Reader K.H. (see the Mailbag for Feb. 8) says we haven’t been nice enough to Betty Friedan, the recently deceased author of “The Feminine Mystique” and co-founder of the National Organization for Women (see The Other Charlotte’s posts here, here, and here). So I offered to buy K.H. a copy of “The Feminine Mystique” if any professional feminist has a single kind thing to say about Fridan’s opposite number Phyllis (“Burn Her at the Stake”) Schlafly when Schlafly goes to the great beyond (which I hope will be never). In turn, I offered, K.H. must buy me a copy of Schlafly’s “A Choice, Not and Echo” if I’m proved correct in my prediction about the fem-establishment.
So K.H. now writes:
“I don’t think I’ll be able to take you up on that bet on the specified terms–of course feminists on the left will probably say nasty things about Phyllis Schafly…[with] plenty of comments about stakes and burning and such.
“My point (and I understand, after rereading what I wrote, how it was interpreted) was that when a prominent leader dies–Betty, Phyllis, whoever- it’s a time for respect and dignity from the media. Those who might hate one or the other don’t hate them because they’re murderers or something- it’s a disagreement over women’s roles, social structures, moral values, etc., and these disagreements happen between good people on both sides of the fence every day.
“I must also admit that I already own “The Feminine Mystique” as well– if you’re ever to make a similar bet, personally, I would highly recommend some essays by Katha Pollitt as a backup.”
OK, next bet will be a copy of “Subject to Debate : Sense and Dissents on Women, Politics, and Culture” (do people really pay money to buy this stuff?). I agree with you, K.H., that every death is an invocation of the curse of mortality that binds us all, and so we must treat the dead with dignity. But their ideas live on, and those of Friedan–that being a middle-class suburban housewife is akin to a sentence to Auschwitz–were pernicious, destroying untold hundreds of thousands of marriages and creating a festering anti-male hostility on many women’s part that lingers to this day. And unfortunately, it’s hard to think of Betty Friedan without thinking of her ideas. Yes, she was a smart, tough, hard-working woman–but oh, the uses to which she put her talents!
Furthermore, TOC and I have sure been a lot nicer to Friedan than her fellow fem-ideologue Germaine Greer, who has got to win the prize for the World’s Cattiest Obituary (TOC also has a post on Greer’s piece here). A sample:
“In 1972, Betty and I, and Helvi Sipila of the United Nations, were together in Iran as guests of the Women’s Organisation of Iran, and once again I had difficulty in dissociating myself from Betty, who would usually take over my allotted speaking time as well as her own and inveigh against younger feminists who burned bras and talked dirty. Her line was that American feminists had taken power, that everything was on the move and the Iranian women should follow suit. ‘There’s more to life than a chicken in every paht!’ Betty would howl. She would pour scorn on a life spent reheating TV dinners to women with a houseful of servants. When we were in the air-conditioned Cadillac, she never spoke to me, but rested with her head against the leather and closed her eyes. When I was talking to one of our minders about the particular way Iranian women wore the veil, she yelled “Don’t you know the veil has been abahlished in Iran?” If she had opened her eyes she would have seen that the women in the streets were all veiled.
“Betty’s imperiousness had the shah’s courtiers completely flummoxed. She ordered a respirator for her hotel room and one was brought over from the children’s hospital. Three days later the courtiers asked me if it would be possible to remove it, as the hospital only had two and she wasn’t using hers. I told them to go ahead and grab it, and that I would deal with Betty myself, but she didn’t seem to notice that it was gone.
“Again and again our escorts, aristocratic ladies with bleached hair and eyebrows, dressed from head to toe by Guy Laroche, would ask me to explain Betty’s behaviour. ‘Please, Mrs Greer, she behaves so strangely, we think she may be drinking. She shouts at us, and when we try to explain she walks away. Sometimes her speech is strange.'”
I love that bit about Friedan hogging the stage on Greer, feminism’s most famous exhibitionist. Talk about the “paht” calling the kettle black! Indeed after reading Greer’s obitituary, I actually came to like Friedan a bit. Unlike Greer, who called for–as she still calls for–a bra-burning revolution against all existing social institutions, Friedan was essentially an “equality” feminist who continued to believe in the family and whose main platform was expanded opportunity for women in the workplace. As Greer writes:
“Betty was disconcerted by lesbianism, leery of abortion and ultimately concerned for the men whose ancient privileges she feared were being eroded. Betty was actually very feminine, very keen on pretty clothes and very responsive to male attention, of which she got rather more than you might think.”
So underneath it all, Betty Friedan liked men, liked being a woman, and wanted to work within the system–and you can’t fault that.