In my reading today of Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique (1963), I read most of “The Sex Seekers.” Ms. Friedan’s thesis is that full-time homemakers are pursuing sexual adventure outside of their marriage because of their boredom with being housewives. During the 1960’s, there was an increasing emphasis on sex in the media, as sex was linked with adventure. According to Ms. Friedan, women’s husbands spent too much time at the office, plus Alfred Kinsey’s study on sex reported that men’s sex drive went down after ten-fifteen years of marriage, as the sex drive of women went up. Consequently, women pursued extramarital affairs outside of the home, with the witty seducer who pretended to understand her. But, when what was meaningful to the women turned out to be merely casual for the seducer, the women felt more alone. They had turned to sex to find some sense of identity, only to face disappointment.
As women seek the adventure of an extra-marital affair, there are men all too ready to oblige them because they, too, are victims of the Feminine Mystique, the widely-propagated myth that women can only find satisfaction as wives and mothers. The problem, Ms. Friedan notes repeatedly, is that women cannot find fulfillment solely as wives and mothers! Whether they realize it or not, they desire much more than that, for they were made for much more. (Okay, she never mentions God or creation, but she does feel that the Feminine Mystique inhibits women from fulfilling their nature as intelligent human beings.) Because women do not find fulfillment outside of the home, they try to dominate inside of it, as they nag their husbands and treat them as furniture. Because the husband does not feel like a hero in his own home, he goes outside of his marriage to seek sexual fulfillment, and he finds the desperate housewife next door who will make him feel like a man.
Ms. Friedan also argues that the Feminine Mystique has created a lot of homosexuals. Under the Feminine Mystique, women dominate their sons and dote on them continually, because that’s all they have to do, being full-time homemakers. Meanwhile, the husband spends too much time at work. As a result, the sons become turned off by women and begin to gravitate towards men. On page 263, Ms. Friedan states her belief on homosexuality: Male homosexuals—and the male Don Juans, whose compulsion to test their potency is often caused by unconscious homosexuality—are, no less than the female sex-seekers, Peter Pans, forever childlike, afraid of age, grasping at youth in their continual search for reassurance in some sexual magic.
According to Ms. Friedan, the myth of the Feminine Mystique has trapped women in a role that by itself does not bring full satisfaction—that of wife, mother, and housekeeper, and it has denied to women an outlet for their creativity, intelligence, and desire for accomplishment. As a result, full-time homemakers look for sexual adventure outside of their marriage. As housewives try to dominate their households in an attempt to feel important, husbands get turned-off and look to another woman to make them feel good. And sons conclude that maybe women are too much of a hassle, so why not pursue a homosexual dalliance?
In this chapter, Ms. Friedan seems to acknowledge that there are psychological differences between men and women. Women look for something meaningful in sex, whereas men may view it as casual. As someone I know once said, “Women have sex for love, while men love to have sex.” Moreover, like Phyllis Schlafly in The Power of the Positive Woman, Ms. Friedan realizes that a man desires to feel important, to be admired by his wife. But Ms. Friedan also believes that women need to feel important, too.
On the issue of sex drive, there’s a slight difference between Phyllis Schlafly and Betty Friedan. In The Power of the Positive Woman, Phyllis Schlafly argues that women have a degree of power over men because men have a stronger sex drive than women have. Ms. Friedan, by contrast, points to the Kinsey study stating that women’s sex drive grows stronger ten-fifteen years into marriage, while that of men weakens. Granted, for Ms. Friedan, women seek power through their sexuality, since that’s one of the few avenues to power that the Feminine Mystique gives her. But, because the husband is rarely home, women end up pursuing that power outside of their marriage.
On homosexuality, both Phyllis Schlafly and Betty Friedan disapprove of it, but their approach to it is different. Phyllis Schlafly regards homosexuality as a lifestyle choice and a sin against morality. That’s why she says that public schools should be able to fire homosexual schoolteachers. Betty Friedan, however, views homosexuality as a psychological disorder, a sign of immaturity. The idea that homosexuality is an orientation with which some people are born probably wasn’t on society’s radar in the 1960’s-1970’s, when Friedan and Schlafly wrote their books.
Did they change their positions on homosexuality? Phyllis Schlafly usually doesn’t like to talk about her son John’s homosexuality, and I’ve not read or heard everything that she’s said about that. She allows her son to work at her conservative lobby, Eagle Forum, and she states that her son has a conservative position on gay marriage—that society shouldn’t recognize it as equal to traditional marriage. In an interview with Time, she said that she cannot tell her son how to live his life (see Q&A: Phyllis Schlafly, Antifeminist – TIME), which indicates that she still views homosexuality as a lifestyle choice, in some way, shape, or form. But does she moderate that view with a recognition that her son has attractions that he did not ask for? I don’t know. And I’m not about to ask her! One thing I will note: Nowadays, some on the religious right embrace the view that homosexuality is caused by an overbearing mother and an absent father, perhaps to counter the notion that it’s genetic. James Dobson used such an argument on Larry King Live.
As for Ms. Friedan, the National Organization for Women (NOW), which she co-founded, came to accept lesbians. See Phyllis Schlafly’s Positive Woman 10. But the wikipedia article about her narrates that, until the later years of her life, her attitudes towards homosexuality were ambivalent:
When she grew up in Peoria, Ill., she knew one gay man. She said, “the whole idea of homosexuality made me profoundly uneasy.” She later acknowledged that she had been very square and was uncomfortable about homosexuality. “The women’s movement was not about sex, but about equal opportunity in jobs and all the rest of it. Yes, I suppose you have to say that freedom of sexual choice is part of that, but it shouldn’t be the main issue . . . .” She ignored Lesbians in the National Organization for Women (NOW) initially but objected to what she saw as demands for equal time. “‘Homosexuality . . . is not, in my opinion, what the women’s movement is all about.'” While opposing all repression, she wrote, she refused to wear a purple armband or self-identify as a Lesbian (although heterosexual) as an act of political solidarity, considering it not part of the mainstream issues of abortion and child care. In 1977, at the National Women’s Conference, she seconded a Lesbian rights resolution “which everyone thought I would oppose” in order to “preempt any debate” and move on to other issues she believed were more important and less divisive in the effort to add the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) to the U.S. Constitution. She accepted Lesbian sexuality (“‘Enjoy!'”), albeit not its politicization. In 1995, at the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women, in Beijing, China, she found Chinese advice to taxi drivers that naked Lesbians would be “cavorting” in their cars and so drivers should hang sheets and that Lesbians would have AIDS and so drivers should have disinfectants to be “ridiculous”, “incredibly stupid”, and “insulting”. In 1997, she wrote that “children . . . will ideally come from mother and father.”She wrote in 2000, “I’m more relaxed about the whole issue now[.]”