In the annals of feminist history, Betty Friedan’s name is etched as a co-founder of the National Organization for Women (NOW), a pioneer of the women’s rights movement, and the author of the iconic 1963 book, “The Feminine Mystique.” However, peering behind the glossy facade of this historical narrative reveals a complex tale of exclusion, as Friedan’s actions in the late 1960s left a lasting impact on lesbian feminists.
The Rise of the Feminine Mystique
Betty Friedan’s “The Feminine Mystique” was instrumental in galvanizing the fight for gender equality in the 1960s. It transformed public awareness of gender discrimination and placed Friedan at the forefront of the women’s liberation movement. In 1966, she co-founded NOW with Pauli Murray and Aileen Hernandez, charting a course to equality.
The Lavender Menace Emerges
However, Friedan’s aversion to lesbian feminism came to the fore in 1970 when she labeled lesbians within NOW as the “lavender menace.” Her actions ostracized lesbians from mainstream feminism, a move met with resistance from within NOW itself. Lesbian feminists like Rita Mae Brown, Ivy Bottini, and others, who had played pivotal roles in the movement, were suddenly sidelined.
Lesbian Exclusion: A Stain on Feminism
This purge of lesbians from NOW had profound implications. Lesbians, who had been integral to the foundation of NOW and the impact of second wave feminism, found themselves excluded. Friedan’s stance aimed to distance feminism from the “man-hating” and lesbian label, perpetuating stereotypes and hindering the movement’s inclusivity.
The Legacy of the Lavender Menace
The Lavender Menace’s resistance paved the way for change. In the years following the purge, NOW gradually embraced lesbians within its ranks. Resolutions supporting sexual autonomy and civil rights legislation against discrimination based on sexual orientation were passed. Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, pioneers of lesbian activism, joined NOW, setting the stage for a more inclusive feminist movement.
The history of the Lavender Menace, marked by exclusion and subsequent evolution, redefined feminism, laying the groundwork for a more inclusive struggle for women’s rights.