The Lioness of the American Women Liberation Movement
By Gad Nahshon
In 1963, a Jewish free-lance writer with a background in psychology, a native of Peoria, Illinois, Betty Friedan published a best-seller entitled The Feminine Mystique. This book gave birth to a new revolution in the status of the American woman inside the American society. Betty Friedan, who has always defined herself as a writer, was pushed to accomplish her new goal and message by establishing organization, namely, the National Organization of Women or 'NOW.' She also published important books such as Beyond Gender, The Fountain of Age, The Second Stage, and It Changed My Life.
Betty Friedan became an international celebrity. She is often a controversial celebrity. There have been many men and women who condemned her 'women's revolution,' the women's struggle for equality with men. In recent years, Friedan was often alienated from NOW, often frustrated because her original pioneer message or idealogy has been distorted by other female leaders who did not hesitate to push her aside or ignore her wish, ignore the ideas of this 'founding mother' of the modern American movement of women's liberation in America. Fiedan used to define her idea as "NAACP for women."
If you want to learn about the history of this movement, this revolution, about achievements and struggles, if you want to learn about the personal life of Betty Friedan, you must read her new book From Life So Far by Simon and Schuster, NY 2000. This book is Friedan's illuminating breathtaking autobiography. It is an account of her non-stop struggle for women's rights. She describes her ups and downs with a rare sense of honesty and frankness. She attracts the reader's attention by integration of her private life as a woman, wife, mother, and her public life. She discusses the history of NOW and how lesbian leaders distorted the goals of NOW. She, time and time again, points out that she always fought against extremism and against the lesbian agenda. She explains that her goal was to equate women with men and not to establish an American anti-male movement. She objected to those who spoke inside the NOW about 'Dike Power,' 'Lesbian Nation,' or about sex and pornography instead of socio-economic issues. Friedan fought to raise the standard of living for women, to integrate women into the mainstream of the American progress and politics as well. Betty Friedan was militant because she herself was fired by her 'boss' as a result of her pregnancy. What cruel, inhuman behavior of the American capitalists. (Friedan, true to her honesty, revealed the fact that she was a young 'romantic' communist in Peoria.)
In retrospect, Friedan believes that the lesbian leadership of NOW caused the current collapse of this great movement. But she also argues that the enemies of the revolution used 'moles' and provocateurs who liked to present the 'revolution' as a lesbian oriented movement so that women would be afraid to join NOW and would be happy to be just simple housewives who serve their men and families.
Indeed Friedan was born first of all to be a writer, a thinker of a new social idea, a writer who called on the society to view women as human beings and not as slaves or instruments. She preached for 'women power' for a radical liberation of women in America. And like one of her forerunners, the mid-nineteenth century socialist and advocate for women's rights, Ernestine L. Rose, Friedan was a great orator of women's liberation. Friedan did not have a choice. The circumstances pushed her into the organizational dimension of the women's revolution. Friedan confesses: "I never set out to start a women's revolution. I never planned it. It just happened by some miracle of convergence of my life and history, serendipity, one thing leading to another."
In the 380 pages of From Life So Far the reader can learn about the achievements of Friedan who organized the women activists (the underground in Washington D.C.) who established NOW. She also created the 'National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League (NARAL), the National Women's Political Caucus (NWPC) and the First Women Bank and Trust Company. Friedan was always a militant, courageous leader. She points out the fact that NOW and her non-stop struggle were the reason that women today are not victims of discrimination anymore. Women have power, women have laws which specifically were enacted to defend their rights in America. Friedan links the success of women in politics and the existing 'Gender Gap' or 'Women Vote' to her 1960's revolution.
Friedan also struggled for women's rights in other countries. She convinced the U.N. to declare 1975 as the 'International Year of the Women.' Friedan wrote that she hated the inside power politics of the movement and NOW. She did not want to fight for power. She let leaders such as Bela Abzug and Gloria Steinham to control NOW. The irony of history. She was not the first or the last founder or pioneer thinker whose disciples betrayed him or her and their legacies as well. But Friedan argued that this betrayal did not stop her from being an original creator of many new organizations or 'think tanks' all in the service of the revolution.
As to her personal intimate life, she tells us a very sad story. Her children and grandchildren enriched her with joy and satisfaction. But the problem was her husband, Carl Friedan. She confessed that she, the fighter for the liberation of women, was a battered women. She was a victim of domestic violence and she was afraid to challenge him and it was very hard for her to divorce him. They have three children.
"Carl and I would get into an argument and he would start beating upon me. But for reasons that are still unclear to me, I still was not considering divorce. I did not confront Carl..." wrote Friedan, who points out that this kind of abuse which leads to divorce has always been a hard to solve issue. In Life So Far, Friedan tries to understand Carl's motives. "Was Carl really a vicious wife-beater?" she asks, but a beater is a beater. Indeed, she could not just get out and ask for divorce. At the end she divorced Carl and had relations with other men. She also loves to tell the reader that she loves sex!
"I helped to start the women's movement. I feel responsible for it and I want its direction to widen," wrote Friedan. She has a dream. She knows that women still must struggle since "we do have some unfinished business. Women still earn less than men, 74 cents of every dollar. There is a solution: a national child care program.
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