Once I met Betty Friedan - actually more than once - but the first time was at the 1967 National Student Association convention. It was obviously a turbulent time: the Vietnam War was everyone's obsession - at the conference and in the world outside; the Civil Rights movement was moving toward racial separation, Ramparts Magazine had just revealed that the CIA had been funding NSA and lots of other student activities.
I wrote about this on the Ms. website when Betty died, so I'll just repeat it here: She spoke about inequities in pay, power and sense of self between women and men. I was irritated. Didn't she know there was a war going on? Didn't she know how many kids went to bed hungry? Didn't she know about racial injustice?
During Q and A I asked her "How can women worry about themselves when there is so much more abject misery in the world? " I asked. She drew herself up as only she could, looked me square in the eye and said "My dear, don't hide behind the poor."
She was right, of course. Over the years -- I just realized that it's 40 this year -- we've struggled and grown. The consciousness raising groups of the 70s were just that: they genuinely raised our awareness of the vast disparity in pay, rights and attitude between women and men. The world today is unimaginably different. But not finished.
There's a sad split between old school feminists like me and younger, equally committed women. I don't feel it personally but see it as a real political loss - we should be working together and for many younger women the groups of my generation seem staid, old and disinterested in their younger sisters. If we're fighting sexism we shouldn't be fighting each other!
Beyond that, pay equity is closer but not all the way there; many major businesses and executive jobs still sport major glass ceilings, working mothers at all levels still have real problems - more in the hourly kinds of work than white collar. Divorce, domestic abuse, child custody and support -- all of these issues are still without resolution. And in many areas, like abortion and federal protection of rights, we've slid badly under the current administration.
What gives me hope though is to think of my sons and the sons of my friends, and of the young people who share our lives in our community. These men wouldn't dream of assuming certain tasks belong to women; wouldn't dream of treating a female colleague or employee with less than appropriate dignity and can't imagine another way to live. Systemically we still have a lot to do, but I do think that as we move forward these sons of feminists, raised with respect to respect their moms and sisters, classmates and friends, will not only de-fang sexism but also provide shining examples of how much better life is without it. Amen.