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Betty Friedan: An American Icon:

Today is Super Bowl Sunday, a holiday, so it seems, for men.Today I heard two radio ads that annoyed me. One ad, reminding men of the impending Valentine’s Day holiday, guilt-trips them for not having a “romantic” gene. The other has a man saying that women aren’t equal to men because we require “12 days off every year.”Today I also heard of the death of Betty Friedan. She passed away yesterday, February 4th, her 85th birthday. What with the Macho Bowl, I suppose most people won’t be paying immediate attention. They’ll be crunching their chips and drinking their beer and laughing at TV ads that sell beer, chips and other staples primarily by associating them with the voyeuristic enjoyment of female bodies.I’m thinking that Betty Friedan would say that none of this matters. She would be asking those of us who value her contribution to the world to reflect on what positive changes have taken place during the last 40 years. She would merely be restating what she kept saying through most of her public life: that she wrote what she needed to say and didn’t think the results would be earth-shaking.I know what effect she had on me. I was 12 years old when The Feminine Mystique was published. I immediately adopted it as my faith. I had already been cringing at the Miss America pageant and at society’s prevailing attitudes towards the genders. Now I had someone on my side. I read her book in condensed form in a women’s magazine and I constantly referred to it when I argued with classmates, teachers, my parents and relatives in short, everyone. At 15, I read the whole book and did a report on the women’s suffrage movement for my American History class. At 19, I marched down Fifth Avenue in New York in the first feminist march organized by the New Women’s Movement.By the time I was 21, I had moved on from Friedan to the more cutting-edge politics of Kate Millett, Germaine Greer, Elizabeth Gould Davis, and the women who published underground feminist comic books in San Francisco. I still respected Friedan, but it seemed to me that she was getting left behind as someone who had trouble accepting radical sexual lifestyles for women.In 1982, as a journalist writing for a small local newspaper called the Free Venice Beachhead, I paid tribute to The Feminine Mystique in a movie review of The World According To Garp. Contrasting Friedan’s book with the fictional feminist autobiography written by Garp’s mother, the eccentric Jenny Fields, I wrote:“In real life there was a book that changed the lives of many women. It was Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique. Published in 1963 ( which seems to be the time period in which Jenny’s book is published in the film), it was a well-researched documentation of sex roles and a manifesto urging wider roles for women…Its impact on women and men led to among other things, the founding of NOW, the campaign for the Equal Rights Amendment, and many small to large organizations fighting on fronts ranging from women’s body rights to equity in hiring standards.”By that time, the Equal Rights Amendment was quietly dying, its ratification halted by the religious right’s agitations in the red states. By that time, feminism had become a party joke for many Americans. (“How many feminists does it take to screw in a light bulb? That’s not funny!”) We were called man-haters, male-bashers, women who couldn’t take a joke, women who didn’t want to be women.We had jumped from the era of the myth of the happy housewife to the era of female politicians and disco mamas. Today we see an America in which two women are being seriously discussed as presidential candidates (and there’s a female president on TV) but every town, including Santa Monica, has a Hooters, where college girls choose to work because the tips they make will give them more money than they can earn by clerking in shops or behind a bank teller’s window.This past week, Samuel Alito was confirmed by the Senate to serve on a Supreme Court now stacked against the hard-earned rights of American women.Thank you, Betty – but we have a lot more work to do. I hope those of us who continue to fight will have the courage you had when you wrote your book. For even if you weren’t out to make revolution, you must have realized that you would be facing the jeers of the crowd, the hisses of those who cheer for the other team.I know this is just a daydream but wouldn’t it be nice if at today’s game, men and women alike would observe a moment of silence for you, because you began the slow but inevitable process of teaching humankind that opportunity should exist for us all. Lynne BronsteinMirror contributing writer

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