50 years ago today (February 19, 2013), W.W. Norton published a book entitled The Feminine Mystique, by Betty Friedan. Little did the president of W.W. Norton – George Brockway – nor his employees realise that The Feminine Mystique would go on to be something of a world-changing publication. Indeed, this book, about “the plight of the American housewife” was initially condemned by one employee within the publishing house as “too obvious and feminine,” New York Times reports. That person also remarked that her negative portrayal of women’s magazines was charged with the guilt that author had over her own contributions to them.
Betty Friedan’s book went on to become a pivotal reference point for second-wave feminism. Friedan’s de-bunking of the “happy housewife” myth that was so commonly perpetuated in the women’s magazines of the 1950s provided readers with the framework within which they could start to question the images of womanhood and femininity that were presented to them. Stephanie Coontz, a historian at Evergreen State University commented “Friedan’s genius was to provide, with ‘feminine mystique,’ the first phrase you could use to explain that you thought there was something wrong, and that it was a lie.”
The book may not have been met with a positive response from all of W.W. Norton’s employees, but Brockway was enticed by its potential for controversy, writing in his own comments on the book “Overstated at almost every point, yet entirely stimulating and provocative.” The book went on to become both critically lauded and commercially successful and is still referred to as a key feminist text, 50 years down the line.