Spotlight: Betty Friedan
by Ellen Goodman
I also remembered the afternoon edition
of my paper illustrating that march with two front-page photos. On the
left was the
pretty, blonde, smiling figurehead of some unknown group of Happy Homemakers. On the
right was Betty Friedan, mouth open in mid-shout, face contorted, as unattractive a photo
of this woman as was ever chosen by any editor.
Under both pictures ran a simple, loaded
question asking readers: Which one do you choose?
This came to mind not only
Friedan won her place in the history books. It reminded me of exactly
passionate and irascible, strong-willed and difficult woman was up against:
a culture with
prescribed roles for women and harsh ways of slapping down those who didn't
Betty Friedan, author and agitator, most
assuredly did not conform. Not to Peoria, where she grew up. Not
where she raised her children. Not even, always, to feminism.
She was born the year after
passed. Her book, "The Feminine Mystique," was published in
1963, the year
that Adlai Stevenson told my graduating class at Radcliffe how important our
would be in raising our children. It was released to paperback and fame in 1964, the
year I worked in the sex-segregated research pool at Newsweek magazine - and
thought I was
lucky to have the job.
It's easy to forget now what it was like
back then before Betty named "the problem that had no name" and, in futurist
Alvin Toffler's words, "pulled the trigger on history." We know how far
women have come, but for every woman who believes life has improved, there is another who
believes that life has become more stressful. Some of us believe both
things at the
"It was a strange stirring,"
she wrote, "a sense of dissatisfaction, a yearning that women suffered
in the middle
of the twentieth century in the United States. Each suburban wife struggled with it
alone. As she made the beds, shopped for groceries, matched slipcover
peanut butter sandwiches with her children, chauffeured Cub Scouts and Brownies, lay
beside her husband at night - she was afraid to ask even of herself the silent question -
'Is this all?'''
The most powerful catalyst
sociologists will tell you, is when people learn what they already know. Friedan
didn't invent the discontented housewife. She described the discontent. She
didn't create the second-class citizenship. She analyzed it.
For combating the mystique,
shunned by neighbors. For her refusal to conform, her kids were kicked
out of the
car pool. She was called "more of a threat to the United States than the
Russians." But with one resounding click of recognition, with one
after another, women who thought they were "the only one" came out
and into a women's movement in the widest sense of that word.
Betty was dismissed as radical by the
middle class and as middle class by the radicals. She helped found the
Organization for Women, the National Women's Political Caucus and NARAL. But she
didn't brook fools easily nor did she brook disagreements gracefully.
on high heels and gave speeches that never ended. The battles with her
peers were legendary.
But no one can doubt her role in this
unfinished revolution. Betty Friedan put her shoulder and her mind to
the task of
opening doors and widening that "narrow definition of 'the role of women."'
In gratitude for that fine
for that refusal to conform, let me say it one last time: Betty, you changed our