“How does someone go against convention and advance an idea that’s not even in the public consciousness? I don’t know if you can do that and stay within the confines of civility.”
With her fantastic new biography, Betty Friedan: Magnificent Disrupter (Yale University Press), Rachel Shteir sheds light on a key figure in the women’s rights movement. We get into how Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique is being erased or glossed over by contemporary writing about women, how the 50th anniversary of TFM sparked this biography, the challenge of balancing Friedan with her work and threading her life and the massive shift in women’s rights she helped cause. We talk about Friedan’s involvement in Esalen & Human Potential Movement and how it influenced her later work, why knowing her midwestern family upbringing is key to understanding her choices (good and bad), the battle between equal rights and sexual politics and how feminism got away from her, the intersection of Judaism and feminism, and how Friedan began to recognize her mistakes and try to correct for them over time. We also discuss how “What Would Betty Do?” in relation to today’s politics and the Me Too movement (potentially not well), how Rachel finds synergies between biography and dramaturgy, and a lot more. Give it a listen! And go read Betty Friedan: Magnificent Disrupter!
“In The Feminine Mystique, Betty’s saying, ‘Involve yourself in something bigger than you are,’ which is not political advice. It’s individual advice. She wasn’t saying what women should do, and that frustrated some people.”
“One difference between Betty’s time and our time is that I don’t think there’s hope that it’s possible to effect change. I think that’s sad.”
“Betty was really in touch with her own rage.”
About our Guest
Rachel Shteir is an award-winning writer whose work has appeared in national magazines and newspapers including the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. She is the author of three previous books: Striptease: The Untold History of the Girlie Show (Oxford University Press, 2004), Gypsy: The Art of the Tease (Yale University Press, 2009), and The Steal: A Cultural History of Shoplifting (The Penguin Press, 2011). She is also the founder and current head of the Dramaturgy and Dramatic Criticism Program at The Theatre School at DePaul University. She holds a DFA in Dramaturgy and Dramatic Criticism from the Yale School of Drama and a BA in Near Eastern Languages and Literatures from the University of Chicago. Her new book is Betty Friedan: Magnificent Disrupter.
Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded remotely via Zencastr. I used a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone feeding into a Zoom PodTrak P4. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. Photo of Rachel by Doug McGoldrick. It’s on my instagram.