A dear friend of our family, Betty Friedan, died today. She was best known as the author of The Feminine Mystique
and one of the keystones of the contemporary feminist movement. I knew her as an often crafty Jewish grandmother whose Thanksgivings we regularly attended in Sag Harbor. She always liked me. Oddly, she never listened to anything my wife said.
When I was a kid, my family, Betty and a bunch of other artists and writers and academics regularly rented one big ole house or another in the Hamptons, since nobody could afford a summer rental themselves. We called it "the Commune." We'd all eat dinner together, and people would argue constantly, and I got to participate in the arguments. I'd grow uneatably large zucchinis in the garden out back. The joke was that everyone was supposed to bring something for dinner -- and Betty usually brought guests.
But she was a loving and compassionate soul, a close friend of my mom's (both were founding members of the National Organization for Women) and had the gift of getting people off their asses. Intellectuals like to complain, but Betty helped get people marching, or writing, or lobbying. All the girls who say they're "not a feminist" but would be stunned if someone suggested that they should be paid less, or passed over for a promotion, because "you'll just get married and quit" owe Betty a huge debt. It's only because true feminism -- the notion that women should be taken seriously as human beings, rather than relegated to the position of second class citizen -- has become so deeply ingrained in the American psyche (well, the coastal psyche anyway) that 20-year-old grrllz can afford to say anything so ridiculous.
When Betty started writing, of course, they couldn't have said anything -- no one would have listened to them.
We're raising a glass to Betty Friedan tonight. She was a bit cranky, but as Bertrand Russell said, "All progress depends on unreasonable men."