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Where were you when the `Mystique' was shattered?

(Page 2 of 2)

In the years since ``The Feminine Mystique'' was published, Friedan has watched her perspectives lengthen and broaden. Disturbed that feminism was being perceived as ``a battle of women against women,'' and ``a battle against the family or motherhood,'' she wrote ``The Second Stage'' in 1981, outlining the need for ``new institutions'' such as child care and parental leave.

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The mother of feminism is now a grandmother. One son, Jonathan, an engineer in Philadelphia, is the father of two young sons. Another son, Daniel, is a theoretical physicist at the University of Chicago. Friedan's daughter, Emily, who was only 6 when ``The Feminine Mystique'' was published, is now a pediatrician in public health in Buffalo, N.Y.

Time indeed passes. This year Friedan is completing a third book, ``The Fountain of Age,'' dealing with ``the pernicious denial and mystique of age.''

As senior stateswoman of feminism, she views all that's happened in the last 25 years and says, ``One has to feel quite wonderful about it. Change is really beginning to be visible.''

Women, she notes, now constitute 40 percent of students in law schools and medical schools. Instead of ``just cooking the church supper,'' they are serving as Protestant ministers and as rabbis, and ``theology based on women's experience as well as men's is a much more rich and vital theology,'' she says.

On the home front she observes ``a rather delicious diversity of new kinds of families. Women and men want to share the parenting now. ... There is new trial and error as younger and not-so-young women and men in various stages of partnership or marriage work out patterns that at least have a goal of equality.''

But still the historian in Friedan, and the activist who has been part of history, worries that the history of feminism is already being forgotten. The backlash - the feminine mystique in reverse - may go unnoticed by young women who take for granted hard-won entitlements they have inherited. So in addition to her practical agenda - parental leave and child care legislation now before Congress, job flexibility, benefits and pensions for part-time workers - Friedan wants ``a new wave of consciousness-raising.''

When she tries to close the gap and explain the ``clear and present danger'' to a generation not even born when ``The Feminine Mystique'' was published, she tells the story of the girdle.

She begins by asking the women in her college audiences, ``How many of you have ever worn a girdle?''

``They laugh,'' she reports. ``So then I say, `Well, it used to be, not so long ago, when I was your age, or your mothers were your age, that every woman from about the age of 12 to 92, who left her house in the morning, encased her flesh in rigid plastic casing. She wasn't supposed to notice that the girdle made it difficult for her to breathe or move. She didn't even ask why she wore it. But did it really make her more attractive to men?'

``I ask them, `How can you know what it was like to wear a girdle, when you've never worn anything under your blue jeans except a bikini brief? And how can I expect you to know what it felt like when being a woman meant you wore a girdle over your mind, your eyes, your mouth, your heart, your feelings, your sexuality, as well as the girdle on your belly?

```Life is not simple, and you're not always going to be happy. But it's so much better to live, to move and walk and talk and breathe and feel, without that girdle on. You would never put it on again if you know what it felt like. But they are trying to put you back in that girdle.'''