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“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:

    The difference between a man and woman is like between lightning
    and lightning rod — and between a horse and horse chestnut. … The
    fallopian tube will never be obsolete.

I was saddened but not surprised when Celler was defeated in
Brooklyn by strident feminist Elizabeth Holtzman. In her freshman year
on the Judiciary Committee Elizabeth’s own office staff gave her the
behind-the-scenes nickname “Ms. Brillo Pad.”
In 1999 I was again saddened but not surprised when she defended
President Clinton against impeachment charges.

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:

    The Feminine Mystique and the National Organization for Women
    [founded by Friedan] changed the world. … It is [now] fully accepted
    that women will work, and somewhat accepted that their children, if
    women choose to have them, will receive part-time mothering. … Liberal
    feminism will probably be the only global revolution of this century to
    make it to the next unreversed. … When future generations go for its
    heroine they’ll sure choose Friedan.

Consistent with my recollection of Carl Friedan at the Grand
View Halloween party, Ms. Schulevitz described him as “handsome,”
“funny,” “lively” and “young.” She describes Betty as having a “big
nose and a bossy manner” — and anxious to forge “links between the Old
Left of the 1940s and 1950s and the second-wave feminism of the 1960s.”

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,

    Horowitz’s main objective appears to be to wag his finger at
    Friedan for not writing as a member of the American left — for hedging
    “her discussion of a capitalist conspiracy [against women]”

Significant for its omission from her N.Y. Times review is any
mention that on Jan.18, 1999, Ms. Shulevitz’s Salon magazine had also
published an article titled “Betty Friedan’s
Secret Communist Past,” by a David Horowitz (no relation to Daniel)
stating that,

    A new book establishes beyond doubt that the woman who has always
    presented herself as a typical suburban housewife until she began work
    on her ground-breaking book was in fact … a political activist and
    professional propagandist for the Communist left for a quarter century
    … from her college days, and until her mid-30s, a
    Stalinist Marxist … 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.

I am also reminded of a conspiracy theory that I learned in 1963
– some months before the publication of “Feminine Mystique.” On pages
A34 – A35 of the Jan. 10, 1963, Congressional record there was a summary
of a book titled “Naked Communists” by Cleon Skousen.

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:
jzeifman@yahoo.com.

A differently titled and edited version of this article appears in the
July 25 issue of Insight Magazine.

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