Essay 1: Betty Friedan and the NOW Bill of Rights
The political nullity that Friedan argues women have continually suffered can be best summarized in the introductory lines of the grievances presented at 1848’s Women’s Rights Convention: “He has compelled her to submit to laws in the formation of which she has no voice… he has made her, if married, in the
eyes of the law, civilly dead” (Friedan, 4, 86). In this work, Friedan submits that women, while expected to abide by United States law with virtual compulsivity, were/ are not entitled to the rights prescribed to [Caucasian, middle-class, Christian, heterosexual] men seemingly just for being alive (i.e., the right to free speech or the far more compulsory need to protest laws one sees as unjust). This silence and submission to the will of law without the need to be civically alive was not merely smiled upon, she argues, but expected to be ingrained in the female psyche, regardless of her education level or socioeconomic status. Whether it be in education or in law, heaven would forbid that they try to compete with men (Friedan, 14, 451). Friedan further submits that women’s and familial rights throughout history have been those liberties that, if not championed by individual women, have been effectively erased from the tongues of legislators. It is for these reasons that when the time came in 1967 to draft the NOW Bill of Rights, it was worded to read as 1) a documented political birth of sorts for women, bringing them out of their civil inexistence, and 2) propose to their and future Congresses of the United States the true introduction of women’s and familial rights as basic human rights, to be acknowledged and ratified through the states (NOW, 2).
Friedan often cites the vigor and drive of early suffragists nostalgically, as a reminder of a time where women came close to being recognized as political living and fully capable human beings, deserving of the vote and all the privileges assumed to come with it. She realized, however, that despite the some 480 campaigns staged by these women to push legislature to submit suffrage amendments to voters (Friedan, 4, 105), not one of them produced something that so grandiosely laid forward the rights of women as did the U.S. Constitution’s Bill of Rights theretofore for male citizens. And so long as the rights most important to women were not expressly submitted in a similar fashion, they would remain as invisible and effectively dead as the women fighting for them. NOW’s mission of creating “the true equality for all women” acknowledged that all barriers (the most paramount of which being legislative) had to be removed in order to ensure “equal and economic advancement”. In Friedan’s and other NOW drafters’ minds, there was before them no greater barrier to break down than inclusion of all women into their country’s basic Bill of Rights. Interestingly, the NOW Bill of Rights in many ways echoes the tone, sentiment, and goals of the traditional bill, arguably for the purposes of 1) gaining respect by being on equal footing linguistically and 2) propose that the rights women were seeking were just as deserving of respect, and equal in necessity to other rights.
The reasoning behind which rights were to be included into NOW’s bill can be understood by the liberal framework Friedan worked within for the entirety of her career. This structure dictates that if women did not come together with individual grievances and move for radical change for themselves and their families, it would never happen. Therefore, the bill reads not only as a push for equal protections for women in education, careers, control of their own bodies etc., but also very much as a defense of the nuclear family through programs such as state- sponsored child care, family leave, and expectation of stayed- employment status regardless of maternity leave. The bill reads as a way to state that women’s, men’s, and familial rights were intermingled, and without each set being upheld, the nuclear family and the job market would be effectively destroyed in the coming years. And in doing so, NOW was able to move the needle in both reviving the once politically dead, and establishing the rights of women and families as fundamental to the country’s sustainability.