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Jewish World Review
Feb. 9, 2006
/ 11 Shevat, 5766
A radical who wasn't completely wrong
Reconsidering Betty Friedan
Like it or not, we live in a world riven by polarities:
black/white, red/blue, left/right. Our emotional responses to
demand reasonable debate but show us to be blinded by rigid points
can even be measured by the latest technology of brain imaging. We
both the record and ourselves when we overlook the hard truths
the ideas of people we dislike (or think we should dislike).
There was considerable gnashing of teeth among some
the other day on the occasion of the death of Betty Friedan. When
her critics paused to consider her legacy, they focused only on what
didn't like about the revolution she midwifed.
There was, to be sure, lots not to like. Betty Friedan was
tough mother. She overstated her case about the boredom of the 1950s
American housewife, and she indulged in vicious and damaging
describing the suburban housewife as living in a "comfortable
camp." But she transformed certain female realities that would
generations that came later, whether pleasing to liberal or angering
Before she wrote "The Feminine Mystique" in 1963, many
aspired to work in certain trades or pursue careers in the
consigned to the closets of their suburban homes, both literally and
figuratively. She blazed a way out into a world of expanded
that young women today expect as their natural due. It's important
confuse Betty Friedan, the mother of modern feminism, with all that
after her. When she saw the damage wrought by radical feminists, she
challenged the movement she founded, confronting the lesbian
who would ignore the emotional wants and needs of women who yearned
full-time mothers, or who wanted to mix family with work. She was
by some of the sisters as "bourgeois."
In her 1981 book, "The Second Stage," she examined some of
not-so-good changes her revolution had wrought. She told of the
assistant" she met in the office of a Los Angeles television
woman, in her late 20s, beautiful, accomplished and "dressed for
liked her work and saw it as a rung on the ladder to greater
know I'm lucky to have this job," she told Betty, "but you people
for these things had your families. You already had your men and
children. What are we supposed to do?"
Like most revolutions, feminism pushed the culture a few
too far, ignoring the iron law of unintended consequences. Women who
their careers above all often found themselves listening to the
ticking of their biological clocks without a man to love or child to
nurture. Feminists had ignored Mother Nature, and Nature is the
mother of all.
The number of childless women in their early 40s doubled
decades. One study found that 42 percent of successful women in
America were childless after 40. The numbers grew in other
well, as women became workaholics like the men they had railed
the 1970s, Betty Friedan's famous "feminine mystique" had hardened
conventions that deprived women of the warmth and caring that had
their sex as la difference .
Betty Friedan made the mistake of imagining that all women
alike. She underestimated the passion of the conservative women led
Phyllis Schlafly, who almost single-handedly defeated the Equal
Amendment. In one debate, Ms. Friedan screamed at Mrs. Schlafly:
to burn you at the stake." Phyllis, who never loses her
replied: "I'm glad you said that, because it just shows the
nature of proponents of ERA."
Betty Friedan and Phyllis Schlafly clarified the issues
issues that still teeter on the seesaw of public opinion. Betty had
media with her, but Phyllis had a grass-roots movement of her
that's still alive and well. John Kerry won the majority of single
2004, but George W. won the overwhelming majority of married women,
figured he would be more likely to keep the home fires ablaze.
Betty Friedan was contemptuous of the radical feminists
women against men, women again women, feminists against family. She
young women of the peril of distorting the priorities of women and
a war nobody could win. She was right about that, too.
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© 2006, Suzanne Fields, Creators Syndicate