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Measuring the 'Mystique' at 25

February 09, 1988|KATHLEEN HENDRIX | Times Staff Writer

Twenty-five years ago today, just a few days past her 42nd birthday, a suburban housewife, mother of three and occasional free-lance writer for women's magazines published a book called "The Feminine Mystique."

Two million copies and a revolution later, just a few days short of her 67th birthday, Betty Friedan sat in a room at USC's Institute for the Study of Women and Men, explaining the "think tank" she helped found two years ago to this year's newcomers.

New Problems, New Questions

"We need some new and serious feminist thinking to deal with the enormity of the changes our movement has made," she said. "Young women have such different parameters now. We can't stay with the old thinking. Our experience has given us new problems, new questions."

For Friedan personally, the change has indeed been enormous. Divorced since 1969 and now a grandmother, she is currently a visiting professor at USC, teaching a journalism course on women, men and media, planning a conference on that topic to be held at USC later this month and nearing completion of a book on aging called, "The Fountain of Age."

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday February 10, 1988 Home Edition View Part 5 Page 14 Column 1 View Desk 1 inches; 26 words Type of Material: Correction
A chart accompanying a story Tuesday on the women's movement gave an incorrect date for astronaut Sally Ride's journey into space. Ride became the first Amerian woman in space in 1983.

And for the organized women's movement for equality, sparked by Friedan's book decrying women's subjugation and their confinement to the role of wife and mother, the changes have also been enormous. By proclaiming the personal to be political and the political to be personal, the movement worked its way through the late 20th Century leaving little in life untouched. Roles of men and women, relationships between the sexes, the family, the workplace, society, the economy, the law, government, religion--all have been affected.

But equality is not yet a reality, and at the quarter-century mark, some of those most involved in the organized movement have been taking its measure, reviewing the gains of the last 25 years and looking at what lies ahead.

Among the critical questions--which Friedan intends to raise at an upcoming media conference called "Breakthrough or Backlash?"--are: Will society get on to the second stage of the revolution, where men and women live as equals, or is the movement going backward? And is there a new feminine mystique coming, accepted by women who are either too battle-weary to resist or, among the young, too complacent to see the danger?

Among the organizations started as a direct result of the modern phase of the movement are the National Organization for Women, founded in 1966 by Friedan and 27 others, the National Abortion Rights Action League, founded in 1969, and the National Women's Political Caucus, 1971.

Leaders of all these organizations report a cautious optimism, and some change in direction since the beginning.

NOW has seen a lot of its early issues spin off from its task forces into separate organizations, current president Molly Yard said recently, citing battered women's shelters, the Older Women's League and rape crisis centers.

No Setbacks in Membership

The organization has not suffered any setbacks in membership, NOW staff report, saying its national group and local chapters have had a combined membership for several years at 160,000 members. NOW started with 300 at its first meeting, climbed to 1,200 in 1967, 40,000 in 1977.

The dangers to the women's movement that concern Yard are not from within. And she sees plenty of them, naming the "terrible danger" of legal, and physical, threats to abortion rights and birth control, and to equal educational opportunity, especially in sports and physical education. She singled out the new Supreme Court justice, Donald Kennedy, as a particular source of worry.

"Obviously, we are far better off than we were in the '60s," Yard said, but expressed concern with the incremental progress on such issues as pay equity, parental leave, affirmative action.

The so-called complacency of young women does not concern her, Yard said. After a recent article on women's groups in Glamour magazine, NOW had an upsurge in applications from young women, she said, who worked for the 1986 defeat of anti-abortion referendums in four states.

"I am totally confident that if they understand the issues, they are there," she said.

The National Abortion Rights Action League started out in 1969 as the National Assn. for the Repeal of the Abortion Laws. When the Supreme Court repealed the laws in 1973 with its Roe vs. Wade decision, NARAL changed its name.

It has been fighting to keep abortion legal ever since, and it is about to change its focus, executive director Kate Michaelman said recently.

"One problem we have had as a movement," she said, "is that the anti-abortionists have been able to take abortion and remove it from the circumstances of a woman's life. They have abstracted it symbolically as an evil. They've framed the debate.

Reframing the Debate

"Now, we're reframing the debate," she said, to include family issues. In addition to protecting abortion laws, Michaelman said, NARAL will be working for better insurance, pregnancy leave, post-and prenatal care and child care.

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