By Janet L. Boyd
Membership Coordinator of Women Who Write, Inc.
When my kitchen phone rang one afternoon in 1993, I wasn’t surprised to hear my brother’s voice on the line. He traveled extensively for work, owned an early version of the now ubiquitous mobile phone, and often called me from the road.
“Hey,” he said, “I’m in a bookstore in Dallas and I was going to buy you a book, but I thought I’d see if you’re familiar with the author first. Have you ever heard of someone called Betty FRY-dun?”
“FRY-dun, FRY-dun,” I said to myself, scrolling my literary memory bank for the name. “I don’t think so. Do you know what she has written?”
“Something about a feminine mystique, but she’s got a new one out.”
“Oh,” I said, “Betty Free-DAN,” enunciating as carefully as he had. “It’s Betty Friedan, and I would love to have The Foundation of Age!”
“Well, she’s in the store and wants to know what to write for you when she signs it. Here she is.”
And before I could really process what he had just said to me, a woman’s voice said, “Hello? Janet? This is Betty Friedan. How would you like me to sign your book?”
I paused for a nanosecond and then guffawed, “Yeah, right! You’re not Betty Friedan.” Everyone in my chaotic kitchen – children, husband, friends – stopped what they were doing and looked at me.
The voice said, “No, I really am Betty Friedan.”
I was not having it. “Did Dave put you up to this? Get him back on the line!”
I’m not sure why she persisted, but she assured me for a third time: “I promise you I’m really Betty Friedan. Your brother is buying my new book for you. How would you like me to sign it?”
Suddenly, I believed, and my brain exploded. Dave’s taste in reading ran to science fiction and thrillers, but he knew that, as an English teacher, writer, and feminist, I would be very interested in the woman who’d turned women’s stories into a cornerstone publication of the 1960s Women’s Movement.
I’d like to say that I calmly and with great dignity asked her to write “Keep up the good work! Hugs and Kisses, Betty Friedan.” Fan-girling wasn’t a term then, but it’s exactly what happened next.
“Oh my god!” I shouted into the phone. “Betty Friedan! You’re really Betty Friedan! I love your work! I love your writing! I … I… I love YOU!”
By now my kitchen occupants were openly staring at me, agape. I was still babbling when I heard her say, “OK, I think I know what to write now.” And then Dave was back on the phone, chuckling.
Sixty years after publication (and 30 years since that phone call) we know that The Feminine Mystique has some flaws. Primary among them is the dearth of poor, black, and lesbian voices. But with stories of the women she interviewed, and her own analysis, Friedan’s 1963 book helped identify the harmful societal pressures used to keep middle-class American women confined to home and family, even when they wanted a larger role in the world. Feminism may have outgrown her now, but Friedan is an important part of history.
When I finally got my hands on the book Dave bought that day, I eagerly flipped the pages to see what wonderfully insightful thing she had written to me. I found just this: For Janet – Betty Friedan.
Nevertheless, it’s one of my most prized possessions.