(HOST) The recent death of feminist author Betty Friedan brought back these memories to commentator Madeleine Kunin.
(KUNIN) Betty Friedan called me one day to invite me to travel with her to a Renaissance Weekend event. These are the star-studded gatherings featuring Bill and Hillary Clinton and friends.
We both lived in Washington at the time, and we both ended up speaking on the same panel.
The trip was a challenge. We had to change planes and almost missed our connection. Betty urged me to do something, but, of course, there was nothing to do about the delay.
She was not an easy travel companion.
But wherever we went, people came up to her and talked about how their lives, or their mothers’ lives, had been changed by her book. No doubt: she was an icon.
We rushed into the meeting room, and Betty began to speak. Suddenly this tired, slightly cranky woman lit up. She had the audience mesmerized. And I was mesmerized, too, because Betty Friedan had changed my life.
In 1963, when The Feminine Mystique was published, it was a revelation. My own questioning of my role as a mother, wife, and aspiring creer woman was legitimized by her book. I loved having babies and bringing them up; I liked to cook and sew; but I, too, had asked, after the last diaper was folded, “Is that all there is?”
I was not alone. The Feminine Mystique assured me that I was not being a bad mother, or a disloyal wife, by wanting to accomplish more in my life. Betty Friedan’s words told me I was part of a national phenomenon which now had been identified and verified.
I belonged to a book club then – all of us were mothers and married. The only rule was that we couldn’t discuss babies or recipes. The discussion that followed the night we read The Feminine Mysitique was sharply divided.
Half the group greeted Betty Friedan like a new prophet. At last someone was saying out loud what so many of us had silently felt.
The other half hated the book and defended their roles as housewives and mothers; they were quite happy, thank you.
Little did I know that this division would continue into the next century, as women and men continue to debate women’s multiple roles and where the balance should lie. What I do know is that Betty Friedan was a brave and insightful woman who enabled me – and millions of others – to see our place in the world in a new light.
This is Madeleine May Kunin.
Madeleine May Kunin is a former governor of Vermont.