Panel Hails 50th Anniversary of Friedan's "Feminine Mystique"

Nancy F Cott, Ariela Dubler, and Stephanie Coontz. Photo by Heather LathamNancy F Cott, Ariela Dubler, and Stephanie Coontz. Photo by Heather Latham
Harvard Crimson
November 20, 2013
By Vimal S. Konduri

The Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study commemorated the 50th anniversary of Betty Friedan's book "The Feminine Mystique" Tuesday by hosting a panel discussion on the evolution of gender roles since the book's release and the book's relevance to contemporary American society.

The panel was moderated by History Professor Nancy F. Cott, who directs The Schlesinger Library, which houses Friedan's papers.

Panelists included Evergreen State College Professor Stephanie Coontz, who recently published a book on American women in the 1960s, and Columbia Law School Professor Ariela R. Dubler '94, who specializes in constitutional and family law.

"The event was [held] to mark this fiftieth [anniversary] to reflect on Friedan's importance, but I had decided that it might be more interesting for audiences today to think about the contemporary world rather than again hash over Friedan," Cott said.

Throughout the panel, Coontz focused her remarks on the progress that has been made in achieving gender equity since the publication of "The Feminine Mystique."

"This is not your grandfather's patriarchy. We are not living in even your father's privilege," Coontz said.

Despite acknowledging these improvements, however, Coontz also emphasized that much has yet to be achieved.

"The mechanisms [of] gender inequality are now much more circuitous, much more indirect than they used to be," she said. "The ways in which this inequality [has] changed have made it necessary, I think, in one ironic way, to go back to Friedan's book."

Dubler echoed Coontz's statements and said that she was "incredibly stuck" at the state of the conversation on gender roles fifty years after "The Feminine Mystique."

"This country is still collectively engaged in a very gendered conversation among and about women and about home and work," she said.

Among the other topics discussed during the two-hour conversation, both Coontz and Dubler said that the problem of work-family balance should not apply solely to women.

"[Work-family balance] is still a conversation that assumes that work and family is fraught terrain for women and just a way of life for men," Dubler said, citing Barack Obama's recent commencement speech at Barnard College as an example.

Those who attended the event said that they enjoyed listening to the panelists speak about their areas of expertise and relate contemporary issues to Friedan's 50-year-old book.

"I thought the event was incredibly impressive. I thought it really brought the conversation to today in a very optimistic way but yet not ignoring the issues that still underlie our society," Allison A. Hill-Edgar '94 said.

"I do a lot of lectures around the country where I just pop off for an hour straight... so it was a lot more fun to have the give and take with the other person, ask interesting questions, and then to leave a lot of time for the audience," Coontz said.

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