demarco_half"The Time Travel Society will hold its annual meeting three years ago." This anachronistic bit of humor may be viewed as a tribute to H. G. Wells’s fabled time machine. Nevertheless, we do possess a technology that has much in common with time travel. It is the modern television set, partnered, as it is, with the handheld remote that can carry us, at the touch of a button, from one age to another. Television has converted time into space, an accomplishment that would have delighted Albert Einstein.

I was thinking such thoughts recently when my remote carried me back to 1973 for a "live" interview with Betty Friedan. Ms. Friedan had stunned a nation by telling women that, "The problem that has no name [The Feminine Mystique] – which is simply the fact that American women are kept from growing to their full human capacities – is taking a far greater toll on the physical and mental health of our country than any known disease." The interviewer, Adrienne Clarkson, who later became Canada’s governor general, however, did very little interviewing. Ms. Friedan did all the talking, though it seemed to be the product of nervous energy rather than careful reflection.

The first month of 1973 had ushered in Roe v. Wade. The year represented a high tide for feminism. The women’s movement that Ms. Friedan had launched, as well as Ms. Friedan herself, seemed to be unstoppable. Betty had been the primary founder of the National Organization for Women in 1966, and served as its president. She also founded the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws, which, after Roe v. Wade, became the National Abortion Rights League.

Her confidence was understandably high for her interview. She talked about "raising consciousness," "liberation," "the revolution," "equality," "power," and the utopian future that was being prepared by her and like-minded feminists. Her words flowed automatically, the apparent result of saying them over and over again at countless "consciousness raising" sessions. What she said was unmistakably Marxist, and not surprising since she had been active in Marxist circles for many years from the time she was a young girl.

She went on to state that by empowering women, men would soon benefit. They would no longer be "tight-lipped" and need to validate their masculinity through violence. Men would become more caring. Love would reign and the sexes would be united in warm friendship. Perhaps she sounded convincing in 1973, but in retrospect, looking back from the present, her predictions seemed utopian, comical and implausible.

With the press of another button, I was returned to the year 2011, just in time to learn that national football star Plaxico Burress had just been released from prison for carrying an unregistered handgun to a public place and accidentally shooting himself in the thigh. The sports media contrasted him with other football players who had also served time for violent activities. Ms. Friedan’s prediction that feminism would bring about a gentler, softer and less violent man has hardly materialized. NFL football has become America’s national pastime. Incidences of violent concussions occur more often. Feminism has not weaned men of either their propensity for or their fascination with violence. Perhaps Ms. Friedan and her cohorts should have realized that abortion itself is an act of violence.

Given the advantage of looking over the years that followed 1973, do we see how Betty Friedan herself, once liberated, became a model of gentleness and caring? Here is what her ex-husband had to say about her: "She changed the course of history almost singlehandedly. It took a driven, super aggressive, egocentric, almost lunatic dynamo to rock the world the way she did. Unfortunately, she was that same way at home, where that kind of conduct doesn’t work. She never understood this." As time has shown, marriage and Marxism do not mix.

Ms. Friedan made enemies even among her feminist colleagues. Camille Paglia referred to her style as one of "flamboyant pugnacity." Co-feminist Germaine Greer observed that Ms. Friedan "would become breathless with outrage if she didn’t get the deference she thought she deserved," and added, "The world will be a tamer place without her." The author of The Feminine Mystique passed away on her 85th birthday. Not even the New York Times refrained from alluding to her personal shortcomings. In its obituary, it referred to the intellectual matriarch of American feminism as "famously abrasive" and as "thin-skinned and imperious, subject to fits of temperament."

In the 1973 interview that Ms. Friedan had breezed through without being challenged, she pledged her undying support for women’s "controlling their own body." We now know, in retrospect, of the countless women who would like to have a child, but cannot, either because of previous abortions or a host of other reasons. We now know about the myriad of women who chose abortion, but did not choose the regret that followed. The mantra of "controlling our own bodies" is essentially surreal. Who among us can stop the aging process? Or control our bodies to the point that we neither get sick, tired nor distempered?

The idea that we will become better human beings through political movements is an illusion. Our television time machine should have proven that for us. Moreover, it is a dangerous illusion since it distracts us from the business of making a personal effort to improve. If we use our TV time machine wisely, we can better appreciate the folly of those intemperate souls who live in the exhilaration of the moment while failing to see how they are planning for a future that they do not want. Hindsight is always 20/20, and therefore offers us no end of sobering lessons.


Dr. Donald DeMarco is professor emeritus at St. Jerome’s University in Waterloo, Ontario, and an adjunct professor at Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Cromwell and Mater Ecclesiae College in Greenville, R.I