Betty Friedan has passed away. She is one of my heroes and it is hard to see so many of these amazing pioneers leave us in these days of anti-feminism.
Drawing on history, psychology, sociology and economics, as well as on interviews she conducted with women across the country, Ms. Friedan charted a gradual metamorphosis of the American woman from the independent, career-minded New Woman of the 1920's and 30's into the vacant, aproned housewife of the postwar years.
The portrait she painted was chilling. For a typical woman of the 1950's, even a college-educated one, life centered almost exclusively on chores and children. She cooked and baked and bandaged and chauffeured and laundered and sewed. She did the mopping and the marketing and took her husband's gray flannel suit to the cleaners. She was happy to keep his dinner warm till he came wearily home from downtown.
The life she led, if educators, psychologists and the mass media were to be believed, was the fulfillment of every women's most ardent dream. Yet she was unaccountably tired, impatient with the children, craving something that neither marital sex nor extramarital affairs could satisfy. Her thoughts sometimes turned to suicide. She consulted a spate of doctors and psychiatrists, who prescribed charity work, bowling and bridge. If those failed, there were always tranquilizers to get her through her busy day.