BETTY FRIEDAN by Judith Hennessee


Her Life
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67943203.599 Hennessee, Judith BETTY FRIEDAN An exhaustive, readable, forthright biography of the woman who, however truculent she may have been in both personal and political disputes, earned her way as one who launched the second-wave feminist revolution. Journalist Hennessee (coauthor with Dr. Michael Baden of Unnatural Death: Confessions of a Medical Examiner, 1989) makes clear that Betty Friedan, a woman of extraordinary energy and intelligence, was her own worst enemy, “rude and nasty, self-serving and imperious.” But she was also vibrant, focused, and compelling, a combination of qualities that enabled her not only to write The Feminine Mystique (1963) but to spearhead the founding of the National Organization for Women and later, the National Women’s Political Caucus. Born Betty Goldstein in Peoria in 1921 to a prosperous Jewish family, she graduated from Smith College, did a graduate stint at Berkeley, then moved to New York, where she reported for the labor press and married Carl Friedan, her husband for 22 years and father of her three children. This biography closely tracks her personal life, including episodes of domestic violence, divorce, and a long series of lovers. The personal mirrors the political: with Friedan, at home or in a feminist caucus, it was her way or the highway. For instance, Friedan, who liked men (better than she liked women), rejected the thesis put forth by radical members of NOW that patriarchy was “the root of all evil.” She also resisted the growing influx of lesbians into NOW. Soon, Gloria Steinem began to overshadow her—at least with the media—as “superstar of the women’s movement.” A furious Friedan fought back, but when the battle for the Equal Rights Amendment was lost, so was Betty. She turned to international organizing, writing (The Fountain of Age, 1993), teaching, and leading think tanks. Now nearing 80, she is, according to a friend, a “sweeter, calmer, happier person.” Friedan has left such a residue of ill will that many feminists will resist giving her the credit accorded even in this evenhanded treatment; it is nevertheless must reading for feminists and students of those tumultuous times, returning Friedan to her deserved place in “herstory.”(16 pages b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: April 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-679-43203-5
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Random House
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 1999


by Alida Brill