A Decade Later: Friedan Looks Ahead

READERS WILL GET a nostalgic look at the women's movement this month when W.W. Norton issues a tenth anniversary edition of Betty Friedan's best-seller, The Feminine Mystique. Friedan, a recognized founder of the feminist movement, speaks anew in the edition's prologue and epilogue where she assesses the movement's progress since its beginnings in 1963.

"I wish we could say that it's all over, that it's time to get on to other business," Friedan said to a Law School Forum assembly last month. "But we still must keep moving to the same time that we see how far we've come."

For Friedan, the movement has come a long way in the decade since she pointed to the problem of sex discrimination in The Feminine Mystique. She calls feminism a "unique revolution"--a revolution moving through stages of consciousness which will ultimately bring women to full equality with men.

The woman "is emerging from the feminine mystique to full personhood," says Friedan. "Unconscious historical forces made it possible for women in large numbers to move into society as full human beings and not to be considered solely in sexual terms."

According to Friedan, the movement for equality, initiated by women, was the first stage of a profound sex-role revolution. But that revolution was an unusual one, she says, in that there were no enemies, no win-lose situations. She believes the women's movement is entering a new stage where women and men, working in concert, will break down obsolete sex stereotypes, thereby effecting a human liberation. Friedan says the movement no longer requires an exclusively female orientation. Its present focus should be restructuring social institutions from within, and thus its concerns include both sexes.


Thoughts of the movement's achievements animate the sprightly, gray-haired Smith graduate. Since 1970, however, she has been noticeably less vocal and many consider her feminist stance passe.

NEVERTHELESS, FRIEDAN believes she is still in the mainstream of feminist thought. "One cannot deny that there is an open ideological split in the women's movement," says Friedan. "The media have co-opted the man-hating exhibitionistic image of the movement. Yet there is at the same time, a mainstream activist group, of which I consider myself a part."

Friedan decries the "radical feminist rhetoric" which repudiates a woman's sexuality and right to motherhood. The mother of three, Friedan regards motherhood as an inherent and fulfilling part of womanhood.

In addition, she believes the "radical fringe" has been too willing to isolate women in their relationships to men and to society, and that it has wrongly applied the concepts of race-separatism and class warfare to its own situation. Extremist rhetoric, says Friedan, denies a woman's personhood and fails to affirm her full identity.

"One must differentiate the mainstream of the movement from the basically irrelevant, man-hating, self-denigrating, pathological fringe," she asserts.

At present, however, this radical fringe is only a minor worry for Friedan. Of greater importance to her are the predictions of an imminent economic recession which will threaten the progress that women have made up to date.

Historically, a nation's social conscience declines proportionately to the state of the economy. "Women traditionally are last hired, first fired," Friedan said. If this proves true once again, women in the job market may find themselves without jobs or sources of economic support in the near future.

According to Friedan, women are caught in a struggle between their rising financial expectations and a declining economy. "The emergence of women as a newly-productive force is one of the few active growth factors in the economy today," Friedan said. "Women can continue to share the economic burden, but there must be a real mobilization on their part to prevent a backlash."

Friedan said she plans to create an "economic think tank" composed of women in leadership positions. By so doing, she believes women can be guaranteed a role in deciding national economic policies.

The prospect of a backlash damppens Friedan's enthusiasm about the visible signs of female advancement. With a sense of pride she points to the increasing number of women in professions and graduate schools; to the declining national birthrate and the growing numbers of child-care centers; and to the recent decisions approving abortion and prohibiting sex discrimination. But in the face of a recession, Friedan is adamant about the responsibility of women to protect their recent gains.

"There is no way for women to move in full personhood when they walk as freaks in a man's world," Friedan says. "But we've opened the door. Now we want to move through."

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