Betty Friedan

BETTY FRIEDAN, September 1992


Wherever Betty Friedan goes, she gets the kind of attention normally reserved for movie stars. But the people who approach her are not autograph seekers. They represent a remarkable array of women of every race, age and background. They usually apologize for bothering her and explain that they just want to tell her one thing: “You changed my life.”

Few people have affected as many lives—male or female—as Friedan, the mother of the modern-day women’s movement. In 1963 she finished “The Feminine Mystique,” a book that “pulled the trigger on history,” as Alvin Toffler put it. Amitai Etzioni, professor of sociology at George Washington University, called it “one of those rare books we are endowed with only once in several decades, a volume that launched a major social movement.”

The book, which sold millions of copies, gave a name to the alienation and frustration felt by a generation of women who were supposed to feel fulfilled doing what women before them had done: taking care of their homes and families. Friedan struck a nerve and received an overwhelming response, including hate mail from people who believed that a woman’s place was in the home. Many women saw Friedan as a savior who showed that they were not alone in their despair. It spurred them to demand more. As a result, life as we knew it—relationships, sex, families, politics, the workplace—began to change.

“The Feminine Mystique” made Friedan the champion of the fledgling women’s movement that grew up around her and her book. In 1966 she co-founded the National Organization for Women, was its first president through 1971 and wrote its mission statement. She led the group’s fights for equal opportunities for women, equal pay for equal work, better child care, better health care and more.

But the movement that came on so strong in the Sixties and Seventies seemed to fall out of favor during the Eighties. Headlines announced that feminism was “the great experiment that failed.” Women seemed less attracted to NOW’s agenda, and many of the movement’s goals—passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, for example—faltered as a result of anemic support. Representative Pat Schroeder in Time admitted, “[Younger women] think of feminists as women who burn bras and don’t shave their legs. They think of us as the Amazons of the Sixties.”

Recently, however, the women’s movement has moved back into the fray, emerging as one of the powerful political and cultural forces of this election year. Fueled by George Bush’s move to outlaw abortion and aided by recent headlines—from Anita Hill and Justice Clarence Thomas to Mike Tyson and William Kennedy Smith—the movement has a renewed vitality and relevance.

Skeptics need only look back to April, when more people marched in a pro-choice rally in Washington, D.C., than had ever marched far any other issue in American history.

Noticeably absent at the rally was the women’s movement’s founder, Betty Friedan, who had not been invited.

The slight was a clue that the current leaders of the women movement are struggling among themselves and, moreover, struggling for a new identity. Friedan represents the movement’s history, but she also speaks for a moderate branch of feminism. She has been attacked for this, most directly in a recent book about the movement, Susan Faludi’s “Backlash.” In a chapter entitled, “Betty Friedan: Revisionism as a Marketing Tool,” Faludi charges that Friedan betrayed the women’s movement. According to Faludi, Friedan believed that the women’s movement was failing because “its leaders had ignored the maternal call.” In fact, Faludi charged that Friedan was “stomping on the movement she did so much to create and lead.”

Such criticism is nothing new to Friedan. She’s been facing accusations and denunciations from all sides since “The Feminine Mystique” was published almost 30 years ago.

Back then, Friedan was a wife, mother and homemaker, thrilled with modern appliances and recipes she clipped from McCall’s. She had grown up in Peoria, Illinois, and moved to New York when she was 18. She attended college at Smith and prepared for a life as a psychologist or journalist. After graduation she worked as a magazine writer until she was pregnant with the second of her three children. She then followed the traditional path of most women at that time, giving up her career and adopting the type of life personified by TV moms. She began to understand a quiet frustration felt by huge numbers of women, a despair she named “the feminine mystique.”

The movement launched by the book consumed her life. At first she was considered a radical, but as time passed, her views mellowed. She began to worry that feminism was forcing some women to exclude family life as a politically correct option. Fearing that women who were discouraged from marrying and having children would abandon the movement, Friedan wrote her second book, “The Second Stage.”

In that book, another best-seller, Friedan blamed radical elements of the feminist movement for problems that arose in American families as women attempted to be superwomen, juggling husbands, children, homes and jobs. Many women celebrated that Friedan had once again articulated their plight, though other women, particularly some strident feminists, denounced her. She had, they said, sold out.

Friedan weathered those attacks just as she weathers the current ones, and she remains an outspoken and important leader despite her differences with such notables as Faludi and Gloria Steinem. At 71, Friedan holds academic posts at New York University and the University of Southern California, and continues to write and to speak across the country.

Give the recent resurgence of women’s issues, Friedan seemed the perfect subject for the 30th anniversary of the “Playboy Interview.” Contributing Editor David Sheff, who recently talked about death and dying with Derek Humphry for Playboy’s August 1992 interview, flew to Los Angeles to face off with Friedan. Here’s his report:

“It took nearly two years of courting Friedan to get her to make time for this interview. We met on several occasions, each time in Los Angeles, where she teaches courses at USC in feminist thought and supervises a think tank on woman’s issues. To each furnished apartment she rented in L.A. she brought the same personal items to create a home away from, her primary home in New York: family photos, prints, towels emblazoned with scarlet parrots and loads of books (from Carl Jung to ‘Backlash’).

“We met at one of the apartments. She gave my hand a quick shake and then moved to the bar, expertly concocting the strongest, spiciest bloody mary I have ever had.

“At a nearby café we talked about political candidates and the men’s movement. She was good humored and easy to talk with until she transformed, inexplicably, and became cantankerous. She is, by nature, candid and argumentative, and her years as a controversial figure have made her fearless. It’s a potent combination.

“I met with her twice more before she allowed the tape-recorded sessions to begin. We had several lunches, and I attended the USC course she taught and took notes during a think-tank session on women’s issues at which Friedan presided. She spoke briefly and then said that the forum would start after everyone introduced themselves. As the women in the room said their names and what they did for a living, it became clear that this was a group of some of the most powerful women in Los Angeles—business leaders, judges, teachers, politicians and activists. When my turn came, I announced my name and indicated that I was a representative of Playboy magazine.

“There was a collective, audible gasp, some nervous laughs and many looks of horror. The tension was slightly defused when Friedan announced, ‘Well, it’s not like I’m posing!’ ”

Playboy: A lot of those women didn’t like having someone from Playboy in their midst. Do you feel as if you’re consorting with the enemy?

Friedan: First, I don’t believe in talking only to the already converted. It is important to talk to men. Anyway, the magazine has changed since the days of the Playboy Bunny at the Clubs. I probably wouldn’t have been speaking with you in those days.

Playboy: But the Bunny was basically a waitress at the Playboy Clubs. What was so objectionable about her?

Friedan: The Playboy Bunny dehumanized the image of female sexuality. It was part of the feminine mystique.

Playboy: We always viewed it with fondness, as a fun image of sexuality.

Friedan: But the image came at us from everywhere—from Playboy, from the ads and programs on television. It was the image of a woman solely in terms of her sexual relation to a man, in this case as a man’s sex object and server of his physical needs. In other cases it was as a man’s wife, a mother and housewife. That is why it was objectionable. The Bunny may have been cute and fluffy, but it denied the personhood of women. That was the feminine mystique, when women were second-class people, less than human, more akin to children or bunnies. It denied the whole previous century, when women had fought for rights, including the right to vote.

Playboy: The Playboy Philosophy simply tried to present sexuality as a part of life to be celebrated, not denied.

Friedan: But what came with that was a denial of the rest of a woman. When women are supposed to serve men, sexually and otherwise, they have no other identity. There is no place for career women or for women who have lives that are not about pleasing men. Since the culture views women that way, women necessarily view themselves that way. The Playboy Bunny image of women’s sexuality was an extreme Rorschach for a culture that completely denied the personhood of women.

Playboy: The Playboy Philosophy had more to do with the sexual liberation of men and women than with anything else. It was a reaction to puritanism.

Friedan: But sexual liberation is a misnomer if it denies the personhood of women. The first wave of so-called sexual liberation in America, where women were passive sex objects, was not real liberation. For real sexual liberation to be enjoyed by men and women, neither can be reduced to a passive role. When a woman is a sex object, it limits a man’s enjoyment, too. Maybe some people still haven’t caught on, but the best sex requires a deeper, more profound knowledge of oneself and the other person. In the Bible, sexual love was to know. It suggests something deeper. That is why the women’s movement had to happen for sexual liberation to be real.

Playboy: Do you object to the celebration of sexuality in our pictorials?

Friedan: A celebration of women’s bodies is all right with me so long as there is no denial of the personhood of women. I suppose sometimes women are sex objects—and men are too, by the way. It’s the definition of women just as sex objects that bothers me. Women can celebrate themselves as sex objects, they can celebrate their own sexuality and can enjoy the sexuality of men as far as I’m concerned. Let’s have men centerfolds.

Playboy: Cosmopolitan tried it.

Friedan: Burt Reynolds? It’s a good joke, but I think the truth is that women are less interested in dehumanized sexuality. Sexuality for women tends to be more about personal bonding. Sexuality divorced from that is not pleasing. Men, too, seem to be more aware that dehumanized sex is not as satisfying as a total relationship. But Playboy’s centerfold is fine. It’s holding on to your own anachronism and it is not pornographic, though many of my sisters would disagree. It’s harmless. I was amused to see that a recent graduate of Smith, my college, posed for a pictorial and defended herself by saying that she could celebrate her sexuality if she wanted to. I agree, even though Playboy strikes me as an odd mixture of sex—sometimes juvenile—and forward intellectual thought. Alex Haley, who conducted interviews for your magazine, was my good friend. Christie Hefner is my friend and has been marvelously supportive of many causes—not only of free speech but of the rights of women. Playboy articles and interviews are always quite brilliant and yet they are next to all this attention to women as sex objects.

Playboy: Back up. Did you say juvenile?

Friedan: I don’t think there is anything wrong with celebrating women’s bodies, but if that’s all you’re interested in, you’re missing an awful lot. That’s all I mean. I definitely don’t think feminism needs to be equated with puritanism and the denial of sexuality. At the same time, I don’t approve of anything that reduces women to sex objects, and I really disapprove of anything that degrades women or depicts them as the object of violence. The fact is, there are things far worse than the centerfolds.

Playboy: Last year there was a demonstration in Berkeley by a group of women who were offended that a man was reading Playboy in a restaurant. Would you have attended?

Friedan: It seems like a waste of time. I am for the liberation of human sexuality, not the repression of it. Most of all, I am for freedom of speech.

Playboy: Beyond Playboy, how do you see the connection between the women’s movement and sexual liberation?

Friedan: As women moved against sex discrimination in employment, education and public accommodations, as there were marches and class-action suits that focused on employment, it affected the rest of women’s lives. As women began to use their own names, to have their own careers, to move into fields that had exclusively been men’s before, they earned self-respect. Without self-respect, what kind of sexuality can anyone have? As women gained self-respect, their sexuality was vastly enriched. There was more and better sex all around. When women were enjoying sex more, men were, too.

There were fascinating statistics that began to emerge by the end of the Seventies. There really was a lot more sex, and both men and women were enjoying it more. I’ve traced each decade of the women’s movement according to the early Kinsey studies about sexuality. There was greater sexual enjoyment as the women’s movement progressed.

Playboy: Do you credit that to increased self-respect?

Friedan: When women are not people, when they are full of impotent rage directed against themselves, sex is not going to be lots of fun—for their partners or for them. The erotic experiences of many women were twisted by their self-images. And, of course, men played along with it, mostly because they didn’t know differently. Masochism and self-denigration were considered normal sexuality for women. Before that, frigidity.

Jack Kennedy talked about political passion. Women experienced political passion for the first time because of the women’s movement. They had the ability as human beings to shape their own lives and futures. Experiencing political passion was a prerequisite to experiencing physical passion. Women had been the objects of passion, but they weren’t expected to experience it themselves.

Playboy: Some have claimed that the women’s movement bred discord and increased the tensions between men and women, and that there was actually less sex, not more.

Friedan: There was less unfulfilling sex, maybe. And you’re right: There was a time when it seemed that the women’s movement was about women in a battle against men. But that’s not what the movement was about. It used to be called the war between the sexes. That had a lot to do with the rage felt by women who had been put down for their entire lives. When the rage finally came out, no wonder it was excessive. The rage was taken out on individual men who were also products of obsolete, polarized, unequal sex roles.

Playboy: Is the war between the sexes over?

Friedan: It needs to be. As women began to find their strength, they directed their rage in fruitful ways to change their lives. They moved away from passive, impotent rage. I think women could then love men for what they are. I think that men were relieved when things changed, too.

Playboy: Not all of them. Some men rue the day you wrote The Feminine Mystique.

Friedan: But many more were relieved because the liberation of women meant the liberation of men. It was an enormous burden to be a man. There was a masculine mystique, too.

Playboy: What was it?

Friedan: Men had to be supermen: stoic, responsible meal tickets. Dominance is a burden. Most men who are honest will admit that. When things began to change, men were released from the enormous pressure.

Playboy: What’s behind the current men’s movement?

Friedan: I think it’s partly a reaction against feminism, partly envy of feminism and partly a real need of men to evolve and break through the burden of the masculine mystique, the burden of machismo. It is a burden that comes when the definition of masculinity is dominance in a society where dominance is not a survival technique anymore. It requires men to suppress their feelings and their sensitivities to life.

Playboy: And yet you disapprove of the men’s movement?

Friedan: First of all, there didn’t need to be a men’s movement the way there needed to be a women’s movement.

Playboy: Some men obviously disagree.

Friedan: Well, there is no men’s movement—except all of history, of course.

Playboy: But the men who flock to men’s groups clearly have needs.

Friedan: Listen, the women’s movement was about the personhood of women, not the impersonation of some idea of what women are supposed to be.

Playboy: And you think that is what the men’s movement is about?

Friedan: Robert Bly’s retreats are trying to teach men to be male impersonators. They are crying to embrace some mystique that is more obsolete than ever. The idea of putting men back in loincloths and giving them drums to beat and encouraging them to yell like cavemen is regressive, not progressive. The good part is that they can also cry and have feelings. But a lot of it seems phony.

Playboy: You said that the men’s movement is partly a reaction against feminism. How?

Friedan: The explicit or implicit message is that the feminist movement has made wimps of guys.

Playboy: Some men do equate feminism with emasculation.

Friedan: They don’t understand feminism, then. The practical result of feminism is freeing both women and men from the burdens of their roles.

Playboy: Warren Farrell says the women’s movement “is not a movement for equality but a movement for women’s maximization of opportunities.”

Friedan: And as an excuse, they tell men to go out there and reassert their masculinity. It’s aggressive toward women. But the feminist movement has not made wimps of men. I think many pressures affect men that make a definition of masculinity based on violence—sorry, that was a Freudian slip—based on dominance almost impossible. If men and women don’t face these things together, nothing will change. Men and women need to find ways to be intimate and to support one another and join together against the real enemy.

Playboy: You seem to be waving a white flag. But many women seem angrier than ever toward men.

Friedan: I’ve never bought the “down with men” idea—the male patriarch, the male chauvinist pig. There’s a little truth in it, but it ignores the larger truth. The first stage of the women’s movement was getting access to the world that had been, until then, completely dominated by men—the world of employment and government. We had to take control of our destiny. It was not a sex war against men but a question of breaking through polarized, unequal sex roles. But so much has changed. The people who criticize the women’s movement discount it, but women have made enormous strides.

Playboy: Yet there seems to be more hostility between the sexes now than there has been for a long time.

Friedan: And we have to be very careful not to fall into the trap of fighting among ourselves. The real danger now is that the whole society is being attacked. The rage and frustration that is increasing as a result of the economic crisis is being manipulated into a scapegoat phenomenon.

Playboy: Scapegoating whom?

Friedan: Men blame women. Women blame men. Look around. There is an increase in racism against blacks and Latinos. The blacks and Koreans in L.A. The riots in Los Angeles were a result. I’ve been warning all year that the rage and frustration from the economic decline of this country was being manipulated into racism and polarization of one group against another. Well, it exploded in L.A. The denial of the American dream to the outright poor and homeless, as well as to the middle class and blue-collar workers—whose jobs and security are being squashed—built the rage. The trigger was the Rodney King verdict. To my dismay, Bush, Quayle and the others try to blame it on the decline of the family, on single parents and welfare mothers, while they continue the policies that make the top one percent get richer and everyone else more insecure. It is not going to end with the riots in Los Angeles until the real problems are addressed. In the meantime, they encourage racism, anti-Semitism, gay bashing and Japanese bashing. There is an increase in violence against women and against all minorities. There seems to be an increase in the number of crimes against anyone weaker in society—minorities, women and even children. It’s causing a backlash against all the progress we’ve made.

Playboy: That’s a buzzword of the women’s movement now since Susan Faludi named it in her best-seller. Explain the backlash.

Friedan: It’s the reaction to all the progress we made. Women were being portrayed as strong and independent. But just as we were making progress in the culture and that progress was being reflected in the media, there was a backlash—you can see it on TV and in advertising. They are barometers of where the culture as a whole is going. Women’s roles in movies are appalling.

Playboy: What are some offenders?

Friedan: Pretty Woman, The Silence of the Lambs—two of the most successful movies of the past year or two.

Playboy: Is your objection to Pretty Woman that a prostitute was portrayed as the ideal woman?

Friedan: The movie’s message was that, in effect, the way for a woman to get ahead is to find a rich man who will buy her pretty clothes. We were succeeding in doing away with the Cinderella story, that all a woman needed to be complete was a Prince Charming. Women were doing it on their own. This woman was “saved” from prostitution by a man.

Another big thing in TV and movies is portraying women only when they are in jeopardy. I thought it was absolutely outrageous that Silence of the Lambs won four Oscars.

Playboy: Yet Jody Foster and the director, Jonathan Demme, insist that it’s a feminist movie.

Friedan: I’m not saying that the movie shouldn’t have been shown. I’m not denying the movie was an artistic triumph, but it was about the evisceration, the skinning alive of women. That is what I find offensive. Not the Playboy centerfold.

Playboy: But The Silence of the Lambs had a female hero who fought back against violence toward women and triumphed.

Friedan: But even she was seen to be manipulated by this evil monster. Instead of showing women in jeopardy, the new trend is to show women in jeopardy who then survive the jeopardy.

Playboy: Isn’t that an improvement?

Friedan: I tell you, women are tired of seeing themselves as passive sex objects in jeopardy, whether or not they end up prevailing. Yes, it was a well-done film, but aesthetic criticism can’t be value-free. If I had been voting for the Academy Awards, I would not have voted for it.

Playboy: At least you must have been happy with Thelma & Louise.

Friedan: I loved it. It was a breakthrough movie. I was amused that some of my men friends were describing the movie as female fascism because of the violence. They said, “So you want women to be as violent as men?” Come on. Those women defended themselves—against rape!—and otherwise shot up an oil truck and made sure to shoot air holes in the trunk of the police car so the offensive state trooper was able to breathe. You do not see air holes in the trunk inGoodFellas or in The Godfather.

Playboy: Were you disturbed by the fatalistic ending—Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon doing a Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid into the Grand Canyon?

Friedan: Maybe that’s another Rorschach. It is very hard to see how women who take back their lives can get away with it. They have to be punished. I wanted them to be able to go back and live a different kind of life. It was one example, though, of women who were strong, complex characters. There used to be more, but they are disappearing.

Playboy: On television, whom do you count among them?

Friedan: Cagney & Lacey, which is off the air. The only ones left are in Designing Women, Murphy Brown and Roseanne.

Playboy: Do you view the women in those shows as positive role models?

Friedan: They are strong women with personalities and lives of their own. They are not dependent on men.

Playboy: But they’re also pretty wacky. For all her fiery independence, Murphy Brown is neurotic. She almost went over the edge when she became pregnant.

Friedan: It’s true. They won’t let her enjoy it, will they? But at least she’s a strong, complex woman and she’s getting great ratings.

Playboy: Dan Quayle doesn’t like her. He singled her out as a symbol of what’s wrong with American families.

Friedan: As a woman at a conference said the day Quayle made that stupid speech, he used a fictional woman to insult a lot of real women. Some single women are in that position against their wishes. Some have chosen it. The fact is, they are doing the best they can. For him to blame them for America’s ills is to scapegoat women who have made alternative choices. It’s typical to sound off about women, to blame the victims. America is in decline, however, because of people like Quayle and his boss, who have refused to address the fundamental problems of this country. Murphy Brown is affirming to women. And no matter what Dan Quayle says, America loves her.

Playboy: Where does Madonna fit in—backlash or in the forefront of the women’s movement?

Friedan: I think women identify with Madonna as much for her guts, her strength, her politics and her business acumen as for her role as a sex object. Whoever said feminism shouldn’t be sexy?

Playboy: What has caused the backlash?

Friedan: First of all, it is exacerbated more by the economic crisis than anything. All the progress women made—in spite of the best efforts of the culture and media—seemed unstoppable until the economic crisis came along. The economic crisis begins, and who is blamed? Men blame women. If they weren’t working, there would be enough jobs.

The media have played their part by suggesting en masse that women should go home again. They have popularized the idea that Ronald Reagan espoused ten years ago when there was a small turn for the worse in the economy. He said, essentially, that there would be no unemployment if women went home again.

Playboy: You’re not suggesting that the economic crisis was perpetrated to put women back in their place, are you?

Friedan: No, but that is the result. The people responsible would rather have us blaming one another than blaming them. That’s the point. And the people responsible are also the ones most threatened by the empowerment of women. Women have been the largest group in society that, until recently, was passive and easily manipulated. Women are not a ten percent minority, they are a fifty-three percent majority. When women discover their power and assert it to control their own lives, they’re not easily manipulated anymore.

Playboy: But the economic crisis hurts everyone.

Friedan: Here’s an example of the way the backlash works. What is the current hysteria over abortion really about? Why are we still fighting the issue? The right to abortion is basic and symbolic of all the rights that women have won. It is a symbol of autonomy and independence.

The authoritarian elements that were threatened by the success of the women’s movement get us to focus on abortion instead of on them, to divert the rage from those who are really profiting. The rage that men or women have a right to feel when they have lost their economic security is diverted to abortion.

Playboy: But the abortion issue doesn’t go away because some people believe abortion to be wrong. Or do you see it as some larger conspiracy?

Friedan: I don’t believe in conspiratorial theories of history. I don’t even think the feminine mystique was a conspiracy. There is just a convergence of many things. But that doesn’t mean that the focus on abortion is anything other than a red herring. The autonomy and independence of women is genuinely threatening, not to all men but to those who want to exert authoritarian power. Roe vs. Wade was nineteen years ago. To force the women’s movement, year after year after year, to mobilize to defend the right of women to control their own bodies—a right that we thought we had won nineteen years ago—is appalling. We have to fight it, we must, because the right of controlling our reproductive processes is basic to the personhood of women. But defending that right takes away the passion that we also need to put behind other issues: child care, equal opportunity, affirmative action.

This nation is decades behind European nations in birth control. Why don’t we have RU 486 here?

Playboy: Is it because men want to keep women barefoot and pregnant?

Friedan: The men who are running things do. Many people do not want things to change, so they divert us. We focus on abortion and sexual harassment and welfare mothers. The welfare mother has been made the Willie Horton of the 1992 election.

Playboy: The Republicans in particular have been citing welfare moms as an example of the system’s failure.

Friedan: The welfare mother is not who people think she is. She is not black, she’s white. She’s not a teenager and she doesn’t keep having babies and she doesn’t stay on welfare her whole life. She actually has one and a half children and then she gets off welfare. But the stereotype, the Willie Horton welfare mother, is black, fourteen or fifteen years old and she keeps on having babies. They want us to think she is responsible for America’s economic crisis, not the politicians and the people who are profiting. The fact is, you could give every existing welfare mother a hundred thousand dollars a year or take her off welfare altogether and it wouldn’t solve the economic crisis. Still, otherwise intelligent men, instead of discussing the culture of greed and those excessive corporate salaries and bonuses, talk about the welfare mother.

The fact is, attacking abortion, the welfare mother, people of other races, gays, is a diversion of energy that should be going toward confronting basic political and economic problems of this society. Instead, it comes down to clashes between the races and violence against women.

Playboy: How, specifically, to violence against women?

Friedan: All the groups that have been moving toward equality are pitted against one another. Men and women are feeling the pressures of the recession. Remember, many, many women now carry the burden of supporting or helping to support the family. Still, men have been defined as having those roles, and the frustration of men today must be enormous—losing their jobs, barely getting by. The rage is funneled against the groups that have been moving toward equality. Men take it out on women and the minorities who are supposedly taking their jobs because of affirmative action. Or they take it out on the Japanese for destroying the American economy.

Playboy: What should people do?

Friedan: They need to be alert to the danger of becoming polarized. Instead of fighting among ourselves, we must move with a new political urgency to save our democracy and the freedoms that are under attack. That is what is really going on. If we don’t, we are playing into their hands and inviting fascism.

Playboy: Do you see fascism coming?

Friedan: Remember history. What preceded fascism in Nazi Germany? Economic chaos and the loss of a sense of national power. That caused people to scapegoat one another. Eventually, citizenship was taken away from the Jews. Then feminist organizations were outlawed and the rights of women—not only to abortion but also the right to work in professions or to hold political office—were taken away. Women were reduced to children, kitchen, church. Freedom of speech in Germany was suppressed altogether. Racism was taught in the schools in the name of science. And then there was war and the Holocaust.

There are many parallels. Art—called degenerate art if it was abstract or openly erotic or sexual—was suppressed by the Nazis. It all sounds pretty familiar, doesn’t it? Look at what happened inside the National Endowment for the Arts. The art that Congress wants the NEA to suppress may not be to my taste and it may shock, but there are dangers to freedom of speech if we rely on sexual puritanism or anyone’s sexual revulsion or shock.

Playboy: Some feminists support recently proposed legislation that will hold pornographers responsible if crimes are committed by people who were thought to be under the influence of pornography. Would you suppress pornography?

Friedan: The New York chapter of the National Organization for Women came out against that legislation and I’m very proud of them. Women cannot let the pornography issue be misused. Once you suppress freedom of speech for any reason, it will come back to haunt you. The Webster decision that forbids doctors from counseling about abortion is a suppression of freedom of speech. The same people would eventually have us banning books—Our Bodies, Ourselves is threatening to them. The Feminine Mystique was banned.

Playboy: How important were the Clarence Thomas hearings for the women’s movement?

Friedan: It’s the most significant thing that has happened in years. I think that Anita Hill is an absolute symbol of a paradigm shift in the women’s movement, from being the victim to being empowered.

Playboy: Even if it didn’t succeed in blocking Thomas’ nomination?

Friedan: Even if it didn’t. Thomas should have been blocked even without the sexual harassment issue because it was unconscionable that a Supreme Court nominee would not declare himself on the fundamental right of women to control their own reproductive processes. Regardless, consciousness-raising took place in the whole nation when women saw Anita Hill stand up and when we saw, day after day, the outrageousness of an all-male Senate Judiciary Committee and a nearly all-male Senate that just didn’t get it. Women got it, and it’s not going to go away.

Playboy: But Thomas was confirmed and the majority of Americans, the majority of women, according to polls, disbelieved Anita Hill.

Friedan: I’d like to see those polls in a little more depth. It’s not surprising that women as well as men believed Thomas. We have had centuries of male authority that has influenced us all. Also, the hearings were conducted in a way that was set up against her. The Republican Senators savagely tried to destroy her character, and the Democratic Senators sat there like wimps and let them do it. A lot of women will not forget that. Wait until the elections. I have never seen women as angry. Women who vote! Furthermore, Anita Hill was not destroyed. She will go down in history as a heroine. As a result of Anita Hill’s actions, women across the country are now emboldened to blow the whistle on sexual harassment.

Playboy: Has the issue been blown out of proportion, so that relationships in and out of the workplace are strained?

Friedan: I don’t think so. The reason the issue became so big is that many women were being subjected to behavior that was inexcusable. If some people are nervous about it, then fine. It will mean they will be more conscientious.

Playboy: But many men and women bemoan the fact that even flirting is suspect. Do you really object to a little healthy flirting?

Friedan: We are talking about harassment, not flirting.

Playboy: Are you worried that the attention to sexual harassment is a diversion from economic and political issues?

Friedan: I think it is a great step forward that women don’t have to dwell in the victim state, but that issue is, once again, men versus women. The sexual war is the focus, and we don’t focus on jobs, repression or the inner cities.

Our larger agenda right now, it seems to me, is to join with men in demanding a new politics and culture to replace the culture of greed of the dozen years of Reagan and Bush.

Playboy: Does that mean you’re supporting Clinton for President?

Friedan: I think it’s essential to defeat Bush. I am not excited about any candidate that has come along, but Bush must be defeated. Still, whether any emerging leader is even sufficiently understanding of these issues—since they are all men—I don’t know. Whether Clinton or the other Democrats are going to be as stupid as Dukakis was and give up what is probably their most potent source of support, I don’t know.

Playboy: How did Michael Dukakis alienate women?

Friedan: As the 1988 presidential campaign began, there was a big gender gap. Women favored the Democrats. But Dukakis believed the conventional Democrats’ wisdom, which was to clothe themselves as Republicans and refuse to be viewed as prisoners to any special-interest groups, including women. The women I worked with came up with commercials that would appeal to women. Cher would have done them. However, the Committee to Elect Dukakis wouldn’t let us.

Playboy: Because he thought it was a liability to be associated with women?

Friedan: Exactly, and he was crazy. By the end of the campaign, there was no gender gap. And the people who ran the Dukakis campaign didn’t even understand that they had thrown it away. I hope that Clinton doesn’t do it again, because what used to be dismissed as women’s issues are now the main issues of the campaign.

Playboy: What do you think about Ross Perot?

Friedan: America is yearning for a man on a white horse. The idea that he doesn’t have to subject himself to the democratic process gives me a feeling of déjà vu. Other times it led to Mussolini and Hitler. Perot also seems to have some of this Bush-Quayle obsession with conventional family values. He has said he won’t have gays in his cabinet. He has said that we don’t have enough money to address issues such as parental leave and child care. He appears to want to cut social programs, but cutting social programs is what got us to the riots in Los Angeles.

Playboy: Even as you talk about the new direction the women’s movement must take, there is speculation that it has faltered. Has it?

Friedan: So many articles say the women’s movement is dead. But because the right to abortion is threatened, more people marched on Washington last spring than ever marched for any issue. It is very much alive.

Playboy: Surveys have shown that women, especially younger women, don’t identify with the movement. They may favor reproductive choice, but they don’t relate to feminism.

Friedan: They may not relate to the word feminism, but the great majority of women, young and old, completely subscribe to the entire agenda of the women’s movement, from equal pay to equal access to advanced jobs and professions to child care to choice regarding abortion.

Playboy: Then why won’t they call themselves feminists?

Friedan: The trouble with the media, and even some of the women’s organizations, is that they have too narrow a vision of the women’s movement. They look at it the way it was fifteen years ago and don’t recognize how far it has come. Young women say they’re not feminists, but they don’t have to be. They take for granted feminist rights. Yet women, when they see their rights are in danger, will march and act. Look at what happened in Washington. Women have power that is greater than anyone acknowledges. In Illinois, a relatively unknown black woman with very little money was able to defeat a Senator who was considered undefeatable, who had been in the Senate for twenty-two years. In Pennsylvania, a woman candidate beat the state’s lieutenant governor and is now running against Arlen Specter. In California, two women won their party’s nomination for the Senate. There are women who are going to be elected like that all over this country this fall. I don’t think any of the presidential candidates understands that.

Playboy: But the majority of women don’t consider themselves to be feminists. Representative Pat Schroeder suggested that it was because of the archaic image of feminists as bra burners, radical lesbians, men-haters and women who choose not to shave under their arms.

Friedan: There may be something to that. The media have done everything they can to discredit the movement. They glom on to the extremist voices in the movement with which many women want to dissociate. More so, the message in the Reagan-Bush era, served up by the media, was that feminism itself was a dirty word. The propaganda campaign was effective. It said that you would not get ahead in your career if you were considered a feminist. It said that you could not be a responsible parent if you were a feminist. “Feminism,” like “liberalism,” was portrayed as being regressive and unpopular—as were civil rights, affirmative action, welfare and social programs. Some of the campaign against us has had to have an effect.

Playboy: Some people thought that successful women were no longer feminine—that they were taking on the character traits of fiercely competitive men. Do you agree?

Friedan: The depiction of career women as monsters, à la the woman in Fatal Attraction, is another cause of the backlash. No wonder women have questions about going for it.

Playboy: In politics, some of the most successful women—Margaret Thatcher and Jeane Kirkpatrick, to name two—seem as macho as any of their male counterparts.

Friedan: Well, I’m not sure that’s true. When you are the first woman in any field, it’s very hard not to follow the male model. There is no other model. It’s only when women approach critical mass that you begin to see them show characteristics of leadership that really use the qualities associated with women.

Playboy: What qualities?

Friedan: Maybe it’s because women are the people who give birth to children, but something has enabled them to be more sensitive to the cues of life. They nurture. The more they can use that in the public sphere, the better.

Playboy: George Gilder has charged that the women’s movement is out of touch—it’s elitist and most women don’t want it. Is there any truth to that?

Friedan: I’m really losing patience with the attempts to polarize women. The power and the glory of the women’s movement is that it crossed all those lines. It has affected every woman. When they say that the women’s movement doesn’t represent the average woman, they are intentionally dividing us.

Playboy: Do you admit that the women’s movement itself, because of all the infighting, is partly responsible for alienating women?

Friedan: That’s part of the tendency to blame the victim. The organizations on the cutting edge of the women’s movement are still doing a valiant job of protecting the rights we thought we’d won in the first place. They still fight for rights, from affirmative action to equal employment opportunities to the right of choice in the matter of abortion.

Playboy: But there’s still fighting within the women’s movement, isn’t there?

Friedan: Yes, and the first thing we have to do is redirect our focus. If women are alienated from the women’s movement because it is antagonistic toward men, I understand that. One of the reasons I am doing this interview is that I think the movement has to become one of women and men. Maybe the women’s movement has to be superseded by a larger political movement.

Playboy: What you’re saying is heresy in some radical corners of the women’s movement.

Friedan: It depends on what you call radical. I think that a radical vision of society has to go beyond women’s rights—not to sacrifice them but to go beyond them.

Playboy: Have the extreme wings of the women’s movement alienated many women?

Friedan: I’m tired of all the infighting and blaming. The media play it up, too. I agree, though, that the women’s movement must be for all women.

Playboy: The president of NOW, Patricia Ireland, has admitted she had a lesbian relationship in addition to her marriage to a man. This has turned off some women. Are you concerned about that?

Friedan: I don’t think a woman must be defined in terms of her sexuality. At the same time, I never objected to sexual preference, and I think that it’s a positive, life-affirming thing that women are able to find and define their sexuality in diverse ways.

Playboy: Still, many women simply can’t relate.

Friedan: Yes, and focusing on any single issue that divides us prevents us from getting anywhere. I have been pitted against the lesbians in NOW, and the lesbians have been pitted against me. When we allow that, we are playing into the hands of those who would diffuse our focus and our power. My biggest concern is polarizing women against one another. My definition of feminism includes Patricia Ireland and Gloria Steinem and women staying at home. I am against polarization of women against women, whether it comes from Dan Quayle or Susan Faludi or Camille Paglia. I’m also not for any rigid, narrow definition of feminism. A women’s movement has to include divergent lifestyles and it has to continually evolve to meet the needs of women. Women’s rights are going to go down the drain if we alienate one another and fight one another.

Playboy: Might women drift away from feminism because it criticizes their choice to stay home with their children?

Friedan: I think that’s correct. I worry about the factions in the women’s movement that say there is only one way. Of course women who want families and careers are alienated from a movement that says you have to choose.

Playboy: You described your stand in The Second Stage, for which you were written off as a sellout by the more radical factions of the movement. Susan Faludi said you were as bad as the men who said that the women’s movement was failing because “its leaders had ignored the maternal call.”

Friedan: Women are the people who give birth to children, and that is a necessary value in society. For the great majority of women, no feminism that was opposed to family would work. I never believed that feminism was opposed to family. Feminism implied an evolution of the family. Feminism was not opposed to marriage and motherhood. It wanted women to be able to define themselves as people and not just as servants to the family. You want a feminism that includes women who have children and want children because that’s the majority of women. I think Susan Faludi’s book is important because there is a backlash. But she makes me part of it because of this stand.

Playboy: Have you discussed it with Faludi?

Friedan: Yes. And she’s told me that she’s taking that criticism of me out of the British edition. [Editor’s note: Faludi denies she is making any changes regarding Friedan.]

Playboy: Faludi also says that your optimistic prediction—that “men will not fear the love and strength of women, nor need another’s weakness to prove their own masculinity”—never came to pass. If she’s right, then her view is understandable.

Friedan: It was changing. There was a sharing of the responsibilities between parents so that each person could fulfill himself or herself as a person.

Playboy: Yet the new, younger leaders of the women’s movement don’t seem to buy it.

Friedan: Faludi is right that the backlash has undermined much of the progress we made. But the answer is not to ignore that most women want families. The women’s movement started with many women who already had children and didn’t want to be defined solely in those terms. On the other hand, having children was of great value to our lives. It remains one of mine now that I see my children and grandchildren growing.

Playboy: But many women didn’t see motherhood as a choice for a liberated woman.

Friedan: That’s why I wrote The Second Stage. I saw my daughter’s generation growing up with ambitions for careers, yet also wanting to marry and have children. They had real problems putting it all together. They saw it as a personal problem—that it was their fault—because they had an image of feminism that didn’t include a family. We had to deal with that. Feminism had to focus on restructuring the society so it would support women who wanted to have careers and families. We had to work for parental leave and job sharing and other flexible work arrangements. It meant there were equal responsibilities for men in the home.

Playboy: What about the women who tried working and who realized it wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be? They wanted to return home.

Friedan: That’s a myth of backlash, too.

Playboy: A recent Roper poll says that fifty-three percent of women say they would rather stay home than work.

Friedan: What those polls show is that the great majority of women want a different work arrangement when their children are little. It does not show the majority of women would abjure opportunities for careers. The polls show that women do not necessarily want to spend their lives in the rat race the way men do. They want to have a new mix—children and work. They are leaving corporations and starting their own businesses, not to go home again but to work in situations that are more flexible. They’re saying that women don’t want to choose the mommy track versus the fast track. The best companies are discovering that the women they want on the fast track also can be given flexible work arrangements. It will allow them to keep women who are assets to the companies.

Playboy: Do you admit that some women want to stay home to raise a family?

Friedan: Some might, but those women want other things that the women’s movement brings them. Some women want to have their kids and then go back to school, and then go to work where they can add a whole new dimension to their lives. Other women want to do the opposite. The main thing is that women want choices.

Playboy: It’s been said that children suffered because of the women’s movement. Women gained the opportunity to work and kids were abandoned.

Friedan: That’s enormously regressive thinking, though you certainly see that attitude portrayed in the media.

Playboy: But research indicates that kids are suffering. It might not be good for kids to have both parents working twelve hours a day.

Friedan: Both parents should not be working twelve hours a day. That’s where job sharing comes in. Flexible hours and parental leaves, for both parents. President Bush vetoed a minimal parental-leave bill. That alone is reason enough to throw him out of office.

Playboy: Do you agree that kids, in the meantime, are the victims?

Friedan: The argument is that women should go home because kids are being abandoned by work-obsessed parents. First of all, the reason both parents work twelve hours a day is an economic issue, not a women’s rights issue. Both parents have to work. They need the money. Children suffer because of the economy. Both parents have to work and there is no support, no child care, no flexible hours. Children are being victimized, but not because women went back to work. Research indicates that when women went back to work, by necessity or choice, there was no bad effect on the children—depending, of course, on family circumstances and other factors.

Playboy: But some of the research is disturbing. A study showed that drug use is proportional to the amount of time kids spend without parental supervision. It says that latchkey kids are prime candidates for drug problems.

Friedan: You have to look at all the variables. Studies I can show you prove that it is positive for children when their mother, like their father, has a fulfilling career. The children will then have role models of strong women. It gives girls more confidence.

Playboy: But——

Friedan: [Angrily] Let me finish. The children tend to be more independent, and they do not suffer any more proneness to drugs or delinquency.

Playboy: Our studies seem to contradict each other.

Friedan: I’m sorry. It is part of the backlash that would have women who have chosen to lead fulfilling lives blamed for drug abuse. The message is the same: Stay home. The fact is, kids do better in families where the men and women balance work, time spent with each other and with the children. They do better in those circumstances than in traditional households. To imply that you can solve these problems—drugs, unemployment—by women going home is backlash.

Playboy: Do you agree with Susan Faludi that the idea of the biological clock is part of the backlash, too—another way to make women go home, or at least feel guilty about pursuing their careers?

Friedan: I don’t. Again, women want the choice. Many of them want to be mothers. If they are on a career path that doesn’t allow them any flexibility, so that they have to choose which track they’re on, they get angry because they are in a no-win situation. I think Susan Faludi can be ardent about it because she is young and she hasn’t had to make the decision for herself yet.

Playboy: Some would see that as a comment of the backlash: A feminist can insist on career over motherhood while she’s young, but as soon as her biological clock starts ticking louder, she’ll think differently.

Friedan: Feminism cannot dictate the decision to all women. Women have to be supported in all the different ways they decide to become fulfilled. That’s what I’ve believed since the beginning.

Playboy: Was there a formative event that made you a feminist?

Friedan: There wasn’t any one thing. There were many things. It was almost accidental. But mysteriously, miraculously, all the disparate parts of my life and the frustrations came together in The Feminine Mystique. It was a reaction to the life I was living.

Playboy: What was it like?

Friedan: I had been working as a reporter after college. My mother had been very unhappy. She was unfulfilled. To marry my father, she gave up a job at a newspaper and was never satisfied after that. It was as if she had given up, and I lived with that discontent, not understanding it. She dreamed of me having a better life. She never had been able to go to college and she dreamed of me going.

I did go and I pursued a career. I gave up my ambitions and then my job in order to become a suburban housewife. Soon, my life was PTA meetings and dinners and housecleaning and having coffee with my neighbors. Housewives were supposedly living this dream life, but, of course, there was something wrong.

Playboy: How did you come to understand it?

Friedan: I was aware that something was wrong. I described it as the problem that had no name. I began writing about it, about my experience and the experiences of the women I knew who were suffering. It took five years to write.

Playboy: Did the response surprise you?

Friedan: At first the response was terrible. No one would publish it. When I finally found a publisher, they printed only three thousand copies. But as soon as it was out, women read it. It spoke to them and it had an incredible effect. More and more were published. Women wrote me about their relief to realize that they were not alone in feeling this anguish. Not all women. Many were very threatened. But it changed a lot of lives.

Playboy: Including your own.

Friedan: Yes.

Playboy: What happened?

Friedan: I spoke about the book and heard from women everywhere. I continued writing and talking about the feminine mystique. Women began to fight back. It enabled me to go on and help to start the National Organization for Women, the National Women’s Political Caucus and the National Abortion Rights Action League, the Women’s Forum and many other things.

Playboy: And you’ve said that that activity was behind your divorce in the late Sixties?

Friedan: It was a difficult time, and certainly the women’s movement gave me the strength to do something about it. I have some regrets. I was married for twenty-two years and there were some happy times. In some ways I look at it as a failure that it ended. Ending it was difficult, but it was more difficult living with things the way they were. I understand it more in hindsight, of course, like everything else.

Playboy: How would you characterize your relationship with your peers in the women’s movement? What kind of a relationship do you have with Gloria Steinem?

Friedan: I knew Gloria before she was involved in the women’s movement. In fact, I remember trying to get her to join with us when we were going to go into the Plaza Hotel and insist on being served in the men’s bar. She wouldn’t have anything to do with it then.

Playboy: You’ve clashed with her on many issues.

Friedan: We tangled a lot. I was really opposed to the radical chic, anti-man politics she espoused: “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.” There were other things. I didn’t like it when she went to the League of Women Voters to support the ERA and, in her speech, said that all wives are prostitutes. I thought it was politically unwise, and I fought it within NOW and within the women’s movement generally. I fought attempts to push the women’s movement out of the mainstream, and that put me in opposition to Gloria. But now, in my wise maturity, I see that all of it contributed. Gloria is a survivor and a fighter. She contributed a lot. She is a good role model for women who choose not to marry or have children. She showed that it is possible to have a good life. I don’t think that most women want to go that path, but it’s important to have a model for those who do. She also has made a real contribution to the women’s movement with Ms.

Playboy: Steinem, in her recent book, The Revolution from Within, discusses what she calls “the real enemy within.” She feels that women have to look internally to deal with issues about self-esteem. How do you feel about it?

Friedan: I have not read her book, though I have read the reviews. I’m glad that it’s a best-seller and that she’s making lots of money on it and that she’s not going to be a bag lady. Furthermore, the fact that it is a best-seller is marvelous proof that the backlash isn’t working that well. Women are reading Steinem and Faludi, and therefore they are still concerned. But I worry about The Revolution from Within if it feeds the idea that the problems women face are just personal and internal, that psychoanalysis or some version thereof could solve them. I don’t think that’s true. I would like for women to see now that they have a new set of problems and that they need political solutions for those problems.

Playboy: How does it feel to be on the outs with some factions of the women’s movement? First, Susan Faludi says you’re part of the backlash, and then you aren’t asked to speak at the pro-choice march on Washington.

Friedan: I’m not going to lie. I’m very hurt when I feel trashed by the leaders of the organizations that I helped to start. But I’m not going to indulge in the media’s delight at exacerbating the divisions between us. I do admit that I was really hurt that I wasn’t asked to speak at the rally. It seemed as if I were the only leading American woman that wasn’t, you know.

Playboy: Why were you excluded?

Friedan: Someone doing my oral history was told that it was because I always get quoted by the media and these other women wanted to be quoted. I think they should be, but it isn’t necessary to trash your foremothers. I have a lot of courage and guts to fight the enemy, but I get really hurt. I hate to admit it. It’s sort of a de-Stalinization of the women’s movement—their attempt to write me out of history, though I don’t think that will happen.

Playboy: Do you acknowledge that the younger, more radical voices may better address the needs of the current women’s movement?

Friedan: I think Susan Faludi is very important. I tell people to buy her book. I assign it to my students even though she criticizes me. But everyone knows that movements that discount their history and don’t learn from their mistakes repeat them. I hope these young people don’t make that mistake.

Playboy: What do you think about Camille Paglia?

Friedan: How can you take her seriously? She is an exhibitionist, and she takes the most extreme elements of the women’s movement and tries to make the whole movement antisexual, antilife, antijoy. And neither I nor most of the women I know are that way.

Playboy: How about Naomi Wolf, who, in The Beauty Myth, says that anything—from advertising on—that makes women self-conscious about their bodies is evil. Do you agree?

Friedan: It is an important book. I am outraged by the pressures that enable surgeons or manufacturers of silicone gel or anyone else to profit by inducing women to mutilate themselves. Silicone breast implants, plastic surgery, excessive dieting are anathema to me. I object to blue-jeans ads that seem to show these women who are still children as inviting rape or having just been raped.

Playboy: But you seem to draw lines Wolf doesn’t draw: She would strongly criticize Playboy’s Playmates.

Friedan: Remember, the fact that I have given you this interview does not mean that I endorse the centerfold. It’s all right to look, but anything that does not show women as total beings cannot be endorsed. I am trusting that you communicate these issues to men caught up in the mystique. Look at women like women can look at men but never forget, for a moment, the complete, complex personhood of people.

Playboy: How do you see things changing in the future for you personally?

Friedan: No major changes. I am still working, no longer on the politics of the women’s movement but on the larger vision. I’m also writing a new book, The Fountain of Age.

Playboy: What’s the fountain of age?

Friedan: I see the mystique of aging as similar to the feminine mystique. Again, it denies the personhood of individuals who get older. It’s about viewing age not as a decline from youth but as a unique stage of living. Because we spent that time fighting the feminine mystique, we gave ourselves a head start in the battle against the mystique of age. We stopped defining ourselves vis à vis men—as mothers, wives, sexual objects—and we discovered new joys in ourselves and in other women, and in men, too. Similarly, when we break through the mystique of age, there will be new joys in the rest of our lives, for men and women. That mystique is the next one to fight.

Playboy: Given the history of the women’s movement, are you hopeful?

Friedan: The whole modern women’s movement has taken place in only the past twenty-five years, and so much has changed. Women now make up forty percent of the students in the law schools, sixty percent in the journalism schools, forty percent of the M.B.A.s. But they are only now beginning to move in significant numbers into the middle and upper ranks of the professions. Women were earning fifty-nine cents for every dollar men earned and now it’s seventy-something. It’s getting better, but there is a long way to go. And do you want to know something? The countries where men’s and women’s earnings are more comparable are the countries that have policies of child care and parental leave. They are countries that accept the fact that women will continue to be part of the work force and that women are the people who give birth to children. And they are countries doing better economically than we are.

Playboy: You’ve blamed the media for much of the backlash, but you just indicated that sixty percent of journalism students are women. If so many women are becoming journalists, won’t things change?

Friedan: For a course I’m teaching, “Women, Men and Media,” we monitored the front pages of the newspapers to see the percentage of time women were mentioned, photographed or quoted. The number was fifteen percent. Women are fifty-three percent of the population. That meant that forty-seven percent of the population occupied eighty-five percent of the space on the front pages. The same was true in broadcast news. Women were sought for comment on broadcast news fifteen percent of the time. Even in the study we did last February, during a time when all kinds of stories of great importance to women were breaking—the Mike Tyson rape case, silicone gel breast implants, Anita Hill—the experts sought quotes from men. Well, the media are still controlled by men. The editors and news directors are men. That’s a symbolic annihilation. Is it a conspiracy against women? No. But it surely is a blind spot coming from the all-male definition.

Playboy: What will it take before there’ll be a woman in the White House?

Friedan: Maybe four more years.

Playboy: Any nominees?

Friedan: Ann Richards. Not only was she elected governor of Texas—Texas!—but what she’s done as governor is a very interesting story and a bellwether. And Texas is the most macho of states. See, we’ve come awfully far. That’s why I don’t understand the media’s jumping on this talk about the death of the women’s movement. If you think about it, there are millions now where there were a few of us at first, millions of women who have the training, the professional opportunity, millions who have changed their lives, taken control of their lives. Why do you try to dismiss it? You just try to find all sorts of ways to whittle it down and dismiss it, when the reality is right in front of your eyes. It’s threatened now and we have our work cut out for us again. Maybe it’s wishful thinking on the part of the people who keep talking about the death of the women’s movement. Well, they have another thing coming. We’re not going anywhere.