Claiming that feminism killed home cooking is not just shaming, it’s wildly inaccurate from a historical standpoint…As should be obvious to anyone who’s peeked at a cookbook from the late 1940s or early 1950s that promotes ingredients like sliced hot dogs and canned tomato soup, we’ve been eating processed crap since long before feminism. Yet the idea of the feminist abandoning her children to TV dinners while she rushes off to a consciousness-raising group is unshakable.
Not long after that, I was given Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique. The book, which I had always thought of as belonging to my mother’s generation, was published in 1963, the year before I was born; it has sold more than three million copies. I had never read it. I have since done an informal poll among women I know who teach in universities, and most of them not only have not read the book, but also looked startled when I asked them about it, as if I had mentioned the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Norton is republishing the book about “the problem that has no name” in a 50th-anniversary edition this month, with a new introduction by Gail Collins and an afterword by Anna Quindlen. The edition also includes Friedan’s epilogue, written at the 10-year mark, in 1973, by which time she had, among other things, helped found the National Organization for Women. In that epilogue, Friedan recalls how, in the 1960s, before she wrote the book, women’s-magazine editors had tried to force her to rewrite her articles to cater to their advertisers’ pro-housewife line, or else they killed the pieces.
Some things have changed less than we would like.