Stephanie Coontz makes a point repeatedly in her new book, A Strange Stirring, a study of feminist Betty Friedan, author of the groundbreaking bestseller, The Feminine Mystique. Coontz reminds readers often that Friedan disliked Daniel Horowitz's biographical study of her, which appeared in 1998 and looked into Friedan's political background. Perhaps disliked is too tame a word. According to Coontz, Friedan denied Horowitz "permission to quote anything from her unpublished papers, told confidantes that he was attacking her, and threatened to sue him."Well, if Friedan didn't much like the Horowitz volume - which, no matter its disclosures, was a sympathetic portrait - then I doubt she would have been a big fan of ? Strange Stirring either (Friedan died at age 85 in 2006). Even though this is also a positive portrait of the writer and of the work that changed so many women's lives, Coontz, in her determination to set the record straight, felt it necessary to revisit Friedan's temper tantrums over Horowitz and pin down the truth about her subject's past and politics. Coontz comes down consistently on Horowitz's side, though that hardly puts a dent in her admiration for Friedan.In addition, when Coontz compared some of Friedan's conclusions to the historical record, she saw that the text was both "repetitive and overblown" and also "made claims about women's history that I knew were oversimplified, exaggerating both the feminist victories of the 1920s and the antifeminist backlash of the 1940s and 1950s." And, Coontz shows conclusively, that Friedan's book alone did not launch the wave of feminism that arose in the 1970s.
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