You Say Mystique, I Say Mistake

Eugenie Allen says my wife, Leslie Bennetts, "doesn't do this loaded issue justice,'' because she "uses a battering ram'' to make her points, and sois "unwieldy" and "polarizing."
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"The author documents the disturbing facts on today's college campuses and in the high schools. Although more American women have been going to college . . . than ever before, fewer of them were going on from college to become physicists, philosophers, poets, doctors, lawyers, stateswomen, social pioneers or even college professors. "Increasing numbers of girls--women's college students as well as coed--`seemed suddenly incapable of any ambition, any vision, any passion, except the pursuit of a wedding ring,' the book says. The indictment is uncompromising and occasionally extreme. But while the case may be somewhat overstated, the symptoms of a dangerous trend have in no way been misstated.''

That's from a news story in the New York Times dated March 6, 1963, about the the serious content of Betty Friedan's new book, The Feminine Mystique. (I elided the words "in the Fifties" to trick you.)

In today's Times Book Review, Eugenie Allen writes about The Feminine Mistake, which was written by my wife, Leslie Bennetts. Leslie makes the case that women who give up financial independence by relying on a husband for support not only put themselves and their children at risk but also give up the psychological benefits that come from having a career and being a full partner in a marriage.

Eugenie Allen says Leslie "doesn't do this loaded issue justice,'' because she "uses a battering ram'' to make her points, and so The Feminine Mistake is "unwieldy" and "polarizing." Bennetts "seems to have little but disdain" for those women. By contrast, Allen writes, Friedan's template was "written with elegance, authority and empathy for the women whose lives she hoped to change."

Now, Eugenie Allen is certainly free to align herself with bloggers in the momosphere inveighing furiously against The Feminine Mistake while proudly declaring that they haven't read it and neither should you, but I have to wonder which edition of The Feminine Mystique she read: the one published in 1963, or the one she carries around in her memory?

Among other vivid descriptions, Friedan called the suburbs "comfortable concentration camps" for women, an analogy she herself later renounced, while not yielding her central thesis, which was that America's middle- and upper-middle class women were being disappeared into a state of marital oblivion. There was nothing remotely subtle about her use of very solid and compelling research.

Nor did Friedan shy away from the accusation that she was writing about an essentially middle class phenomenon, that of women in a position to choose pursuing careers as well as families.

Those are the women who tend to set the social agenda. Those are the women whose choices get covered -- twisted, distorted, misrepresented, squeezed into trend stories, reviewed by dilettantes -- in the pages of the New York Times.

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