Old Age Should Be Embraced, Friedan Says

Feminist Writer Criticizes Media for Neglecting to Portray Seniors

Old age is something to be embraced, feminist Betty Friedan told a crowd of 250 last night at the Sheraton Commander Hotel in Cambridge.

"You have to break through the denial," Friedan said. "What is age? Another change, that's all."

Friedan was the headline speaker for a two-day Radcliffe College conference titled "Women Over Fifty--Rethinking Our Lives." She is the founder of the National Organization of Women, the National Political Caucus and the National Abortion Rights Action League.

In her groundbreaking book The Feminine Mystique, published in 1963, Friedan described the frustration of many American housewives. Her most recent book is The Fountain of Age (1993), an exploration of ways to grow old gracefully and productively.

"The two main things that are key [when growing old] are purposes and projects that give your day a complex structure and the bonds of intimacy," Friedan said. "Love and work. Freud was not wrong in everything."


But men and women accept their aging differently, according to Friedan.

"If a man's wife dies, a man is more likely to die within the next two years than other men his age," she said. "If a woman's husband dies, she may grieve or not grieve, but she's not likely to die."

In the spirit of aging honestly, Friedan scorned those who pretend they are younger than they are.

Of those who say, "Well, I made it to 70 but inside I'm really 17," Friedan said, "You're not. No, you're not. If you are, I feel sorry for you."

She voiced a similar condemnation of multiple face lifts.

"You get your face lifted five times," she said. "Do you look younger? No. You look inhuman! You look like a mummy!"

The feminist never intended to write a book on aging until a doctor friend alerted her to the dearth of data produced by women on women's growing old.

When she began researching herself, Friedan found that elderly people--men and women--were rarely, if ever, portrayed in popular magazines.

"There was not one woman over 50 doing anything any American would want to do--you know, loving, working, flirting, eating gourmet food--and yet the news magazines were full of articles about old people refusing to die," Friedan said.

Once she realized that, Friedan said she had to make the nation aware of its "ageism." With her newbook, she hopes to promote an awareness well intothe 21st century.

"We are beginning to see the creativity ofolder women today," Friedan said. "We cannot beginto predict now what will continue to grow anddevelop out of people who live past 65, past 70,past 80.