This is an archive of the former website of the Maoist Internationalist Movement, which was run by the now defunct Maoist Internationalist Party - Amerika. The MIM now consists of many independent cells, many of which have their own indendendent organs both online and off. MIM(Prisons) serves these documents as a service to and reference for the anti-imperialist movement worldwide.
Betty Friedan's work

reviewed by MC5 Dec. 1, 1991

The Feminine Mystique
New York: Dell Publishing Co., 1963

The Second Stage
New York: Summit Books, 1981

I. Women as housewives as the principal contradiction in the 1950s
II. Psychological theory
III. Friedan's paternalism
IV. Friedan against P.C.
V. Friedan's homophobia
VI. Friedan on sexual politics
VII. Friedan on the Third World
VIII. Conclusion

Betty Friedan "was the founder and first president of the National Organization for Women, and the original convener of the National Women's Political Caucus. In recent years, Ms. Friedan has been a leader in the fight for the Equal Rights Amendment."(1)

Betty Friedan's work in The Feminine Mystique is exemplary petty-bourgeois feminism and the Second Stage reveals her as a leader of left-wing petty-bourgeois politics generally. In this regard, Friedan has nothing to hide, unlike many leftists MIM must argue with: "It had more vitality than most volunteer activity because we were truly acting for ourselves. I was always irritated at the accusation that there was something wrong with the women's movement because it spoke to the condition of 'white middle-class women.' That was its strength, of course, in a country where all women (and men)--except for the Marxist daughters and sons of the rich--would like to think of themselves as, at least, middle-class."(2)

What she has to say about communism is brief and ignorant. Suffice it to say that Friedan blames communist countries for not being rich like imperialist countries. Household chores in communist countries were done "with fewer conveniences than their capitalist sisters" had.(3) Sorry Betty, China couldn't afford Hoovers when it freed itself from decades of imperialist and capitalist exploitation and centuries of feudal backwardness.

Friedan also mentions Maoism once as another expression of unauthentic sexuality that does not recognize "basic human needs." Referring to the alienation of capitalism that destroys love, Friedan says, "The anti-sexual stance of Stalinist and Maoist communism may perform the same function."(4) As we shall see, with lovers like Friedan, the Third World does not need enemies.

The Feminine Mystique has two basic messages that MIM would like to treat. One is that women do not have to be housewives and that being a housewife is destructive to society. The other is the psychological theory underlying all of Friedan's work.

I. Women as housewives as the principal contradiction(5)

Friedan is correct that for the most part her message on life as a housewife hit home in 1963 and has succeeded. Most women now work and many have a choice as to whether they become housewives or "superwomen," juggling career and home responsibilities.

Friedan is 90% correct in what she says within the limits of the subject matter of the Feminine Mystique. Perhaps that subject matter should be called "white studies," because so much of what she is talking about is a penetrating description specific to the First World. For example, she provides a blistering critique of the idea that cleaning the house and a career are either/or choices. She shows that where basic survival needs are seen to, house chores still expand infinitely if allowed and have a mind-closing dynamic all their own. Pointing to the idiocy of suburban life, Betty Friedan is a foremother of the radical white countercultural movements like the punk rock critique of life in the 1980s.

As for the 1950s, Friedan shows many social ills were connected to women's being psychologically restricted to the role of housewife. Ironically, while Friedan condemns communism, evidencing very little study of the question in the process, she and Engels are really birds of a feather. They both think that women's equal participation in the economy with men would solve many of their problems as women. Friedan simply goes a little further than Engels by holding that women's participation in the economy would solve social ills from cheating and drug abuse to suicide.

Amerikan women have proved Friedan wrong in these predictions. As they have increased their economic role outside the home, many aspects of gender oppression have remained the same or increased. For example, Friedan herself is aware that the occurrence of the typical female "nervous breakdown" simply changed from later years to younger years.(6)

Still, Friedan was able to prove that some problems of U.S. women were new to the 1950s and hence possibly resolvable. These problems followed a decline of women's enrollment in college, their role in the work force and images of independent women in the media--even compared with the 1920s, but especially the 1930s and 40s.(7) One of the strengths of her first book is that it shows that the relative strength of women to men has changed at various points in time and that the 1950s were definitely a setback. The march forward has zig-zagged as we Marxist dialecticians would say.

II. Psychological theory

The petty-bourgeoisie is a class that believes it is independent of both the capitalist and working classes. Members of the petty-bourgeoisie appear to succeed economically through their own efforts, because they neither hire workers like capitalists nor work for capitalists like workers. Not surprisingly, the petty-bourgeoisie is the most favorable breeding ground for individualism and its pseudo-science called psychology.

In advancing a feminist agenda, Friedan is loathe to cede the petty-bourgeoisie to the patriarchy, so she makes psychology a centerpiece of her work. "It is the same kind of political mistake for feminists to abandon the family to reaction as it was for liberals and radicals to abandon individualism to the right I That beleaguered demand for some personal control of one's life is basic, I believe, to the strong appeal of both feminism and 'pro-life,' 'pro-family' groups."(8)

Friedan spends many pages detailing a mild critique of Freud. In the end, however, she accepts the Freudian framework of analysis, something not widely recognized in this supposed feminist leader. She merely prefaces her critique by saying, "No one can question the basic genius of Freud's discoveries, nor the contribution he has made to our culture. Nor do I question the effectiveness of psychoanalysis as it is practiced today by Freudian or anti-Freudian."(9)

Like the worst of psychologists trying to out-Freud Freud, Friedan seeks the roots of Freud's sexism in his sex life. In so doing, it is not surprising that she insults other women along the way. Speaking of Freud's wife, Martha, Friedan says, "she never dreamed of sharing his life as an equal." Later, Friedan compares Martha with another woman who was "much more intelligent and independent than Martha."(10) Elsewhere Friedan quotes women frustrated by men who choose women with less education than themselves for romantic involvement.(11)

Attributing intelligence and ability only to certain women in a mistake typical of psychological reasoning concerned with the uncovering of personality traits, Friedan insults all housewives as a group. "I went as a reporter from suburb to suburb, searching for a woman of ability and education who was fulfilled as a housewife. I went first to the suburban mental health centers and guidance clinics I and stating my purpose, asked them to steer me not to the neurotic, frustrated housewives, but to the able, intelligent, educated women who were adjusted full-time housewives and mothers."(12)

Friedan's favorite concept from Freud is the "ego." According to Friedan, society conspires to crush women's ego. Freud recognized that the crushing of the ego either by the superego (moral pressures from society) or the id (basic biologically rooted "needs" for sex and other "drives") would result in a sick individual.

This Freudian theory of Friedan's amounts to saying that the role of housewife does not allow for the ego development of women. It essentially retards the adult development of women to keep them as childlike dependents and sex objects: "Aren't the chief characteristics of femininity--which Freud mistakenly related to sexual biology--passivity; a weak ego or sense of self; a weak superego or human conscience; renunciation of active aims, ambitions, interests of one's own to live through others; incapacity for abstract thought; retreat from activity directed outward to the world, in favor of activity directed inward or phantasy?"(13)

At other times, Friedan simply substitutes the word "identity" or "private image" for Freud's "ego" and "public image" for superego. "I think that this has been the unknown heart of women's problem in America for a long time, this lack of a private image. Public images that defy reason and have very little to do with women themselves have had the power to shape too much of their lives. These images would not have such power, if women were not suffering a crisis of identity."(14)

In 1981, Friedan saw women as ready for the second stage of development and modified some of her earlier findings, but she still retained the Freudian notion of the ego. "The personhood of women, that's what it's really all about, first and finally, I say now to younger women, trying to separate the essence of the women's movement from the rhetorical chaff of 'women's lib.' Twenty years ago, breaking through the feminine mystique, it seemed as if the personhood of women meant only what a woman does and is, herself, not as her husband's wife, children's mother, housewife, server of her family."(15)

More directly, Friedan says, "It is recognized now that Freud never gave proper attention, even in man, to growth of the ego or self: 'the impulse to master, control or come to self-fulfilling terms with the environment.'"(16) From reading Friedan, it is easy to see why Progressive Labor Party (PLP) and later the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) criticized feminism from the 1960s onwards as "me-firstism." "Except for middleclass women trying to become top executives for a bigger slice of the profit pie for themselves Ithe feminist movement will decline again until a real working-class surge develops. Then the bosses will trot out their politicians and thinkers--feminists, pacifists, nationalists, and phony 'socialists'--to try to sidetrack people."(17) Friedan-style feminism was literally me-firstism as a prescription for the mental health of women.

III. Friedan's paternalism

As Friedan was to admit in The Second Stage, the struggle against the role of women as solely housewives had astonishing success. The feminine mystique fell without a gunshot. It made one wonder what was stopping women from having their own careers all along.

A disturbing answer from The Feminine Mystique is that women are easily manipulated. Whether it be as educators or advertisers, Friedan maintains that men dupe women into what they do.

Criticizing Margaret Mead, Friedan shows little respect for women's thought processes. "It was, perhaps, not her fault that she was taken so literally that procreation became a cult, a career, to the exclusion of every other kind of creative endeavor, until women kept on having babies because they knew no other way to create."(18)

It was a fine line that Friedan walked in advocating that women continue their formal educations and take on mind-expanding careers on the one hand, and not making elitist criticisms reflecting the outlook of the petty-bourgeois intellectual on the other. She did not succeed in walking this fine line, but she and others have succeeded in pushing women into the world outside the house.

At other times, Friedan more correctly points out that women are not just dupes. Often they make a choice, just not a very brave one. "'I live through my husband and children,' a frank member of my own generation told me. 'It's easier that way. In this world now, it's easier to be a woman, if you take advantage of it.' I We found excuses for not facing the problems we once had the courage to face I Women went home again just as men shrugged off the bomb, forgot the concentration camps, condoned corruption, and fell into helpless conformity I It was easier, safer, to think about love and sex than about communism, McCarthy, and the uncontrolled bomb."(19)

MIM translates the above: fighting women's oppression did not seem a life-and-death issue to women at the time. In fact, nothing in politics seemed that important. It wasn't worth rocking the boat.

Going back to criticize some of the rhetoric in The Feminine Mystique, Friedan says it is especially wrong to view women as concentration camp victims of genocide today, when the second stage of struggle is necessary. She also says, "did we exaggerate their power when we were not in touch with our own?"(20) This is a point that MIM agrees with. The result of an underestimation of First World women's strength will be the paternalist thinking that portrays women as weak--the kind of sexism especially important to avoid now that women are vying with men in many spheres of life.

IV. Friedan against P.C.

In both books, Friedan takes a correct approach to a problem found at the root of the Politically Correct (P.C.) concept on Amerikan campuses today. "The point of role-playing, a technique adapted from group therapy, is to get students to understand problems 'on a feeling level.' Emotions more heady than those of the usual college classroom are undoubtedly stirred up when the professor invites them to 'role-play' the feelings of 'a boy and a girl on their wedding night.'

"There is a pseudotherapeutic air, as the professor listens patiently to endless self-conscious student speeches about personal feelings ('verbalizing') in the hopes of sparking a ('group insight'). But though the functional course is not group therapy, it is certainly an indoctrination of opinions and values through manipulation of the students' emotions; and in this manipulative disguise, it is no longer subject to the critical thinking demanded in other academic disciplines."(21)

How ironic that the academic field most likely to co-opt the method described above is women's studies! Today students are told not to think scientifically, but to listen to token in-house representatives of various social groups describe their emotions as representing the next best thing to truth.

V. Friedan's homophobia

"But the homosexuality that is spreading like a murky smog over the American scene is no less ominous than the restless, immature sex-seeking of the young women who are the aggressors in the early marriages that have become the rule rather than the exception."(22)

One of the reasons Friedan attacks homosexuals is her academic elitism--perhaps better described as "classism." "Kinsey found homosexuality most common among men who do not go beyond high school, and least common among college graduates."(23) In contrast, she notes repeatedly that the Kinsey study that showed women with greater education obtained greater sexual satisfaction in life.(24)

Friedan accepted the Freudian theory that housewives overmothered their boys thus producing homosexuals. The immaturity of men caused by mothers overly dedicated to being housewives paralleled women's immaturity and overly strong heterosexual drive according to Friedan.

In the 1980s, Friedan was still lumping homosexuality into a grab-bag of evils caused by the lack of feminist success in society--"rape, sado-masochistic pornography and violence against women, escalating homosexuality, male impotence, divorce."(25)

VI. On sexual politics and alliances

Friedan's view of homosexuality is only a part of a larger view that the women's movement should not define itself with an emphasis on sex. By the 1980s, Friedan was consistently criticizing people she saw as extremists that set back the women's movement. Just as MIM is vigilant against phony communists and phony feminists, Friedan is vigilant against phony feminism in her own way--what even she labels as "feminist reaction."(26) She criticizes a tokenist line of thinking, saying "men may be at the cutting edge of the second stage."(27)

The errors of sexual politics prompted Friedan to define a second stage of the women's movement. In the press, Friedan comes off as conservative or just stale as a NOW-type feminist. However, The Second Stage reveals Friedan to have a line that she is willing to hold come what may. She has a clear sense of responsibility as a leader--what some Chinese dissidents call a "second loyalty" where one is loyal enough to a movement to criticize it for its own good.

Still accepting Freudian psychology, Friedan attacks all the emphasis on pornography, lesbianism and "taking back the night." "I think we must at least admit and begin openly to discuss feminist denial of the importance of family, of women's own needs to give and get love and nurture, tender loving care."(28)

Where MIM draws the line between reactionary and revolutionary feminisms based on their analysis of social structure and their impact on the patriarchy, Friedan draws the line against self-destructive feminism based on a theory of psychological needs. The result is an analysis often parallel to MIM's; where MIM sees inflexible social structure in need of revolutionary transformation that is causing problems, Friedan sees basic unchanging human psychological needs that must be recognized and obeyed lest feminists set themselves back.

"For women to live their personal lives as a political scenario as some radical feminists tried to do (man as enemy, motherhood and family as oppressors of women, sexual surrender to the enemy as betrayal of self, treason to women) surely violates basic human needs for intimacy, sex, generation. It also vitiates will and energy for real political changes."(29) In this, Friedan sounds much like MIM, but it is important for MIM comrades to repudiate the Freudian aspect of what Friedan says. The energy that is lost in the struggle from this approach is a result of taking on the structure with the strategy of an individual, not the result of ignoring Freudian-defined psycho-sexual needs.

In this sense, both MIM and Friedan do not take a pie-in-the-sky attitude toward the possibilities of change within the current time period. This is in contrast to the school of sexual politics, New Age thought and various spiritual approaches that believe change comes about one individual at a time as soon as that individual wants to start change.

Despite the parallels in thinking between Friedan and MIM, Friedan draws the line too far to the right, criticizing phenomena that MIM believes should not be criticized. In the last section, we saw her criticizing homosexuality, which is incorrect.

At further extremes, Friedan labels what MIM would call anarchist feminism, pseudo-feminism and other reactions as "pathological." "The power of those needs, and the pathological consequences of their distortion or denial, has occupied a century of psychological researchers and therapists."(30) This kind of reasoning is behind Friedan's seeing homosexuality as a mental illness.

MIM has always opposed the psychiatric approach to anything except purely medical cases of brain damage. Friedan's theory--a popular one even on the so-called left--leads no where but diversion and repression disproportionately aimed at women.

Moreover, in the midst of organizing for the ERA, Friedan said, "it seemed irrelevant, wrong, for women to be wasting energy marching against pornography--or any other sexual issue--when their very economic survival was at stake."(31) MIM sees this as white middle-class hysteria. Women as a group were not struggling for survival, especially the women that Friedan is proud to represent--the majority of Amerikan women.

With the bulk of the Amerikan feminist establishment, Friedan later joined a legal case in defense of pornography against Catharine MacKinnon. Her group was called the Feminists Against Censorship Taskforce (FACT). Friedan and others came off defending free speech and women's erotic side; but Friedan's position was a much more worked-out opposition to MacKinnon's.

With regard to rape, Friedan argues that women get stuck in the first stage of the movement that she takes responsibility for unleashing. They see men as still holding all the cards. "Some women who still are afraid of their own aggression exaggerate the feared-hated power of men. Without denying the progress of the women's movement in enabling women to protect themselves against rape, and to demand police protection without humiliation, I suspect that the current obsession of some feminists with pornography and rape plays into, and is itself an acting out of, such reaction and projection."(32)

Slamming sexual politics again, Friedan says, "In the first stage, the women's movement directed too much of its energy into sexual politics, from personal bedroom wars against men to mass marches against rape or pornography to 'take back the night.' Sexual war against men is an irrelevant, self-defeating acting out of rage. It does not change the conditions of our lives. Obsession with rape, even offering Band-Aids to its victims, is a kind of wallowing in that victim-state, that impotent rage, that sterile polarization. Like the aping of machismo or obsessive careerism, it dissipates our own well-springs of generative power."(33)

In place of sexual politics, and sounding very much like the Democratic Socialists of America or Jesse Jackson on moving from the politics of race to the politics of economics, Friedan hammered on the problems of inflation and two-income families--making ends meet, the architectural design of housing meant for 1950s families and child care for instance.

It now seems to Friedan that women no longer have the choice to be housewives. Whereas in the 1950s, women were not supposed to be workers, now they must be to survive. In the second stage of the movement, Friedan found it necessary to argue for giving women the choice between life as a housewife and a career.

To address these economic concerns of women, Friedan seems unable to relate to Third World women or men, but she does give an approving nod to Amerikan labor as a potential ally several times in The Second Stage. This is what makes her "left" petty-bourgeoisie. She vaguely sees her class's interests allied with that of First World labor. Her distrust of capitalists, Third World despots and communist governments equally and her conscious individualism also make her a natural ally of anarchism--the ideology that all governments are bad.

VII. Friedan on the Third World

Criticizing reactionary pro-family ideology, Friedan lets all her all-Amerikan wares be displayed: "In the name of the family, they would destroy the new equality that gives the family strength to resist dehumanizing forces that are emerging in the seeming importance of capitalist America, in the resurgence of fundamentalist religion, in neofascism and in autocratic communism, and in the chaos of the Third World."(34) This is truly an incredible litany of evils conceivable and connected only in the mind of a great white petty-bourgeois feminist like Friedan.

Naturally, at international conferences, Friedan has no patience for women arguing that in their countries the principal contradiction is with U.S. imperialism, can the Amerikan women please help? Friedan comes down especially hard on the Palestinian and Iranian women as simply fronting for men. "It seemed clear that an alliance of Communist, Moslem and Latin despots, now in control of the U.N., was threatened by the world spread of feminism and was using the U.N. to co-opt it and manipulate women for their own political purposes."(35) In defense, one Iranian woman said, "at our stage of development, it is all right for us to take leadership from a man if we want to."(36)

VIII. Conclusion

Given the parallels between Friedan and MIM, who is correct? Unlike the case of many activists who claim to share MIM's goals, Friedan is explicitly anti-communist. She is a reformist. MIM cannot just ask "where's the beef?" of internationalist liberation strategy because Friedan doesn't want beef and never claimed to want it.

Friedan has led a successful movement on reformist terms for white, middle-class women. She is spokesperson for her class and country par excellence. So to answer the question, Friedan is correct for the petty-bourgeoisie. Here is her answer to the "where's the beef?" taunt. "A sacredness, a reverence, an awe, a pride beyond arrogance and an incredulous humility that we who made this movement share truly as sisters, overriding our ideological differences and power battles: the grandiose heroics of knowing that in our own lifetime we have changed history more basically than women ever before, and more than most men; the grounding certainty that the women's movement 'changed our whole lives,' and the very terms by which the new generations of women and men approach life."(37)

Those seeking equality for all women should stick with MIM. Middle-class women, especially housewives who require psychological liberation--should seek Friedan. "It is, after all, in capitalist America that the flexibilities inherent in our own system, our democratic tradition, even our individualism, could produce the women's movement as the first stage of the sex-role revolution."(38) It is unfortunate only that in 1991, what Friedan said about the first stage is not entirely irrelevant yet.

Unknown to Friedan, those seeking transformation of the conditions of most of the world's women have succeeded more definitively in China, the Soviet Union, Eritrea and other places. Maoist strategy has done more than Friedan's to effect women's liberation.

1. Betty Friedan, The Second Stage, New York: Summit Books, 1981, bookjacket.
2. Ibid., p. 266
3. Ibid., p. 235
4. Ibid., p. 245
5. See "On Contradiction" in Mao Tse-Tung, Four Essays on Philosophy, Peking: Foreign Languages Press, 1968, pp. 23-78 for the definition of principal contradiction.
6. The Second Stage, pp. 52-3
7. Betty Friedan, The Feminine Mystique, New York: Dell Publishing Co., 1963, pp. 12, 32
8. The Second Stage, p. 178
9. The Feminine Mystique, p. 96
10. Ibid., pp. 104-5
11. Ibid., p. 67
12. Ibid., p. 224
13. Ibid., p. 275
14. Ibid., p. 69
15. The Second Stage, p. 59
16. The Feminine Mystique, p. 109
17. Progressive Labor Party, "Smash Sexism!"
18. The Feminine Mystique, p. 139
19. The Second Stage, p. 178
20. Ibid., p. 89
21. The Feminine Mystique, p. 161
22. Ibid., p. 265
23. Ibid., p. 264
24. Ibid., p. 266
25. The Second Stage, p. 243
26. Ibid., p. 16
27. Ibid., p. 13
28. Ibid., p. 9
29. Ibid., pp. 62-3
30. Ibid., p. 67
31. Ibid., p. 7
32. Ibid., p. 104
33. Ibid., p. 201
34. Ibid., p. 23
35. Ibid., p. 164
36. Ibid., p. 163
37. Ibid., pp. 14-5
38. Ibid., p. 255

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