Last Updated on August 20, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 794
Betty Friedan, a writer and icon in the American feminist movement, authored Life So Far, a memoir of her personal life and work as a feminist activist. Friedan, who died in 2006, has long been credited as a leading voice in second-wave feminism. In fact, her book The Feminine Mystique is often seen as a foundational text for second-wave feminism. Throughout her lifetime, Friedan consistently pointed out institutional and cultural structures that reduced opportunities for women and limited their autonomy. She cofounded and served as the first president of the National Organization for Women (NOW) and led numerous women's rights political advocacy efforts, including the Women's Strike for Equality.
Though American feminism had previously seen a surge during the suffragette movement, women's equality no longer seemed at the forefront of movements spearheaded by women. This necessitated activism on the part of Friedan and her peers. It seemed to them that it was the time for women to collectively use their voice to speak about the inequalities that were still present in society. To these women, it seemed necessary to establish an organization that would, as their mission statement later said,
confront, with concrete actions, the conditions that now prevent women from enjoying the equality of opportunity and freedom of choice which is their right, as individual Americans, and as human beings.
The following quote describes the impetus Friedan and her peers felt as they began to form NOW.
There was this sense of history we all shared as we began to make it happen. Here women, for all these years, had done volunteer work and helped organize and support causes of anti-fascism, of the plight of the poor, organizing for everything but women themselves. But now, finally, we were doing it for ourselves—for women. It was a heady business, as if we were moving to this enormous chord. There were only thirty of us but we were certain we spoke for millions.
Friedan had long stated that extremism had no place in a feminism that truly seeks to bring about equality and autonomy for women. Any type of "man-hating" or direct attacks on women choosing to be homemakers are examples of what she cited as extremism. She consistently wanted to unite women from different backgrounds and develop practical baselines that would empower women in the workforce and allow women the access needed to reach their goals. She felt extremism would cause division and could possibly halt the feminist movement. The following quote describes how Friedan feels extremism infiltrated NOW, the main voice of the American feminist movement at the time. She also names two main NOW leaders, explaining that these leaders communicated a policy that led NOW towards extremism.
NOW was so wracked by divisiveness and internal power struggles by the 1975 convention in Philadelphia that it seemed on the brink of imploding. The election of officers and key actions and resolutions were so bitterly contested that it took three sessions of all-night voting to arrive at consensus, and even then, the American Arbitration Association had to be called in after charges of fraud were lodged. In the end, Karen DeCrow was re-elected president and Ellie Smeal chair of the board. And they continued to espouse the rhetoric of "out of the mainstream into the revolution."
Life So Far is as much of an exploration of Friedan's work in the feminist movement as it is a dive into her personal life. The memoir gives readers insight into the personal struggles in Friedan's life. She continuously wrestled with loneliness and isolation. Even as she took public stands demanding that women be given autonomy over their lives, in her personal life she often struggled to achieve these ideals of equality and freedom. For instance, Friedan notes in her memoir that she remained in her marriage even after her husband began to physically abuse her. The following quote provides some insight to her personal angst and some of the soul-searching she did to address it.
I can't remember too much about the first bout of analysis in my early years in New York, except lying on a couch and talking endlessly about how I hated my mother and how she had killed my father. I was also very lonely in those years, quite miserable often with that hair shirt I’d put on, choosing to write for the labor movement instead of Time or Life—and finding it so much harder to write in simple words than the intellectual jargon I'd learned in college and graduate school. But I finally began to enjoy writing about what I observed as a reporter, and got rather good at it. It was then that I began to fell less lonely, quite happy, in those first years of my marriage and motherhood.
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