50 years ago, as a bored, middle-aged wife, perhaps longing for the exuberant days of her youthful Bolshevik activism, Betty Friedan wrote The Feminine Mystique, a book that condemned the drudgery of the 1950s housewife’s life and contained the infamous line about the home being a “comfortable concentration camp.”
Given Friedan’s later equivocation about feminism’s direction, it may not have been her intention to kick off second wave feminism when she wrote the book. Although Friedan later embraced the movement she supposedly founded, her original idea may have been to criticize the prevailing conservative, Freudian organization of American culture and society, which ran counter to her Marxist Leninist values.
Although I haven’t read the book, it apparently stresses the need for women to engage in work outside the home, which is a basic Communist tenet. One of the odd things one notices about the former USSR and Eastern Bloc countries is that the “housewife” didn’t really exist until recently — women over 50 or so never had the opportunity to be “stay at home moms.” However, prior to the expansion of the American middle class in the postwar era, housewives were fairly rare in the US as well. The “housewife” as we think of her today was a 1950s innovation, based largely on Freudian principles introduced to the masses via TV shows such as Father Knows Best. Before then, only the upper classes could afford that kind of lifestyle; for most women, when they weren’t taking care of babies they were working in one capacity or another.
Another clue that Friedan was fairly orthodox in her Marxism was her disdain for homosexuality (homosexuality was linked to bourgeois decadence in Stalinist Communism), despite the fact that feminism and lesbianism have always gone hand in hand in the Anglo world.
In an American Quarterly article, professor Daniel Horowitz brings to light the fact that, despite her claims in 1963 that she “wasn’t even conscious of the woman problem,” she was writing pamphlets about women’s issues for labor union publications at least a decade earlier:
In 1951, a labor journalist with a decade’s experience in protest movements described a trade union meeting where rank-and-file women talked and men listened. Out of these conversations, she reported, emerged the realization that the women were “fighters — that they refuse any longer to be paid or treated as some inferior species by their bosses, or by any male workers who have swallowed the bosses’ thinking.” The union was the UE, the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America, the most radical American union in the postwar period and in the 1940s what historian Ronald Schatz, appreciative of the UE’s place in history, has called “the largest communist-led institution of any kind in the United States.” In 1952 that same journalist wrote a pamphlet, UE Fights for Women Workers, that the historian Lisa Kannenberg, unaware of the identity of its author, has called “a remarkable manual for fighting wage discrimination that is, ironically, as relevant today as it was in 1952.” At the time, the pamphlet helped raise the consciousness of Eleanor Flexner, who in 1959 would publish Century of Struggle, the first scholarly history of American women. In 1953-54, Flexner relied extensively on the pamphlet when she taught a course at the Jefferson School of Social Science in New York on “The Woman Question.” Flexner’s participation in courses at the school, she later said, “marked the beginning of my real involvement in the issues of women’s rights, my realization that leftist organizations — parties, unions — were also riddled with male supremacist prejudice and discrimination.” The labor journalist and pamphlet writer was Betty Friedan.
So it looks as though Betty Friedan was one of the many dedicated Communists who caused so many problems immediately after WWII. I once looked up a list of known Communist front groups in the US, and noticed that quite a few of them were women’s groups. Combined with accounts I’ve read from former Cheka agents, it makes for pretty convincing evidence that feminism was deliberately fostered in the US by Soviet agents. It makes sense to use women in that manner, because authorities are not as suspicious of women, and they can operate under the radar far more easily than men. Women also make excellent spies.
Although I’m sure resurgent feminism would have emerged in one form or another with or without Betty Friedan, it is interesting to note second wave feminism’s Cold War origins in Marxist infiltration of US society. However, I’m not sure the origins are all that important, because once it took hold the movement took on a distinctly Anglo American character.
Despite the accolades, Friedan was a catalyst more than a true pioneer. It turns out she was little more than a loyal Bolshevik pawn who suddenly stumbled onto success by writing a thinly-veiled Marxist critique of American capitalist society from a woman’s perspective.