Betty Friedan Remembered

Betty Friedan speaks regarding a national women's strike in this Aug. 26, 1966 file photo. Friedan, whose manifesto "The Feminine Mystique" became a best seller in the 1960s and laid the groundwork for the modern feminist movement, died Saturday, Feb. 4, 2006 her birthday. She was 85. AP (file)

Betty Friedan, who championed the once-radical assertion that women have the right to their own dreams and not only those of their husbands and childen, was eulogized Monday as a feminist pioneer, loving mother and grandmother.

Colleagues from the women's movement as well as her three children and their families were among more than 300 mourners at the funeral for Friedan, who died Saturday, on her 85th birthday, of congestive heart failure.

"I truly believe that Betty Friedan was the most influential woman, not only of the 20th century but of the second millennium," said Muriel Fox, one of the co-founders with Friedan of the National Organization for Women, which has set up a page on its web site for people to write their memories of Friedan and her impact on the world.

"When I was in my teens, a neighborhood woman with whom I was friendly handed me Ms. Friedan's book and said: 'Here, you read it, it's too late for me.' I did and Ms. Friedan's words have been a guiding force throughout my life," wrote Linda Morse, a teacher from Millis, Mass. "Only now, upon reading Ms. Friedan's obituary... after crying and crying, did I realize how much I had internalized Ms. Friedan's beliefs and I quote: 'It seemed to me that men weren't really the enemy — they were fellow victims, suffering from an outmoded masculine mystique that made them feel unnecessarily inadequate.' I tell my students that feminism benefits everyone and allows people to be fully human."

"Betty Friedan saved my life," wrote another admirer, Linda Langford, adding: "Thank you."

"I don't speak English very well," wrote Júlia Moita of São Paulo, Brazil. "But I want to say thank you, Betty Friedan. Thank you for all my rights. The world is much better because of your (our) fight."

"She established the right for me to work, without hassle, and with equal pay. She stood up at a time when it was not popular to do so. We as women have so much to thank her for," said Teri Uno of Brandon, Florida, a 40-year-old police supervisor who calls Friedan and fellow feminist leader Gloria Steinem "true heroes" and tells younger female officers about their work.

Monday, speaking at the funeral in New York, Friedan's son Jonathan remembered his mother hard at work writing "The Feminine Mystique" — the 1963 book that questioned the boundaries of women's roles in the postwar era — while her three children bounced around their New York City apartment.

"Betty was not the perfect mother," he said. "Emily, Daniel and I ate TV dinners growing up way beyond the recommended limit." But when tens of thousands of people cheered his mother at a rally when he was 17, "my heart, despite its adolescent shell, burst with pride."

Friedan's daughter, Dr. Emily Friedan, called her mother "a mass of contradictions."

"She made so many connections and yet was exquisitely lonely," she said. "Maybe the ultimate contradiction was that Betty just didn't fit into this world. That was her curse, and yet she started a revolution."

Former New York Democratic Congresswoman Elizabeth Holtzman said she struggled to keep up with Friedan at women's rights marches because Friedan "had enough energy for all of us."

"Betty liberated our minds, and the gift of freedom is one of the most important things that we can have," Holtzman said.

Several speakers remembered Friedan as a loving person who could also be feisty and difficult.

"She was always very sweet and loving to me but when it came to other people she just didn't take any (expletive) from anyone," said her 23-year-old grandson, Raphael Friedan. "She was definitely the coolest grandmother that a young guy like me could ask for."

He recalled how his grandmother took him to Cuba and let him throw big parties at her summer house in Sag Harbor on Long Island, near New York City.

Six of Friedan's nine grandchildren accompanied her plain wooden coffin out of Riverside Memorial Chapel in Manhattan after the service. She was to be buried in Sag Harbor.
  • John Kreiser

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