HARRIET (Ozzie and Harriet): Well, I'll call the repairman right after breakfast.
JEFFREY BROWN: In the postwar era of the 1950s and early '60s, television shows and commercials helped define what was considered the ideal for women's lives.
ACTRESS: It will be nice to be just a housewife where there will be no great demand for either talent or brains.
JEFFREY BROWN: But in 1963 Betty Friedan, herself a suburban housewife and mother of three, threw a bombshell into the picture and helped spark the modern feminist movement with her book "The Feminine Mystique."
In it, Friedan detailed what she called "the problem that has no name," the frustrations and lack of fulfillment felt by many American women, and she urged women to seek their own identities and fight for equality.
BETTY FRIEDAN: Every chapter I finished, I said, "Am I crazy?" because it so went against what everybody believed about women, and yet I knew my truth and I knew the truth of the women I was listening to.
JEFFREY BROWN: "The Feminine Mystique" would make Friedan world- famous, selling some three million copies in 18 languages. She talked about its impact in a 1988 NewsHour interview.
BETTY FRIEDAN: Well, it did break through the feminine mystique. It broke through that definition of women solely in sexual relation to man, solely as man's wife, mother, sex object, housewife, server of physical needs of husband and children and home and never as a person, defining herself by her own actions in society.
And the -- by making what I then called "the problem that has no name," because until you called women people, until women called themselves people, we didn't -- couldn't even assume our human and American birthright of equal opportunity and the voice and the decisions of our society.
Now the personhood of women is taken for granted, I think, by everybody in our society. Women themselves, the young women today grow up with firmly in their head, they are people; the world is open to them. They still have choices and values they want to make about marriage and motherhood, but they start with an assumption of equality.
JEFFREY BROWN: Beginning in the late '60s, Friedan would take her ideas into the arena of political activism, including helping to form and serving as the first president of the National Organization for Women. She also helped found the group now known as NARAL: The National Abortion Rights Action League. Her later books included "The Second Stage," about the evolution of feminism; "The Fountain of Age," a look at aging; and a memoir, "Life So Far," published in 2000.
Betty Friedan died of congestive heart failure in her home in Washington on Saturday. It was her 85th birthday.
JEFFREY BROWN: And joining me now is NewsHour essayist Anne Taylor Fleming, who knew Betty Friedan personally. She's also the author of the book "Motherhood Deferred: A Woman's Journey" and has a new novel coming out in April. Anne, welcome to you.
I gather that "The Feminine Mystique" grew from Betty Freidan looking at the lives of fellow graduates from Smith College. Tell us a little bit about how that came about.
ANNE TAYLOR FLEMING: Well, she was writing for magazines, and she decided to do a survey of her Smith colleagues or graduate colleagues for a 1957 reunion. And the gist of it or the idea behind it was that she was going to go find out that having higher education didn't, in fact, impact women's satisfaction as wives and mothers.
And I think she herself was surprised that she found, in fact, the opposite: That a lot of women were churning with dissatisfaction and that she discovered that, you know, being wives and vacuuming and station-wagoning and making canapés just wasn't enough.
And I think she herself was quite stunned at the enormity of the problem that has no name, and that she found it everywhere.
JEFFREY BROWN: The first couple of lines of the book are worth quoting.
"The problem lay buried unspoken for many years in the minds of American women. It was a strange stirring, a sense of dissatisfaction, a yearning that women suffered in the middle of the 20th Century in the United States."
It's interesting to me that she had a real time and place, middle of the 20th Century in the United States. And then she talked about -- go ahead.
ANNE TAYLOR FLEMING: No. I think what was fascinating about it is that historians have pointed out, and Betty herself did, that the 1950s was sort of aberrational.
Women had through the 20's and 30's and 40's, had been getting out of the house and in fact defining their lives much more fully.
Post war women went back into the household when men came home and took the jobs.
So when Betty comes along, what she sees is women who essentially have gone backwards. And, you know, when you read those sentences, Jeff, it's so astonishing. I was 13 when the book came out. And I was raised in 1950s.
I mean, I flew across the country wearing gloves and a skirt. And I think I expected up to that point that my life would be a feminine life.
Four years after Betty's book came out, every parameter of a woman's life had been redefined. I'm an absolute child of Betty Freidan's.
JEFFREY BROWN: Well, tell us more about that because that's where I wanted to go next. Describe the impact of the book.
ANNE TAYLOR FLEMING: Well, it was so quiet, in effect, but it was the most quiet detonation because we all felt it in our hearts and souls. There wasn't a woman I knew, be it a housewife of Betty's generation or a young woman such as I was -- I was thirteen, fourteen, fifteen -- there who didn't say somewhere in her being, hurrah; we're going to have full lives. I mean, we are not going to just have lives as wives and mothers.
Now Betty was always very careful to point out that we should have it all; we should ask for it all. But the idea when you were going off to college in 1967 that the entire idea of a woman's life had within just four years been redefined was phenomenal.
I mean, I went to college in blue jeans, expecting to be anything I wanted. And four years before, it was a profoundly different world.
JEFFREY BROWN: Anne, you knew her. Tell us a little bit about what she was like.
ANNE TAYLOR FLEMING: Well, Betty was a hoot in person. She was opinionated, irascible, funny, smart; I absolutely came to adore her. She was a real piece of work.
There were people within the feminist movement who knew her who didn't get along with her. Betty could be wildly abrasive. She could also be enormously charming. She was very coquettish. She was a real flirt.
Whenever I would come in -- I have a very attractive, handsome husband -- Betty would just light up around men.
And I think it was one of the things that women appreciated about Betty. And when she came to write "The Second Stage" in 1981 she was careful again to say, yes, women should have everything they want. But motherhood and marriage are important.
And she was not one of those people that in any way thought, you know, men were, you know, ought to be relegated to the trash can. I mean, she adored them.
JEFFREY BROWN: Well, you know, something we were talking about a lot here today was that so many of the things she wrote about are still true for so many women who are having trouble balancing their professional life and their families.
Did she keep talking about this, thinking about it in recent years?
ANNE TAYLOR FLEMING: Oh, she did, Jeff. And you know what was wonderful about Betty? The way somebody who has a true intellectual and passionate life force, Betty was still talking about everything, and she was very conscious of the fact that the day care situation, men being able to dial back at work, that all those were still questions on the table. And we had to keep readdressing them and keep readdressing them.
And yet it's still hard to overestimate the impact. And I would say to younger women, go read her, read history, understand, because you're all daughters of her; we all her, including all the men. I mean, she absolutely set in motion the redefinition of all of our lives.
And so even though we worry about the sort of undone revolution and things that haven't been solved, I mean, it just can't be emphasized enough what she did set in motion.
JEFFREY BROWN: All right. Anne Taylor Fleming, thank you very much.
ANNE TAYLOR FLEMING: Thank you, Jeff.