THE FIRST STAGE of the women's movement is over, argues Betty Friedan in a recent New York Times magazine article; it is time, now, for women to leave behind the sexual politics that pitted them against men in a struggle for equality and to join with men in what she calls the new human politics.
That the author of the "Feminine Mystique" should grace the cover of the New York Times Sunday magazine is an indicator of how far the women's movement has come since the book was published in 1963. But in the article, an adaptation of her book, "The Second Stage," due out in October, Friedan argues that the women's movement won't go much further unless it transcends the polarization between men and women and between women and women. The task she sets forth for the second stage is much broader and potentially infinitely more far-reaching than the initial struggle for equality. She believes the emotional, familial needs of humans will be the focal point of the second stage in which both men and women will work together to restructure government and the social structure, "to take back government, for the people."
"In the first stage," she writes, "our aim was full participation, power and voice in the mainstream -- inside the party, the political process, the professions, the business would. But we were diverted from our dream by a sexual politics that cast man as enemy and seemed to repudiate the traditional values of the family. In reaction against the feminine mystique, which defined women solely in terms of their relation to men as wives, mothers and homemakers, were insidiously fell into a feminist mystique, which denied that core of women's personhood that is fulfilled through love, nurture, home. We seemed to create a polarization between feminists and those women who still looked to the family for their very identity. . . . The very terms in which we fought for abortion, or against rape, or in opposition to pornography seemed to express a hate for men and a lack of reverence for childbearing that threatened those women profoundly. That focus on sexual battles also took energy away from the fight for the equal rights amendment and kept us from moving to restructure work and home so that women could have real choices. We fought for equality in terms of male power, without asking what equality really means between women and men.
These are not altogether new thoughts for Friedan. As a witness before Congress and as a participant in the White House Conference on Families, she has stressed that the liberation of women from narrow roles will show the way for men to free themselves from different, though equally narrow, roles and expectations. Her vision has long gone beyond equal pay in the workplace to a vastly different, more understanding and supportive society in which men and women and their families can thrive. It is that vision -- far more than anything she has ever articulated about rape or abortion or homosexual rights -- that has made her the preeminent philosopher of the modern women's movement, and it is that vision far more than any single issue that is the strength of the movement.
While the future she sees of shared parenting responsibilities, shared parental leaves, shared social security benefits for homemaking and shared pensions might seem fanciful, she has spotted two pressures within society that might well bring these about. The economy is forcing more women than ever to work, at the same time that men are seeking self-fulfillment. Just as men are rejecting the corporate rat race, so are women rejecting the superwoman role. Friedan says they, too, must learn to say "no" to "harassed, passive service of corporation."
Friedan believes that last election showed there was a women's vote that is now larger than any ethnic or minority bloc. And she questions -- if anything too gently -- the sexual politics that prompted an outpouring of feminist support for the Senate campaign of Elizabeth Holtzman while underestimating the threat of the Moral Majority to such great friends of women's rights as Birch Bayh. For a women's movement disparing of passing the Equal Rights Amendment, she offers an intriguing plan: let the Democratic Party politicians throw their political energies into passage of the amendment in the three remaining states needed by the end of this year and, in return, the women's vote could be the rebuilding bloc of the party.
Friedan is refocusing attention on the highest goals of the women's movement -- goals that transcend inflammatory issues where so much political energy has been diverted -- and by refocusing she is offering a philosophical framework for equal rights that has been lost in the battles over the draft, abortion, homosexual rights and so on. "Perhaps," she writes, "the reactionary preachers of the Moral Majority who decry women's moves to equality as threats to the family are merely using the family to limit women's real political power. In a similar vein, feminists intent on mobilizing women's political power are, in fact, defeating their own purpose by denying the importance of the family."
Friedan is putting families back in the women's movement, and she is calling now for mainstreaming a movement that will not just improve the quality of life for women but the quality of life for us all.