Tuesday, Feb. 19, marks the half-century anniversary of the publication of a book that changed women's lives. The book was "The Feminine Mystique," written by Smith College graduate Betty Friedan.

Herself a housewife drowning in domesticity, Friedan wrote the truth about the lives of American middle-class housewives buried under a pile of laundry.

"I came to realize that something is very wrong with the way American women are trying to live their lives today," she wrote.

I was only 7 when the book came out, but I remember the shock of its bright pink cover, knowing from my mother's reaction that the book was something momentous.

As one of the only mothers in our neighborhood who worked outside the home, my mother, now 86, remembers the collective sense of relief women felt in 1963 that someone was finally naming "the problem that had no name."

A friend of mine, Phyllis, 81, recalls being hunkered down in a small house with two babies and crying with recognition as she read "The Feminine Mystique." Phyllis, by the way, went on to have a full professional career, and my mother is still running a feminist charity.

It's hard not to write personally about Friedan, because her book, although thoroughly documenting women's societal straitjacket, was profoundly personal.

At 14, I got to meet her at a national convention of an abortion rights group she helped co-found.

The youngest person there, and wearing a fetching new velvet dress, I felt both pleased and nonplussed when Betty kindly complimented me as looking "very feminine."

But that was Betty Friedan: warm, enthusiastic, sometimes maddeningly paradoxical, larger than life.

In turn, I read "The Feminine Mystique" in my women's studies classes in the late 1970s, already a beneficiary of the early women's movement and a half-generation removed from the stultifying "wife and mother" roles prescribed for women in the 1950s and 1960s.

Like many young feminists in the 1980s, I felt Friedan's writing became too cautious, chiding and conservative, yet she remained a scrappy fighter, challenging the feminist backlash.

After writing "The Feminine Mystique," she became a founding mother of the National Organization for Women in 1966, serving as its first president, a founder of the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws in 1969, and with Gloria Steinem, Bella Abzug and others, a co-founder of the National Women's Political Caucus in 1971.

She died seven years ago this month at 85, knowing her book had awakened a generation of women and their daughters, and helped open up a world of opportunity, respect and rights too long denied.

Women of the world unite! As Betty liked to say: "You have nothing to lose but your vacuum cleaners."

Annie Laurie Gaylor is a board member of the Women's Medical Fund, a charity that is helping fund abortions for low-income women in Wisconsin. She can be reached at pmproj@progressive.org.

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The beauty and the tragedy of everyday life in a war zone.

Maybe I should only be shocked that I wasn’t shocked a long time ago.

By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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