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Berry Friedan & Susan Faludi

Two hundred and three years ago, Mary Wollstonecraft published A Vindication of the Rights of Women, and so launched feminism as an idea. There had been earlier women who might qualify as feminist, either in their thoughts (such as Christine de Pisan) or in their actions, such as Elizabeth I, or even more notoriously, Mary's contemporary Catherine the Great of Russia. But feminism as an idea hardly could exist before equality was established as a philosophical principle. Wollstonecraft set forth, in language no Enlightenment male could deny, the case for extending the equality of men to include women as well.

But whatever anxiety the Vindication's male readers felt about the women in their own lives, events soon put them at ease about the little dears. Wollstonecraft might have put a dangerous idea into circulation, but it long remained an idea without much effect, untroubling to men. Even when, a century later, women started dressing up in white and marching around shouting troublesome slogans about the franchise, the crisis was only fleeting. Once given the vote, women turned out to use it just about the way their men did, and in any case they quietly went back home and forgot this whole annoying business about women's rights.

Then, 161 years after Mary Wollstonecraft, Betty Friedan published The Feminine Mystique--and suddenly there was no end of trouble, trouble which shows no signs of letting up. This raises an obvious question: Why did The Feminine Mystique succeed in letting the genie out of the bottle, when arguably more brilliant and important works had not. The Vindication is surely, in world-historical terms, a more profound, important, and lasting work. Wollstonecraft launched an idea that had not previously existed in the world, and we can still read her today, two centuries later, not only as an argument for feminism but as one of the classics of Enlightenment thought and style. It may be doubted (and...

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Berry Friedan & Susan Faludi. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 21:31, May 27, 2020, from