Betty Friedan: Fighter for Women’s Rights

BETTY FRIEDAN: FIGHTER FOR WOMEN’S RIGHTS by Sondra Henry and Emily Taitz Hillside, NJ: Enslow Publishers, 1990 128pp., $17.95

This insightful biography, rich in anecdote, introduces a new generation of young readers to the author of The Feminine Mystique, (New York: Norton, 1963) which ignited the women’s movement. Betty Friedan continues, of course, to be a dedicated and often controversial leader of feminist causes.

Sondra Henry and Emily Taitz (co-authors of Written Out of History: Our Jewish Foremothers) sketch for us a child who often felt misunderstood and disapproved of; the adolescent and young adult who longed for someone “to love her the best;” the Jew who was not welcome in any sorority in her Peoria, Illinois high school; the academically ambitious student who founded literary journals in high school and in college; and the graduate student who was dismayed because she felt she had to make a choice between pursuing a career, or planning to get married. We meet Friedan the wife, mother, writer, lecturer, representative to U.N. conferences in Copenhagen and Mexico City (where she was appalled at the anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism displayed), divorced spouse, car-pooling, house-sharing, single parent, traveler, friend, grandmother, even mother-in-law to a female rabbi.

Henry and Taitz share the personal and intimate issues which were the context out of which Friedan’s ideas and work grew and show how the pain she felt as an outsider, both as a female and as a Jew, fueled her passion for social justice and spurred her to make her life’s work the championing of equal opportunity and choice. The authors admiringly and aptly compare Betty Friedan, sitting under a shady tree in Nairobi, speaking with a group of women leaders, to the Biblical prophetess Deborah who was a wise and respected judge among her people, and a heroine leading them into battle.