Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem and Germaine Greer are some of the most prominent feminists fighting for a better life for women. But compare their personal lives with those of prominent conservative female leaders and it’s obvious who actually lived better, more fulfilling lives.
A recent study found that the number of working women who believe that a career is as important as being a wife and mother has fallen 23 per cent since the 1970s. Apparently, women are growing more and more uncomfortable with hardcore feminism and believe that it is out of alignment with ordinary women’s views, values, and aspirations.
Let’s ride the feminist wave backward a bit and revisit a few feminist icons. How much do you know about their private lives? As they say, “the proof is in the pudding.”
Friedan, the mother of the feminist movement, gave us The Feminine Mystique – she called it the “problem that has no name.” That problem, according to Friedan, is that women are victims. Being female means having delusions and false values and being forced to find fulfilment and identity through husbands and children.
Friedan worked nine hours a day. She declared that being a wife and mother was “not going to interfere with what I regarded as my real life.” Even her friends describe Friedan as difficult, ill-tempered, disagreeable, ego-driven, rude, nasty, self-serving, and imperious. Unhappily married for 21 years, her three children had to undergo therapy to deal with what was called “the emotional fallout.” She died in 2006.
Steinem was the beauty queen of the feminist movement. Steinem, a Phi Beta Kappa graduate, was engaged to her college boyfriend. After breaking up with him and discovering that she was pregnant, she had an abortion. She remained childless.
Later, Steinem founded Ms Magazine and coined two phrases – “reproductive freedom” and “pro-choice”. She brought a brilliant sense of marketing to a movement that glossed over the realities of promiscuity and abortion. Steinem propelled so-called “sexual freedom” into the mainstream.
She famously declared that a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle. She remained single until her ’60s – when she married a divorced man with grown children, David Bale (father of Christian Bale). Bale died of lymphoma just three years into their marriage.
Known as the diva of feminism, Germaine Greer wrote two books. The first was The Female Eunuch, which kick-started her fame. Her second was The Whole Woman, which repudiated everything Greer said previously.
Known for her bawdy diatribes, Greer preached that sexual liberation is the path to fulfilment. Greer has had “several” abortions, leaving her unable to have children. Greer was married once for three weeks. She bragged that she cheated seven times during that marriage.
More recently, and desperate for attention, Greer stooped to becoming an apologist for female genital mutilation. At age 60, she mused, “The finest time in your life was when you fell asleep in someone’s arms and woke up in the same position eight hours later. Sleeping in someone’s arms is the prize.” But the fruit of her philosophy and lifestyle is that in her old age, she sleeps alone.
In stark contrast, consider two female leaders from the “Religious Right” who chose a different path from Gloria Steinem, Betty Freidan, and Germaine Greer. Their circumstances were not all that different, nor were their inner drives any less compelling. Today’s young women need to hear from those who have shown that they can have it all, provided they have a proper understanding of “all”.
The founder of the nation’s largest public policy women’s organisation has been honoured with literally dozens of accolades (several Woman of the Year awards, Religious Freedom Award, the Thomas Jefferson Award, an award from the U.S. House of Representatives for her service to the country, and more).
She is the author or co-author of more than a dozen books, including several bestsellers. She hosted an award-winning radio talk show and was interviewed on all the major television and radio outlets.
All that work, though, is secondary to her work with her husband in conducting family life seminars worldwide and to her own family of four adult children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. Mrs LaHaye has both professional accomplishments and a rich, fulfilling family life.
Named one of the 100 most influential women of the 20th century, Mrs Schlafly has been a national leader in the conservative movement for over three decades. In addition, she is an active leader in the pro-family movement. She founded the Eagle Forum, a force for conservative causes, and has written more than two dozen books, along with a monthly newsletter and a weekly column that is widely published in popular outlets. She is also a frequent media commentator.
Mrs Schafley is a lawyer by training and is admitted to the practice of law in two states, in Washington, D.C., and at the U.S. Supreme Court. A Phi Beta Kappa graduate, she earned an M.A. from Harvard and a J.D. from Washington University Law School. Her writing, which exposed the flaws and fallacies inherent in the Equal Rights Amendment, was instrumental in its defeat.
Schafley wrote A Choice Not An Echo, which became a bestselling playbook for the conservative movement. Her personal life is also full of excellence: she was married for 44 years before her husband died, and they parented six children, all outstanding professional adults.
This brief overview shows that the values and priorities consciously motivating Beverly LaHaye and Phyllis Schlafly differ significantly from those inspiring Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem and Germaine Greer. It is evident how these motivations led to different outcomes.
All of these women started with the same hard-driving temperament, but they had different priorities and different goals. Like the three feminists in this country, the two conservative leaders had the freedom to make choices, determine priorities, and establish the beliefs and values that would guide their lives.
- The women of the “Religious Right” chose to marry men of integrity and character and made sure that they were persons who could be trusted and respected. Likewise, they are determined to be that type of person, too. The couples made a covenant to make their marriages a priority, put each other first, and grow together in interests and activities.
- Together, they made the sacrifices necessary to nurture their children, instil values, and develop character in them.
- Together, they made the sacrifices necessary for both to be prepared for excellence wherever their careers took them. They focused on service rather than power.
Somewhere along the way, feminism lost its way, and power became the “be all and end all”. The movement forgot that “having it all” includes the personal dimension. Life is not just a profession or a career. Success is not measured just in paycheque, power, and status. Feminism has lost sight of what it is that women want.
Most women want to love and be loved. Indeed, they want the freedom to be all they can be, and they want to be treated with dignity and respect. They also want to contribute and to accomplish. They want the opportunity to have meaningful careers and productive lives – but most aren’t willing for their ambition to harm their relationships or damage their children.
I’m grateful that today, talented young women have opportunities to develop to their full potential, achieve professional growth, and have more flexibility than the women who preceded them. At this point in history, what is needed most is a rebalancing of the scales so that today’s young women will have the chance to revel in being feminine and relish a fulfilling personal life.