A Note about Betty Friedan
In addition to misrepresenting the history of the woman’s movement and the campaign to legalize abortion, in Subverted, Sue Ellen Browder writes a defense of Betty Friedan and The Feminine Mystique (although she says she has no interest in defending Friedan, this is exactly what she does). I have discussed Friedan and The Feminine Mystique in a previous essay, The Total Anti-Feminist, but I will add here to what I’ve already said.
At the beginning of Subverted, which is one part confession (Browder once worked for Cosmo magazine until she repented of writing for the sexual revolution and became a Catholic) and one part indictment of the pro-abortion movement, Browder makes a case for what she terms Friedan’s “family feminism.” She writes that Friedan “insisted the new women’s movement must be pro-family.”
Years after Friedan, and others (for she didn’t do it single-handedly), unleashed the second wave of feminism, Friedan criticized the movement she had started for becoming too obsessed with abortion. While it is true that Friedan made such statements as “I never believed in feminism or the family or feminism against the family…” (Life so Far) and “I am not for abortion, I am for the choice to have children” (The Second Stage), she explains that this is because she doesn’t like that the “right wing” gets to preempt the positions of being for life or for family. Again, Friedan was driven by her own strategic vision—these statements aren’t a sign of any weakening of her pro-abortion stance, but are evidence of Friedan’s strategy to appeal to as broad an audience as possible (in the case of Browder it seems to have worked—remember, Friedan was always interested in having liberal-minded Catholics on board). She also said in It Changed My Life (hearkening back to the “voluntary motherhood” statements of Elizabeth Cady Stanton):
Am I saying that women must be liberated from motherhood? No, I am saying that motherhood will only be a joyous and responsible human act when women are free to make, with full conscious choice and full human responsibility, the decisions to become mothers. Then and only then, will they be able to embrace motherhood without conflict, when they will be able to define themselves not just as somebody’s mother, not just as servants of children, not just as breeding receptacles, but as people for whom motherhood is a freely chosen part of life, freely celebrated while it lasts, but for whom creativity has many more dimensions, as it has for men. Then, and only then, will motherhood cease to be a curse and a chain for men, and for children.
Browder quotes an interview Friedan did 30 years after The Feminine Mystique was published (with Playboy magazine) where she says, “Feminism was not opposed to marriage and motherhood…You want a feminism that includes women who have children and want children because that’s the majority of women.”
The above quote again reveals Friedan’s strategy to include as many women as possible in feminism to make it as strong and powerful as possible.
Browder also does the same thing with Friedan that Feminists for Life President Serrin Foster did with Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the fact that Stanton had seven children. She takes the fact that Friedan had children and loved them as evidence that she was pro-motherhood and pro-family. Browder says, “As a mother of three, Betty frequently said that her children were never a problem for her but were ‘a sheer delight, so beautiful, so bright, so funny, so themselves. They seemed like a bonus in my life, an unexpected, maybe undeserved, marvelous bonus’.” Her children were a “bonus?” This doesn’t sound like pro-family language to me as understood by the Catholic Church or the “pro-family” movement.
What Browder fails to mention is that Friedan’s idea of the right to be a mother does not include women who choose to be “stay-at-home-moms” and don’t work outside of the home. In The Feminist Mystique, she wrote:
It is urgent to understand how the very condition of being a housewife can create a sense of emptiness, non-existence, nothingness, in women. There are aspects of the housewife role that make it almost impossible for a woman of adult intelligence to retain a sense of human identity, the firm core of self or “I” without which a human being, man or woman, is not truly alive. For women of ability, in America today, I am convinced there is something about the housewife state itself that is dangerous.
Friedan insisted that:
…the only kind of work that permits an able woman to realize her abilities fully, to achieve identity in society in a life plan that can encompass marriage and motherhood is…the lifelong commitment to an art or science, to politics or profession.
Friedan preached that women must reject the housewife role, but not necessarily reject marriage and motherhood. What does this mean practically? The working-mom scenario with daycares and nannies coming to the rescue, which is now the norm for family life. However, a scenario where children are farmed out to strangers to be cared for and educated can never be considered pro-family.
Further, Friedan’s “family feminism” is not pro-family as Catholics understand it (and remember, Browder is a Catholic). In her memoir, Life So Far, Friedan wrote:
Ideologically, I was never for abortion. Motherhood is a value to me, and even today abortion is not. I would be the happiest woman in the world if RU-486 or something equivalent would make abortion unnecessary, and I think that’s going to happen very soon. But the issue had to be confronted. You couldn’t have woman’s equality without her own control of the reproductive processes.
This statement contains two contradictions. First, what is “You couldn’t have woman’s equality without her own control of the reproductive processes” if not pro-abortion ideology? Second, RU-486 is abortion—in a pill not as a procedure. What does this reveal about Friedan? That at times she wrote hurriedly and didn’t think things through? Probably. It certainly reveals that Friedan’s feminism was not pro-family as Catholics understand it.
Further, Browder, a freelance writer, is sorely uninformed on the history of the women’s movement in the U.S. She states that, “The sexual revolution, with its fervent insistence upon contraception and abortion as the paths to women’s freedom, was not part of the original women’s movement.” I discussed early feminism and its links to what are now called “reproductive rights” in my essay The Total Anti-Feminist, but I will include a quote from Crystal Eastman, an early feminist, regarding the relationship between feminism and contraception:
Whether other feminists would agree with me that the economic is the fundamental aspect of feminism, I don’t know. But on this we are surely agreed, that Birth Control is an elementary essential in all aspects of feminism… I would almost say that the whole structure of the feminist’s dream of society rests upon the rapid extension of scientific knowledge about birth control. (Birth Control Review, 1918)
The conclusion of this essay will be posted next week.