Rachel Shteir with Claire Dederer — 'Betty Friedan: Magnificent Disrupter'

From Yale University Press' Jewish Lives series, a new portrait of author and activist Betty Friedan


Third Place Books welcomes award-winning essayist, writer, and critic Rachel Shteir for a discussion of her new biography of Betty Friedan, in conversation with local critic and memoirist Claire Dederer, the author of Monsters: A Fan's Dilemma.

With the first biography of Betty Friedan (1921–2006) in over two decades, Shteir writes a nuanced portrait of the author of The Feminine Mystique, a polarizing figure and the so-called mother of Second Wave Feminism. Co-founder of National Organization for Women (NOW), the National Association to Repeal Abortion Laws (NARAL), and the National Women's Political Caucus (NWPC), in her later life, Friedan was increasingly worried about the links between anti-Semitism and misogyny and acknowledged how essential her Judaism was to her strength and feminism.

Included on the New Yorker's Best Books of 2023

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About Betty Friedan: Magnificent Disrupter . . .

Featured on the New Yorker's Best Books of 2023 

A new portrait of Betty Friedan, the author and activist acclaimed as the mother of second-wave feminism

The feminist writer and activist Betty Friedan (1921–2006), pathbreaking author of The Feminine Mystique, was powerful and polarizing. In this biography, the first in more than twenty years, Rachel Shteir draws on Friedan’s papers and on interviews with family, colleagues, and friends to create a nuanced portrait.

Friedan, born Bettye Naomi Goldstein, chafed at society’s restrictions from a young age. As a journalist she covered racism, sexism, labor, class inequality, and anti-Semitism. As a wife and mother, she struggled to balance her work and homemaking. Her malaise as a housewife and her research into the feelings of other women resulted in The Feminine Mystique (1963), which made her a celebrity.

Using her influence, Friedan cofounded the National Organization for Women, the National Women’s Political Caucus, and the National Association to Repeal Abortion Laws. She fought for the Equal Rights Amendment, universal childcare, and workplace protections for mothers, but she disagreed with the women’s liberation movement over “sexual politics.” Her volatility and public conflicts fractured key relationships.

Shteir considers how Friedan’s Judaism was essential to her feminism, presenting a new Friedan for a new era.


Praise for Betty Friedan: Magnificent Disrupter . . .

“A lucid portrait of Friedan as a bold yet flawed advocate for women’s equality.”
Publishers Weekly

“Rigorously fair.”
—Moira Donegan, New Yorker

“Sympathetic but never less than clear-eyed, Rachel Shteir explores the achievements that put Betty Friedan at the center of the movement for women’s rights. An insightful and meticulously detailed portrait of one of America’s most successful political activists.”
—Sigrid Nunez, author of The Vulnerables

Rachel Shteir is the author of three previous books: The Steal: A Cultural History of ShopliftingGypsy: The Art of the Tease; and Striptease: The Untold History of the Girlie Show. She has written for many magazines and newspapers, including The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. She is also the founder and head of the Dramaturgy/Criticism program at The Theatre School at DePaul University. (Photo credit: Doug McGoldrick)

Claire Dederer is a bestselling memoirist, essayist, and critic. Her books include the critically acclaimed Love and Trouble: A Midlife Reckoning, as well as Poser: My Life in Twenty-three Yoga Poses, which was a New York Times bestseller. Poser has been translated into eleven languages, optioned for television by Warner Bros., and adapted for the stage. Dederer is a longtime contributor to The New York Times. Her essays, criticism, and reviews have also appeared in The Paris Review, The Atlantic, The Nation, Vogue, Marie Claire, Elle, Real Simple, Entertainment Weekly, New York magazine, Chicago Tribune, Newsday, Slate, Salon, High Country News, and many other publications. She began her career as the chief film critic for Seattle Weekly. Dederer currently teaches at the Pacific University low-residency MFA program. She is the recipient of a Hedgebrook residency and a Lannan Foundation residency. Dederer lives on her late father’s houseboat in Seattle. (Photo credit: Stanton J. Stephens)

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