The New Left's
By Jerome Zeifman
© 1999 Jerome Zeifman
"Mystique, a complex of quasi-mystical attitudes and feelings surrounding some person, institution, activity, etc."
-- Webster's New World Dictionary
One night in the late 1950s I went to a Halloween party in "Grand View," on the left bank of the Hudson River. I'll never forget the tipsy woman who was dressed as a witch -- and kissed me. Then she introduced herself with: "I'm Betty Friedan -- and I graduated summa cum laude from Smith."
I also met Betty's husband Carl. He was more popular with the ladies than was Betty with men. But Betty was soon to acquire a fame that fate denied to Carl.
In 1963 Betty published her famous book, "Feminine Mystique." I recall that when the book first came out, a Grand View neighbor of the Friedans had quipped, "Betty envies Carl's masculine mystique." But based on the assertion that the identity of women was independent of their family roles, Betty's book helped cause a cultural revolution.
By another quirk of fate, in the 1960s I served as a counsel to the House Judiciary under the Chairmanship of antifeminist "Manny" Celler of Brooklyn. Celler made me the chief counsel to the Subcommittee on Civil Rights to which he referred the "Equal Rights Amendment" -- that he hoped to kill. The subcommittee was chaired by Congressman Don Edwards of California, who had read Friedan's book and was a champion of ERA.
In retrospect, Manny and Don both had much in common with Carl Friedan. In the 1930s, long before the term "womanizer" came into fashion, Celler had been a "lady's man" -- as was sun tanned Californian Don Edwards in the 60s and 70s. Twice divorced, Don dated a young feminist whom he later married. His office staff also included another feminist: present-Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren. Zoe took Edwards' seat after he retired. In 1998 she shamelessly defended President Clinton against impeachment.
In the 60s, as an advocate of affirmative action from a Mexican-American district, Don had pressed me to find an Hispanic for the Judiciary Committee staff. At that time, Linda Chavez was working for the Democratic National Committee -- and I recruited her. She was both feminine and intellectual. She also had a Jewish mother-in-law -- which pleased Manny. He cheerfully agreed to put Chavez on our payroll. But some years later the liberal Democrats were stunned when President Reagan appointed her Chairperson of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission.
In the 1970s Celler and Edwards remained good friends -- and often joked about their different perceptions of women. In that regard, I recall two of Manny's jokes. One was about the 1930s, when he had advocated the repeal of "Prohibition." At that time the Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) had denounced both Manny and Franklin Roosevelt. One day an irate WCTUer shouted at him: "Alcohol is sinful. I would sooner commit adultery than take a drink." Manny replied, "Madam, so would I."
The other joke was that one day at lunch in the Capitol, three octogenarians (Celler, House Speaker John McCormick, and Senator Carl Hayden) discussed their preferred forms of death. McCormick wanted to go swiftly with no warning. Hayden wanted a good last dinner followed by slumber. Celler said, "I want to get shot by a jealous husband."
In the early 1970s Edwards and I cautioned Celler that if he fought ERA he could be swept away in the rising tide of feminism. We then brought ERA up on the House floor. In addition to women's groups, it was also supported by John Conyers and the Congressional Black Caucus -- but not without a few reservations. In that regard, I also recall Conyers' cloakroom joke: "I'm for giving 'em equal rights, but I don't want one to marry my sister."
Celler could not restrain himself. He stood stumped over in the well of the House chamber and said things that shocked the 60s generation, such as:
Recently, my recollections of Betty and Carl Friedan in Grand View were revived by a May 9, 1999, New York Times book review. Judith Shulevitz, a senior editor of Salon, criticized two recent biographies of Betty Friedan, stating:
In her review, Salon's editor defends Betty Friedan from criticism by her current biographer, Smith College Professor Daniel Horowitz (author of "The Feminine Mystique -- the American Left, the Cold War, and Modern Feminism"), stating,
Her famous description of America's suburban family household as "a comfortable concentration camp" in "The Feminine Mystique" therefore had more to do with her Marxist hatred for America than with any of her actual experience as a housewife or mother.
Skousen, a long time FBI agent had exposed 45 specific objectives of the American Communist Party. In the context of the history of feminism from Betty Friedan to Hillary Clinton, two of the objectives now have an ironic timeliness. According to Skousen, Stalinist objective 28 was "Discredit the family as an institution and encourage promiscuity and easy divorce." Objective 29 was "Emphasize the need to raise children away from the negative influence of parents."
Today, some conservatives believe that both Betty Friedan and Hillary Clinton are part of a radical left-wing conspiracy. A not-inconsistent theory can also be advanced that both Betty and Carl Friedan were likewise part of a profit-making scheme to over-inflate our economy. They realized that the more women went to work, the more wages would be lowered. Likewise, the more divorces, the greater the demand for separate housing, cars, appliances, etc.
Consistent with that theory, I often wonder whether Carl Friedan had a form of "masculine mystique" that manipulated Betty into writing a best selling book. Similarly, these days one can also speculate on the extent to which Bill Clinton now manipulates Janet Reno, Madeleine Albright and the National Organization of Women -- for whom Betty Friedan was the founding mother.
Recently, on Chris Matthews' show "Hard Ball," Germain Greer, the internationally famous champion of women's liberation, chastised Reno, Friedan, and NOW, stating, "Of course Clinton, like all other libertine males, is for abortion."
Last year New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd reported that Betty Friedan, Geraldine Ferraro, Gloria Steinem, and NOW president Patricia Ireland all basked in presidential mystique at Hillary Clinton's White House Christmas Party. According to Dowd, Friedan (who I suspect may have again been tipsy) proclaimed, "If Clinton and Monica Lewinsky had sex in the oval office, who cares?"
Dowd described the celebration as heralding the "Death of Feminism." I suspect that if the ghost of Manny Celler were at the party he would have kissed Maureen and whispered, "You're a darling -- and I hope you're right."
Jerome Zeifman is the author of "Without Honor: The Impeachment of President Clinton and the Crimes of Camelot." Send comments to: email@example.com.
A differently titled and edited version of this article appears in the July 25 issue of Insight Magazine.
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