Skip to main content

This is written by Dr. Emily Friedan, Betty Friedan's daughter.  I grew up with Emily and Betty, they were like family.  My mother Natalie was Betty's best friend for over forty five years.  Emily asked me to post this, to set the record straight, on what would have been Betty's 90th birthday.

February 4th would be our mother’s 90th birthday, and the 5th anniversary of her death. Her name, Betty Friedan, lives with millions of women around the world almost fifty years since she wrote the Feminine Mystique.

It is with interest---and some dismay-- that I read Stephanie Coontz’s new book, a Strange Stirring, which describes the phenomenal effect the Feminine Mystique had on a multitude of women of 1963, the Aha moment that named their situation and lifted them from their isolation. I appreciate Ms Coontz’ bringing to light grateful letters written to Betty.

The quotes she chose mirror my own memories of being greeted repeatedly by women of all ages and colors whenever we went out, women who approached us and invariably said, "It changed my life".

Oddly, Ms. Coontz states that she "purposely avoided people who had known Betty personally or had become leaders of the women’s movement in the 1960’s and 1970’s" but does not explain why. In so doing, she misses key truths about Betty and her impact.

It seems that Ms Coontz was a reluctant scholar as she admits to not having read the book either as a social historian nor as a graduate student in 1963 nor having experienced the Aha moment from it that she longingly describes others as having. She chose to rely entirely on one biographer with a unique, disputed and oversimplified perspective on Betty’s life and the evolution of her thought. She also proceeds to describe the beginnings of the women’s movement without ever speaking with the women (and men) who were there. In purposefully limiting her sources, she quite frankly got some of it wrong.

Of course the Feminine Mystique is dated as she states – the book was written almost 50 years ago expressly to describe the present with intense scrutiny. If the Feminine Mystique did not feel like it belonged to a different age, we would not still be thinking about it a half century later.

Ms. Coontz criticizes Betty for simplifying and exaggerating points and then offers her own hindsight examination of the same material. Yet, Betty’s uncanny ability to get to the meat of the problem, to identify, name and describe women’s actual experience of the time and make it accessible to thousands was the integral first step to political change. What remains relevant today is the clarity that comes from reading Betty’s sharp words that cut through so much. To analyze and rehash her analysis with the perspective of what came next and over the next 45 years is no less than Monday morning quarterbacking.

Betty told me when I was younger, write what you know. That’s exactly what she did. She wrote about the experience of educated white women. This was not a shortcoming. Imagine the hindsight criticism if Betty had presumed to address the experience of minority women as her critic suggests.

Ms. Coontz seems to have expected Betty to write with clairvoyance, as if she had a crystal ball to the phenomenal events that came after. No, she did not prescribe a woman’s movement in the book. The groundswell of response was unanticipated and it was that response that galvanized the women who were already trying to make change, but frustrated in their efforts.

Betty never claimed to single handedly start the women’s movement as charged. She was inspirational and was solicited by these pioneers as their spokesperson and leader. These same early feminists whom Ms. Coontz purposefully did not speak with have come forward with an outpouring of distress over Coontz’ rewriting of their history. There seems to be a disconnect between the realities of those who write history and those who make it.

In the minds of the people who were there, the women’s movement would not have happened at that time without Betty Friedan and the Feminine Mystique. Thankfully, that history belongs to all of us.

We who know Betty’s contribution honor her memory on the anniversary of her death and her birthday.

Emily Friedan, M.D.
Buffalo, NY

Originally posted to nyceve on Thu Feb 03, 2011 at 04:50 PM PST.

Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags


More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

Pat K California, JekyllnHyde, cdreid, Terri, coral, Mogolori, Radiowalla, hester, slinkerwink, tryptich2, RonV, Gooserock, Emerson, Debby, LynChi, Beet, celdd, eeff, SallyCat, therealdrlaura, bronte17, indybend, BlackSheep1, mint julep, elveta, annrose, MillieNeon, stevej, Geonomist, JuliaAnn, Ignacio Magaloni, splashy, wader, SneakySnu, Miss Jones, cosette, texasmom, Chirons apprentice, TX Scotia, rlharry, lahke, Oaktown Girl, Diana in NoVa, Kitsap River, donna and paul, TexasLefty, bay of arizona, greeseyparrot, Julie Gulden, Big Tex, radarlady, denise b, CTPatriot, Lying eyes, PBen, Alice Venturi, run around, frandor55, Clem Yeobright, Dobber, Laurence Lewis, boofdah, PSzymeczek, Chaoslillith, Waterbug, Dem Beans, jimreyn, ladybug53, cassidy3, blue jersey mom, neroden, benny05, Cory Bantic, Rogneid, peacestpete, Ekaterin, terjeanderson, kathny, fhcec, Jim R, begone, Mehitabel9, noblindeye, snazzzybird, BachFan, irishwitch, ravenwind, Clytemnestra, Themistoclea, cookseytalbott, arlene, dewey of the desert, kck, mooomb, blueoasis, triv33, gooderservice, jerseyjo, ER Doc, Dinclusin, Pilgrim X, CA Nana, doingbusinessas, va dare, Cassiodorus, Dreaming of Better Days, blueoregon, GoldnI, One Pissed Off Liberal, Cronesense, Debs2, mamabigdog, lachsis, edsbrooklyn, Richard Lyon, yowsta, noofsh, terabytes, Calvin Jones and the 13th Apostle, DWG, joyful, aliasalias, jnhobbs, millwood, pioneer111, yella dawg, Dar Nirron, Puffin, JML9999, JDWolverton, Dem in the heart of Texas, mconvente, cruz, ScottyUrb, cindymutti, honey, lineatus, rssrai, MrJayTee, Jeff Y, NogodsnomastersMary, mofembot, Seamus D, S C B, Parthenia, aigeanta, allie123, HarpboyAK, priceman, Quilldriver, marketgeek, Pris from LA, rubyclaire, Zorge, Stranded Wind, Partisan Progressive, IndyRobin, JesseCW, Daily Activist, Denise Oliver Velez, throughaglassdarkly, ohmyheck, MizKit, angel d, purplepenlady, Larsstephens, Words In Action, FogCityJohn, klompendanser, tubacat, pixxer, Egalitare, Jaimas, Betty Pinson, soaglow, Colorado is the Shiznit, mama jo, sboucher, jardin32, m00finsan, BillyElliott, Situational Lefty, Sand Hill Crane, leftymama, CherryTheTart, Vtdblue, PhilJD, randomfacts, Anthony Page aka SecondComing, aerie star, MichaelNY, bluebottles, freelancewoman, sow hat, IndieGuy, DarkWater, 2thanks, belinda ridgewood, JupiterSurf, Ezekiel Zachariah Foster, lunachickie, Steve Canella, SanFernandoValleyMom

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site