Betty Friedan: Another Author Icon Gone
Betty Friedan died today at age 85. In a weird sort of way, I miss her already.
I read “The Feminine Mystique” sometime in the 70s, when I was old enough to want to understand my mother in a societal context (because I certainly didn’t in a self-absorbed teenage angst) and because I was intrigued by, but uncomfortable with, the feminist movement.
The notion that women should aspire to develop and leverage their talents made all the sense in the world to me. That they should deride men and eschew families–a misinterpretation of Friedan’s work, by the way–didn’t.
Years later, I read Friedan’s “The Fountain of Age.” I was with my two daughters on one of our many beach vacations and I found the work compelling and deeply inspiring. My daughters tolerated my enthusiastic reading aloud of passages and smiled in their youthful knowing way when I said I was going to call Betty. I simply had to talk to her about her work and let her know that I was with her 100% as she wrote not about feminism but about personhood!
Well, I did call her. Several times before I finally spoke directly to her. How shocked and disappointed I was when she hung up on me! Perhaps she couldn’t hear me? Had she reached such a height of arrogance that a no-name didn’t deserve courtesy? In retrospect, I can appreciate why she wouldn’t have time for “idle” conversation–she had to have been in her late 70s then. Still, I expected better from her.
Betty Friedan was a controversial woman with a strong voice to champion the human spirit. She didn’t see any reason why society or government should put artificial barriers in place to limit an individual’s growth or contribution to an open and free society. That said, she also expected people to be thoughtful, aware of their impact on others, and kind. She lived her convictions, accepting the sniping that came from many quarters. She was misunderstood by some, vilified by others, and embraced by people who needed her strength and courage to say the things they didn’t have the guts to say.
Betty Friedan made a difference in our world. In that regard, she is a terrific inspiration. Oh, that each of us would find our voice and use it with intelligence and kindness to enlighten and improve.