Monday, February 3, 2014

Betty Friedan: True Personhood Means Self-Control Over One's Body

by Nomad

Today marks the anniversary of the death of one of the leaders of the feminism movement, Betty Friedan. 

On this date, eight years ago, Betty Friedan died. It was also her 85th birthday. The name may not be familiar to many young women today. That's a shame. 

Friedan's Legacy
Her 1963 book,  The Feminine Mystique, is considered to be the catalyst for the American feminism movement of that decade. It remains one of the most powerful works of popular non-fiction written in America. 
In 1966, Friedan founded and was elected the first president of the National Organization for Women (NOW), which aimed to bring women "into the mainstream of American society now [in] fully equal partnership with men." 

Critics of Friedan- and she has her share- have raised a lot of questions about some of her later views on, for instance, homosexuality. She once complained about the fact that "the homosexuality that is spreading like a murky smog over the American scene." (In that respect, it is possible that her movement surpassed its founder. It could be argued that the women's movement integrated its gay subgroup far better than African-Americans did in the civil rights era.)

On a more personal level, some women who knew and worked with Ms. Friedan found her difficult and at times, arrogant.

Nevertheless, the character of an individual need not reflect negatively on his or her ideas, nor on her accomplishments.

Ideas that Changed Lives
Recently I stumbled across her second book and found an interesting passage. The book, published in 1976, was called It Changed My Life: Writings on the Women's Movement. In it,  Friedan wrote a chapter on the subject of abortion and right to reproductive choices for women.
In this age of repeated attempts by conservatives to roll-back the abortion rights of women, Friedan's thoughts, written at the peak of the women's movement, is revitalizing.
There is no freedom, no equality, no full human dignity and personhood possible for women until we demand control over own bodies. Only one voice need to be heard on the question of whether a woman will or will not bear a child, and that is the voice of the woman herself; her own conscience, her own conscious choice, Then and only then will women move out of their definition as sex objects to personhood and self-determination.
The right of woman to control her reproductive process must be established as a basic, inalienable civil right, not to be denied or abridged by the state- just as the right of individual and religious conscience is considered and inalienable private right in both American tradition and in the American Constitution.
...Motherhood will only be a joyous and responsible human act when women are free to make, ... the decisions to become mothers, Then, and only then, will they be able to embrace motherhood without conflict, when they will be able to define themselves not just as somebody's mother, not just as servants of children, not just as breeding receptacles, but as people for whom motherhood is a freely chosen part of life, freely celebrated while it lasts....
Lest We Forget
For all minorities it is easy today to forget how far we have come as a nation. Today, there are some who would prefer that people like Martin Luther King, or Harvey Milk or Betty Friedan had never existed. And they might wish that the reforms that these people helped to bring about had never happened.

Just the other day, a Congressman from New Mexico wrote that he believed that wives should be subject to commands (and demands) their husbands. Even today there are candidates for the highest office, like Rick Santorum, who feel comfortable saying things
Many of the Christian faith have said, well, that's okay, contraception is okay. It's not okay. It's a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be." 
The only way we can keep these people with their backward ideas out of office where they can do damage to the lives of women and children is to remember the words of people like Ms. Friedan and vote accordingly.