El's Reviews > It Changed My Life

It Changed My Life by Betty Friedan
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Feb 20, 11

bookshelves: late20th-centurylit, cultural-studies-and-other, hear-me-roar
Read from February 06 to 20, 2011

I was thrilled when I found this at a used bookstore last year because it's not one I've seen very often, and it's referenced even less frequently. I read The Feminine Mystique last summer and, as far as I was concerned, it was the next best thing since sliced-freaking-bread. It (re)opened my eyes to a lot of issues that I had sort of forgotten about since I graduated from Stephens College about a decade ago, and it was awesome. I hoped for a similar experience with this book, but it didn't quite happen the same way. Close, but no cigar.

Let's start with the good:
-This is a collection of writings over the years by Betty Friedan. The Feminine Mystique's primary focus was (duh) the feminine mystique. She touched on other issues through the course of that book, but that was the main focus. Here we have articles she wrote for Ms. magazine, an interview with Simone de Beauvoir in which they discussed their (dis)agreements on what the women's movement really was, essays on abortion and birth control and a meeting with the Pope, the founding of NOW, and so much else. It's a friggin cornucopia of awesome topics that affect women as well as men.

-There is a lot of discussion of how the second wave of feminism that she helped create began to crumble and change directions. Other members like Gloria Steinem had different ideas for women's liberation that focused more on pooh-poohing men and childbirth entirely and promoting women taking power. Refreshingly Friedan opposed the idea and wished to keep the focus more on human equality and human rights than how women can retaliate and start holding men down. She and Steinem had a huge public falling-out; at this point knowing only the basics of Steinem from classes in college, I have to say what Friedan was all about is more in line what I can back.

-I feel like I know Friedan on a more personal level after reading this book than I did after reading The Feminine Mystique, and certainly that was the purpose. She talked about her personal experiences both while writing Mystique and what came after it was published, the men and women who sent letters thanking her for opening their eyes and helping them change their minds. Despite what people may think of Friedan, one cannot deny her contributions to society.

But then the not-so-good:
-Because this is a collection of different kinds of writing over a course of many years, at times it grows repetitive. I found myself wanting to skim a few times because I had reached a part that had already been discussed in a previous essay or in The Feminine Mystique; but since I try to never skim, I read through it all again. It doesn't diminish any of her words or her work, but personally I was ready to move on to a new topic and it occasionally felt stifling.

Okay, I guess that's the only not-so-good topic I can come up with. So obviously the good outweighs the not-so-good. Despite the repetitiveness I did appreciate that Friedan wrote more about the differences between feminism and radical feminism. She pointed out that radical feminism could actually hurt the movement as it detracted from the (what she viewed as) original goal which was that this should be a movement to help women turn their backs on the feminine mystique (suggesting women are good only to be a housewife/wife/mother), and that men should also turn their backs on the masculine mystique - the one that pushes men to be the sole breadwinners, the one who is tough and has not feelings or emotions. These mystiques are as hard on men as they are on women, and until people begin to realize that, not much would be able to change. There needs to be changes across the board regardless of gender or class. As soon as the focus started leaning in favor of women over men, Friedan became frustrated and she wanted to show the media and history that feminism wasn't just about bra-burning.
First, what you have heard about "women's lib" may bear only a slight relationship to what the women's movement really means, to me and to most women in America. A freaky bunch of bra-burners? Bitter losers who couldn't get a man and have it in now for all men - uncombed hippies who won't take the responsibility of home and kids? That's the image the media has been giving of "women's lib", though no woman in the movement, to my knowledge, ever burned a bra. (A number of researchers and reporters have been assigned the job of tracking down the original "bra-burning" by major news agencies and encyclopedias, and have never been able to find evidence it ever happened. The braless fashion was actually begun by a male fashion designer in the mid-sixties, about the same time as the women's movement began making headlines.) The people who started the women's movement were hardly hippies: they were women in their forties and fifties and thirties, housewives with children who'd gone back to school or work, or women who had worked for years. Most were or had been married; some were single, divorced, widows, even nuns.

(p 430)

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Reading Progress

02/11/2011 page 139
02/14/2011 page 241
44.0% ""The pseudo-radicals talk about getting rid of love, sex, children, and men. I happen to like many men, love some, and think a one-sex world would be very boring. This is a TWO-sex revolution or it isn't anything. Even a male chauvinist like Norman Mailer is beginning to try to understand us.""
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Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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message 1: by Cathleen (new)

Cathleen I really enjoy your reviews. I think, though, that Friedan really misrepresented radical feminism. It was responsible, for example, for the creation of rape crisis centers and battered women's shelters. I also find it interesting that she had such a huge falling out with Steinem who, like Friedan, is a liberal feminist -- not even close to being a radical feminist. I met Steinem once a couple of years ago, and she isn't at all a man hater. She doesn't mind telling anyone exactly what she thinks, though, so I think she comes off as abrasive to many people.

I appreciated such a thorough examination of Friedan's book.

message 2: by El (new) - rated it 4 stars

El Thanks for your thoughts, Cathleen! I do think that what Friedan considered "radical" in the Sixties and Seventies is different than what is considered "radical" now, though Steinem herself has called herself a radical over the years. Friedan's concern was that feminism was being pushed to equal lesbianism which, while a bit short-sighted, was a valid concern for the time as that unfortunately discouraged a lot of people from really backing the movement - out of fear or misunderstanding or ignorance or whatever. Friedan wanted to encourage equal rights in the home and workplace and not have the main focus be on sexual choice, whereas Steinem and others wanted sexuality to be the leading discussion. (Again, at least according to Friedan.)

But really Friedan and Steinem were of different generations, and both very powerful and strong-willed women - it was really just a matter of time before they openly disagreed about something. :) I am curious to read more Steinem now - as with any personal account of anything there's going to be a lot of personal bias; according to Friedan at least there was some lying and cheating going on in order to force Friedan out of the presidency of the National Women's Political Caucus. Again, that's just one side of the story, so I'm interested in hearing the other account(s).

message 3: by Cathleen (new)

Cathleen I'm a bit late with this, but thanks for replying. I think you've identified my biggest issue with Friedan. I guess I still can't forgive her (and I wasn't even around!) for her views on lesbians in the movement. On the one hand, I can sort of see her argument though I wholly disagree with it, but so many lesbians were giving so much time and energy. I'm not sure where I'm going with this, though. :)

Looking forward to more reviews.

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