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February 06, 2006



I think it's important when discussing people to place appropriate context. I think Friedan was a radical woman of her times, but people (including all of us) are still a product of their/our times. She was 85 years old, meaning she was born in the 1920's. I'm not surprised that she wasn't comfortable with homosexuality. I don't know of many straight people from that era that was comfortable with homosexuality. none of us are perfect. I absolutely disagree with Betty in terms of gay rights, but I can also see that she was a rdical woman of her times and appreciate that.

I worked for a Saudi Arabian man once- and he's considered a radical feminist by many in his community. He insisted that his daughters attend college and he's very proud of them having careers. His wife also has a full-time career and works outside of the home- without a headscarf. He abhors violence againt women. However, from a Western viewpoint, I'm sure many feminists would have an issue with some of his beliefs (for example, he feels men and women should get married and have families, for example. In his household, women also eat separately from the men. He thinks men should avoid women during menstruation, etc) However, considering that he comes from a very conservative muslim household and community, he's come a long ways.


I hear you, Catty -- but it would be false to say that all of the heterosexual feminists of her generation were anti-lesbian; many of the early NOW leaders did quarrel with Friedan over this issue. Some of them were "straight" women far more sympathetic to lesbian issues (and radical feminism in general) than Friedan.


I am getting the sense that Friedan deserves a silver or bronze medal, but not the gold medal in feminist movement.


I agree with you, Hugo. I'm only saying that she was a groundbreaker and a radical for her times in many respect, while she fell short in other respects. She was human.

I'm not saying that all heterosexual feminists from her era was anti-lesbian. Not at all. I also understand that many people consider her stance againt homosexuality to be a net negative, and I also agree with them. I'm just saying I do respect her as one of the groundbreakers, and I do think she was a radical woman of her times. I mean, Mahatma Gahndi was pretty anti-sex. He believed that sex was for procreation only- yet he also had some very feminist beliefs. His anti-sex stance, especially considering his cultural and social context- doesn't disqualify him in my eyes as a radical groundbreaker and a feminist for his times.


It's just that it's unfortunate when people bring up faults in a activist for not being perfect. People bring up MLK's womanizing as an attempt to discredit him as a Civil Rights Activist, for example. I believe Betty to be a radical woman that had a large, important influence on feminism, albeit an imperfect leader. Activism is a process and often, it's done in small steps. She was a major groundbreaker in one of the steps, but not so in others.


Agreed, and my tribute to her was simply a reflection -- as a professor who teaches women's history -- on her influence and her complex legacy.


Hugo, I think your post is great. My comment was meant to be a simple comment and not a disagreement with you.


I was so sad to hear of Betty Friedan's passing. It was even harder to take because the young woman newsreader on MSNBC mispronounced Friedan's name - badly. It was clear she had never heard the name Betty Friedan in her life. She probably thinks women have always been news anchors. How sad that she did not recognize the name of the woman who was so instrumental in so many of things our young newsreader takes for granted..


Catty, I absolutely understand, and did not take what you wrote as a criticism at all!

Jill, indeed! The hardest thing is convincing young women that the rights they take for granted were won for them by their foremothers who sweated and bled for them.

Past tense

I must admit I hadn't heard of Friedan until she died. Why aren't these things taught in schools?

Amanda Marcotte

Interesting observation on Friedan and Dworkin. The sad thing is that the anti-feminists are already descending and trying to claim that Friedan was too radical.


past tense - was that meant to be rhetorical? ;)

And Hugo, thanks for a great post. I think it's important to understand people's faults as well as their virtues, the problem is, as Catty and Amanda point out, it's hard to be honest about women like Friedan without unintentionally supporting anti-feminist rhetoric.

I think you did a great job of being honest while avoiding that pitfall.


This is the first that I heard of her death. I remember my first introduction to feminism was when I saw The Feminine Mystique on the shelf of my history professor in high school. He let me borrow the book and from that point on I was a feminist.

Lynn Gazis-Sax

I must admit I hadn't heard of Friedan until she died.

Now I feel really old. Everyone had heard of Friedan when I was a child, even without hearing about her in school.


True story: Last Halloween, I dressed up as the Feminine Mystique. (I had a Donna Reed dress, seamed stockings, pearls, and apron, a martini glass, and a bottle of pills.) It was a little abstract, but I thought it was funny. My roommate at the time was a Ph.D student in a humanities program with a strong focus on sociology. When she asked about my costume, I just said I was the Feminine Mystique. She looked puzzled and said "That's a cool name. Where did you come up with it? Is it from a book or something?"

I felt like I needed the martini and pills then.

David Thompson

Now I feel really old. Everyone had heard of Friedan when I was a child, even without hearing about her in school.

That's not surprising. There is only slightly less time between the publication of The Feminine Mystique and today, than between the Treaty of Versailles and the publication of The Feminine Mystique.


It's just that it's unfortunate when people bring up faults in a activist for not being perfect.

There's a difference between faults that are orthogonal to the activism and faults that weaken that person's activism. "Betty Friedan smoked" would be orthogonal; Betty Friedan ranting about the Lavender Menace is not, because that went directly to her feminism and advocacy for women.

That doesn't mean her advocacy was worthless, of course, or that The Feminine Mystique was worthless. But we do her no service by swallowing her ideas uncritically, as if they were fixed in time and perfect, without noting her homophobia and classism.



I think you should consider not inflicting yourself on women and never have kids.


I went back in time here because I saw this on the "recent comments" bar and it turned out someone was just spamming it. But I noticed Catty said " People bring up MLK's womanizing as an attempt to discredit him as a Civil Rights Activist, for example." and I can't resist pointing out that such rumours were in fact manufactured by the FBI and untrue.


if you will remember in texas 1977 to ratify the UNs platform for women
betty seconded the motion supporting lesbian rights

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