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Life Arts    H3'ed 5/23/13

Friedan Turns Fifty: An Epistle about Some Very Unfinished Business

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Gail Collins
Gail Collins
(Image by Marta Steele)
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Gail Collins by Marta Steele

Anna Quindlen by Marta Steele

Dearest Betty, Gloria, Hillary, Madeleine, and even Elizabeth Warren:

     I went to a panel celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Betty's The Feminine Mystique. You know, the book that launched a zillion desperate white housewives out of suburbia (the poorer classes of women were already working at menial jobs) into the workplace because they wanted jobs. A domestic professional (housewife?!) herself, Betty had other fish to fry when she skewered women's magazines, for which she was writing at the time, and consumerism in general.

     And women visited psychiatrists far more often than men back in those days, I remember reading.

     It came out more recently that Friedan was in an abusive marriage when she wrote the book. Beyond that, in the 1997 edition, she turned to the masculine persuasion and realized what confined closets they inhabited: work and exhaustion and little else. This needed to change, too, despite advances already made that had obliged some higher-educated dads to pitch in and get to know their kids and so on. It frees up the joy of parenting for men, too, and they deserve it--all levels of society and not just the tippy-tops.

     The panel, which filled the small auditorium to standing-room capacity, was held by DC's Center for American Progress on May 23 and starred two icons, Gail Collins, the well-known New York Times op-ed columnist, and Anna Quindlen, the popular and prolific writer of both fiction and nonfiction. Both have published numerous books and both had much to say about "where we are now," us girls (oops).

     The Civil Rights Act of 1964 showed us how and before we knew it, record numbers of desperate housewives were happily (?) working and two-thirds of families included women wage earners.

     Today, the United States is behind the rest of the world in women's involvement in both the workplace and society at large, the only developed nation that does not grant family leave. Our agenda for the twenty-first century is paid leave and other forms of improved treatment of women.

     Anna Quindlen recalled the frown on her mother's face as she watched her reading The Feminine Mystique with deep absorption. Collins also looked back, to the period after World War II, when "anything was possible" for both sexes. Her mother regretted not having lived Collins's life.

     Today women are living a "synthesis," said Quindlen. Collins praised the millennial generation as "ahead of us" (but under what circumstances did we live, FCOL?); this "kickass group" is asking more questions about the work-life balance and therefore "won't make the same mistakes that we did." They are the true synthesis people.

    Though today's women lawyers don't face the sexism that confronted Sandra Day O'Connor when she graduated from law school and sought employment, there are still far more women associates than partners in firms.

     And where do we go from here?

     Said Collins, early childhood education is most relevant to upward mobility for all.

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Marta Steele is an author/editor/blogger who has been writing for since 2006. She is also author of the 2012 book "Grassroots, Geeks, Pros, and Pols: The Election Integrity Movement's Nonstop Battle to Win Back the People's Vote, (more...)

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