To me, the big difference between The Feminine Mystique and The Female Eunuch was that I’d give the first book to members of my mother’s generation every time they hassled me and my partner for not having kids and living the bohemian life; The Female Eunuch was what we read in college in the glory days of bra-burning. (No one really saw bras burning on Indian campuses: Buddhist monks, protesting Dalit students in the Mandal Commission days, anguished Tibetan refugees and student leaders who went easy on the kerosene, yes, bras, no. Given that the only bras available in my days were those starchy constructions that resembled chastity belts for the boobs, we missed out–if ever a bra was made for the torch, it was the Liberty bodice with those guaranteed-to-rust hooks.)
Germaine Greer shares her memories of Betty Friedan,
who died last week at the age of 85:
As we were leaving our farewell party to go back to the hotel, Betty propped herself in front of our Cadillac and refused to get in. “Dammit!” she shouted, “I wunt, I deserve my own car! I will nutt travel cooped up in this thing with two other women. Don’t you clowns know who I am?”
“Mrs Greer,” pleaded the courtiers, who were shaking with fright. “What shall we do? Please make her quiet! She is very drunk.”
Betty wasn’t drunk. She was furious that the various dignitaries and ministers of state all had their own cars, while the female guests of honour were piled into a single car like a harem. Helvi and I looked on from our Cadillac at Betty standing there in her spangled black crepe-de-chine and yelling fit to bust, “I will nutt be quiet and gedinna car! Absolutely nutt!”
Friedan famously warned of a backlash against women’s equality and, as with so many of her pronouncements, she has proved to be chillingly prescient. The New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd asks in her newly released Are Men Necessary?: “If we flash forward to 2030, will we see all those young women who thought trying to Have It All was a pointless slog, now middle-aged and stranded in suburbia, popping Ativan, struggling with rebellious teenagers, deserted by husbands for younger babes, unable to get back into a workforce they never tried to be part of?”
If this happens, says Dowd, these domestic robots will be “desperately seeking a new Betty Friedan”.
The old one would be appalled.