Allen's Blog

50 Years Since Betty Friedan’s ‘The Feminine Mystique’

Writer Betty Friedan in 1974

A lot of media attention last week marked the 50th anniversary of The Feminine Mystique, written by Betty Friedan. And so time flies, since it was forty years ago, on the book’s 10th anniversary that I photographed Ms. Friedan for The Saturday Review, a magazine for which I shot many stories and a lot of covers. Working for SR was always interesting, and my range of assignments covered the arts, politics, even professional sports.

At the time of its publication, and for years to come, the book and author were household words. Here’s a very well-written appreciation of both, from New York Times critic Janet Maslin. Speaking personally, I can remember working in television at CBS in the ‘60s, when women were not permitted to wear pants, and I’m not talking about jeans …. Tailored. Wool . Pants. There were no women on the studio floor, except as makeup artists (and men were as common in that role). As women emerged into television production, I remember working with one technical director who after a difficult live broadcast (with a number of glitches) broke into tears once we were ‘dark.’ When I asked her why, her answer wasn’t about the mistakes she had made, but it was that I hadn’t yelled at her. There are a number of web sites featuring print ads from the post-war era that will give you a clear idea of how women were regarded by advertisers. Or, you can just watch Mad Men or reruns of Leave it to Beaver.

After you read through Janet Maslin’s piece, you may be drawn to the book, now much easier to find, since it has been reissued. In the past week, I’ve asked a number of women in their 30s and 40s if Betty Friedan’s name and The Feminine Mystique are recognizable to them… not one positive reply.