Betty Friedan one of the Second Wave feminists, along with Simone de Beauvoir, and Evelyn Reed, has passed away today at the age of 85. Known for her groundbreaking work on the contradicitons of Post War American stereotyping of women; The Feminine Mystique.
Friedan was a classic liberal, a fighter for womens rights as individuals and a New York left intellectual, thus her recognition that womens struggle were collective as well as one of individual rights.
"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.
The First wave feminists, are often thought of as those women who began the fight at the turn of the 2oth Century Suffragettes as well as anarchists and socialists like Emma Goldman and Elizabeth Gurely Brown, Helen Keller and womens reproductive rights advocate Margret Sanger. But in reality that was the real second wave.
The first wave really began in the 19th Century around the abolishionist movement which gained many women advocates who fought for Afro-American rights and labour rights ending up fighting a losing battle for their own rights.
Friedan and de Beauvoir I would class as Third Wave feminism in this light. As the later feminists of the late sixties and early seventies, Kate Millet , Shulamith Firestone , that continue that groundbreaking work would be known as.
The struggle for womens liberation is the essence of all class and revolutionary struggle. And it's at the root of classical liberalism and anarchism.
Rooted in the utilitarian philosophy of Godwin and Mills, the revolutionary athiesm and humanism of Byron and Shelly, feminism begins with Mary Wollestoncrafts famous essay on Womens Rights. Mary was married to Godwin. And was well versed in the arguements of utilitarianism and Godwins classic contractualism.
That contractualism is the basis of later libertarianism of the Prodhounian and Tuckers schools. Thus greatly influencing the libertarian school of thought in the U.S. including Ayn Rand.
A societies treatment of women, the role they play and the freedom they have is an expression of how liberal, plural and secular a society is. Those who would down play this who denigrate feminism, especially if they are women, and women on the right in particular, do a disservice to the women who fought for their rights. The fact they have a popular and respected voice regardless of their politics is because of the struggles of feminists like Freidan.
I expect to read critical apprasials of her life and work in the coming days. And we can expect the dissing of Freidan by the usual gaggle of right wing women in the next few days. They of course will give faint praise to her, and then damn her. But their voices would not be heard had it not been for Second Wave feminists like Freidan and de Beauvoir. And certainly they would not have been heard if the only womans voice that had been respected had been that of the hopeless romantic adulator of male indivdualism; Ayn Rand.
Friedans critique was one that challenged the dominance of Freud in American culture and the role of therapy that had become the method of social control. Therapy had replaced police and social workers in the fifies and sixties as the new science of mass control. Ironic that what had once been the science of the individual had now become what Reich called Mass Psychology. The dominance of the Fruedian mystique, which is the core of Fiedans critique, is well illustrated in the early movies of Woody Allen and his self parody of the neurotic New Yorker whose always on the couch.
The uncritical acceptance of Freudian doctrine in America was caused, at least in part, by the very relief it provided from uncomfortable questions about objective realities. After the depression, after the war, Freudian psychology became much more than a science of human behaviour, a therapy for the suffering. It became an all-embracing American ideology, a new religion. It provided a convenient escape from the atom bomb, McCarthy, all the disconcerting problems that might spoil the taste of steaks, and cars and colour television and backyard swimming pools. And if the new psychological religion – which made a virtue of sex, removed all sin from private vice, and cast suspicion on high aspirations of the mind and spirit – had a more devastating personal effect on women than men, nobody planned it that way.
But the practice of psychoanalysis as a therapy was not primarily responsible for the feminine mystique. It was the creation of writers and editors in the mass media, ad-agency motivation researchers, and behind them the popularisers and translators of Freudian thought in the colleges and universities. Freudian and pseudo-Freudian theories settled everywhere, like fine volcanic ash. Sociology, anthropology, education, even the study of history and literature became permeated and transfigured by Freudian thought. The most zealous missionaries of the feminine mystique were the functionalists, who seized hasty gulps of pre-digested Freud to start their new departments of ‘Marriage and Family-Life Education’. The functional courses in marriage taught American college girls how to ‘play the role’ of woman – the old role became a new science. Related movements outside the colleges – parent education, child-study groups, prenatal maternity study groups and mental-health education – spread the new psychological super-ego throughout the land, replacing bridge and canasta as an entertainment for educated young wives. And this Freudian super-ego worked for growing numbers of young and impressionable American women as Freud said the super-ego works – to perpetuate the past.
Mankind never lives completely in the present; the ideologies of the super-ego perpetuate the past, the traditions of the race and the people, which yield but slowly to the influence of the present and to new developments, and, so long as they work through the super-ego, play an important part in man’s life, quite independently of economic conditions.
The feminine mystique, elevated by Freudian theory into a scientific religion, sounded a single, over-protective, life-restricting, future-deriving note for women. Girls who grew up playing baseball, baby-sitting, mastering geometry almost independent enough, almost resourceful enough, to meet the problems of the fission-fusion era – were told by the most advanced thinkers of our time to go back and live their lives as if they were Noras, restricted to the doll’s house by Victorian prejudice. And their own respect and awe for the authority of science – anthropology, sociology, psychology share that authority now – kept them from questioning the feminine mystique.
The Feminine Mystique
Chapter 5 The Sexual Solipsism of Sigmund Freud
Also see:The Sexual Revolution Continues
Whose Family Values?