Where were you when the `Mystique' was shattered?
TWENTY-FIVE years ago next month, a 42-year-old housewife and mother of three in Rockland County, N.Y., shook American social structures to the core with a best seller that launched the modern women's movement. Contending that deeply entrenched attitudes and social barriers imprisoned educated women in a ``housewife trap,'' Betty Friedan called for expanded career opportunities and equality with men. So powerful was her message that many women still chart the 1960s by two reference points: where they were when President John F. Kennedy was shot, and where they were when they read ``The Feminine Mystique.''Skip to next paragraph
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Ms. Friedan appreciates how long a 25 years it has been when she hears college students tell her with youthful enthusiasm, ``Oh, we've studied you in our history books!''
Friedan hardly resembles a figure embalmed in a history text. Sitting in the book-lined living room of her 40th-floor apartment overlooking Central Park, she is dressed in a green turtleneck, black slacks, and white Nikes. Modern art hangs on salmon-colored walls, and winter sunlight bounces off a carved settee upholstered in a splashy red-and-purple print.
But more and more these days, Friedan feels like her own historian. She has just left for Los Angeles to serve as a visiting distinguished professor at the University of Southern California, where, on Feb. 9, she will be the guest of honor at a gala celebrating the silver anniversary of her now-classic volume.
At this personal point for looking ahead and looking back, how does Friedan see what she calls ``the adventure of my own life'' relating to ``the wonderful adventure of the women's movement itself, this passionate journey that has changed possibilities for women''?
Her rhetoric gives away Friedan as an incorrigible optimist. How could she have written ``The Feminine Mystique'' in the first place without a surplus of hope? But in an interview full of the retrospection, introspection, and prophecy appropriate to an anniversary, she sounded an uncharacteristically sober note before letting her natural enthusiasm take over.
Friedan worries about ``a new feminine mystique in the air, which could get much worse if the stock market crash and the tremors we are experiencing are followed by recession and serious unemployment. If there is going to be any kind of a recession, some kind of uncertainty, women make a good scapegoat, because every family has one.''
Already she finds troubling evidence of that new mystique. The forms may vary, but the implied message remains the same: ``Give up your feminist dreams. They were wrong. Go home again.''
Friedan takes two new movies as her text. In ``Fatal Attraction,'' a ``sexually aggressive and crazy'' career woman is portrayed as ``pure evil, pure menace - to the family, to the man who dallies with her. She is finally killed by the sweet housewife, with the audience screaming, `Get her, get her.' It's a very disturbing movie.'' And in ``Baby Boom,'' a career woman leaves her job in New York and ``goes off into the bucolic wilderness to raise a child.''
With the new mystique, even fashion becomes a subtle trap. ``There's no way you can wear skirts as short as they're showing for spring and do anything serious,'' Friedan says. ``The 12-inch skirt and the 7-inch heels - I say, watch it, watch it. There's something ominous here. I think some of the new fashions are expressing somewhat of a backlash against women.''