Monday, February 06, 2006

Epitaph for Betty Friedan

In age, if not in spirit, I am situated pretty firmly in U.S. feminism’s “third wave.” As such, I’ve never heard many good things said, nor had much good to say, about Betty Friedan. Yes, I’ve read The Feminine Mystique, but it didn’t do much for me. As a college woman without any prospects of marriage and children, or impetus to marry or have kids, it never resonated. It seemed dated, part of a prosaic past, an artifact from a battle already fought. Add that to the rightful criticisms of Friedan’s classism, racism, and heterosexism, and she never presented much of a role model.

However, none of that changes the fact that Betty Friedan was a great feminist. She had the nerve to speak out about something that plagued millions of women and yet went largely undiscussed, and she had the talent to speak out about it in such a way as to get millions of women to listen. While it is true that The Feminine Mystique ignored or did injustice to large groups of women, it is also true that the group of women for whom it did (and does) resonate need and deserve a voice as clear and strong as Friedan’s.

In honor of this great feminist’s death this weekend, I am going to read The Feminine Mystique again. As I think back to the time in my life when I first read it, I think perhaps my not getting much from it was as much my fault as Betty’s. Because the truth of the matter is that as justified as criticisms of Friedan’s myopia are, the problem that has no name still exists, and exists now in ways that she may not have even expected. Whether or not it is my personal battle (and at this point, it’s not) has very little to do with the value to me, as a feminist, of fighting it. Just as much as any of my stay-at-home sisters, I am indebted to Friedan’s work and to her spirit, and even though I may be the last woman or earth to get it, I intend to give her work the second chance it deserves.


Anonymous Bitch | Lab said...

Why is it your fault?

Friedan makes pretty clearin that book that she only cares about educated women and that she thinks any job that doesn't use one's education isn't really worthy enough to do.

How can this be what feminists want?

She even advises at the end that women hire maids and nannies so they can stretch their minds. It was the narrow-minded view of the world that was typical of her world back then, as it was typical for the founders to be slave-owning racists.

Give her a chance. But criticisms of her work are warranted and worthy.

Finally, she didn't make a movement. There were women engaged in activism from the 1920s on. They kept plugging away. Betty participated in it and was nurtured by it: the labor movement and the women struggling within that movement. She points out, rather obliquely, in the preface to the 10th anniversay edition that she's indebted to this involvement.

Why can't we thank those invisible women -- invisible people erased from the feminist canon?

why reproduce the same hierarchical cannon that men built to excuse us and call it feminist?

11:14 PM  
Blogger Grace said...

I don't disagree. But since Bettty's the one who just died, Betty's the one I was focusing on when I wrote that.

7:44 PM  
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6:07 AM  

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