With her death this week, Betty Friedan’s legacy is complete. Actually, Friedan herself closed the books years ago on the movement that she started when she rejected modern feminism and those leaders who followed her.
The final knell for the movement was left for the current generation; they have rejected feminism outright. A CBS poll revealed that three out of four women described the word “feminist” as an insult. Another study found that the number of working women who believe that a career is as important as being a wife and mother has fallen 23 percent since the ’70s.
Clearly, feminism today a movement that spawned hatred for men, fostered lesbianism, and pushed radical politics is out of step with mainstream women.
Feminism has “come a long way”; a long way . . . the wrong way!
In the early ’60s, the book Feminine Mystique took the women of America by storm. By becoming an advocate for women’s power, Betty Friedan brought her cause into the living rooms and bedrooms of America and launched the so-called “women’s movement.” Claiming that frustrated and thwarted women were downing tranquilizers “like cough drops,” she said, “Some people thought I said, ‘Women . . . you have nothing to lose but your men.’ It’s not true. You have nothing to lose but your vacuum cleaners.”
Friedan obviously struck a responsive nerve over 45 years ago. Women of the ’60s were happy to have a sophisticated-sounding secular analysis for their spiritual hunger, and thousands sought to fill their emptiness with feminist manna. In contrast to Oprah, who teaches women to seek power from within, Friedan sought to find power in the external marketplace. Strong women pursued power, she proclaimed power provided the path toward self-actualization and happiness.
Far too many women, including Betty Friedan herself, crashed their lives on the shoals of faulty reasoning about the path to power. Their grasping attempts to seize power led not to self-actualization but disillusionment and cynicism.
Friedan was foremost among those who became disillusioned and cynical. She talked about the “problem that has no name” and viewed women as victims. She was the impetus behind the devaluing of women as wives and mothers. Being female, she said, meant having delusions and false values, and being forced to find fulfillment and identity through husbands and children.
Friedan worked nine hours a day so that, she said, being a wife and a mother would not “interfere with what I regarded as my real life.”
We are confronted through Friedan’s death with the reality of another utopian ideal, whose animating principles women’s rights, sexual equality and the fulfillment of women’s potential are high-sounding and noble. Even her friends describe her as difficult, ill-tempered, disagreeable, ego-driven, rude, nasty, self-serving and imperious. Unhappily married for 21 years, her three children had to undergo therapy to deal with what was called “the emotional fallout.”
Today, Friedan’s lament that “morality doesn’t have anything to do with what two people do in bed” has turned relationships between men and women to a matter of disease prevention. Charles Krauthammer summarized it this way: “Where once the health of the soul took primacy, now the health of the body is supreme.”
By devaluing home and hearth, far too many women have found their window of opportunity for marriage and family closed. Today in America, more women of typical marriage age (20-45) are unmarried than ever before. Late-marrying couples are spending billions on fertility treatments desperately hoping to have a child.
By eschewing marriage, single mothers have ended up both rocking the baby and paying the rent. The children of single mothers are paying an even higher price one-third of U.S. children are born out-of-wedlock, the majority of whom will grow up in poverty and at-risk in every outcome category.
Promiscuity and cohabitation have resulted in 10 million people under the age of 25 contracting an STD every year!
Divorce-on-demand has left 35 million kids bereft.
And, finally, tragically, more than 43 million babies have been aborted, leaving untold pain for the women who would have been their mothers.
Somewhere along the way, the feminist movement forgot that “having it all” included the personal dimension. Life is not just profession and career. Success is not measured just in power, paycheck and status. The 2003 Young Businesswoman of the Year, Gabrielle Molnar, explained that she didn’t want to be called a feminist because “feminism doesn’t support the cause of women.”
Certainly, women want the freedom to be all that they can be and they want to be treated with dignity and respect. They also want the opportunity to have meaningful careers and productive lives but most aren’t willing for their ambition to harm their relationships or damage their children.
Janice Shaw Crouse, Ph.D., author, columnist and commentator, is Senior Fellow of Concerned Women for America’s Beverly LaHaye Institute.