Betty Friedan says that she set out to unshackle men, children, institutions, and society itself. She speaks and writes these days about "the new humanism," which will free everyone, rather than just the old feminism, which was to liberate women alone.
Mrs. Friedan's book "The Feminine Mystique," published in 1963, shattered forever the assumption that being a fulfilled housewife was enough for many an educated, trained, and intelligent woman. The book stirred deep responses, and in 1966 Mrs. Friedan helped launch the women's-rights revolution by becoming one of the founders of NOW (National Organization for Women). At every stage since, she has helped articulate modern feminism fighting fiercely and at times stridently for equal opportunity, equal pay for equal work, and better recognition.
Today, she says that corner must be turned and that it cannot be done by women alone.Men must help, too. She refers to this turning point as Phase 2, or the second stage, of the woman's movement. It will, she hopes, strengthen the concept of family, revitalize old age, restructure institutions, and help humanize business and industry.
In 1980 a mellower Friedan writes and speaks out from a somewhat sobering prespective on past events. Her husky tone of urgency is the same, but her tune is different as she evaluates the gains and the losses resulting from the revolution she helped fire.
In an interview here, conducted in taxis and broadcasting studios to suit her somewhat frenetic schedule, Mrs. Friedan listed her new goals and priorities.
"Yes," she admits, "women have won a lot. They have broken down many barriers and found their own identities separate from men. They are using their own abilities and feeling more self-assured as people. No person could deny those gains, and women would not, nor could not, turn back the clock. In general, I think the changes brought about by the women's movement have been liberating and life- opening beyond anyone's dreams. But there is still a lot of mopping up to do in every field before our agenda is complete."
The immediate "mop-up" is to secure passage of the Equal Rights Amendment to the US Constitution. "We dare not relax, or we could lose many of the opportunities women now take for granted," she says. Asked what she felt the consequences would be if the amendment failed, she replies: "I cannot conceive that it would not pass. Support for it has grown massively this year. As the economic situation has worsened, more women have gone back to work, and the realities of the divorce rate have become apparent. I think women realize they need all the protection they can get."
What is Phase 2? "The feminist movement," Mrs. Friedan says, has changed so many lives, so much, that we must now take responsibility for this changed so many lives, so much, that we must now take responsibility for this change and see that we don't get stuck in the middle. We must now make our new position more livable and comfortable, or else we are going to see a lot of tired, bitter , lonely, disillusoned women out there. We can no longer go it alone, or press only for our own rights. We need new bases and new supports, including the family and all that it means in terms of nurturing companionship, children, and home."
This new emphasis on the family, she insists, is neigher cop-out nor retreat. It is to further the ideals of full and equal personhood and equality within family bonds, as well as in the workplace, she explains.
"The family is a part of the human condition, and it is full of new promise and potential as it assumes new and different expressions," she says. "It would be hypocrisy for us to deny the importance of love and marriage and family, although early extremists of the women's movement did just that in their excess of reaction adn rage. My plea today is for balance and for righting the far swing of the pendulum, not back ot some outgrown form of family, but forward to a dynamic new sense of family."
Priorities for attaining this new family life, she says, include the development of more flexible working hours for mothers, maternity leaves, better child-care facilities, and more career training programs and educational assistance. Corporations and institutions will be called upon to restructure themselves to accomodate both working men and women and to help the family, she says.
And what about men? "The first stage of the struggle established our equality with men, and many of them felt hostile and threatened. This second phase of human liberation will involve women and men, not women against men. Men will feel themselves entitled to many of the same freedoms enjoyed now by women and will claim them -- including paternity and parenting leaves and the right to reject excess company demands on their time and energies."
Men today are groping for a new freedom and a new identity and opportunity to develop human values, according to Mrs. Friedan.
"Men, too, must be given space and freedom for self-fulfillment and self-caring," she says. "They have not been able, until now, to ask some of the more human and humane questions concerning their own lives. What will the real strength of men look like when they are allowed to be more sensitive and yearning, and to take off their own role-streotyped masks?"
"Many men are welcoming this new coalition with women," she says. "And many also welcome sharing the financial burdens of running a home with their working wives. They are finding new supports for themselves in today's realignment of responsibility and roles. So what a lot of men feel these days is envy, not hostility, toward the women's movement, and they want to joint it, not resist it."
What about the emancipated woman? Stage 2 of the liberation movement, Betty Friedan says, is full of unanticipated new problems that raise a lot of new questions.
"The choices we sought in the '70s are not as simple as they once seemed," she says. "Women now seem to have some insoluble-appearing conflicts between the demands of their professional careers and the demands of their families. They feel relentless pressures to attempt to do it all, and have it all, to be veritable superwomen who successfully juggle careers, men, marriage, homes, and families."
Today, the feminist leader says, the questions she hears include, Do I really want a man's job in a man's world? What is all this striving for success really doing to me? I no longer stop to smell the flowers. Will I miss out on life if I don't stop and have children? Is a career really the end? How can I stop working when my paychecks is needed to support the household?
Mrs. Friedan admits these are questions with no easy answers. She tells women to reassess their choices, to commit themselves to marriage, if they want it, and to families, but to retain professional aspirations and postpone them if need be, or work at them part-time while children are small. She is confident that new ways of combining homemaking and careers will emerge as men and women together look for solutions.Society itself must help.
Asked if the liberation movement has yet produced the "ideal feminist woman," she replies: "No. That ideal has not fully emerged. And superwoman is certainly not the ideal; she is still working it our by trial and error.
"In my estimation, it is the millions of ordinary American women who are the heroines of the movement. We have all had the courage to change our lives and to join together and to really alter the course of history. We have actually had no role models to show us the way. We've had to find the path ourselves.
"I do know that my daughter and most of the young women and coming to maturity today view things quite differently than my generation did at their age.They simply assume a freer, unrestricted selfhood for themselves, and for their husbands as well. They take for granted what we have fought to establish. That 'ideal' may come from their generation."
Could today's feminist movement languish as the women's movement did after obtaining the vote 50 years ago? "The women's movement as an organizational entity will not stay static, but I would like to think it will stay intact until our agenda is complete and it is no longer needed. The danger is in stopping the job before it is finished, and that would produce disillusionment and backlash.We still have to work out the practicalities of liberation for men and women and make equality livable and workable."
Mrs. Friedan is writing two new books. The first, "The Second Stage," to come out next January, will detail Phase 2 of the liberation movement. The second, "The Fountain of Age," is about the problems and potential of the last third of life. It will describe the new challenge of self-development and growth in later years. Both books are for men and women, she says.
"My new passion is for making the final third of life more fulfilling," the author says. "Not geriatrics, for heaven's sake! But I fell a new challenge to enhance life in later years. I feel this is the century when we can look forward to growing old.
"I think we will be finding all kinds of new patterns for love, growth, and work in that portion of life that comes after age 50. I think we can fight those forces of deterioration and stagnation and decline. What the women's movement has proven is that women, long past their so-called prime of life, can accoplish great things and grow each year in stature and creative ability. So now I'm going to devote more time to liberating older people from the limiting myths about old age."