Betty Friedan died yesterday, her 85th birthday. I have been reflecting on her and what she did for women.
What came to mind almost immediately was taking a women’s studies class at the University of Michigan as a journalism fellow in 1996. I had the pleasure of being a 30-something among a group of 20-somethings in that class; it had a nice, fresh energy. But I got a bit of a rude awakening when we talked about Friedan. Those young women were ripping The Feminine Mystique like it was a Harlequin Romance.
“It is not inclusive of all women,” one student huffed.
This contention annoys me so much. It took courage for Friedan to write that book at that time, to challenge the June Cleaver role and make it OK for some women to want more. Not all women. Some. There are women who are born homemakers. They thrive in the role and make it look easy when it clearly isn’t. But that life isn’t a good fit for others. Back in the 50s, it wasn’t common for a wife and mother to express that deep down she feels she was meant to be doing something in addition to those roles.
I love that Friedan validated those women and gave them wings to fly. I love that she didn’t sit around and bitch about her lot in life and instead did something productive with her energy. I love that she founded NOW and that she later turned her attention to the elderly. Clearly, she was a keen observer of her time.
Those of us who are female and had the privilege of choosing a career post-Friedan should take a moment to express our appreciation. It would be a fitting tribute.
Rest in peace, Ms. Friedan.