"Betty Friedan a sexpot?"

Carl Friedan abuses the Web in an ugly breach of divorce etiquette.

Published June 8, 2000 7:06PM (EDT)

What a marvel is the Internet! A cornucopia -- hold the goat horn -- of new cars, little-known facts, matchbooks, music pirates, XXX-rated girls, leather ottomans, Ph.D. theses and green glass tumblers. And, finally, a place to excoriate an ex-spouse when there isn't enough evidence for a temporary restraining order or child abuse charges.

We, the spurned, are no longer limited to bitching and moaning in the locker room or at the bar -- empty pursuits, given that the bartender's heard it a hundred times and the locker room is packed with sweaty guys who are probably on their way to becoming ex-spouses themselves.

With a few keystrokes and a minimum of know-how, you -- the wronged ex-husband or ex-wife -- can let the world know what a bitch or bastard you just ditched (or just ditched you, as the case may be). There's no judge, no legal fees, no reason at all, really, why you can't sink that knife deep into the body that used to lie next to you and give it an hourly cyber-twist.

Enslaved by your salacious ranting and quasi-legal arguments is the e-audience -- a seemingly vast sea of bored and disaffected thrill seekers who believe everything they read. And believe me, if they believe Matt Drudge is a journalist and XXX-rated Brandi is a virgin, they might believe that the ugliness in your divorce -- the ruination of one or more lives, the slashed tires, the drained accounts -- wasn't your fault.

They might even believe that Carl Friedan is the innocent victim of vicious libel.

Friedan, the indignant former husband of feminist pioneer Betty Friedan, is a mouthy octogenarian with an impressive grudge and a background in advertising. With his very own Web page, CarlFriedan.com, the cranky ex takes great umbrage at remarks by ex-wife Betty in her new book, "Life So Far: A Memoir."

In fact, this Web site, ostensibly about Carl Friedan, is almost exclusively devoted to attacking Betty for her various faults and misdeeds, including her intolerance of physical discipline and alleged reluctance to perform oral sex. Friedan, the Mr., devotes much of his Net space to disputing his ex-wife's complaint, expressed in relatively mild terms, that during their nearly two decades of marriage, Carl struck her.

Betty actually made similar claims in the epilogue to the 10th-anniversary edition of her 1963 classic, "The Feminine Mystique": "The anger I had not dared to face in myself during all the years I tried to play the helpless little housewife with my husband ... was beginning to erupt now, more and more violently."

But it was the comments in her memoir that captivated the press, which went all-out with the naughty bits. George magazine, a focus of Carl's considerable ire, printed a story under the headline: "Battling for Women While Being Beaten at Home."

"In the old days," says Carl in a phone interview, "I would have just crawled away or written letters to the editors. People in my position don't have recourse to the press.

"But now I have the Internet."

Carl, as webmaster, flames along for many paragraphs (highlighted by colorful boxes in Mondrian-esque colors), telling all who will click that he only raised his hand against his wife to protect himself when "she'd explode unexpectedly" during amphetamine-fueled rages.

"She was," writes Carl in long-suffering mode, "the most violent person I have ever known."

Of course, Carl reports, in level-headed guy mode, Betty may have suffered a contusion or two as he "tried to subdue her," But, he points out, in pontification mode: "Spousal abuse has no gender."

Carl also informs visitors to his Web page that Betty "boasts about her sexual triumphs in naked detail" in a Time magazine story about her new book. The coverage there, he writes, "makes her out a sexpot."

"Are they kidding?" blurts Carl in mean-spirited doofus mode. "Betty Friedan a sexpot? Come on, now! Let's be sane! In all 19 years of marriage she never gave me a blow job. That's a sexpot?"

This is where I feel compelled to reach out to Carl, to offer some advice, maybe slap him around a little. I do this not as a bystander or a peer, but as an authority: I've been married seven times (if you count the one on,stage at the old Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco) and divorced six.

Carl, buddy, breaking up is hard to do. It's hard when you hate each other and it's hard when it's one of those supposedly "amicable" divorces. But it is never so hard that you ever reveal information about blow jobs. Ever.

God knows, I've thought about vengeance, payback, revenge. I thought about enrolling one ex in the Columbia Record Club. I thought about letting the air out of another's tires. But I never thought about discussing oral sex before a worldwide audience of prurient shut-ins. I never gave the whole world an opportunity to read my simpering revisionism and say, "Jesus, what an asshole!" (About me, not my ex-wife).

Dirty laundry stays in the hamper, Carl. Nobody cares about the nature of the stains. Hell, I spent some time in the pornography business and I still eschew discussing my sex life, current or previous, in public. Do I really want anyone, let alone everyone, to know that the sex was bad? I don't think so.

Besides, there should be some mystery surrounding a divorce. It is one of the few things a couple can share, even if they hate each other. No one really wants to know the details anyway. It is far, far more difficult, Carl, to drum up sympathy for a man who had to fend off a speed-crazed feminist icon who wouldn't cop his joint than it is to find a place in your heart for a divorced man who keeps the gory details to himself. Now that my friend, is the way to get laid -- or even blown.

And Carl, from one fogey to another, if you think you're going to drum up support or sympathy from other unenlightened men, keep this in mind: Now that we know who you are, we know who to blame for this whole feminist thing.

By Lee Quarnstrom

Lee Quarnstrom, former executive editor of Hustler magazine, is a writer in Santa Cruz, Calif.

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