Last Updated September 5, 2023.
A Double Life
Life So Far portrays the double life lived by Friedan—on one hand, a feminist icon, and on the other, an eminently human woman. Her achievements in writing The Feminine Mystique and her subsequent involvement as a leading figure in feminist movements across the United States are described in great detail by Friedan in the latter half of the book. However, the scale of these achievements is somewhat mitigated by the informality of Friedan's tone and her tendency toward humorous or superficial diversions that can last for pages and leave the reader unsure as to what her authorial purpose is. Perhaps the reason for Friedan's employment of these techniques is to keep a reader from forgetting that they are dealing with an individual both intelligent and flawed—one who is just as capable of irresponsibility and cruelty as she is of insight.
Friedan portrays her life as having been one of struggle, beginning from early childhood. Hampered by an unhappy family environment, a lack of good looks, and what she calls too much intelligence for a girl, Friedan remembers in touching detail the painful experiences she had growing up. Fear is an overwhelming part of the impression a reader gets of young Friedan, a fear which she admits was as much due to potentially not finding a romantic partner as it was to not finding a career. The opposition she faced as a young woman was, as Friedan points out, as much from women as from men. From the various examples of women's publications who rejected her writing for not being sufficiently feminine, she drew the conclusion that would set her apart from some of her more radical colleagues in the women's movement: namely, that the opposition women faced stemmed not from men themselves but from an idea that many men and women shared concerning the proper structure of society. The abuse she suffered at the hands of her husband casts her efforts with the women's movement into still more admirable relief and speaks to the inner strength that enabled her to overcome the various barriers she faced during her life.
A Middle Path
Friedan, though somewhat radical for her time, might be seen as conservative by today's standards. In the text, she gives an impression of self-confident energy, and her choice of "NOW" as an acronym for the National Organization for Women highlights her determination that change should be swift and meaningful. Nonetheless, she had what modern feminists might see as limited aspirations, pressing not for fundamental change of a patriarchal society but rather for better opportunities for women within that system. The rationale she offers in the text seems almost mathematical in that she conserved her energy for issues she felt were more important for women. However, modern readers might be surprised to find that sexual inequalities were not among the issues Friedan deemed most important. She intimates that "femininity" in its conventional sense is indeed ideal for women, and she does not embrace emancipatory efforts for trans or queer women, both of whom she sees as dangerously radical elements threatening the respectability of the women's movement. However, she stresses again and again the importance of her fight for economic equality; her measures to relieve women of biological pressures, such as child rearing; and her attempt to remove social pressures, such as employment discrimination.