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October 05, 1975 - Image 3

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
Michigan Daily, 1975-10-05

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

editors:

meary long
jo marcotty
barb Cornell

Sunday

inside:

magazine

page four-books
page five-
perspective

Number 3

Page Three

October 5, 1975

FEATUR

ES

Frieda,
mothei
By MARY LONG
AS A HOMELY, super-intellectual
girl growing up in Peoria, Illi-
nois, she had twouchoices. She could
tear off through life as the Zelda
Fitzgerald of her suburban house-
wife set '- knocking her head
against kitchen walls and mutter-
ing a credo of freedom-next-time
while scrubbing the bathroom tiles.
Or she could cling to her extraor-
dinary ideas about liberation for
women in the hope that by the
time she had polished her theories
to a point where she was ready to
bell the world what she had to say,
the world would be there listening.
Betty Friedan chose the latter and
that's why so many people spent
part of last week worshipping at
the shrine of the woman now her-
alded as the "mother of the fem-
inist movement".
There they were: photographers
chewing on their cigars like gang
czars, student reporters worried
about whatever it was they might
say, feminists not at all worried
about what they might say but
about the woman they would say
it to.
AT 55, BETTY FRIEDAN is no
fading Colette heroine. Her
manner is tough. There is a rough,s
fruit-peel texture to her skin. A
hard smile braces the edges of her
mouth. She has broad, fullback
shoulders and short thick hands -
scruffy, with broken nails - like
a scrubwoman's - which fly
through the air constantly. She
wears little makeup except for a
slash of dark lipstick; her hair,
once described as "chaotic", has,
been taken in hand and is now
simply an unstylish mop with a=
mind of its own, and maybe it's my
imagination, but the air around
her seems slightly blue, possibly,
from being sprayed with so many
four-letter words.
The room in the Administration
Building is hot. There are flowers
dying in the cigar smoke, lots of
women in stylish clothing, and a
blue and white International Wo-
men's Year banner big enough for
the Jolly Green Giant to wear,
hung along the wall.
Friedan enters grandly, nodding
and surveying the group of report-
ers like the Dowager Empress in
the Recognition Scene. Talk buzzes
around her like hummingbird
wings and she hears nothing. But
when the questions start, she talks
a great deal in a throaty croak of
a voice that sounds like a musical
mixmaster.1
Friedan was trying. She was1

Tenacious

of

feminism

really trying to give an intelligent
interview. She was saying all the
things she considered to be im-
portant. But the feeling that filled
the conference room was one of
absolute inertia and real dog-tired
tedium.
Her words were old words, stock,
warmed-over and downright corn-
ball. Dull,. predictable answers
jazzed up in their weakest spots by
a throaty roar or a particularly
striking slash of the hands through
the air. There turned out to be very
few things worth writing down,
though, throughout the hour, Frie-
dan kept talking, like a self-ap-
pointed politico doing a marathon
filibuster.
IN A VERSION of the legend-lives-
on syndrome, her voice is still
there, for all that the climate of
women's liberation has changed.
After all, think of her achieve-
ments. Think of her book, The
Feminine Mystique, think about
her work as founder of the Nation-
al Organization for Women, think
about the Women's Strike she or-
ganized. Don't think about what
she's done in the past five years,,
because there isn't much to ponder.
Since 1970, she's a lecturer, a
guest speaker, at universities. She
is featured at press conferences
just like this one where Women's
Studies Coordinators across the
country introduce her as -- you
know it- "the mother of the fem-
inist movement."
"To be called the mother of any-
thing in the women's movement is
rarely a compliment" one writer
wrote of Friedan earlier this year,
"and in this case the message is
clear. The fact is that Betty, hav-
ing given birth, ought to cut the
cord. Bug off. Shut up. Or at the
very least retire to the role of sen-
ior citizen, professor emeritus.
Betty Friedan has no intention of
the kind. It's her baby, damn it.
Her movement. Is she supposed to
sit still and let a beautiful thin
lady like Gloria Steinem run away
with it?"
AFTER HER SPEECH in Hill Aud-
itorium, a group of young radi-
cal feminists give her a hard time.
Friedan isn't a revolutionary any-
more, not exciting, the answers
aren't strong enough. Suddenly
she's a conservative figurehead.
When she was precisely the age of
the women in the audience with
their overalls and demanding eyes,

she could not, for the life of her,
see herself beyond the age of twen-
ty-one.
She remembered the stillness of
a spring afternoon on the Smith
college campus, when she came to
that frightening dead end in her
own vision of the future. A few
days earlier, she had won a grad-
uate fellowship. During the con-
gratulations, under her excitement,
she felt a strange uneasiness; all
she could think about was a cer-
tain- question: "Is this really what
I want to be?" It was the one thing
she didn't want to think about.
She says the question shut her
off, cold and alone, from the girls
with the diamond rings, and from
the girls talking and studying on
the sunny hillside behind the col-
lege house. She thought she had
wanted to be a psychologist, and if
she wasn't sure, what did she want
to be?
"I felt the future closing in,"
Friedan says, "and I could not see
myself in it at all. I had no image
of myself stretching beyond col-
lege. I couldn't go home to Peoria
to my mother. But now that the
time had come to make my own
future, to take the deciding step, I
was completely deadened with fear
and I suddenly did not know what
I wanted to be."
SHE TOOK THE fellowship, but
the next spring, under the alien
California sun of another campus,
the question came again, and she
could not put it out of her mind.
She had won another fellowship
and this would commit her to re-
search for a doctorate and to a
career as a professional psychool-
gist. Was that really what she
wanted to be? The decision truly
paralyzed her and she lived in a
terror of indecision for days, un-
able to think of anything else.
Finally, she convinced herself
that the question about her career
was not important, that no ques-
tion was important but love. She
remembers walking in the Berkely
hills one cold afternoon with a
young man who told her: "Nothing
can come of this between us. I'll
never win a fellowship like yours."
She gave up the fellowship, in
relief. And for years afterward, she
could not read a word of the sci-
ence she once thought of as her
future life's work, the reminder of
its loss was so painful.
"I could never explain why I gave
up. Perhaps I thought," she says
quietly, "that if I went on as a psy-
chologist, that I was choosing, ir-

Daily Photo by SCOTT ECCKER

revocably, for all time, the cold
loneliness of that afternoon walk."
She began working on newspap-
ers with no particular plan. She
married, had children, lived as a
suburban housewife. Questions kept
haunting her. She could sense no
purpose in her life and could find
no peace until she faced those
questions and began to work out
answers.
Everyone knows this part of the
story, knows that in 1963, The Fem-
inine Mystique was an immediate
bestseller and that the book, which
explores the post World War II
philosophy which convinced wo-
men to give up their individual
goals and identity and submerge
themselves in husband, home and
children.
And everybody knows that Frie-
dan founded the National Organi-
zation for Women in 1966 and
served as its first president. And
that in 1970, on the 50th anniver-
sary of women's suffrage, she or-
ganized the Women's Strike for

Equality with demonstrations in 40
cities across the country.
WHICH BRINGS US back to the
same point again. That Frie-
dan now makes her living as a
speaker, as a guest who charges
very high lecture fees. Some people
think she's cashing in on the enor-
mous, all-encompasing popularity
of the women's movement. Some
people think she just won't let go.
Most are a little tired or bored by
her, a few are angered. "I'm sus-
picious of her," one writer said.
And that columnist did, after all,
literally beg: "Bug off, Betty. Shut
up. Cut the cord."
But many people in Ann Arbor
were happy to pay two dollars to
hear her tell them that the wo-
men's movement has made great
strides forward. "No one could have
dreamed" she said, "ten years ago
-five years ago-that we would be
where we are today."
And to hear her say that the
feminist movement was a "neces-
sary step in human evolution,"
basing her arguments on increased
life expectancy.
There was also a great deal said
about the need to change basic
economic structures, ("that second
paycheck in inflationary times
proves to be essential . . . even
families that thought of them-
selves as affluent aren't so afflu-
ent anymore,") and to face up to
the fact that there is a crisis oc-
curring in the American family.
Marriages are breaking apart. Men
and women feel trapped because
of obsolete sex roles. The divorce
rate is climbing. We need to move
toward the goal of building mar-
riages of reality, based on affirma-
tion, equality and the transcend-
ence of hostilities.
All in all, if you've taken Wo-
men's Studies 240, or you read cur-
rent periodicals, or if you haven't
lived in complete isolation during
your stay in college, you have all
the credentials necessary to get
H-P inh n1crc'iivi inv-rsindu for

men about optional life styles and
their freedom of choice. You do
not have freedom of choice, she
said. You must realize this imme-
diately.
"You cannot tell a woman aged
eighteen to twenty that she can
make a choice to just stay home
all her life with her children, her
friends, and her husband" she in-
sisted. "This girl is going to live
close to a hundred years. There
won't be children home to occupy
her all her life. If she has intelli-
gence and the opportunity for edu-
cation, it is telling her simply,
"Put yourself in a garbage can, ex-
cept for the years when you have a
few little children at home."
And Friedan was taking this tone
when it wasn't at all popular to
say things like that. When saying
such things meant you were mere-
ly laughed at as a man-hating
freak. Or as a freak who wanted to
be a man.
BUT IN THE most rapidly grow-
ing and changing liberation
movement the nation has ever
known, how long can she gather
her worshippers and fat bank
checks for platitudes about past
glories?
Probably for a good while yet.
Friedan -still makes a powerful im-
Dression on the impressionable.
When she unexpectedly cut the
press conference short by fifteen
minutes, there were lots of ladies-
in-waiting around to whisper,
"She's had a very long day." And
you should have seen the photog-
raphers - on their knees taking
pictures, falling over reporters tak-
ing pictures, standing on chairs
taking pictures. She's a great sub-
ject. Those hooded cobra eyes and
that ripe, knowing grin. And grim-
jawed as the Prussian Army mov-
ing across the plains.
,HE LEFT STRIDING, her head
I-held very high. Reporters
clung to Dress releases urging: re-
member The Feminine Mystiaue,
remember the Na tiona lOrganiza-
tion for Women remember the Wo-

. . . . . . . . . ..~*.... ...*... ........ ,..
.. . ................. .............................................................

1
I

'Friedan's w o r d s were
old words, stock, warmed
over, and downright corn-
ball. Dull predictable an-
swers jazzed up in t h e i r
weakest spots by a throaty
roar or a particularly strik-
ing s l a s h of the hands
through the air ... Friedan
kept talking, like a self-
appointed politico doing a
marathon filabuster.'

'She 1 e f t striding, her
head held very high. Re-
porters clung to press re-
leases urging; remember
T h e Feminine Mystique,
remember t h e National
Organization for Women,
remember t h e Women's
strike. Away she was swept
in a t i d e of adoration,
Mother Courage in a green
wrap-around dress.!

NUNN

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