The amnesia didn’t take long to set in. Feminists of the late 1960s and early 1970s spent years fighting for reforms they hoped would transform marriage, work, and domestic life. But by the end of the ’70s, the Fordham University history professor Kirsten Swinth notes in her new book, Feminism’s Forgotten Fight, even the feminist movement’s own one-time leaders were accusing it of ignoring women’s family lives in favor of their sex and professional lives. Betty Friedan, the author of the seminal feminist text The Feminine Mystique, said in 1979 that the movement had misguidedly devoted its efforts to fighting “for equality in terms of male power” and had insisted on “full participation, power, and voice in the mainstream, inside the party, the political process, the professions, the business world,” thereby making feminism a movement exclusively for women who prioritized political and professional success above all else.
“Efforts to transform marriage, men, and household labor,” Swinth writes, “disappeared in Friedan’s story of the movement, as did struggles for workplaces accommodating to mothers.”
That revisionist history of second-wave feminism has become, over time, the dominant history of second-wave feminism, Swinth argues—and Feminism’s Forgotten Fight aims to act as a corrective. It chronicles in careful detail the efforts by feminist activists both male and female to remold the structures of family and work life that had historically contributed to a thankless and even punishing existence for most women—a quest Swinth describes in the book as “relentless and resentful, but sometimes hilarious and hopeful.”