The Feminine Mystique of the Feminist New Left

By Zeifman, Jerome | Insight on the News, July 5, 1999 | Go to article overview

The Feminine Mystique of the Feminist New Left


Zeifman, Jerome, Insight on the News


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. It was in Grand View on the left bank of the Hudson River. I'll never forget the tipsy woman who was dressed as a witch. She tapped me on the shoulder 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 obviously was enjoying himself. He was more popular with the ladies than was Betty with the men. But Betty soon was to acquire a fame that fate denied to Carl.

In 1963 Betty published her famous book, The 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 Committee 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, or ERA -- which he hoped to kill. The subcommittee was chaired by Rep. Don Edwards of California, who had read Friedan's book and was a champion of feminism and the ERA.

In retrospect, Celler and Edwards both had much in common with Carl Friedan. In the 1930s, long before the term "womanizer" came into fashion, Celler had been a "ladies' man" -- as was suntanned Californian Don Edwards in the sixties and seventies. Twice divorced, Don dated a young feminist whom he later was to marry. His office staff also included another feminist: Zoe Lofgren, before she became a congresswoman from California. Lofgren took Edwards' seat after he retired. In 1998 she defended President Clinton against impeachment.

In the sixties, as an advocate of affirmative action from a Mexican-American district, Edwards had pressed me to find a 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 Celler. He cheerfully agreed to put Chavez on our payroll. But some years later the liberal Democrats were stunned when she went to work with Pat Buchanan of the Reagan White House.

In the 1970s Edwards and Celler remained good friends -- and often joked about their different perceptions of women in politics. In that regard, I recall two of Celler's jokes. One was about the 1930s, when Celler had advocated the repeal of Prohibition. At that time the Women's Christian Temperance Union, or WCTU, had denounced both Celler and Franklin Roosevelt. One day an irate WCTU member shouted at him: "Alcohol is sinful! I would sooner commit adultery than take a drink." Celler 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 Sen. 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 continued to fight the ERA he could be swept away in the rising tide of feminism. We then brought the ERA up on the House floor. In addition to women's groups, it also was supported by Rep. 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 them equal rights. I just don't want one to marry my sister."

Celler could not restrain himself. …

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