Betty Friedan's 1970 Call to Women: Strike for Equality
Fifthteenth in a series of articles commemorating Women's History Month by spotlighting a significant speech or testimony delivered by a woman in the U.S. on this date.
Her speech was drafted on a plane from LaGuardia to O’Hare. When Betty Friedan, author of the best-selling “The Feminine Mystique,” stepped to the podium at a National Organization for Women convention on the evening of March 20, 1970, to deliver her final speech as NOW president, her words drew nationwide attention.
Friedan called on “every American woman” to demonstrate and strike for 24 hours. She made the same call later on a Chicago radio station – and she picked an exact date. So on Aug. 26, 1970 -- the 50th anniversary of women gaining the vote in the United States -- tens of thousands of women marched and protested in cities across the country. They carried signs reading “Don’t Iron While the Strike Is Ho,” and “End Human Sacrifice -- Don’t Get Married.”
That march is often remembered as the first major protest of the women’s liberation movement. “Somehow, improbably, August 26th worked,” Friedan would later write: “A political miracle experienced personally by the women who made it happen.”
“The Strike for Equality”
Fourth Annual Convention, National Organization for Women, O’Hare Inn, Des Plains, Ill.
I propose that on Wednesday, Aug. 26, we call a 24-hour general strike, a resistance both passive and active, of all women in America against the concrete conditions of their oppression. …
I propose that the women who are doing menial chores in the offices cover their typewriters and close their notebooks; the telephone operators unplug their switchboards; the waitresses stop waiting; cleaning women stop cleaning; and everyone who is doing a job for which a man would be paid more – stop. Every woman pegged forever as assistant, doing jobs for which men get the credit – stop…
And when it begins to get dark, instead of cooking dinner or making love, we will assemble, and we will carry candles symbolic of the flame of that passionate journey down through history -- relit anew in every city -- to converge the visible power of women at City Hall … at the political arena where the larger options of our life are decided.
If men want to join us, fine. If politicians, if political bosses, if mayors and governors wish to discuss our demands, fine, but we will define the terms of the dialogue. And by the time those 24 hours are ended, our revolution will be a fact.
Source: Friedan, Betty, It Changed My Life: Writings on the Women’s Movement (New York: Random House), 1978, pp. 180-183.