'Anger Boiled Up, and Betty Friedan Was There': 'Feminine Mystique' at 50

She went to college for a year but her parents took her out because her sisters had not gone to college, and they thought that if one couldn't get to do it, the other shouldn't do it. I don't know how much she fought it—she didn't talk about it when we were growing up. She was very much the full-time housewife. I think she enjoyed that role. Later on, when we were grown, I think she felt she could've done more. A lot of things I did, I did in part because she influenced me so much. She thought they were really cool, writing or public speaking—stuff like that. Once I started doing it, I think, in her older years, she thought she should've done it too. But that was much later on.

Do you remember reading The Feminine Mystique for the first time?

I don't, but I could look back on what was going on with me and my friends, and so much of it reflected the conversation that was going on around that book. I don't remember that great "aha" moment, but it's hard for me to divide in my mind what was coming directly at me with what was being filtered down from the cosmos.

Did you have female role models? There weren't many female journalists at the time.

None whatsoever. I remember going to this all-girls Catholic school, and at one point they brought in this graduate who had a job as a contributor at the local Diocesan paper, which was the most glamorous thing we'd heard of in our lives, so that goes to show something. It was a weird time. The economic sense of possibility was so great when I was growing up that my parents had no question that I could do anything I wanted to do, even as a girl. I've always believed that the economics of a story intersects with the women's story—that stuff often happens at the time it happens because of the economy.

In 1960, 60 percent of women entering college didn't graduate. Many dropped out once they became engaged. When you enrolled at Marquette University, did you have plans for a career after college?

It was just a given that I would go to college. The suburb I lived in was not awash with academic people. So my father went back to the Catholic university where my grandfather had gone and sought advice from the priest about where the best place to send me would be. The priest said if the goal was for me to find a good Catholic husband, I should go to this all-girls Catholic school that was high-end. He said, "She should go there because the Kennedy girls have gone there." It was regarded as the best possible place to go if your idea was to marry a good Catholic boy. But he said, "If she's planning on doing something, like writing, Marquette has the best journalism program." That was the information that was brought back home. So I went to Marquette.

Was there a moment when you decided you are a feminist?

You hear younger women say, "I don't believe I'm a feminist. I believe women should have equal right and I believe in fighting for the rights of other women, but I'm certainly not a feminist. No, no, not that!" It's just a word. If you called it "Fred" would it be better? There've only been about five seconds in American history when the word "feminist" is popular. So you come up with another one.

I spent my college years saying, "our issues here are civil rights and the war in Vietnam. And it took me until I got out in the world to realize I was being completely ridiculous. I slowly figured out I was part of the group, and it was central to my identity. It's the moment you think, "what am I?" And you say, "I'm a leftist," or "I'm a rightist" or "an Ohioan" or "doctor" or whatever. But when you say, "I'm a woman," how soon does that come up? It took me until I was out in the workplace working with other women to understand how important it was.

What, if any, obstacles did you face in the workplace?

I'm happy that comes up, because I really didn't encounter that problem. The women who came in two minutes ahead of me, historically speaking, got in the face of their publishers or editors or bosses, but didn't get the rewards. I got the rewards. Women who get to have the editorships or the good assignments don't get the chance to thank the women who were one second ahead of them.

The problem Friedan illustrated "had no name." Do you think there's a modern version of this problem? Something we've missed?

Women's voices are so powerful now. I don't worry that they won't find ways to define their issues. I look around me and see all these incredible young women who are writing and talking about stuff. The most interesting thing is when I run into young women who grew up thinking there were no issues regarding gender left. When they got into work, they were being deliberately discriminated against, but they would complain that it's less easy to bond with the guys and work on the same level as the guys in some industries. They just feel a little bit left out. They don't know what to do, because the idea that you'd be discriminated against as a woman is so outlandish in this day and age. The answer is to talk to other women. You make friends with and support other women in the workplace. There seems to be a real issue there that is outside the expectations of women today.

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Hope Reese is a writer and editor based in Louisville, Kentucky. She writes for The Boston Globe, The Chicago Tribune, and The Paris Review. She also hosts a radio podcast for IdeaFestival. Her website is hopereese.com.

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