Not all readers liked Betty Friedan’s take on the “problem with no name,” when she introduced the concept in The Feminine Mystique in 1963. The book, which Norton published on February 19 of that year, undoubtedly struck a chord, and did so immediately. The publisher quickly went back to press and, by February 27, was already into its third print run. Now, to celebrate the book’s 50th birthday, Norton is releasing an anniversary edition, complete with a new introduction by New York Times columnist Gail Collins.
The new edition, for which Norton has announced a first printing of 25,000 copies, is coming out amid a flurry of attention for the work, which is considered the thing that sparked second wave feminism. Thus far USA Today, the New York Times (which ran an excerpt of Collins’s introduction), the Chronicle of Higher Education, and Salon have all covered the book, many of them running pieces reflecting on it’s impact and lasting significance. Ironically, or perhaps appropriately, the book was not initially beloved. While this magazine sang its praises—in the PW review from 1963, we called The Feminine Mystique a “forceful charge” that is “meant to stir people up, and probably will”—but the New York Times was less impressed. The paper of record (which was on strike at the time the book was published, and reviewed it in April 1963) said it was “highly readable” and “provocative” but also full of “sweeping generalities” that “may hold a certain amount of truth but often obscure the deeper issues.”
To promote the new edition, Norton has produced three video testimonials of notable feminists and scholars talking about the book. The videos, which are posted on YouTube, feature Melissa Harris-Perry, Stephanie Coontz, and Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar (together). Norton said it is promoting the clips in a variety of ways, predominantly, as a spokesperson explained, “on our own Web site and in various forms of social media outreach” ranging from Goodreads to Tumblr to IndieBound.
Norton is also hoping to generate interest in its new edition from a number of planned events around the country. On February 21, in Los Angeles, author Hanna Rosin (The End of Men) will be discussing the book with Tani Ikeda, the executive editor of Ms. magazine. The New America Foundation is also hosting a Feminine Mystique talk on March 6, and the Kennedy Library has an event in the works, which has not yet been scheduled, but will feature Collins, among others.
While the book’s success was something of a blessing and curse for its author—in an afterword to this edition of The Feminine Mystique, Anna Quindlen said the title turned Friedan into “a celebrity, a pariah, a standard bearer and a target”—its success was never in question. Today it has sold over 3 million copies and, as Norton noted, it became, shortly after its initial publication, one of the fastest-selling books in the country. While some may find the work outdated, its impact has not dimmed. It continues to be the standard read in women’s studies classes throughout the country, and, as Norton’s spokesperson put it, that is something the house thinks “will continue for a long time to come.”