In her obituary following the death of Betty Friedan this past Saturday, Associated Press National Writer Hillel Italie summarized Friedan’s first and most influential book, “The Feminine Mystique,” in these terms:
Few books have so profoundly changed so many lives as did Friedan’s 1963 best seller. Her assertion that a woman needed more than a husband and children was a radical break from the Eisenhower era, when the very idea of a wife doing any work outside of house work was fodder for gag writers, like an episode out of “I Love Lucy.”
Independence for women was no joke, Friedan wrote. The feminine mystique was a phony deal sold to women that left them unfulfilled, suffering from “the problem that has no name” and seeking a solution in tranquilizers and psychoanalysis.
“A woman has got to be able to say, and not feel guilty, `Who am I, and what do I want out of life?’ She mustn’t feel selfish and neurotic if she wants goals of her own, outside of husband and children,” Friedan said.
After her slap at the Republican Eisenhower era (it’s not as if the Democratic Truman era that preceded it was any different for women after the soldiers returned from World War II), Italie’s obituary carries expected praise from liberal icons Hillary Clinton, National Organization of Women President Kim Gandy and Feminist Majority Foundation President Eleanor Smeal.
The obituary’s account of Friedan’s early years and the time leading up to the publication of “The Feminine Mystique” reads like the “bright girl held back by societal norms becomes disillusioned” story one might expect based on her book.
The trouble is, the still widely-accepted accounts of Betty Friedan’s early years have been shown to be totally, if you excuse the term, divorced from reality. The only hint that Italie gives of Friedan’s true past is the description of her as a “labor reporter” during roughly the mid-1940s.
There’s much more to Betty Friedan’s early years than Ms. Italie lets on.
In his 1998 book, “Betty Friedan and the Making of the Feminine Mystique: The American Left, the Cold War, and Modern Feminism,” author Daniel Horowitz, an avowed leftist himself, revealed the truth about Friedan’s past. In a January 1999 book review, David Horowitz (no relation) summarized Daniel Horowitz’s findings:
Horowitz (no relation) establishes beyond doubt that the woman who has always presented herself as a typical suburban housewife until she began work on her groundbreaking book was in fact nothing of the kind. In fact, under her maiden name, Betty Goldstein, she was a political activist and professional propagandist for the Communist left for a quarter of a century before the publication of “The Feminist Mystique” launched the modern women’s movement.
Professor Horowitz documents that Friedan was from her college days, and until her mid-30s, a Stalinist Marxist, the political intimate of the leaders of America’s Cold War fifth column and for a time even the lover of a young Communist physicist working on atomic bomb projects in Berkeley’s radiation lab with J. Robert Oppenheimer. Her famous description of America’s suburban family household as “a comfortable concentration camp” in “The Feminine Mystique” therefore had more to do with her Marxist hatred for America than with any of her actual experience as a housewife or mother. (Her husband, Carl, also a leftist, once complained that his wife “was in the world during the whole marriage,” had a full-time maid and “seldom was a wife and a mother”).
Although Horowitz, the author of the new biography, is a sympathetic leftist, Friedan refused to cooperate with him once she realized he was going to tell the truth about her life as Betty Goldstein. After he published an initial article about Friedan’s youthful work as a “labor journalist,” Friedan maligned him, saying to an American University audience, “Some historian recently wrote some attack on me in which he claimed that I was only pretending to be a suburban housewife, that I was supposed to be an agent.”
In the book, Daniel Horowitz excuses Friedan’s cover-up as necessary because of “McCarthyism,” but David Horowitz’s review nukes those excuses as absurd during the 1960s (McCarthy was “discredited” in 1954, nine years before Friedan’s book was first published), and especially ludicrous by the late 1990s when Daniel Horowitz wrote his book.
A brief Google search using various combinations of keywords “Daniel Horowitz,” “Betty Friedan,” “liar,” “lies,” and “discredited,” has given no indication that the facts about Friedan in Daniel Horowitz’s book are in any kind of dispute.
No, Betty Friedan knew that acknowledging her true past would jeopardize and call into question the very underpinnings of the radical feminist movement she pioneered. Oh, if we only had The Smoking Gun back when “The Feminine Mystique” was originally published. TSG could have done to Friedan’s book what they did to James Frey and his book, “A Million Little Pieces.” How much different, and likely better, would the world have been if a less extreme form of feminism than the one Friedan ignited had instead taken hold?
David Horowitz also wrote in his book review that “It is fascinating that Friedan not only felt the need to lie about her real views and life experience then, but still feels the need to lie about them now.” It is doubly “fascinating” that Hillel Italie and the AP feel the need to perpetuate those lies more than seven years after Daniel Horowitz documented the truth.
Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.
Betty accused Carl of being physically abusive during their marriage and of giving her black eyes which she concealed with make-up during public appearances. In an interview with TIME magazine shortly after the book was published, Carl Friedan called those charges a “complete fabrication.” Carl Friedan died in December, 2005.
UPDATE 2: Audio of a one-hour interview of Daniel Horowitz by Lisa Kannenberg done on December 9, 1999 can be found here (.ram format).
UPDATE 3: The New York Times obit doesn’t do any better with Friedan’s youth and early adulthood, but at least gives her ex-husband equal time on her abuse charges. His reaction: “I am the innocent victim of a drive-by shooting by a reckless driver savagely aiming at the whole male gender.” It’s worse than that — See Update 4.
The prophetess of women’s liberation has been revealed as a liar and spouse abuser. If the personal is political â€“ as feminists have long contended â€“ what are the implications of this for feminism?
Friedan accused her ex-husband Carl Friedan of beating up on her, in her recent memoir Life So Far. The media ran with the story. Now Mr. Friedan has responded with a website, carlfriedan.com (the web site is no longer active–Ed.), in which he charges that his ex-wife was mentally disturbed and given to fits of violent rage. It was she who abused him, says Mr. Friedan, not the other way around.
The ex-Mrs. Friedan, meanwhile, has softened her charges, telling Good Morning America, “I almost wish I hadn’t even written about it, because it’s been sensationalized out of context. My husband was no wife-beater, and I was no passive victim of a wife-beater. We fought a lot, and he was bigger than me.”
If I am more inclined to believe Mr. Friedan’s side of the story, it is only because his ex-wife has a long and well-documented history of lying.
Ditto here. In fact, given the hotly disputed nature of the conflicting abuse claims, I think it’s fair to ask if the raw data for the surveys that support “The Feminine Mystique” may have been cooked.
And check out this end-justifies-the-means classic, also from the June 2000 Horowitz piece:
Even the much-abused Mr. Friedan â€“ also a leftist — continues to praise his wife for her political “achievements.” On his website (no longer active, as noted before.–Ed.), he writes, “I am proud of what she did for the worldâ€¦ Betty being monstrous in pursuit of her goals doesn’t bother me at all. She changed the course of history almost singlehandedly and it took a `monster’ perhaps, a driven, super-aggressive, egocentric, almost lunatic dynamo to rock the world the way she did. Unfortunately, she was the same person at home, where this kind of conduct does not work.”