What is it with progressives? Why do they feel the need to lie so relentlessly about who they are? Recently Rigoberta Menchú’s autobiography was exposed as a complete hoax. Now it’s Betty Friedan’s turn to be revealed as a feminist fibber.
In a new book, “Betty Friedan and the Making of the Feminine Mystique”, Smith College professor Daniel Horowitz (no relation) establishes beyond doubt that the woman who has always presented herself as a typical suburban housewife until she began work on her groundbreaking book was in fact nothing of the kind. In fact, under her maiden name, Betty Goldstein, she was a political activist and professional propagandist for the Communist left for a quarter of a century before the publication of “The Feminist Mystique” launched the modern women’s movement.
Professor Horowitz documents that Friedan was from her college days, and until her mid-30s, a Stalinist Marxist, the political intimate of the leaders of America’s Cold War fifth column and for a time even the lover of a young Communist physicist working on atomic bomb projects in Berkeley’s radiation lab with J. Robert Oppenheimer. 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. (Her husband, Carl, also a leftist, once complained that his wife “was in the world during the whole marriage,” had a full-time maid and “seldom was a wife and a mother”).
It is fascinating that Friedan not only felt the need to lie about her real views and life experience then, but still feels the need to lie about them now. Although Horowitz, the author of the new biography, is a sympathetic leftist, Friedan refused to cooperate with him once she realized he was going to tell the truth about her life as Betty Goldstein. After he published an initial article about Friedan’s youthful work as a “labor journalist,” Friedan maligned him, saying to an American University audience, “Some historian recently wrote some attack on me in which he claimed that I was only pretending to be a suburban housewife, that I was supposed to be an agent.”
This was particularly unkind because Friedan’s professor-biographer is such a fellow-traveler himself that he bends over backwards throughout the book to sanitize the true dimensions of Friedan’s past. Thus he describes one character in the book, Steve Nelson, as “the legendary radical, veteran of the Spanish Civil War and Bay Area party official.” In fact, Nelson was an obscure radical but an important apparatchik (later notorious for his espionage activities in the Berkeley Radiation Lab) who was in Spain as a Party commissar to enforce the Stalinist line.
Professor Horowitz also bends over backwards, and at length, to defend Friedan’s lying as a response to “McCarthyism.” When she makes the ridiculous accusation that he is going to use “innuendoes” to describe her past as a justification for refusing to grant him permission to quote from her unpublished papers, he is all-too understanding. The word “innuendoes,” he explains, was often used by people “scarred by McCarthyism.”