The Public Intellectual: Guru, Gadfly, and Cultural Gunrunner
Part 2, July 8
Women’s Prisons: Angela Davis: An Autobiography and The Feminine Mystique, by Betty Friedan
Betty Friedan (1921-2006) was an American writer, activist, and feminist. In the early ‘thirties, she entered the University of California, Berkeley, on a fellowship to study psychology with Erik Erikson, but turned down a Ph. D. fellowship under pressure from her boyfriend. She became a journalist for leftist publications, but was dismissed from the union newspaper UE News in 1952, because she was pregnant with her second child. She became a freelance writer, and wrote for various magazines, including Cosmopolitan. Her 1963 book The Feminine Mystique, a brilliant diagnosis of “the problem that has no name,” is sometimes credited with sparking second wave feminism in the U. S. In this book, she exposes the pop-Freudianism and market motivations for keeping the post-war generation of American women in the home, where many became depressed and turned to drugs and alcohol. In 1966 she co-founded the National Organization for Women, which successfully lobbied for the Equal Pay Act of 1963. One of Friedan’s later books, The Second Stage, critiqued what she saw as the extremist excesses of feminists who insisted on the essential difference between women and men. In turn, some feminists have criticized Friedan for her perceived focus on straight white suburban women at the expense of lesbians, women of color, and poor women.
Angela Davis (b. 1944) is an American socialist, philosopher, political activist, and retired professor with the History of Consciousness Department at the University of California, Santa Cruz, where she was the director of the university's Feminist Studies department.
As an undergraduate student in philosophy, Davis became interested in the ideas of Herbert Marcuse and followed him to the University of California, San Diego, where she completed her M. A. degree. While working on her Ph. D. from Humboldt University in East Berlin, she taught in the philosophy department at UCLA and organized protests on behalf of prisoners, poor people, and African Americans. She joined the Communist Party USA and collaborated politically with the Black Panther Party. The Board of Regents of the University of California, urged by then-California Governor Ronald Reagan, fired her from her job in 1969 because of her membership in the Communist Party. She was later rehired after taking legal action. Davis went underground when her gun was used in a prison breakout in which a federal judge was killed. She was arrested in New York, stood trial for kidnapping, murder, and conspiracy, and was acquitted. What is perhaps most interesting about Davis is her interrogation of black militancy, to which she was fully committed, for its sexism and resistance to Marxist thought.