Betty Friedan's 'second stage' brings men into the fold
Boston — Like every proud mother, Betty Friedan really comes to life when the conversation turns to her children. She pulls some snapshots out of her bulging purse and thrusts them into our hands. In the backyard of their Long Island home , her three grown children stand clustered around her - Daniel, an associate professor of physics, Jonathan, a recently married engineer, and Emily, a senior in medical school.
''My life would have been so much poorer if I hadn't had my kids,'' Mrs. Friedan bellows with delight. ''The part of my life that was mothering was sheer joy, and I adore my kids! They were the most marvelous, unexpected bonus. . . . They are so . . . each one is so distinctly . . . they are so terrific!''
The adjectives and adverbs come thundering out in a torrent of fragmented sentences that often makes it difficult to keep up with her express-train of thought. But there's no mistaking Mrs. Friedan's enthusiasm.
''My family has been too strong a value in my own life,'' she continues, ''and I wouldn't have missed that part of my life for the world. I think it's good that women don't have to have children to have an identity, but I think the choice to have children liberates nurturing. . . . There are some very powerful needs and values there.''
Could this be the same Betty Friedan who once compared the lot of a suburban housewife and mother to a ''comfortable concentration camp''?
''That was a ridiculous analogy,'' she agrees. ''I mean, come on! It denied the basic satisfactions of my own life as a suburban housewife.
''But I'm not wrong when I say that we had to break through . . . the feminine mystique,'' Mrs. Friedan continues. ''What we had to do in the women's movement . . . was right . . . but some of the rhetoric got off.''
Her use of the past tense when she talks about what the women's movement ''had to do'' is intentional. It signals a moving on from the ''first stage'' of the movement to what she now is defining as its ''second stage.''
In the first stage, Mrs. Friedan and other feminist leaders tried to find an answer to the sense of emptiness many women felt. The cure for the so-called ''feminine mystique,'' they argued, lay in discovering one's individual identity and ''personhood'' rather than being continually submerged in the needs of others, of a husband or children. Most of the early efforts of the women's movement and of the National Organization for Women, which Mrs. Friedan helped to found, were therefore directed at ending job discrimination for women who wanted or needed to work outside the home.
But it was the issue of sexual politics that got the most attention from the news media, and that put off many women who otherwise might have been supporters of the movement.
''The so-called radical feminists developed a lot of rhetoric against the family and against the role of woman as defined in the family,'' Mrs. Friedan says. ''They did some valuable work, but a lot of it was twisted somehow and began to be repudiation [of the family], throwing the baby out with the bath water.
''They seemed to create the impression that the all-important thing was career and profession, and . . . downplayed the part of woman that is defined in terms of love and nurturing.''
The result, she continues, was that ''women whose very identity had been based completely on family . . . felt that a major part of the women's movement sneered at them, and that it wasn't for them.
''That shouldn't have been,'' she concludes, ''and I am not free of guilt for that.''
Today Mrs. Friedan is being widely criticized by feminists who say that her call for new directions ignores the fact that many women still haven't achieved such ''first stage'' goals as equal employment and equal justice. They say that feminism was never meant to deny family, or to identify men as ''the enemy.''
But because the first stage of the women's movement (often dubbed ''women's lib'') alienated many men and women, Mrs. Friedan says she is counting on its second stage as a ''human liberation,'' in which everyone can help to find solutions to some of today's pressing challenges.
Instead of pitting motherhood and family against career, Mrs. Friedan says, men and women should be looking for ways to ensure the stability of both. A first step will be to affirm, rather than deny, the values of the family.
Mrs. Friedan cites a recent experience, when she appeared on a symposium panel with several university women, as a case in point:
''There was a brilliant Harvard political scientist, a woman, who I gather also is married and has a child. She was denying what I keep saying, that in the second stage we have to come to new terms with the family. She said that the family is through, that it's not the reality for women anymore. And then she said, parenthetically, 'Of course, I love my own nuclear family, but that's not reality.'
''Why isn't that reality?'' Mrs. Friedan explodes. ''In reality, her family is [very] important to her. And that's what I call denying personal truth.''
To say that there are two kinds of women - those whose personal truths are identified with the family, and those whose personal truths are identified with the broader goals of feminism - sets up a ''false polarization'' among women, and between women and men, Mrs. Friedan contends. It's a point she's been pressing for years with anti-ERA leader Phyllis Schlafly, she says.
''Phyllis's son and my son happened to get their PhD's together in theoretical physics at Berkeley,'' she says with a laugh. ''They had the same mentor and he used to tease them. He'd say, 'Boys, when you get your degrees, I want your mothers sitting there, side by side.
''So I was debating Phyllis in North Carolina at one point, and before we went on stage, I said, 'Phyllis, I hear our sons are friends.' And she said, 'Yes, I hear your boy's very brilliant.' And I said, 'I hear your boy's very brilliant.' So there we were, two mothers, beaming about our sons.
Mrs. Friedan stops for another laugh at the remembered picture of herself and Phyllis Schlafly agreeing backstage - and arguing onstage.
''It so happens that Phyllis Schlafly is every bit as much a career woman [as I am], and using the new rights every bit as much as I do. And I have at least as much concern for the family [as she does]. And do you realize what we were talking about before we went on stage? Our sons!''
Mrs. Friedan goes on to explain that her own feminism began with the realization that there didn't have to be an ''either-or'' choice between family and career.
What's needed in the second stage of the women's movement, she explains, are alternative answers to the practical questions of how - not whether - to balance family and career. Over the past few years, in conversations with her daughter and her daughter's friends, she says she's detected a growing concern that it's not really possible to have both. Today the questions continue to come, and just as often from men as women.
During a recent trip to Chicago, a technician at a television station stopped Mrs. Friedan after an interview to tell her he'd been reading her new book, ''The Second Stage'' (New York: Summit Books). He told her he wanted to have children while he was young enough to play ball with them, but his wife, who had recently finished law school, couldn't consider having children for at least 10 years if she had any hopes of becoming a partner in her law firm.
''The questions of flex time, of job sharing, of leaves for parenting, of some kind of voucher system that would pay for child care, of communal housing that would take the burden off . . . all of those [are] just as much men's issues as women's,'' Mrs. Friedan explains. ''So when I say that in the second stage these issues are not just women's questions, I really mean it. I'm not just giving it lip service, or just saying, 'How do we get men to talk about this?' They're equal problems.''
In ''The Second Stage'' Mrs. Friedan writes about the surprises that are in store for men as women begin to share control of the family. We ask her about her own sons. Do they still come to her for advice, with questions?
''Questions? Questions?'' she shouts, adopting the comic pose and high humor of a Jewish mother straight out of ''Fiddler on the Roof.''
''My children do not regard me as any guru of wisdom, I assure you,'' she laughs. ''But take my (recently married) middle son, for example. . . . Things to do with home are really important to him. . . . He's a really competent cook, where [his wife] is just learning to cook. I'm sure that he's going to be an absolutely equal-sharing partner.''