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Saturday, February 04, 2006

Betty Friedan and My Dad...Sorta

I just heard on the news that Betty Friedan died. She was, more or less, the founder of the feminist movement as well as the author of the book The Feminine Mystique, which dared to suggest that some women might not be completely fulfilled in the traditional role of wife, mother, and homemaker. As the news anchor spoke of her life, for some reason I recalled a comment my father made to me several years ago.

I had driven him and Mom to their doctor appointments, and I was waiting with him while my mother was seeing Dr. Gould first. Dad and I chatted politics, as usual. I valued his opinions, and I secretly chuckled at how very liberal of a Democrat he had become as his age had advanced. I don't even remember what we were discussing, exactly, but I made several points that clearly impressed him. He nodded, and then he said it. And I'll never, ever forget it. He looked at me straight in the eye and said, "Nancy, you're good-looking and you're smart, and that makes you bad company for most people." I remember being very taken aback but feeling a little complimented. I just sort of laughed and said, "Well, I certainly hope not!"

Dad was always that way: he admired my forthrightness but was constantly telling me that I "might want to soft-pedal it once in a while." If I went out with one of my male friends while I was engaged, he'd ask me what my fiance thought about it. He used to tell me I didn't need any makeup, but when he saw me without it, he'd later ask my mother if I was feeling okay--that I looked a little "peaked." He thought of himself as modern and enlightened, but he was just a little chauvinistic at heart. I'd like to think that Dad was just being a gruffly proud father, giving me a sort of bristly compliment rather than making a commentary on the evolution of interpersonal relationships.

Now, it's not that I don't know some men who are intimidated by smart women or beautiful women, or beautiful smart women. I just don't think there are as many of those men as there used to be. Why? Because I think that there are so many beautiful smart women now. Girls in high schools prepare for careers, not husbands, after graduation. The two-career family is the rule, not the exception. In many families, the higher wage-earner is the wife.

If there is an afterlife, I hope Betty Friedan and my dad meet up someplace, sit down, and have a few drinks together. They have a helluva lot to talk about.

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