Betty Friedan, Author of The Feminine Mystique, Has Died

, 1921-2006:

Betty Friedan, the American writer and social activist whose 1963 book The Feminine Mystique became one of the most influential manifestos of the modern feminist movement, has died.

Her cousin, Emily Bazelon, said Friedan died of congestive heart failure at her home in Washington, D.C., on Saturday. It was her 85th birthday.

Friedan, on “concentration camps

Just as with the prisoners in the concentration camps, there are American women who have resisted that death, who have managed to retain a core of self, who have resisted that death, who have managed to retain a core of self, who have not lost touch with the outside world, who use their abilities to some creative purpose. They are women of spirit and intelligence who have refused to “adjust” as housewives. (308)

Wikipedia, on concentration camps:

Concentration camps (Konzentrationslager or KZ) rose to notoriety during their use in Germany during the Nazi era. The general populace referred to them as Kah-Tzets (the initials KZ in German). The Nazi regime maintained concentration camps as labor camps and prisons since the beginning of their regime in 1933. After the beginning of the war, they also established extermination camps for the industrialized mass murder of the Jews of Europe, called the Holocaust, starting in 1941. Over three million Jews would die in these extermination camps, which included Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka, and Auschwitz-Birkenau. The victims were primarily killed by gassing, usually in gas chambers, although many prisoners were murdered in mass shootings or perished from hard labor and not enough to eat or drink.

Prisoners in Nazi concentration and labor camps were also treated horrifically, and many died: worked to death on short rations and in bad conditions, or killed if they became unable to work. Slave labor was used by many German companies, who established their own sub-camps. Guards were known to engage in target practice, using their prisoners as targets. During World War II, these concentration camps for “undesirables” were spread throughout Europe, with new camps being created near centers of dense “undesirable” populations, often focusing on areas with large Jewish, Polish intelligentsia, communists, or Roma populations. Most of the camps were located in the area of General Government in Poland. The transportation of prisoners was often carried out under horrifying conditions using rail freight cars, in which many died before they reached their destination. Concentration camps for Jews and other “undesirables” also existed in Germany itself, and while not specifically designed for systematic extermination, like the extermination camps, many concentration camp prisoners died because of harsh conditions or were executed.

It is estimated that up to ten million people died in Nazi concentration camps, of them six million were killed in the 15 larger ones.

Friedan, on navel-gazing and forgetting real concentration camps:

Women went home again just as men shrugged off the bomb, forgot the concentration camps, condoned corruption, and fell into helpless conformity; just as the thinkers avoided the complex larger problems of the postwar world. it was easier, safer, to think about love and sex than about communism, McCarthy, and the uncontrolled bomb. It was easier to look for Freudian sexual roots in man’s behavior, his ideas, and his wars than to look critically at his society and act constructively to right its wrongs. There was a kind of personal retreat, even on the part of the most far-sighted, the most spirited; we lowered our eyes from the horizon, and steadily contemplated our own navels. (186-187)

4 thoughts on “Betty Friedan, Author of The Feminine Mystique, Has Died”

  1. Dr. Nexon,

    The specific point is that Betty Friedan was a hypocrite, who complained about navel-gazing and trivialization of horror, and then proceeded to trivialize horror in a book on navel gazing.

    More broadly, the post criticizes Betty Friedan's work generally generally. Her unnatural and unworkable philosophy [1] fueled social strife can guaranteed that America would feel horizontal shocks from World War II for decades more.

    The sooner that we wake up from Friedanism, the better. Let's hope that we are already doing so.


  2. Larry, roger.

    Lakotization [1] (family liberation [2]) is easy. Western Europe, under a variant of Friedanism, has been happily doing that to itself. It's especially bad in Sweden. [3]

    Europeans as the Sioux of the 21st Century, I guess.


  3. Dan – you don't need to call me “Dr. Nexon” in this context. The informality of blogs is a good thing.

    I'm not sure what leverage you derive from the charge of “hypocrisy” here. The specific claim about “navel gazing” in the final paragraph doesn't necessarily imply that her critique of social structures in the first quotation is wrong.

    If we take — for the sake of argument — your critique of “liberal education” to be correct, it seems rather overwrought to blame Friedan for the entire structure of American collegiate education. From a narrower perspective, you should lay your cards on the table: would the United States be better off if half of its pool of intellectual and productive talent were sequestered in the domestic sphere? This is a very difficult position to defend, even if it were true that intellectually closed societies were superior to intellectually open ones — a proposition generally refuted by the last few centuries of international politics.

  4. Dan,

    Betty Friedan and liberal education are separate subjects.

    The culture and family structure of the 1950s were neither maintanable nor traditional. Instead, they were reactions against three decades of perturbations. The socks of rapid globalization, economic collapse, and war created a desire for an idealized life. The 1950s grew out of this.

    (One sees a similar pattern throughout place and time. Contemporary Saudi Arabia, for instance, has a stricter ruleset now than thirty years ago for similar reasons.)

    The question is not the long-term viability of the 1950's ruleset as such. Rather, it is the nature and effects of Friedman's solution. Replacing an exaggeration of sustainable life (the 1950s) with an inversion of it (Friedanism) is hardly an improvement! Instead, the societal revolution created a lot of trauma for those living through it, and requires a lot of time to mend.

    Harm is done when a cure is inappropriate for the disease. Friedanism is chemotherapy to prevent excessive hair growth.

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