Friedan, Betty 1921–2006

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Friedan, Betty 1921–2006

(Betty Naomi Friedan)

PERSONAL: Born February 4, 1921, in Peoria, IL; died February 4, 2006, in Washington, DC, of heart failure; daughter of Harry (a jeweler) and Miriam (Horowitz) Goldstein; married Carl Friedan (a theater producer), June, 1947 (divorced May, 1969); children: Daniel, Jonathan, Emily. Education: Smith College, A.B. (summa cum laude), 1942; further study at University of California, Berkeley, University of Iowa, and Esalen Institute. Politics: Democrat.

CAREER: Feminist organizer, writer, and lecturer at universities, institutes, and professional associations worldwide, including Harvard Law School, University of Chicago, Vassar College, Smithsonian Institution, New York Bar Association, U.S. Embassy in Bogota, Colombia, and in Sweden, the Netherlands, Brazil, Israel, and Italy, beginning in the 1960s; organizer and director, First Women's Bank & Trust Co., New York City, 1974–.Organizer, Women's Strike for Equality, 1970, International Feminist Congress, 1973, and Economic Think Tank for Women, 1974; consultant for President's Commission on the Status of Women, 1964–65, and Rockefeller Foundation project on education of women, 1965. Delegate, White House Conference on Family, 1980, United Nations Decade for Women Conferences in Mexico City, Copenhagen, and Nairobi. Instructor in creative writing and women's studies, New York University, 1965–73; visiting professor, Yale University, 1974, and Queens College of the City University of New York, 1975; visiting scholar, University of Southern Florida, Sarasota, 1985; distinguished visiting professor, School of Journalism and Social Work, University of Southern California.

MEMBER: National Organization for Women (NOW; founding president, 1966–70; member of board of directors of legal defense and education fund), National Women's Political Caucus (founder; member of national policy council, 1971–73), National Association to Repeal Abortion Laws (vice-president, 1972–74), National Conference of Public Service Employment (member of board of directors), Girl Scouts of the U.S.A. (member of national board), Women's Forum, American Sociological Association, Association for Humanistic Psychology, Gerontological Society of America, PEN, American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA), American Society of Journalists and Authors, Authors Guild, Authors League of America, Women's Ink, Women's Forum, Society of Magazine Writers, Phi Beta Kappa, Coffee House.

AWARDS, HONORS: New World Foundation-New York State Education Department grant, 1958–62; Wilhelmina Drucker Prize for contribution to emancipation of men and women, 1971; Humanist of the Year award, 1975; American Public Health Association citation, 1975; Mort Weisinger Award for outstanding magazine article, American Society of Journalists and Authors, 1979; Author of the Year, American Society of Journalists and Authors; L.H.D., Smith College, 1975, State University of New York at Stony Brook, 1985, and Cooper Union, 1987; Chubb fellow, Yale University, 1985; Andrus Center for Gerontology fellow, University of Southern California, 1986; Eleanor Roosevelt Leadership Award, 1989; Doctorate (honorary), Columbia University, 1994.


The Feminine Mystique, Norton (New York, NY), 1963, revised edition, 1974, twentieth-anniversary edition, 1983, rerpinted with a new introduction by the author, 1997, reprinted with an introduction by Anna Quindlen, 2001.

It Changed My Life: Writings on the Women's Movement, Random House, 1976, published with a new introduction by the author, Norton, 1985.

The Second Stage, Summit Books, 1981, revised edition with a new introduction and afterword by the author, 1986, reprinted with a new introduction by the author, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 1998.

The Fountain of Age, Simon &Schuster (New York City), 1993.

Beyond Gender: The New Politics of Work and Family, Woodrow Wilson Center Press (Washington, DC), 1997.

Life So Far, Simon & Schuster, 2000.

Contributor to books, including Voices of the New Feminism, edited by Mary Lou Thompson, Beacon Press, 1970, and to anthologies, including Anatomy of Reading, edited by L.L. Hackett and R. Williamson, McGraw, 1966; Gentlemen, Scholars, and Scoundrels: Best of "Harper's" 1850 to the Present; and A College Treasury. Contributor of articles to periodicals, including Saturday Review, New York Times Magazine, Harper's, Redbook, Mademoiselle, Ladies' Home Journal, Newsday, and Working Woman; contributing editor and columnist for McCall's, 1971–74; member of editorial board for Present Tense.

The Schlesinger Library of Radcliffe College maintains a collection of Friedan's personal papers.

SIDELIGHTS: When Betty Friedan's first book, The Feminine Mystique, was published in 1963 it helped launch the modern women's movement by debunking the myth of the post-war woman—a content home-maker who deferred her own ambitions and interests to take care of her family. Friedan was the first writer to analyze how the perpetration of this stereotype belied the complexity of most women's lives; she called this phenomenon "the feminine mystique." With the publication of the book, she immediately became one of the women's movement's most visible proponents, participating in the founding of the National Organization for Women (NOW) in 1966 and lobbying incessantly for such causes as the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment and legalization of abortion. By the 1990s her concerns had shifted to issues pertaining to aging. Her book The Fountain of Age was prompted by "feelings of deja vu [that washed] over me as I hear[d] geriatric experts talk about the aged with the same patronizing 'compassionate' denial of their personhood that I heard when experts talked about women 20 years ago," Friedan wrote in the New York Times Magazine.

Friedan's journey to political activism began in the early-1960s when she lost her job as a newspaper reporter after requesting her second maternity leave. Although she graduated from college with honors in psychology, she turned down a fellowship at University of California at Berkeley in order to devote herself to her growing family. In her spare time she began to write articles for women's magazines and soon discovered a pattern of bias on the part of the magazines' editors. "They claimed a woman painting a crib was interesting to their readers, but a woman painting a picture was not," summarized Marilyn French in Esquire. "The reality of women's lives … was censored; what appeared was a fantasy, a picture-book image of happy female domesticity," French continued. The Feminine Mystique addressed this generation of women whose lives were supposed to be made more convenient by the proliferation of time-saving appliances and the trappings of suburbia. Instead, many of these women turned to tranquilizers or lived with vague feelings of uneasiness and unfulfillment. A Times Literary Supplement reviewer defined the mystique as a "victorian homelife made roseate by the women's magazines and the admen, and made intellectually respectable by pseudo-Freud."

Criticism of the book was diverse. Sylvia Fleis Fava, writing in the American Sociological Review, noted that "Friedan tends to set up a counter-mystique; that all women must have creative interests outside the home to realize themselves. This can be just as confining and tension-producing as any other mold." Fava also explained that Friedan was not warmly received by all feminists in those early years-especially the movement's more radical elements who saw her views as somewhat reactionary and bourgeois. This discord resulted in the fracturing of the women's movement in the early 1970s in which other prominent feminists, most notably Gloria Steinem and Bella Abzug, gained control of the National Women's Political Caucus and NOW, two of the most powerful feminist organizations at the time.

Friedan's next two books, It Changed My Life: Writings on the Women's Movement and The Second Stage, document the women's movement as it pertains to her own experiences. It Changed My Life is a compilation of Friedan's writings from the 1960s and 1970s in which she sorts out the healthy, productive elements of the movement from the petty, divisive ones in an attempt to gain a new focus—"She wants us to get together in a cause that is right and good for all of us, women, men, children, grandparents, single people, everybody," wrote Eliot Fremont-Smith in the Village Voice. Accounts of the activities of the National Women's Political Caucus detail the maneuvering that typified the movement at that point, as alliances shifted and allegations were made that resulted in a less-than-unified front. However, Stephanie Harrington of the New York Times Book Review questioned Friedan's "half-light between innuendo and substantiated accusation, juxtaposing names and her version of events and letting the implications fall where they may" approach. Friedan also received criticism for her assertion that lesbianism is a private matter and therefore should not be an issue for the women's movement—an opinion that infuriated many lesbians who considered themselves integral to the movement. Such fringe groups, Friedan argued, threatened basic gains for all women, especially passage of the Equal Rights Amendment. Many critics further faulted Friedan for her maternal attitude towards her accomplishments; Sara Sanborn in the Saturday Review described it as "a self-justifying, even self-regarding tone … as though Friedan were afraid that we might forget our debt to her."

The Second Stage explains how the backlash from the first wave of feminism caused a "feminist mystique" to emerge in the form of the "superwoman" stereotype—she who effortlessly combines family, career, and satisfying social life. This new prevailing wisdom enabled "the Moral Majority, Ronald Reagan, and various Neanderthal forces [to] bear down with a wrecker" and threaten the gains women have made, wrote Webster Schott of the Washington Post Book World. Friedan defines the "second stage" as "the restructuring of our institutions on the basis of real equality for women and men, so we can live a new 'yes' to life and love, and choose to have children." She urges those in the women's movement to make the family its central focus. Furthermore, she proposes revised standards of performance for women's roles, because expecting women to perform at their highest levels in both the workplace and the home is unrealistic; they no longer have the luxury of concentrating on a single role as previous generations of women did. The "feminist mystique," Friedan said in an interview with Paula Gribetz Gottlieb in Working Woman, refers to "an agenda so concentrated on that which had been denied … that it denies that there are other aspects to her life…. What is needed now is an integration of the two."

With the publication of The Fountain of Age in 1993, Friedan moved to the forefront of another emerging movement-one that seeks to improve the quality of life and amount of respect for older people. The goal of this movement, Friedan states, is for society to see aging not as a process whereby individuals become useless, but as a new phase of life that is none the less vital or interesting than youth. Enumerating statistics illustrating that people are living longer than ever, that women live longer than men, and that people over sixty-five are the fastest growing demographic in the country, Friedan sets out to overturn stereotypes that cast the elderly as non-participants in society. According to Friedan, the "age mystique" is the unacceptable view "that aging is acceptable only if it passes for youth," wrote Carol Kleiman in Chicago Tribune Books.

After three decades of promoting her own strain of feminism, Friedan finally admits in The Fountain of Age "with relief and excitement, my liberation from the power politics of the women's movement. I recognized my own compelling need now to transcend the war between the sexes, the no-win battles of women as a whole sex, oppressed victims, against men as a whole sex, the oppressors…. The unexpectedness of this new quest has been my adventure into age." However, Friedan does credit feminism for providing women with a greater ability to adapt to the challenges of aging. Though Friedan's ideas are not necessarily groundbreaking or revolutionary—"word has been out for years that old age need not be synonymous with deterioration," stated David Gates in Newsweek—they bring the issue into the mainstream with discussions and anecdotes about life after menopause, mountain-climbing expeditions, and maintaining healthy relationships.

Criticism of The Fountain of Age came from Nancy Mairs in the New York Times Book Review, who warned that the author "generalizes from the conditions and experiences of a predominately white middle-class population … for people from diverse ethnic and economic backgrounds aging may present altogether different challenges." Others have faulted Friedan's writing for what they see as a lack of organization and excessive length due to repetition; "a prose style that resembles nothing so much as a community bulletin board, full of flabby words," according to Christopher Lehman-Haupt in the New York Times. Kleiman was puzzled by Friedan's support for the lifestyle Playboy magnate Hugh Hefner has adopted in his later years while simultaneously dismissing Steinem, now in her fifties, who is still a high-profile feminist activist. Diane Middlebrook, writing in the Los Angeles Times Book Review, also commented on Friedan's interpretation of cultural attitudes toward aging by determining that "Friedan is better as a muckraker challenging the disease model by which the conditions of aging are approached by medical and social institutions." When it comes to research priorities and allocation of funds, for example, Friedan thinks the medical establishment focuses too heavily on sickness and disability while ignoring the healthy, active populace over sixty-five. Despite this, Kleiman wrote, "She shows no desire to evade issues, no matter how delicate and difficult." Middlebrook concluded that "readers not turned off by her occasional nervous preening will find much to enlighten and provoke as they join her in the contemplation of possibilities."

Friedan died on February 4, 2006, of congestive heart failure.



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Mitchell, Juliet, Psychoanalysis and Feminism, Random House, 1974.


American Sociological Review, December, 1963, pp. 1053-54.

Business Week, November 1, 1993, p. 18.

Chicago Tribune Book World, November 8, 1981.

Encounter, February, 1983.

Esquire, December, 1983.

Humanist, January/February, 1991, pp. 26-27.

Insight on the News, October 25, 1993, p. 12; June 27, 1994, p. 40.

Life, fall, 1990, p. 107.

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Nation, November 14, 1981; November 28, 1981.

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New Republic, April 27, 1974; January 20, 1982; July 1, 1983; October 11, 1993, p. 49.

Newsweek, October 4, 1993, p. 78.

New York Times, August 3, 1976; April 25, 1983; June 2, 1986; October 11, 1993.

New York Times Book Review, July 4, 1976, pp. 7-8; November 22, 1981; October 3, 1993, p. 1.

New York Times Magazine, July 5, 1981; February 27, 1983; November 3, 1985.

People Weekly, October 4, 1993, p. 26.

Psychology Today, November-December, 1993, p. 20.

Publishers Weekly, June 28, 1993, p. 61.

Saturday Review, July 24, 1976; October, 1981.

Tikkun, March-April, 1994, p. 79.

Times Literary Supplement, May 31, 1963; July 30, 1982.

Tribune Books (Chicago), September 12, 1993.

Village Voice, June 28, 1976, pp. 43-44.

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New York Times, February 5, 2006.