Feminist author Betty Friedan dies on 85th birthday

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The Independent US

Betty Friedan, whose pioneering book, The Feminine Mystique, ignited the modern women's rights movement in the US in 1963 and opened the door to advances in sexual equality that today are largely taken for granted, died on her 85th birthday on Saturday at her home in Washington.

A family spokeswoman, Emily Bazelon, said that Ms Friedan, who will be remembered as one of the most transformative forces in post-second Word War America, died of congestive heart failure. Her funeral is planned for tomorrow.

When first published, The Feminine Mystique triggered a social upheaval that took decades to settle and which, in some respects - and certainly in some countries - is not yet over. In its pages, Ms Friedan tried to describe what she saw as a malaise among women who wanted more from their lives.

The book ensured Ms Friedan a place of leadership in the woman's rights movement that ensued, even though some of its factions at times regarded her as bourgeois and outmoded. She was a co-founder of the National Organisation for Women, NOW, becoming its first president in 1966. She went on to forge the National Women's Political Caucus in 1971 with other activists such as Gloria Steinem and Bella Abzug.

Battles fought by Ms Friedan and her feminist peers included expanding opportunities for women in education and the workplace, setting unisex standards in job advertising, broadening the rights of women to seek abortions and ensuring equal space for women in the American military and politics.

The Feminine Mystique came out at a time when most Americans saw nothing wrong with women contenting themselves with the role of housewife, raising children and supporting their husbands. It was the frustration that she sensed among women at that time that spurred her to write her book.

"A woman has got to be able to say, and not feel guilty, 'Who am I, and what do I want out of life?'" she said at the time of the book's publication. "She mustn't feel selfish and neurotic if she wants goals of her own, outside of husband and children."

Among those paying tribute to Ms Friedan yesterday was Eleanor Smeal, a former president of NOW and currently the president of the Feminist Majority Foundation. She said Ms Friedan "was a giant for women's rights and a leading catalyst of the 20th century whose work led to profound changes improving the status of women and women's lives" worldwide.

Kim Gandy, the current president of NOW, said that The Femine Mystique, "opened women's minds to the idea that there actually might be something more. And for the women who secretly harboured such unpopular thoughts, it told them that there were other women out there like them who thought there might be something more to life."