Betty Friedan, RIP

Betty Friedan, one of the founders of the modern feminist movement, died yesterday at the age of 85. Friedan’s great wisdom was her understanding that for feminism to succeed, it must be part of the American mainstream:

As the first president of NOW in 1966, she staked out positions that seemed extreme at the time on such issues as abortion, sex-neutral help-wanted ads, equal pay, promotion opportunities and maternity leave.

But at the same time, Friedan insisted that the women’s movement had to remain in the American mainstream, that men had to be accepted as allies and that the family should not be rejected.

“Don’t get into the bra-burning, anti-man, politics-of-orgasm school,” Friedan told a college audience in 1970.

Friedan was never hostile to traditional values, but believed that those values needed to treat women as equal players in society – an egalitarian notion that led her to focus on specific and measurable goals in combating inequality and injustice. Many of the advances that women have made have been because of her work.

Obviously, I don’t see eye-to-eye with everything in her philosophy, but there is no doubt that Friedan’s work legitimately made things better for women in this country, and she helped define mainstream feminism without succumbing to radicalism. RIP.

14 thoughts on “Betty Friedan, RIP

  1. Divorce rate 55% Abortion rate 22%. Pretty radical, one would think.

    Freidan did incalculable harm, particularly at a time when technology was advancing at lightspeed and was far more attuned to the issues of justice and equality, inside or outside the home, than any bestselling “cultureshock” paperback was in the political discourse of the 1960s. Friedan simply asserted women were helpless “victims” and uninformed women were duped to the extent we are still beset in 2006 with the screeches and howls of her acolytes from Maureen Dowd to Hillary Clinton, neither of whom seem to be very happy today. Meanwhile, her admirers in the entertainment industry enjoyed a bonanza exploiting nubile young “liberated” females and helped turn pornography into a $500 billion a year industry with no sign of abating.

    Hers was not an admirable life by any standard, however influential.

  2. Eracus:

    Except for the victimhood trip, sounds pretty admirable to me! Now women aren’t trapped in unwanted pregnancies, unwanted abusive marriages, and can indulge in their sexuality… what’s not to like?

  3. Nicholas, your assertion that women are no longer “trapped” by unwanted pregnancies, “trapped” in abusive marriages, or were ever prevented from indulging their sexuality is a form of self-delusion of stunning proportion. Freidan’s legacy is feminism’s heralded “liberation” from any responsibility for a woman’s lack of judgement, her poor decisions, and the consequences of her actions. Look around. We have produced a generation of children raising other children, and there’s alot not to like about it.

    Friedan’s pernicious progaganda encouraged women to succumb to their lesser selves, to surrender their virtue to the selfish desire to be all things great and small. The result is a generation of women who believe they can be a part-time mother, a part-time wife, a part-time executive, a part-time student, a part-time community organizer, a part-time volunteer, and a part-time friend or neighbor, and that to accept any lesser ambition reports her failure to become a modern, “liberated” woman. Meanwhile, the boys are shooting each other at school, being doped up on Ritalin, can get a condom in homeroom but not an education, and if there’s a problem at home, it’s all Dad’s fault.

    So much for “equality.”

  4. The desire to be “all things great and small” is not selfish, it is human, and more importantly, trans-human. It is the calling of the higher self, the will to power, and it is what truly matters in life. Go read Nietzsche, I command you, and get silly ideas like virtue out of your head this instant.

    Last I checked, only a handful of boys outside of the black ghettos had shot anyone in a school; and the ones in the ghettos are hardly products of liberated, feminist women- they’re products of homes in which fathers have abdicated any responsibility. And the state of the education system is better than you make it sound. I spent 13 years in the public schools, and in that time the system taught me how to read and write, a fair amount of history, mathematics, chemistry, biology, genetics, computer programming…

    I find it funny how it’s always the upper-middle class liberated feminists who get attacked; when in general, their kids are just fine. Most of my closest friends are products of “broken” marriages and working professional mothers, and they turned out fine. They have college degrees and “productive” careers. The criminals and n’er-do-wells of my acquaintance tend to be from families of lower-class conservative rednecks.

    Face it, the world is just fine. Where’ve you been living?

  5. “Face it, the world is just fine. Where’ve you been living?”

    In the world as it is, not the one you pretend it to be. Believe it or not, not everyone stoops to the narcissism of Nietzsche to discover what truly matters in life. Many aim higher, as did the families of lower-class conservative rednecks, who built the nation you’re living in and are defending it now. Again.

    Any fool can live like a pig in a barnyard, surrounded by other pigs, and declare the whole world is just fine as a barnyard. The birds know better.

  6. I don’t know who is “living like a pig”, or where you’re coming from on this. Aim higher? What could possibly be higher than aiming for absolute liberty, immortality and transcendence, which was what I was aiming for last I checked. I don’t need any anti-future conservatives getting in my way.

    “Narcissism” is merely what those who hate the ugliness of their own reflection use to criticize those who have nothing to be ashamed of. Attend to your own resentment before you criticize others who live the life you wish you had.

  7. Apparently, in the life I wish I had I get to make up my own word definitions. What bonny-fun that must be, ay?


    1. Excessive love or admiration of oneself. See synonyms of conceit. 2. A psychological condition characterized by self-preoccupation, lack of empathy, and unconscious deficits in self-esteem. 3. Erotic pleasure derived from contemplation or admiration of one’s own body or self, especially as a fixation on or a regression to an infantile stage of development. 4. The attribute of the human psyche charactized by admiration of oneself.

    All I’m saying, Nicholas, is that there is much in life that is greater than ourselves that was here long before we arrived and which will remain here long after we are gone. Honor that simple truth and you just might find your absolute liberty, immortality, and transcendence. Otherwise, the world is just all about you all the time, which might explain your present resentment of a point of view different from your own.

  8. It doesn’t appear that our definitions contrast that much, except in that what you consider to be an evil, I consider to be a good. I’ve never heard narcissism described as a good though, then again, until Ayn Rand came along, the same hadn’t been done with selfishness. Hmm, I smell a book.

    My “resentment” of a point of view different from my own is based on your belittling of that point of view. You don’t know me, you don’t know where my point of view comes from; in fact, my point of view may come from a view far broader than your own. (I’ve met few people who would deny that I have an extremely broad point of view) What little I can tell about yours is that it’s based upon looking at the past, whereas mine is based upon dreaming of the future. Where you criticize me for being focused on myself all the time, you’re probably focused on yourself all the time as well; as a human being, it is only natural. In fact, whenever a human claims to be focusing on something other than their own self, they invariably are not; it is simply the way of things. In fact, how would you know what I am focused on, given that you know next to nothing about me?

    I resent anyone who would imply that other people should be controlled and bent to the will of either a patronizing elite (whether on the “left” or “right”) or a moral code handed down by an invisible imaginary friend. What I read into your criticism reeks of both. I resent anyone who doesn’t understand that humanity is in a time of transformation, in which our mastery of the sciences is about to change us so quickly and irrevocably that within a century, anything one could say about the “human condition” will be irrelevant. I resent anyone who would abridge or disdain man’s right to create new meanings, new arts, new social forms, new lifestyles or new ways of being, no matter whether the reason for the abridgement is rooted in tradition, God, political correctness, nature, or equality. I do not understand this fear of change, of crisis, of destabilization; crisis precedes transformation; dissolution precedes rebirth. There are always tribulations before a major shift into a new culture or level of consciousness; “regressives” will always howl in anguish at the changes, yet are- invariably- proven wrong.

  9. Oh, I’m gonna have to make some popcorn for this one.

    My two cents: Friedan led the way to a form of radical feminism that she was not a part of and that hurt mainstream America. At the same time, she did recognize a role for the traditional family and didn’t denigrate women who wanted to take on traditional roles.

    I guess this is where my libertarian side kicks in. Families are important, hell they’re the glue that fits society together. But this is the 21st Century. A society that doesn’t treat women as equal partners in society is wasting half of its social capital. Friedan, for all her many faults, did do a lot of good, and I’m never one to badmouth someone before they’re even in the ground.

    I don’t have much praise for Susan Sontag, Catherine McKinnon, or the other more radical feminists. But at least Freidan wasn’t on a singular crusade to destroy the American family.

  10. “But at least Freidan wasn’t on a singular crusade to destroy the American family.”
    That’s just casuistry. Betty Friedan was a dedicated communist. She completely misrepresented herself when she wrote The Feminine Mystique. She was not a suburban housewife, she lived in a Hudson River mansion with hired help and a husband who supported her full-time writing and research. At the time the book was published, she had a twenty-five year career in professional journalism writing for the Communist Left, where she had been thoroughly indoctrinated into the politics of Marxist-Leninism, specifically the idea that women were “oppressed.” She had previously written on the subject citing the writings of Engels, Lenin, and Stalin in the official publications of the communist-controlled United Electrical Workers union, so to suggest she wasn’t on a “singular crusade to destroy the American family” may be a subject for a fairly meaningless debate, she was nevertheless as committed as could be to undermining traditional American values to promote the political agenda of a foreign ideology that persists to this very day.

    Her legacy is not the “equal partners in society” as you have asserted, which was driven by the advancement of modern technology, but the social disasters of no-fault divorce and abortion on demand, enforcing the rights of one partner at the expense of the other effectively dividing the country. To conclude Friedan “did do alot of good” is hardly persuasive. You can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig.

  11. As George Santayana said, Nicholas, “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” And you misunderstand Ayn Rand. Her philosophical premise was that purely selfless acts promote the individual and advance the human condition, thus defining “selfish” creativity and the dedication it requires as a virtue. That’s why Howard Roark would not allow himself to be exploited by parasites living off his achievements, but would rather pay any price, regardless of the consequences to himself, to maintain his integrity. He was self-LESS and courageous, not selfish and narcissistic.

    I am not belittling your point of view, merely observing it is not as strong on integrity as you might think it is, hence your resentment. What I know about you is based on your posts, obviously, which I submit are far more revealing than you realize for their circular reasoning and predictable self-serving conclusions.

    Moral codes, for instance, are handed down through history, and while often usurped by religion, are not strictly the province of religion but of the human experience itself throughout the ages. You are also projecting that I do not understand that humanity is in a time of transformation, when what I am actually suggesting to you is that humanity is ALWAYS in a time of transformation, and that our greatest achievements are derived not from our narcissistic pursuits, but rather, like Howard Roark, in the selfless act of believing in something greater than ourselves and having the personal courage and integrity to actually create it. That the difference in our point of views apparently seems to threaten you and registers your disdain seems more to reveal your fear of change, of crisis and destablization, than it does mine.

    The past, as they say, is prologue. All it took was some disagreement with the popular myths about Betty Friedan to rattle the cages of this inner sanctum. Those who long ago understood who she was and what she was doing didn’t drink the Kool-Aid then and are not drinking it now. And yet the response of the “futurists” to this major shift into a new culture or level of consciousness is condemned as “regressive,” and summarily dismissed when what they thought was true turns out not to be the case.

    They’re all hat, no cattle. Just as they were before.

  12. Jay,

    You were wrong. Admit it.

    As Erascus pointed out (and myself earlier) how can you say that a committed communist was not trying to undermine the values of this country?

    The whole intellectual basis for feminism came from Marx.

    Race/class/gender was the way the communist left was going to undermind people’s belief in their country. In a lot of ways it worked because the modern left carries on this legacy with many of the same exact arguments.

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