St. Betty Friedan dead at 85
One of my personal heroes -- the author of 1963's The Feminine Mystique
, co-founder of NOW, and all-round impressive person.
Feminism itself is a very old idea, of course, which (alas) has to keep resurfacing from under antifeminism*; it was very big in Britain and the U.S. in the nineteenth century, and surfaced again here in the 1920s, '30s and '40s -- getting a substantial, if inadvertent, boost during World War II, when the men were fighting and the women had
to work. The minute WWII was over, systematic efforts had to be made to drive women back out of the work force; hence the '50s housewife, baby boom, and all the rest of it.
Betty Friedan was a magazine writer (and housewife) who dared to suggest the notion that some
women's Wills, at least, were not utterly fulfilled by the sole functions of snagging a man and raising "his" kids. She wasn't the first, even in the postwar wave, to notice this; I suspect Simone de Beauvoir's Deuxieme Sexe
in France was one of her influences (she mentions it right away in Mystique
); but her book was a brave thing to write as the Fifties ended. For it, she took a lot of crap (and prolly will continue to)...some of it little known: Sure, it's no fun to have your book called The "Feminine Mistake," be written off as a man-hater, be accused of attacking the family, etc.; but how about attending an early promotional event for your book wearing huge sunglasses, to hide the black eye your husband just gave you?
Yeah, that kind of crap.
She also was one of the first to challenge Freud, btw -- pretty amazing for any intellectual in 1963, downright astonishing out of a woman magazine writer. There's stuff to admire in Freud, and I dislike the attempts today to remove him from the canon; but there was plenty to dislike (and discredit) in his work, too, and she was one of the first to take it on.
She lived long enough to see a world where her concerns about "the woman problem" sound almost science-fictional; a world where women are so used to being individuals that a lot of them see nothing funny about pursuing a career, developing their creativity, thinking for themselves, using their sexuality and money and lives as they choose...and yet claiming they don't like "feminism." It is entirely thanks to her, and others like her, that they enjoy that privilege.
Sleep well, Sister. :D
93 93/93 -- AJ
P.S. Our icon is the cover of the January 1972 preview edition of Ms. Magazine
-- the one before
the July 1972 first issue, with Wonder Woman on the cover. I tried like hell to find a "Sisterhood is Power" icon (the one with the Venus-fist?) without luck...but this one is plenty nostalgic for me, anyway: I got it when it came out (as a newspaper insert in the L.A. Times, IIRC!). :)
* Remind me to post sometime about ancient Japanese empresses; or the warrior Tomoe in the Heike struggles (circa the 1180's EV), just for starters.