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This section of Discover The Networks focuses on individuals who, in word and deed, promote modern-day feminism's central tenet: that America is fundamentally a sexist society where women are routinely discriminated against, harassed, deprived of opportunities, and abused both physically and psychologically.

No figure is more significant than the late Betty Friedan, co-founder of the National Organization for Women (NOW). A longtime member of the Communist Left, Friedan in 1940 endorsed the Popular Front strategy of starting idealistic movements in order to lure well-meaning people into advocating Communist objectives. From 1942-43, Friedan was a member of the Young Communist League. In 1944 she sought to join the American Communist Party but was turned down because, according to her FBI files, “there already were too many intellectuals in the labor movement.” From 1943-1952, Friedan worked as a journalist for Communist-controlled media.

Friedan is generally credited with having started the "second wave" of feminism by authoring the 1963 book The Feminine Mystique, which held that women as a class were victimized not only by many forms of discrimination, but also by the socially transmitted message that they could find a sense of identity and fulfillment solely by living vicariously through their husbands and children – while sublimating their own aspirations to be something other than wives and mothers. An almost instant best-seller, The Feminine Mytique sold some 600,000 hardcover copies and more than two million in paperback.

Another significant figure in the feminist movement was the late Andrea Dworkin, a longtime member of NOW. Maintaining that rape and the subjugation of women formed the basis for most human cultures, Dworkin urged women not only to fight back against their male oppressors, but actually to form their own, gender-exclusive nation-state. She characterized all heterosexual sex as the equivalent of rape; she wished to "destroy patriarchal power at its source, the family, [and] in its most hideous form, the national state"; she called marriage “a legal license to rape”; and she asserted that "the hurting of women is ... basic to the sexual pleasure of men," whom she described as “rapists, batterers, plunderers, killers.”

Patricia Ireland
, NOW's longest-serving (1991-2001) president, was among feminism's most dominant personalities during that period. Her radical roots, however, dated back to an earlier time. Indeed, in the late 1970s Ireland developed a strong affinity for the regime of Cuba's Communist dictator Fidel Castro. (Another Castro sympathizer, Socialist Workers Party member Pat Silverthorn, would later become Ireland's lesbian lover.) In the 1980s, Ireland participated in numerous pro-communist rallies. She also took part in a Miami Free Speech Coalition demonstration against U.S. aid to the anti-communist Contra rebels in Nicaragua.

The issues highest on NOW's agenda during Ireland's tenure were abortion rights and gay and lesbian rights. Ireland and NOW also depicted America as a nation where sexual harassment and violence against women were rampant, and where the health-care system, the education system, and corporations were generally hostile to women's needs. During her tenure with NOW, Ireland earned a reputation for characterizing her female political adversaries as inauthentic women; for instance, she once called Republican Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson of Texas a "female impersonator."

NOW's president from 2001 to 2009 was Kim Gandy, who dismisses the notion that marriage is necessarily beneficial to women, especially poor women. “I think promoting marriage as a goal in and of itself is misguided,” she says. “The marriage movement is giving women the message that a bad husband and father is better than none at all. Single moms are being demonized. NOW is committed to exposing and organizing against this deliberate return to the days of unchallenged male control.”

These are just a few of the many individuals who espouse the tenets of radical feminism.

The RESOURCES column on the right side of this page contains a link to the section where profiles of important feminists can be found. It also contains links to articles, essays, books, and videos that explore, in depth:

  • the worldviews and agendas of feminists and the movement to which they belong
  • the notion that women in corporate America are paid less than their equally qualified male counterparts


Individual Profiles

Group Profiles



* For recommended books on this topic, click here.

                                 SEE ALSO

* Feminism

* Feminist Groups

Click here to view a sample Profile.


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