Life So Far
By Betty Friedan
(Simon & Schuster, Hardcover, 9780684807898, 400pp.)
Publication Date: May 10, 2000
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Betty Friedan's "The Feminine Mystique," published in 1963, started the women's movement; it sold more than four million copies and was recently named one of the one hundred most important books of the century. In" Life So Far," Friedan takes us on an intimate journey through her life -- a lonely childhood in Peoria, Illinois; salvation at Smith College; her days as a labor reporter for a union newspaper in New York (from which she was dismissed when she became pregnant); unfulfilling and painful years as a suburban housewife; finding great joy as a mother; and writing "The Feminine Mystique," which grew out of a survey of her Smith classmates and started it all.
Friedan chronicles the secret underground of women in Washington, D.C., who drafted her in the early 1960s to spearhead an "NAACP" for women, and recounts the courage of many, including some Catholic nuns who played a brave part in those early days of NOW, the National Organization for Women. Friedan's feminist thinking, a philosophy of evolution, is reflected throughout her book. She recognized early that the women's movement would falter if institutions did not change to reflect the new realities of women's lives, and she fought to keep the movement practical and free of extremism, including "man-hating." She describes candidly the movement's political infighting that brought her to the point of legal action and resulted in a long breach withfellow leaders Gloria Steinem and Bella Abzug.
Friedan is frank about her twenty-two-year marriage to Carl Friedan, an advertising entrepreneur. She writes about the explosive cycle of drinking, arguing, and physical battering she endured and explores her prolonged inability to leave the marriage. (They are now friends and the grandparents of nine.)
Friedan was not only pivotal in the founding of NOW, she was also the driving force behind the creation of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League (NARAL), the National Women's Political Caucus (NWPe, and the First Women's Bank and Trust Company. She made history by introducing the issue of sex discrimination as an argument against the ratification of a Supreme Court nominee. She convinced the Secretary General of the United Nations to declare 1975 the International Year of the Woman.
In this volume, Friedan brings to extraordinary life her bold and contentious leadership in the movement. She lectures, writes, leads think tanks, and organizes women and men to work together in political, legal, and social battles on behalf of women's rights. It is exactly this breadth of vision that makes Friedan's memoir an important and compelling work.