As a college student studying women’s literature one book continued to come up over and over in my studies. This book was Betty Friedan’s 1963 classic The Feminine Mystique. Because it appeared the book had been so influential, I decided to check out a copy from my school library and read it for myself.
Even as a young woman in the 21st Century I was influenced by The Feminine Mystique. Although socially the country progressed rapidly after the 1960s, the religious community that controlled every aspect of my life growing up had remained stuck in the Victorian era. As I read the book I was truly exposed to new ideas. In the same way that Friedan influenced a new generation of feminists, my life was forever changed because of the ideas expressed in her book.
If Friedan’s book was an articulation of the frustrations many women were feeling in post-war America, the organization of the National Organization for Women (NOW) was a collective response of those who had simply had enough.
NOW was founded in 1966, three years after the publication of The Feminine Mystique. While attending a conference on Title 7 in D.C., Friedan grew frustrated at the lack of attention and respect being given to discrimination of the basis of gender. She was not alone. Friedan invited those who were also feeling frustrated to her hotel room one night to discuss tactics for getting their agenda on the table. In response to the anger they were feeling came the decision to form a new women’s organization. Friedan wrote N O W on a paper napkin and the group got to work organizing as a collective force.
The story bears a striking similarity to the organization of the historic 1848 Seneca Falls conference, which was organized in response to frustration Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stonton and others felt over being ignored by the men in the anti-slavery movement.
Never underestimate the power of determined women working collectively to stop injustice!
Besides Friedan several legendary civil rights leaders were among the founders of NOW. Pauli Murray, the first black woman Episcopal priest was Friedan’s first ally at the Title 7 conference. The founder of NOW’s first state chapter in New York was founded by trailblazer Shirley Chisholm, the first major party black Presidential candidate and the first woman to run for the Democratic nomination. Chisholm was the first black female congresswoman and spent her entire life tearing down walls and working for woman and the poor. I was thrilled to find out during my research for this post that Chisholm represented my district in Brooklyn for seven terms!
NOW is a membership organization with over 500 campus and local chapters. The organization focuses on domestic issue and currently has six main initiative areas: reproductive rights, violence against women, constitutional equality, promoting diversity, ending racism, gay rights, and economic justice.
Most recently NOW has helped lead the struggle to defeat the sexist Stupak amendment and push for health care reform that improves the lives of women. I recently had the pleasure to attend a Stop Stupak! rally organized by NOW NYC. The rally was among the best I have attended, with poetry, music, and memorable speakers including Dr. Bill Baird, an early abortion rights activist and founder of the Pro-Choice League. Believe it or not, Dr. Baird was arrested in 1971 for giving a speech about abortion rights to NOW members. Police argued that a 14-month old baby in the audience was having its “morals endangered” and arrested both Baird and the infant’s mother!
Over the last weekend, NOW NYC sponsored a protest outside Ralph Lauren to protest its offensive new ads. The chapter, like the organization as a whole, is always ready to spring into action when needed!
Because of my appreciation for The Feminine Mystique, I have always had a place in my heart for NOW. While it took me a long time to realize how relevant membership is to my life and career, I am cognitive of the ways that the organization has touched my life. I am proud to be a new member.
NOW is currently running a great membership special. If you join at the $25.00 level and up you will receive a subscription to Ms. Magazine. A great deal, for only $25.00 you can become a member of two historic feminist communities!
Be a part of history, join NOW today!
Janice is a Virtual Assistant, aspiring doula, and long-time feminist activist with a passion for women's history, nonfiction, nature, and wearing flowers in her hair. She is the Founder of The Feminist's Guide, a women's history travel website, which can be found at www.thefeministguide.com.