The America that gave us Betty Friedan and her 1963 book, The Feminine Mystique, is not the America we live in today. So why, I ask, do veteran feminists remain lodged in a past that no longer exists? To millions of American women and men, whether conservative, liberal, or libertarian, feminism seems like an outdated part of the American lexicon that most simply cannot identify with.

Yet the term feminism once expressed an important concept, which is why, as much as I deplore today’s understanding of the word, I understand the reluctance to give it up.

Classical feminism understands that the commonalities of women and men far outweigh their differences. We are partners, not antagonists. Pure, nonpoliticized, nonradicalized feminism means protecting women as individuals-their lives, liberties, and pursuit of happiness, as highlighted by the Declaration of Independence.

Classical feminism is rooted in the abolitionist movement, which promoted human rights, not male rights. By declaring that all individuals had a natural, inalienable right to be free, abolitionism helped spawn the American feminist movement.

The first feminists supported the values of liberty and opportunity. They naturally demanded the right to vote.’s Jessica Valenti complains when “conservative” feminists embrace the suffrage movement, but suffragists demanded equal rights as individuals.

These feminists did not wallow in victimhood. Rather, they gloried in the possibilities of freedom. In Liberty for Women: Freedom and Feminism in the Twenty-First Century, Wendy McElroy argued the goal of these women was “not to be protected by a paternalistic state but to be granted equal status with men under the laws that respected these rights.” In 1926, Suzanne LaFollette wrote Concerning Women, a book that defended free markets and laissez-faire capitalism and maintained that the industrial revolution provided women with much of the freedom they then enjoyed. Was she not a feminist?

Women like Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem helped set the stage for further advances by women. But too many second-wave feminists lost sight of liberty as the principle vehicle of liberation.

Instead, second-wave feminism relied on the power of government…

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