Women’s Rights Activist Betty Friedan Changed The Landscape of Pronouns

The lasting impact of Betty Friedan’s 1963 novel “The Feminine Mystique” is undeniable–women’s lives have been influenced by her lucid telling of the struggles and anguish of many housewives during the 1950s. Friedan poignantly writes, “as she made the beds, shopped for groceries, matched slipcover material, ate peanut butter sandwiches with her children, chauffeured Cub Scouts and Brownies, lay beside her husband at night, she was afraid to ask even of herself the silent question–is this all?”

But one unexpected area of influence that Friedan’s book has had is its effect on a shift in language that very much reflects the extraordinary changes in women’s lives. The use of feminine pronouns such as “her,” “herself,” and “she” in “The Feminine Mystique” dramatically changed the landscape of pronoun use. “According to a new study, the “he-she” gap in books–one that has always favored the masculine–has dramatically narrowed since the release of Friedan’s feminist classic.”

Three university researchers were able to track gender pronouns from 1900 to 2008 and drew from nearly 1.2 million texts in the Google Book archive. According to their findings, the ratio of male to female pronouns was roughly 3.5 to 1 until 1950. After this period the gap began to widen as women stayed home after World War II and peaked around 4.5 to 1 in the mid-1960s. The ratio shrank to 3 to 1 by 1975 and less than 2 to 1 by 2005.

According to San Diego State University psychology professor, Jean M. Twenge, “these trends in language quantify one of the largest, and most rapid, cultural changes ever observed: the incredible increase in women’s status since the late 1960s in the US.”

Source: The Washington Post article “Thanks for Betty Friedan, ‘she’ is just one of Us”

Leave a Reply