When Betty Friedan died Feb. 4 on her 85th birthday, the women's liberation movement that began in the late 1960s lost one of its chief architects and most recognizable faces. Freidan is, of course, best known for her first book "The Feminine Mystique," a searing attack on the limitation of women's lives to housewifery that has sold more than 3 million copies since its publication in 1963. She was also a founding member of the National Organization for Women and NARAL Pro-Choice America.
Friedan's contribution to this Harvard Law School forum (1:42:57, Real Audio) from February 1966, a few months before the founding of NOW, provides both a summary of the basic arguments of "The Feminine Mystique" and a glimpse of just how radical those arguments were 40 years ago. The forum's title, "Women -- Dare We Not Discriminate?" offers a hint at the state of things in 1966. Friedan, who is joined by Mary Bunting, then president of Radcliffe College, and Pauli Murray, author of "Jane Crow and the Law," begins her comments by noting that Indira Gandhi's gender played little role in her recent election as prime minister of India, while in the U.S., when discrimination on the basis of sex was added to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, it was "treated as a joke" by Congress.
"Are women truly free and equal then," Friedan asks, "if they are forced to make a choice that no boy or man is ever forced to make, that is, somehow implicitly to choose between the desired fulfillments of marriage and family and the full development and realization of whatever potential ability is in them in some serious commitment to society?" Freidan also identifies men as fellow victims of the feminine mystique: "The enemy of women today in this country, however, is not men, at least I don't think so," she declares. "When a woman is told to make marriage all of life in a time and a place where no man can possibly expect to make marriage all of life, that woman is by definition going to demand so much of marriage that she is going to find the man inadequate."
During the forum's question-and-answer period a man rises and asks, "Should women start doing different things, or should we start taking seriously what they are doing now?" Here is Friedan's answer: "Homemaking isn't ruled out by what I say. The fact of life is that women in America, with the lifestyle they have today, simply cannot, for the most part, use all of their abilities or all their years productively only in homemaking."
-- Ira Boudway