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To Fight or Not to Fight Against the Social Norms by Marguerite Digiorgio

Social norms of history have placed women within the box of a wife and home giver. In the historical mindset that is her place. These norms are an interesting issue for those women who desire to make some form of social change. Even if their interests are not simply the expansion of these norms they still face the repercussions of them. Strong People and Strong Leaders and Rethinking Betty Friedan tackle the role that some women choose to portray, while others are forced into. Strong People and Strong Leaders comments on the inability of African Americans to be taken seriously in the civil rights movement. Rethinking Betty Friedan makes a similar statement. This article breaks down that while Betty Friedan had a strong background in civic leadership she portrays herself as a housewife to appeal to a greater audience. She felt that being a housewife would make her more accessible to the women audience she desired.

Related imageThe description, “Men lead, and women organized” would sum up the leadership hierarchy of the civil rights movement. Women found themselves corned with the fact that the SCLC was strongly minister driven. They claimed that the autocratic leadership style did not empower people but actually limited their ability to act. The strict hierarchical system limited the power of the ordinary man. Women were unable to speak during event marches and were generally snubbed from direct leadership positions. Many leaders of the civil rights movement felt that if women were given such positions then the organization would not be viewed with the gravity they desired. This puts black women in a difficult position. They are not allowed to participate in women’s rights organizations like the National Women’s party or their events because of their race. While civil rights organizations like the SCLC wouldn’t allow women to take direct leadership positions because of their gender. Black women are but at this particularly disadvantageous position within society.

While some woman struggled against the norms forced upon them, women like Betty Friedan used society’s view to reach their audience. Betty Friedan was labor activist who organized the building and grounds team into

a union. She worked for the Federated Press a left-wing news periodical that wrote mostly to labor unions. But in her own narrative, she claims that it was pressure by her first serious boyfriend to turn down a substantial fellowship at Berkeley. She also claims that she ended up as an old maid teacher. These stories she portrayed are at least partially fictitious. We know today that Friedan was much more than what she portrays herself to be. She plays up the domestic nature of her life while living out the political passion for labor writing. She used the ideas of what society viewed she should be, as a way to appeal to a larger audience. Readers like people who they feel can relate to them. Betty Friedan used this to her advantage and created a life narrative accordingly.

 

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Friedan, Radical Roots, and Homophobia by Eleanor Kerr

In, “Rethinking Betty Friedan and the Feminine Mystique: Labor Union Radicalism and Feminism in Cold War America”, Daniel Horowitz looks at how Betty Friedan’s portrayal of herself as someone who was trapped by the feminine mystique was part of a reinvention that she constructed and promoted as part of her book The Feminine Mystique (1963). In reality, this portrait hid her active participation in union activity in the 1940s and early 1950s; thus whilst Friedan gave the impression of herself in the late 1940s as a woman who embraced domesticity, motherhood, and housework, and only became interested in feminism when she discovered what she called “The Problem That Has No Name,” conversely the written record of Friedan’s life presents a different story.

                                                                   

At college, Horowitz argues that Friedan first developed as a radical, becoming editor-in-chief of the campus newspaper in 1941, a paper which supported American workers and their labor unions in their struggles to organize and improve their conditions. Following college with a career as a labour journalist, Friedan was exposed to a variety of issues, such as sexual discrimination, which subsequently shaped her emergence as a feminist. As a labor journalist she supported working-class women, even African Americans, and whilst we can’t assume that these issues which she wrote about were necessarily most important to Friedan, it is nevertheless a good indicator or suggestion as to what she generally believed in. Furthermore, when she then moved onto free-lance writing, her articles contradicted her claim that she had contributed to what she later attacked in The Feminine Mystique.

Compared to her more radical ideas and activities in the years before she wrote The Feminine Mystique, it is therefore surprising that she would later come to exclude more radical agendas from entering the women’s movement. Horowitz briefly illuminates this idea, stating that “Friedan’s experiences in the 1940s and early 1950s help explain but do not excuse her attack in 1973 on “disrupters of the women’s movement”” [1] The tensions which Horowitz describes is the conflict between straight feminists such as Friedan and the “man-hating” lesbians, who Friedan believed would hinder their cause. It is well recorded that Friedan severed ties with known lesbians and even spoke out about them in the New York Times, however her homophobia culminated when Friedan referred to the lesbian contingent as a “lavender menace” during a 1969 NOW meeting.

As someone who has an interest in gay and lesbian histories, the image of Friedan as a woman who rejected or excluded minorities is the one I have come into most contact with, hence my surprise at this article, which suggests that Friedan, and by extension liberal feminism, actually had quite radical origins. I am therefore questioning what other historical figures do we think of in a way which hides the true realities of their story. I don’t doubt that there are probably tons, a fact which is equally fascinating as it is frustrating.

[1] Daniel Horowitz. “Rethinking Betty Friedan and the Feminine Mystique: Labor Union Radicalism and Feminism in Cold War America.” American Quarterly, vol. 48, no. 1, 1996. pp. 1-42. P.27

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Erasure and Historical Narratives by Chuck Sylvester

The phrase “history is written by the victor” is often repeated to reflect the bias nature of history, but this concept is left relatively unexplored when it comes to the ways marginalized voices are regulated to the periphery of society. Those who lack a platform are often overlooked and subsequently forgotten. More perplexing is the notion of someone rewriting their own history to benefit some agenda. These issues plague the stories of the black women leaders of the Civil Rights Movement and Betty Friedan’s role as a leftist feminist leader.

“Strong People and Strong Leaders” calls into question the role women played in the Civil Rights Movement and how their leadership contradicts the traditional narrative surrounding the events. From the beginning, Curtin almost rejects the traditional history of this time period in favor of a more comprehensive and inclusive approach, opting to look beyond the “restricted chronology and geography of the classical civil rights movement” to better understand how women fit into the struggle. [1] Through the article, Curtin examines the ways in which black women contributed to the movement, from their involvement in community organizations to their presence in the protests that defined the struggle in the 60s. Their involvement, however, was mostly pushed down to the local level, a suppression effort by male leaders, even ones as prominent as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. [2] Digging up the past through memoirs and interviews was what it took to dispel the notion of the male-led movement and reconstruct a more complete picture.


[3]

In contrast to the outside suppression in the Civil Rights Movement, Daniel Horowitz posits in “Rethinking Betty Friedan” that this feminist figure’s own personal history has been suppressed in a way in favor of a more acceptable history. Friedan has downplayed the radical leftism she displayed in her years as a college student, opting instead for a picture of domestic life leading her to feminism, even weaving this into her story when she eventually began to talk about her Marxist tendencies in college. [4] What is left out and can be found in the written record, according to Horowitz, is a strong legacy of leftist radicalism involving being editor-in-chief of a college newspaper that took on a strong pro-union, pro-social justice quality, among other activities. [5] Friedan downplays this in her own retellings of her life, a form of historical erasure that is both informative and not.

[6]

Through both articles we see a legacy of rewriting history to fit certain narratives, whether that be personally downplaying the influence of radical socialist and communist ideals for someone’s burgeoning career as a feminist or erasing the role black women played in the overall civil rights movement. “History is written by the victor,” then, both refer to those physically in a position of power and the ideals most prominent in ourselves that tell us how to tell our own story.

[1]  Mary Ellen Curtin, “Strong People and Strong Leaders: African American Women and the Modern Black Freedom Struggle,” in The Practice of U.S. Women’s History: Narratives, Intersections, and Dialogues, eds. S. Jay Kleinberg, Eileen Boris, Vicki L. Ruiz (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2007), 308.

[2]  Curtin, 314 – 315.

[3]  Angela Davis Addressing Rally, Getty Images.

[4]  Daniel Horowitz, “Rethinking Betty Friedan and the Feminine Mystique: Labor Union Radicalism and Feminism in Cold War America,” American Quarterly 48, no. 1 (March 1996): 3 – 8.

[5]  Horowitz, 8 – 10.

[6]  Betty Friedan in March, Getty Images.

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