whose manifesto The Feminine Mystique helped
shatter the cozy suburban ideal of the post-World War
II era and laid the groundwork for the modern feminist
movement, died Saturday, her birthday. She was 85.
Friedan died at her Washington, D.C., home of
congestive heart failure, according to a cousin, Emily Bazelon.
Few books have so profoundly changed so many
lives as did Friedan's 1963 best seller. Her assertion
that a woman needed more than a husband and children
was a radical break from the Eisenhower era, when the very
idea of a wife doing any work outside the
home was fodder for gag writers, like an episode
out of I Love Lucy.
Independence for women was no joke, Friedan
wrote. The feminine mystique was a phony deal sold to
women that left them unfulfilled, suffering from "the
problem that has no name," and seeking a solution in
tranquilizers and psychoanalysis. "A woman has got to be
able to say, and not feel guilty, 'Who am I, and what
do I want out of life?' She mustn't feel selfish and
neurotic if she wants goals of her own, outside of
husband and children," Friedan said.
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton said Friedan's
activism and writing "opened doors and minds, breaking
down barriers for women and enlarging opportunities
for women and men for generations to come. We are all
the beneficiaries of her vision."
Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist
Majority Foundation, publisher of Ms. magazine,
and a former president of the National Organization
for Women, praised Friedan's legacy. Friedan, she
said, "was a giant for women's rights and a leading catalyst
of the 20th century whose work led to profound changes
improving the status of women and women's lives"
worldwide. The Feminine Mystique helped to
"define the lesser status of women," she said.
In the racial, political, and sexual conflicts
of the 1960s and '70s, Friedan's was one of the most
commanding voices and recognizable presences in the
women's movement--stocky and big-eyed, with a
personality to match, clashing even with Gloria
Steinem and other feminists.
As the first president of NOW in 1966, Friedan
staked out positions that seemed extreme at the time
on such issues as abortion, sex-neutral help-wanted
ads, equal pay, promotion opportunities, and maternity leave.
Friedan, deeply opposed to "equating feminism
with lesbianism," conceded later that she had been
"very square" and uncomfortable about homosexuality.
"I wrote a whole book objecting to the definition of
women only in sexual relation to men. I would not exchange
that for a definition of women only in sexual relation to
women," she said.
Nonetheless she was a seconder for a resolution
on protecting lesbian rights at the National Women's
Conference in Houston in 1977. "For a great many
women, choosing motherhood makes motherhood itself a
liberating choice," she told an interviewer two decades
later. But she added that this should not be a reason
for conflict with "other feminists who are maybe more
austere, or choose to seek their partners among other women."
By then in her 70s, Friedan had moved on to the
issue of how society views and treats its elderly. She
said that while researching her last book, The
Fountain of Age, published in 1993, she found
those who dealt with old people "talk about the aged with
the same patronizing, 'compassionate' denial of their
personhood that was heard when the experts talked
about women 20 years ago."
Friedan, born February 4, 1921, in Peoria, Ill.,
was a high-achieving Jewish outsider growing up in
Middle America. Her father, Harry Goldstein, owned a
jewelry store; her mother, Miriam, quit a job as a
newspaper women's page editor to become a housewife.
As a girl, Friedan watched her mother "cut down
my father because she had no place to channel her
terrific energies, a typical female disorder that I
call impotent rage," she said.
From high school valedictorian in 1938 to summa
cum laude graduate of Smith College in 1942, "I was
that girl with all A's, and I wanted boys worse than
anything," she said.
She won a fellowship in psychology to the
University of California, Berkeley, but turned down a
bigger fellowship there so as not to outdo a
boyfriend. The romance broke up anyway, and Friedan moved to
Greenwich Village in New York and became a labor reporter.
She lost one job to a returning World War II
veteran but found another before marrying Carl
Friedan, a summer-stock producer and later an
advertising executive, in 1947. The marriage, which produced
three children, ended in divorce 22 years later.
Friedan got a maternity leave to have her first child
in 1949 but was fired and replaced by a man when she
asked for another leave to have the second child five years later.
The family had moved to a big Victorian house in
the suburban Rockland County village of
Grandview-on-the-Hudson, N.Y., where Friedan cranked
out freelance magazine articles while bringing up her brood.
Hoping to get a magazine piece out of a Smith College
15-year reunion, Friedan prepared an in-depth survey
of her classmates. What she found was that these
well-educated women of the class of 1942, now largely
suburban housewives, were asking, in effect, "Is this all?"
Friedan couldn't get the article published in a
magazine, but five more years of research and writing
turned it into The Feminine Mystique. If some
women read it as a call to arms, others were outraged,
Friedan recalled. Dinner invitations stopped; she was out
of the school car pool.
But the first printing of 3,000 eventually grew
to 600,000 copies hardcover and more than 2 million in
paperback. The book was listed at number 37 on a 1999
New York University survey of 100 examples of the best
journalism of the century. In 1964, the family moved back to
Manhattan, and Friedan began working to have the federal
government enforce the Civil Rights Act as it applied
to sex and not only to race, religion, and national origin.
Founding NOW was a response to federal inaction.
The finale of Friedan's presidency was the national
women's strike of August 1970, which brought women out
across the country on the 50th anniversary of women's
suffrage. She also was a founder in 1968 of the
National Conference for Repeal of Abortion Laws, which
became the National Abortion Rights Action League, and
of the National Women's Political Caucus in 1971.
During the following decade she taught and
lectured, and her 1981 book, The Second Stage,
was seen by many as a public break with the feminist
leadership that had succeeded her. She said they had
pursued "sexual politics that distorted the sense of
priorities of the women's movement during the 1970s" and had
opened the way for conservatives and reactionaries to
occupy the center on family issues.
In The Second Stage, Friedan also
appeared to accept criticism from some women that
The Feminine Mystique was too dismissive of
domestic life. "Our failure was our blind spot about
the family," she wrote. Susan Faludi, author of the
best-selling Backlash, would accuse Friedan of
"yanking out the stitches in her own handiwork." (AP)