clearly this became the focus. By the end of
the summer, attempts to overcome political divisiveness had transformed the
strike day from a day when women withheld their labor, with its clear
connections to Friedan's labor past, into a rite of intensification aimed at
celebrating female solidarity largely for the benefit of the news media. Three
goals--abortion on demand, 24-hour day care and equal opportunity in employment
and education--were put forward as a flag behind which women could demonstrate
their unity. The size of the demonstration became all important in this
construct of solidarity--the fear being that a small turnout would indicate
women's commitment was not widespread enough to warrant political action (Davis,
F. 19 :115).
There was plenty of advance publicity. For all its recalcitrance in providing
equal opportunities for its own women employees (Robertson 1988), the New York
Times was not stingy with its space. On the day itself, the Times gave it a
front-page story with a photograph of exuberant marchers as well as several
sidebars, including one about Friedan's visit to the hairdresser. But as
Douglas notes in her survey of the coverage, the Times chose not to interview
any of the women marchers or to discuss the issues involved in favor of
"balancing" the march with interviews with women who were not supporters,
turning what had attempted to be an inclusive event into one of win and loss.
Similarly, Time and Newsweek found it necessary to lace their stories with
opposite views, apparently intended to give their stories the gloss of
impartiality. Douglas notes that television carried out the presentation of the
strike in ways of conflict. Marchers were shown in angry scenes; their critics
in tranquil settings. "The network's pattern of framing the story, especially
[Richard] Threlkelds' segment, suggestion that most women were quite content
with their lot, were well treated financially and emotionally, and simply could
not comprehend a series of complaints that seemed exaggerated and irrelevant to
their lives" (Douglas 1994:184). Writing at the time, Midge Kovacs commented,
"With my own eyes, I had seen a cross-section of women at the march , including
establishment types, career women and many older citizens. But none of these
women were represented that evening on TV" (Kovacs 1972: 73). In 1974, the New
York-based Media Women, noted a common perception: "The August 26, 1970
strike--the biggest political demonstration by women in the history of the
United States--was covered in a haphazard and thoughtless manner"
Women's criticism of the march and the ongoing criticism of media itself did
not deter immediate march imitations, news conferences, or slow down other
events aimed at bringing media attention to feminism. By 1970, the call to
media attention by manipulated events was at epidemic proportions by many
feminist groups: the Miss America and other protests mounted by the Women's
International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell, better known at WITCH; the sit-in
of the Ladies Home Journal; the picketing of The New York Times; and the the
sit-in of CBS by Florynce Kennedy's Media Workshop (Kennedy 1976:57), as well as
the various actions promoted by NOW and its chapters. Writing in The New York
Times, Robin Morgan, a founder of WITCH, defended the movement's use of mass
media: "Leafletting on New York's Lower East Side for two years would not reach
the housewife in Escanaba, Mich. but thirty seconds on the six o'clock news
would. We were forced to use a medium which we knew was in the control of the
enemy, which we knew would distort and truncate and ridicule our issues and
politics. Even now, I am writing this in the context of The New York Times in
order to reach still more women. By any means necessary means just that. " She
urged interested readers to "'forget the newspapers of the Man's record'" in
favor of the women's alternative press (Morgan 1970:33).
As the new decade began, there could be no doubt that feminism had found a
place on the public agenda. "Women's liberation is hot stuff this season, in
media terms," Susan Brownmiller wrote in a New York Times Magazine article
(Brownmiller 1970: 27). What is less clear is the ultimate success of the
strategy. Thanks to women's activism in mass media, the feminist message was
heard in places like Escanaba, Mich. But its mass media conduit could only but
shape it on its way to its intended audiences. For Friedan and Morgan, the mass
media was to serve as an introductory step to feminism. But the various
framings that accompanied the mediated message made the achievement of the aim
problematical and may have provided new opportunities for feminist enemies.
Indeed, a quarter of a century later we might consider that the role of mass
media in the women's movement may be cautionary tale about the limits of mass
media, one that began in 1963 with the publication of Betty Friedan's The
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The Feminist Mystique and Mass Media:
Implications for the Second Wave
by Patricia Bradley, Ph.D.
Department of Journalism, Public Relations and Advertising
333 Annenberg Hall
`` Philadelphia, PA. 19122
([log in to unmask])
Submitted to the History Division, Association for Journalism and Mass
Communication, annual convention, Batimore, August 5-8, 1998.
"The Feminist Mystique and Mass Media:
Implications for the Second Wave"
The author calls for an examination of Betty Friedan's famous 1963 best seller,
The Feminist Mystique as a product of mass media, noting that it arrived at a
time when publishers were seeking to expand the book market to women suburban
readers and to replicate the success of other previous best sellers that took on
social commentary. As a professional magazine writer, Betty Friedan applied the
techniques of the women's magazines to the book and shaped feminism to be
acceptable to the audience to whom it was marketed, in so doing subsuming her
own background in the labor left in favor of a familiar, therapeutic, self-help
approach. The marketing of the book, Friedan's subsequent rise into feminist
leadership and her founding of the National Organization of Women with its
emphasis on media-designed "actions" placed continuing importance on mass media
in the distribution of the feminist message, despite the necessary constraints
that mass media would put on feminist messages.
The Feminist Mystique and Mass Media:
Implications for the Second Wave
The author posits that the success of The Feminist Mystique as a product
designed and marketed to a mass media audience influenced the feminist movement
by placing emphasis on the distribution of the feminist message by way of mass
media avenues. This served to shape the feminist message according to the needs
of mass media to the detriment of the movement at a time when it was trying to
establish itself as a political force.