is mightier than the burning bra.
world knows that Betty
Friedan (1921-2006) is dead--dead but not gone.
a writer who saw the world around her clearly -- differently
-- she changed the emotional and political landscapes of America.
Whether one ascribes to every detail of her philosophy or
not, it turns out that by being true to herself and by using
the power of the word to change what she thought needed to
be changed, women -- and men -- lead fuller lives today. The
one approach that worked best, however, is when she took up
the pen when many were taking off their brassieres.
course, from time immemorial, the grand gesture has played
a part in change. Think of the scene so beautifully depicted
in Les Miserables of the turning point in the French Revolution.
Though few have the patience and perseverance of Gandhi, it
may be that writing is more effective and lasting (witness
our Constitution based on many of the French Revolution's
The Feminine Mystique Friedan did what all good
writers do. She observed her surroundings, saw her own truth
and wrote about it. By doing so she found that her individual
observations were part of a greater whole, that universal
truth that we have heard for eons from the mouths of good
storytellers. She says, "I could speak my truth as a
woman and it was the truth of every woman."
or not you agree may depend on whether you lived through the
40s and 50s. I feel this way for I know I would not have resumed
my education at what was then considered a ripe age of 31--and
finished. With Friedan paving the way, many women went back
to school, began to practice their arts, returned to professions
they had given up, got jobs that had called to them for some
That Friedan is
a generation older than I, that her writer/researchers eye
was able to see what others did not (or could not, because
prejudices can stalk us on padded, silent feet until someone
trips them up) makes her even more amazing. My mother, still
alive and a scant two years older than Friedan, still believes
that it is the duty of the woman at any amount of sacrifice
to do for her family members that which they can and would
benefit from doing for themselves.
at 85, Friedan also wrote The
Fountain of Age in which she dissected the politics
and prejudices that surround age as she had done decades before
for gender. Ageism -- one of my other favorite causes--is
a topic for another column.
the feminist standards of the 60s and 70s, Friedan was a moderate.
By the standards of the 50s, she was a radical. That she achieved
what she did by writing will assure her a firmer place in
history -- regardless of how you see her today. For the pen
-- if not longer lasting -- is mightier than the burning bra
or the burning flag.