Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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February 8, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

BETTY FRIEDAN....Pepper is surprised that Betty Friedan's death hasn't gotten more attention, and I guess I am too. I suppose the reason is partly due to her temperamental personality and famously stormy battles with fellow feminists, which cuts way down on the number of people willing to pen loving eulogies in her memory; partly because later feminists became disenchanted with her stubborn unwillingness to embrace gender issues beyond the equality feminism she had pioneered (or, perhaps, resurrected); and partly just because she's been out of the limelight for a long time and a lot of people today barely even know who she was.

Still, she changed the world. Things are pretty tough when that by itself isn't enough to get you a boatload of attention when you die. In minor tribute, then, here's an excerpt from The Feminine Mystique:

It is easy to see the concrete details that trap the suburban housewife, the continual demands on her time. But the chains that bind her in her trap are chains in her own mind and spirit. They are chains made up of mistaken ideas and misinterpreted facts, of incomplete truths and unreal choices. They are not easily seen and not easily shaken off.

How can any woman see the whole truth within the bounds of her own life? How can she believe that voice inside herself when it denies the conventional, accepted truths by which she has been living? And yet the women I have talked to, who are finally listening to that inner voice, seem in some incredible way to be groping through to a truth that has defied the experts.

If you haven't read The Feminine Mystique, why not go ahead and do it now? It's a very good book: witty, readable, and even quite funny in places. Plus it placed #7 on the Human Events list of the Ten Most Harmful Books of the 19th and 20th Centuries, right below Das Kapital. What more can you ask for?

Kevin Drum 1:01 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (27)

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When I saw that the hard-right partisan assistant editor of our local rag penned a screed on Betty Friedan and The Feminine Mystique, my defenses went on red alert. But then she wrote an amazingly warm and glowing testimony and obit to Friedan's life work, and I swear I could feel the Earth go off it's orbit ever so slightly. I hate when conservatives confound expectation.


Posted by: HRlaughed on February 8, 2006 at 1:06 AM | PERMALINK

I hate when conservatives confound expectation.

That's odd - I love it when on the rare occasion they finally act like sensible, compassionate human beings.

Posted by: Irony Man on February 8, 2006 at 1:22 AM | PERMALINK

Irony Man: I was being sarcastic. You, or course, are correct.


Posted by: HRlaughed on February 8, 2006 at 1:24 AM | PERMALINK

of, I meant OF.

Fast fingers fail.


Posted by: HRlaughed on February 8, 2006 at 1:25 AM | PERMALINK

Watch out for #5 on "Human Events" list--its John Dewey's "Democracy and Education". An evil book in which the author "signed the Humanist manifesto"! Yeah, I can see how that might be worse for some than women's rights...what a bunch of loons!

Posted by: parrot on February 8, 2006 at 3:10 AM | PERMALINK

We've had Corretta King, Shirley Chisholm, Betty Freidan and Rosa Parks all die within the space of a year.

All were stupendous women, and I for one feel a little too overwhelmed by the loss to do other than note their passing.

Too much to tackle now, especially with so much else going down.

Posted by: Republic of palau on February 8, 2006 at 5:27 AM | PERMALINK

Worth noting that she was VERY anti-lesbian in the Feminine Mystique, and I recall some cause to believe that view never quite changed.

Posted by: Jeff H on February 8, 2006 at 7:29 AM | PERMALINK

I suspect the death of Mrs. King took over most of whatever news space would otherwise have been devoted to the death of Ms. Friedan. The media can only handle one such story at a time.

Posted by: Pfeff on February 8, 2006 at 8:45 AM | PERMALINK

My wife grew up ultra-traditional in the 50s. Feminine Mystique, she says, really woke her up.

Posted by: Jeffrey Davis on February 8, 2006 at 8:47 AM | PERMALINK

That book list is incredible! Nietzsche, Kinsey, Keynes, with a dose of Mill and Darwin in the runners-up. Simply amazing. The intellectual breadth of the list is great! It's like a must read list for the intensely curious.

It is hard for me to imagine the organization that would be against most of these these books.

Actually, who can be against books?


Posted by: Jake - but not the one on February 8, 2006 at 8:50 AM | PERMALINK

Many thanks for directing me to the Human Events list. Just mind-boggling, including the highly selective, deceptive, and out-of-context explanations. Check the panel which chose the books: 14 men, plus Phyllis Schafly.

Posted by: Jim Bartle on February 8, 2006 at 9:16 AM | PERMALINK

Grampa Munster stole the limelight.

Posted by: Preston on February 8, 2006 at 10:28 AM | PERMALINK

She was a homophobe. Who needs that shit?

Posted by: KillerMac on February 8, 2006 at 10:50 AM | PERMALINK

not to be a troll, but moderen feminism is as relevent to 21st century america as the lava lamp.

Educated people understand she did important work (Howard Stern actually did a really nice eulogy for her), but I think the things most feminists currently talk about are so irrelevent to the mass of people, they just get tuned out. Betty was sensible, and understood what Feminism was, but most current feminist "leaders" are over-educated, unrealistic, oversensitive complainers. So, Betty gets painted with the broad brush and overlooked.

Posted by: exhuming mccarthy on February 8, 2006 at 11:04 AM | PERMALINK

It's so helpful to have a list of recommended reading from Phyllis Schafly and others. It's an impressive reading list.

I mean, it could be better. Mein Kampf is horrible, of course. Sorel is pretty silly, although I suppose Ayn Rand makes him sound like the Federalist Papers by comparison. And I have no idea what it's like, but I bet "The Greening of America" sounds quaint now. Freud and Darwin wrote more important books. As a reading list, it's priorities are off; I wouldn't make The Communist Manifesto the best book of all time by any means. It has so many gaps. But at least it's a start. In fact, I'm having trouble thinking of a decent conservative manifesto that's literate enough to add. Maybe Edmund Burke or Hannah Arendt.

Posted by: artcrit on February 8, 2006 at 11:06 AM | PERMALINK

Three cheers for Betty!

True, she was a homophobe... but the conformist, misogynist culture she battled wasn't exactly a glowing beacon of tolerance for lesbians, either. The next generation picked up the torch and ran further with it.

History is graded on a curve, and Betty Friedan's small but important place in history deserves respect.

Posted by: Violet on February 8, 2006 at 11:39 AM | PERMALINK

most current feminist "leaders" are over-educated, unrealistic, oversensitive complainers

Yeah, damn those over-educated women, whose unfeminine critical faculties find inequities that make others uncomfortable!

::rolls eyes::

Posted by: latts on February 8, 2006 at 11:41 AM | PERMALINK


Hear, hear. The Feminine Mystique is an amazing book, and has to be judged in its context. It was a delight to watch her take on functionalist sociology years before the paradigm collapsed.


Hannah Arendt, who wrote On Totalitarianism, is hardly any conservative.

She, along with the cultural neomarxist Frankfurt School refugees, helped found the New School for Social Research.


Posted by: rmck1 on February 8, 2006 at 11:57 AM | PERMALINK

If the later feminists had listened to Betty Friedan, their movement would be in a lot better shape than it is today.

Posted by: tam1MI on February 8, 2006 at 12:12 PM | PERMALINK

I agree totally!

Posted by: titan poker bonus on February 8, 2006 at 12:29 PM | PERMALINK

A while ago, I read an interesting obituary story on a most unlikely feminist heroine. The author asserted this woman set the stage for Betty Friedan by liberating women from the slavery of housework. That heroine was: Julia Child.

Posted by: charlie don't surf on February 8, 2006 at 12:45 PM | PERMALINK

Don't discount the hard edges of Julia Child. She was a Resistence operative in France during WWII. She could take you out with a pastry brush.

Posted by: Keith G on February 8, 2006 at 1:04 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin, Thanks for that Human Events list. It confirms mainly that these right wingers just hate the 1960's. They just hate all of it. The 60's have far more entries on the list than any other decade (6), and if you toss in 1970-71 (written in the 60's probably), it comes to 9, nearly a third of the whole list.

When young folks ask what it was about the 60's anyway, I have always mentioned that it seemed like some important book came out every week. Then I quote Wordsworth:

"Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,
but to be young was very Heaven."

Except, of course, that some of the books were bad, but nothing to top Mein Kampf. And some of them, Nader, Carson, Friedan, for example, changed the world for the better -- a rare compliment for any book.

Posted by: David in NY on February 8, 2006 at 2:26 PM | PERMALINK

Kinsey's ground breaking volume on the sexual response of women did far more for the gals than BETTY FRIEDAN.

Posted by: Matt on February 8, 2006 at 3:08 PM | PERMALINK

Sorry, but I am not going to forgive Friedan for "comfortable concentration camps" even in death.

Posted by: waterfowl on February 8, 2006 at 3:39 PM | PERMALINK


Why? Because the rhetoric of Holocaust metaphors offends you?

Sorry, I'm way too much of a Frank Zappa fan not to indulge in the sensibilities of the dark metaphor.

I follow Hannah Arendt on this: True systematized evil is not uniquely monstrous -- it is, rather, banal.

That Betty Friedan is an Eastern European Jew by descent is further argument that her intent was hardly to trivialize the German death camps.


Posted by: rmck1 on February 8, 2006 at 11:43 PM | PERMALINK



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