Last Updated on August 20, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 522
Betty Friedan was born and raised in Peoria, Illinois. A bright child, she read compulsively, often to escape her parents' bitter arguments. She attended Smith College and was offered a graduate scholarship at UC Berkeley, which she began but did not complete. Although Friedan enjoyed the intellectual rigor of college, she was frustrated with the societal pressures that dictated a woman's place in society. Even with these misgivings about traditional relationships, Friedan married and had three children with her husband, whom she eventually divorced after years of physical abuse. In 1963, Friedan's most well-known work, The Feminine Mystique, was published. In 1966, Friedan helped found the National Organization for Women (NOW) and was its president for a time. In 1970, however, her differences of opinion with other founders and her often brash style (Friedan herself says, "I've always been a bad-tempered bitch") led her to step down as president. Later in life, she became a visiting professor at Cornell University and received a large grant from the Ford Foundation that enabled her to conduct studies on family life and childcare, among other topics.
Miriam is Friedan's mother. Friedan seems both fascinated by the person that her mother was and saddened by the less-than-ideal relationship she had with her. Miriam was clearly very intelligent and had gone to college before marrying and having children, and Friedan speculates that Miriam felt trapped and bored in her role as housewife and mother. Miriam was a perfectionist as well as a cold and withdrawn mother, a fact that made her daughter feel unhappy and unloved for many years. It was only much later that Friedan was able to understand how disconnected and unvalued her mother truly felt, though she never stopped longing for her mother's affection and love.
Another key person in Friedan's tale is her ex-husband, Carl Friedan, to whom she was wed for twenty-two years. Carl Friedan worked as an advertising executive, and the two had a tumultuous marriage. Even as Friedan was spearheading the women's movement, Carl physically abused her on a regular basis. Despite this horrific treatment, Friedan found it impossible to break free from her husband for a number of reasons. She eventually found the strength to leave the marriage, however, and she and Carl became friendly (although he continues to deny the accusations of abuse).
Harry is Friedan's father. Unlike Friedan's mother, her father encouraged her academic and literary talents. At the same time, however, he once chided her for looking "unseemly" while trying to carry too many books at once. Her father—a devoted family man who was home for dinner every evening—endlessly tried to please her difficult mother. Due to these pressures and the stresses of the Great Depression, Friedan's parents began to argue ferociously over money, and her father became a cold, bitter, and distant man. According to Friedan, "he would shout at me and I would cry. And he would shout even worse. He couldn't stand women crying." As Friedan's relationships with both parents deteriorated, she made a conscious decision to emotionally close herself off and never let her parents make her cry again.
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