American Experience; 1964; Interview with Claire Bond Potter, Historian, part 1 of 2
Oh, here it is. Fabulous. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Any? Sure. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. We're on the line. Okay. Thank you. Thank you. Yeah. So you can start on the medium instead of the one. Yeah. And don't worry about raining. Okay. Thank you. Thank you. The sun has just gone. Oh, it's getting heavier for now. Right. Ready? Roll it. Oh, speaking of which. And the big trucks rolling by. And the cell phones. Mine. Hi. Quiet please. So what did Betty for Dan do in 1964? Well, in 1964 Betty for Dan. All of 1963 on Betty for Dan is going around the country promoting the book. She's on television shows.
She's on radio shows. And in 1964 she published a fascinating article in TV guide which is in a way or a reflection on that experience. And there are a couple of really interesting things about it. One is that for Dan builds herself as a psychologist in the office. And then you can just pick up with how there are a couple of interesting things. Who bring the flex fill in? Actually, I was going to hold it for a year. Does the other thing you do? You get set up? Okay. So yeah, what was so striking about that? Well, there are a couple interesting things about the article Betty for Dan writes for TV guide. The first is that she builds herself as a psychologist. And there's almost nowhere else that you'll see Betty for Dan describing herself as a psychologist. Psychology is really the career she didn't have. And she went into journalism in part because she was so discouraged at her inability to establish herself in psychology. So she's establishing herself in the author line as an expert.
And as an expert who is speaking in contradiction to other kinds of experts who have created this feminine mystique of women who are helpless and confused and incompetent, she uses the word moron over and over again in the TV guide article, which is not a politically correct word today, but even in the early 1960s, it really denoted somebody who was intellectually disabled. Okay. The second thing that's very interesting about the TV guide article is, as popular as the feminine mystique had become in its paperback edition, it was not getting to everyone. And TV guide really got to everyone. I remember my grandparents home in southern Idaho. TV guide was a staple because there was really no local newspaper that had television listings. And you could get the television listings for the whole mountain west, right? So the articles in TV guide got to people like my upper class grandparents in southern Idaho
who never would have bought the feminine mystique. And I don't even know where it would have been sold in Twin Falls. And what's she doing in other states? Yeah, I've got a little more of that. Watch your language professor. Yeah. You can get that back. Right. Right. Yeah, non-academic level is always hard because I love going into the other part of it. You good? Yeah. What's the point of the TV guide thing? What's she commenting on? What's the sort of fabulous criticism that she's engaged in? Well, Betty Friedan is talking about what's on TV. And she's talking about the way women are being portrayed on television as mindless housekeepers who are trying to manipulate their husbands and who always fail in the end and always look foolish in the end. She's looking at what is really sort of the early reality show. She shows like Queen for Day and Price is Right in which women are completely consumed
with the desire for material goods, which is a big theme in the feminine mystique. And she really pulls it out of the book in a really popular way by talking about television shows that everybody's watching. I think another important theme of the piece is masculinity. She's talking about what kinds of manner on television and that there's this calculated effort. And she implicates actually female screenwriters and female producers in this... Yeah. She implicates female writers and female producers in this production of television that they're producing beefcake and that there are actually rules on television. And she's one of the first people to really write about the calculated marketing of television to men and women. And she argues that there's a certain kind of man that's supposed to be on television to attract women and it's got to be a man who is what she calls beefcake
who is unmarried, who is desirable. So she looks at a show like Dr. Kildare and the ways in which Dr. Kildare is always getting to the point of romance but never quite because he has to remain single in order for a female television audience to desire him. One of my favorite pieces of this TV guide article is Her Reading of Bonanza, which I remember watching when I was a kid. It's this family of men. And you know, I now look back on and think, what a gay television show. But in fact, Fredan reads it as a family of men, each of which is marriageable. And so that, you know, she says, these television shows that are supposedly being marketed to men are really not being marketed to men at all. They're being marketed to women. Yeah, there was always a Michael Landon in a sweaty pair of long johns washing up. Exactly. And there aren't a lot of opportunities in Fredan's view for women to have much of a dramatic role, right?
No. And she really picks out the ways in which women become figures of fun and can only really be stars in situation comedies or in family oriented television shows in which they're figured as the perfect housewife or the perfect housekeeper. So to the extent that women in these television shows have to be already married and not a threat to the woman at home. In other words, they can't be an object of desire for the male in the household. But to the extent that they can be the center of attention in a television show, they have to be a comic figure and someone that is always being laughed at. She talks about, for example, the ways in which other kinds of minorities, Jews and blacks are always figures of fun in popular culture that's being marketed to whites. And it's a very shrewd kind of comparison and it's something
that is going to be a theme of her later feminist work is creating a critique of sexist society in which women are kind of minority or a class of people who are discriminated against. Yeah, a majority who is treated like a minority. Yes. And the only way for women, what's the only way for women to have a starring role in a plot? Well, the only way for women to have a starring role in a plot is to be sick and die, thus freeing up a man to be married to someone else or to be a comic. And what's interesting is she touches on, I love Lucy, very briefly, but she doesn't spend much time on it. And I think that's important because, of course, Lucille Ball was one of the shrewdest producers in Hollywood. She had been a minor movie star and she really locks on to television in a way that other women don't. Lucille Ball was a very powerful woman in Hollywood. And that is evidenced by the fact that she actually
gets her husband, Desi Arnaz, on television, and gets into a lot of conflict with the producers and the networks because they don't want an interracial couple on television. And she's able to sell him as her co-star. So to the extent that Trident looks at I Love Lucy as a retrograde marriage, in fact, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz were a real marriage of equals. But they're also still propagating that, sort of, or promulgating that idea of Lucille's always, like, going into something that's ingrown. Yes. Stupid, or she's trying to make Desi love her. He forgets her roses on Valentine's Day. If you haven't heard it, Kurt Anderson did a pretty great piece about My Love Lucy on the Studio of 60. Yeah, I would love it. And it won't be anything new to you. Thinking about the book,
why did it hit such a core? Why did it explode in 64? What was it about the culture that we're waiting for? What Lewis Menon calls this a book bomb? Right. I think the feminine mistake really hit it in 1964 because a lot of other things are happening too. Things that are actually beginning to turn the feminine mistake on its head. One thing is, of course, in 1963, the President's Commission on Women delivers its report. And that becomes a moment in which the economic and legal inequality of women in the public sphere becomes very, very plain. So there's a lot of discussion by 1964 about what kinds of laws need to be changed. That dovetails with the most important thing that's happening in 1964 in politics, which is the Civil Rights Act. And so the notion that civil rights being enacted
for African-American people in 1964 need to be extended to women is a really big discussion. One of the places you see that discussion is with Pauli Murray, African-American feminist, who in 1964 ceases upon the Civil Rights Act and the Commission on Women Report and writes a law-reviewed article that is published in the following year about what she calls Jane Crow. And Pauli Murray really sort of early on promotes this idea of what is later called by feminist intersectionality. The notion that black women represent the interests of two groups brought together, African-Americans and women. So the feminine mistake kind of hits that sweet spot in which the conversation about women in the public sphere is broadening and extending itself into a number of areas, the law, the economy, and politics.
It's funny. I thought you were also going to go, I couldn't remember her name, but at a certain point in 1964, a couple of women in SNCC raise up a red flag and say, wait a minute. Yes. We're, you know, the famous Stopy Carmichael think that their position at SNCC is prone. Yes. Yes. You know, so while we're on that subject, there also are these kind of feminist rumblings. Right. In the movement itself. Right. There are definitely feminist rumblings within the movement itself that will later take shape in Mary King and Casey Hayden's memo on sexism in the movement. What is that? Tell me what happens when that? If you could paint that scene for me. There's a memo. There's a memo that is presented to STS, the students for a democratic society, in which Mary King and Casey Hayden, who at the time was the wife of Tom Hayden,
you know, longer is, but they write a memo in which they discuss how their consciousness that was honed and refined in the civil rights movement, began to open their eyes to how they were discriminated against as women within the movement. So women are beginning to meet in the civil rights movement and talk about these things. And there are other women working in civil rights at the time, for example, Bella Obsook. Working as an attorney for civil rights causes at the time. Susan Brown Miller, who later writes against our will, men, women, and rape, is still working in the civil rights movement at that moment. So there are a lot of people who later become prominent feminists that come out of that movement. At the same time, Betty Friedan doesn't. And I think one of the things that the feminine mystique points up is that the women's movement is coming from several directions at once.
So that when T. Grace Atkinson, for example, later becomes famous in the radical wing of the movement, is graduating from the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in 1964. She writes Simon de Beauvoir. T. Grace Atkinson has just read the second sex, and it has illuminated her. Now it's important to say she hasn't read the feminine mystique in 1964. She reads the second sex. She writes to Simon de Beauvoir. Simon de Beauvoir writes back to her and says, you need to get in touch with Betty Friedan. Interesting. That's some of the places I want to go with that. But why was the second sex not a huge sensation? Well, the second sex. It was well reviewed. And they're actually a number of women. I was talking to Susan Brown-Millage just the other day. And she said the second sex was an eye-opening moment for her. A lot of women talked about the second sex
as one of the first books that they read. But Brown-Millage told me that she was even more bold over by the feminine mystique, that that actually described her condition as she experienced it. I think there are a couple reasons why Simon de Beauvoir's book was not as much of a popular success as the feminine mystique. First of all, she's a philosopher. And it's written in a kind of intellectual language that the vast majority of a middle-brow public that is attracted to the feminine mystique did not identify with. And couldn't read easily. The feminine mystique is full of stories. The second sex is full of a logical, philosophical set of arguments about why women are, as Simon de Beauvoir says, other. Instead, Betty Friedan really aims her argument at a middle-class white woman's book buying audience. Simon de Beauvoir aimed her book at intellectuals and philosophers.
I think there's a second thing which is the first translation of Simon de Beauvoir's book was dreadful. So as it was circulated in the United States, that translation was inaccurate and often very difficult to read and de Beauvoir herself did not promote it because she thought the translation was so bad. Whereas the feminine mystique is written in the kind of language and narrative style that Betty Friedan has honed in her years as a magazine writer. And not to mention the fact that Simon's not American. She's not American, yes, exactly. And... Have you read that French book? Yes. Well, Simon de Beauvoir is not American, but there's something else about de Beauvoir that is different from Friedan, which is that she's involved with Jean-Paul Sout. They have an open marriage. And Betty Friedan is at that moment married to Carl Friedan. She has what seems to be a traditional American-style marriage.
So much is in the TV Guide article where she sells herself as a psychologist. She's also selling herself as a successful wife who has also had a career in children. So in a way, Carl Friedan is sort of like the exact husband that Friedan is saying women out there need somebody. Yes. And she's rich enough so that she can hire, hire help. That's absolutely right. As it turned out, Carl Friedan wasn't as happy with Betty's career as she made it out to be. And they had a very stormy marriage that ultimately ended. And Friedan married again. So to the extent that Betty was able to sell herself as a successful wife, the reality, of course, was less true. But that was not uncommon in 60s popular culture.
Lucille Ball sold herself as a successful housewife too. Right. So just to paint the picture of the community of the culture that Friedan's book lands in, that 1964 was there. 1964 is really a turning point year because on the one hand, you have Friedan establishing this sort of vast group of white middle class women who don't know what to do with themselves. On the other hand, women are on the move in ways that Friedan doesn't acknowledge. The huge participation of women in the black civil rights movement. People like Fannie Lou Hamer are not acknowledged in the famine and mistake. Much as Friedan doesn't really acknowledge
that participation of women in the workforce is growing in 1964. It hasn't stagnated and it hasn't declined. It's growing. So to that extent, Friedan is speaking to a problem that some women are experiencing. But she's also using that problem to make a bigger case about women's equality. So to the extent that the problem that has no name really grabs people, it doesn't work it's supposed to do. It's a hook. So that Friedan can make a much larger argument about what is preventing women from being full participants in education, politics, the law, and the economy. What was the problem that had no name? The problem that had no name was as Friedan put it a strange stirring. Today we would call it depression. But what Friedan describes is a set of feelings that women can't put into words.
That they are prosperous. They're educated. They have children. They have husbands. In other words, they have everything that they have been told by commercial culture that they're supposed to want. And yet, they're still unhappy. And they don't know why. And they don't feel that they should be happy, right? But they're sort of weird guilt attached to it. I have everything. Why am I? Exactly. There's a weird guilt to it. And Friedan talks about that guilt in terms of the guilt that commercial culture is imposing on women. So that to the extent that women are expected to be happy by consuming things, consuming houses, consuming dishwashers, consuming the right soap, consuming the right clothes and makeup and shoes, actually all of the advertisers get them to consume by telling them that they're inadequate. So the position of a woman in consumer culture is a position of perpetual inadequacy.
Interesting. We're going through so many points there. And I just wanted to think about all the different ways I wanted to circle around. I'm just... I don't know, I'm just... Did she sort of did the feminine mistake? Almost the inventor genre? Yes. Although I wouldn't say that the feminist mistake invented the genre, it really launches the modern self-help book. Okay? Advice books are a long tradition in American history. But the self-help book is really a modern invention that seizes on a problem of feelings, not being happy, feeling as though you don't quite fit,
feeling as though you are without purpose and you don't know why. It seizes on that moment and offers solutions. So that for example, one of the things that Frédin is concerned with in the feminine mistake is the state of marriage. Unlike later versions of the feminist movement which actually attack marriage as an institution, Frédin wants to support marriage as an institution. So one of the central problems in the feminine mistake is why married people aren't happier with each other. And so to the extent that feminine mistake is a self-help book, part of it is designed to help men and women be happier together, to know each other better, to have better sex. The question of early marriage that she takes on in the feminine mistake is not a question of whether marriage is bad or good, but a question of are men and women fully adult
before they go into the marriage? Is there some level on which, as she calls it, togetherness is being sold to men and women and it comes in place of being happy as individuals? So Betty Frédin argues that actually marriages are better when each person in the marriage has become his or her own individual first. What a concept. Yes. You have the war, are you okay? Yeah. I'll send a bit. Ben. If you read the feminine mistake in 1964, there are a lot of things you wouldn't know about what's going on in America. You wouldn't know that there's a burgeoning civil rights movement. You wouldn't know that African-American women are starting to organize as mothers in a welfare rights movement. But one of the things you really wouldn't know is that Shirley Chism begins her political career and takes her seat in the New York State Legislature
after winning an election in 1964. Chism will later go on to enter Congress in 1968 and she'll be the first black presidential candidate in 1972. Another thing you wouldn't know is that Patsy Mink wins an election in Hawaii in 1964 becoming the first woman from Hawaii and the first woman of color to enter the United States Congress. Patsy Mink later has a distinguished career as a feminist in Congress as well. So in order to make her argument for the feminine mistake, Betty Frédin has to leave a lot of things out too. Right, she's very pixelated. Hey, Kyle, could you just slide the, bring the flex fill towards the camera like a couple inches? This one. Bring forward and rotate it clockwise a little bit. Watch the water. Yeah, see you good. Good. Things you guys know. I know. Matter of interest.
So I don't know a lot of things. So what's striking too about the feminine mistake is that Frédin looked back at the first wave of feminism and says, what lost ground? Yes, yes. I don't understand that. Well, Frédin, actually we think of her as the mother or one of the mothers of second wave feminism. In fact, Betty Frédin straddles two feminist generations. And there's a kind of lost generation in the 30s and 40s that we rarely think about, but that Frédin reflects on as women of great accomplishment. And so she looks at what happens after the passage of the 19th Amendment and women getting the vote in 1921 and sees a kind of steady progress for women in those intervening decades between 1921 and the end
of World War II, in which women are entering the professions, women are taking their places as journalists and writers, by World War II, women are going into factories and proving that they can do all kinds of jobs, men can do. And then, as she argues, World War II ends and women have to be stuffed back into their housewife role so that men can come back to the war and assume fully masculine roles in society. Right. Right. It's interesting, the idea that some woman in 1930 was in many ways more liberated than a woman in 1962. Well, Frédin, of course, imagines that a woman was more liberated in the 1930s than a woman in 1964, but one of the things we have to remember is a lot of the laws that were in place in 1964 that limited women's autonomy were also in place in the 1930s. Right. So it has to do with actually its actual laws, you know, in attitudes or...
It's actual laws. I think what Frédin is really looking at is what kinds of women are being represented in popular culture. And to this extent, Frédin represents a strand of feminism that we call popular feminism. As opposed to political feminism, which she also was part of, she's the architect of popular feminism in that she sees the ways in which women are represented in popular culture as at least as important as the laws that are constraining them in politics and in the economy. So that, for example, she looks back on movie heroines like Joan Crawford and Catherine Hepburn. And sees them being replaced by Marilyn Monroe. And she sees that as a real loss for women because you're taking figures who stand up for themselves, Joan Crawford, for example, in Mildred Pierce. Even though she comes to tears in the end, she starts her own business and she becomes wealthy on her own.
By the time you get to Marilyn Monroe in the 1950s, Marilyn Monroe is saying that diamonds are a girl's best friend and how does a girl get her diamonds from a man? She sells her sexuality to men to get money. So there is a real contrast there that Frédin is pointing to in important ways. By diverting us in that direction, though, what she doesn't look at is the failure to pass the ERA in the 1920s. That's something that will be taken up by Frédin and others by the early 1970s. Again, Frédin is not looking at the ways in which credit to women relies on getting co-signed loans from men, from fathers, from brothers, from husbands. She is not looking at the ways in which, for example, it's legal in 1964 not to admit a woman to lost school because she's a woman. Meg, can we just do a tiny bit of touch-up?
Right now, let me think we're going to go next.
- American Experience
- Contributing Organization
- WGBH (Boston, Massachusetts)
- AAPB ID
- It was the year of the Beatles and the Civil Rights Act; of the Gulf of Tonkin and Barry Goldwater's presidential campaign; the year that cities across the country erupted in violence and Americans tried to make sense of the Kennedy assassination. Based on The Last Innocent Year: America in 1964 by award-winning journalist Jon Margolis, this film follows some of the most prominent figures of the time -- Lyndon B. Johnson, Martin Luther King, Jr., Barry Goldwater, Betty Friedan -- and brings out from the shadows the actions of ordinary Americans whose frustrations, ambitions and anxieties began to turn the country onto a new and different course.
- American history, African Americans, civil rights, politics, Vietnam War, 1960s, counterculture
- (c) 2014-2017 WGBH Educational Foundation
- Media type
- Moving Image
Release Agent: WGBH Educational Foundation
- AAPB Contributor Holdings
Identifier: NSF_POTTER_0306_merged_01_SALES_ASP_h264 Amex 1920x1080.mp4 (unknown)
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- Chicago: “American Experience; 1964; Interview with Claire Bond Potter, Historian, part 1 of 2,” WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed February 26, 2024, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-15-kw57d2rb21.
- MLA: “American Experience; 1964; Interview with Claire Bond Potter, Historian, part 1 of 2.” WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. February 26, 2024. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-15-kw57d2rb21>.
- APA: American Experience; 1964; Interview with Claire Bond Potter, Historian, part 1 of 2. Boston, MA: WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-15-kw57d2rb21