Laura Ingalls Wilder stripped of honor; why not feminist hero Betty Friedan?
The politically correct have created a new pariah to scrub from significance: Laura Ingalls Wilder, the much-beloved author of “Little House on the Prairie.”
Fox News reports that the Chicago-based Association of Library Service to Children’s (ALSC) board unanimously voted last week to change their children’s book award from the “Laura Ingalls Wilder Award” to “Children’s Literature Legacy Award,” even though Wilder was the award’s first recipient.
The decision was announced to a standing ovation audience in New Orleans amid concerns that Wilder’s work includes stereotypical portrayals of minorities.
I used to have some Laura Ingalls Wilder paperbacks, but I admittedly ripped out the pages long ago to make a book wreath. I can’t remember much about them except that I, like so many, loved them as a child.
When I read this news, I didn’t so much think of Wilder, as I immediately thought of a different deceased writer who I doubt will fall prey to the history-scrubbers because she is revered in feminist circles, even though her most impactful book includes harsh attitudes about gay people.
I’m talking about Betty Friedan, author of the 1963 landmark book, “The Feminine Mystique.”
I read Friedan’s book more than 10 years ago and thoroughly enjoyed it. Certainly not because I agree with all that has happened in America since her work launched a movement.
Modern feminism, with its undying allegiance to abortion and insistence that patriarchal maleness is the root of all evil, is not appealing. As the late Elizabeth Fox-Genovese wrote, that kind of feminism “…is not the story of my life.”
Fox-Genovese … Christina Hoff Sommers … the thinkers at the Independent Women’s Forum … these are, to my mind, some of the female trailblazers worth following.
Nevertheless, I loved Friedan’s thoughtful analysis of “the problem with no name.” I loved her adroit observations, for example, that “housewifery expands to fill the time available,” which this mom-of-five finds humorous and true.
“The Feminine Mystique” sprang to mind because I remember feeling surprised by Friedan’s seeming unveiled disdain of gay persons.
Consider these excerpts (there are more) from Chapter 11, titled “The Sex-Seekers”:
“Homosexuals often lack the maturity to finish school and make sustained professional commitments. …The shallow unreality, immaturity, promiscuity, lack of lasting human satisfaction that characterize the homosexual’s sex life usually characterize all his life and interests. This lack of personal commitment in work, in education, in life outside of sex, is hauntingly ‘feminine.’ …the sad ‘gay’ homosexuals may well feel an affinity with the young housewife sex-seekers.” (pg. 385).
“Male homosexuals – and the male Don Juans, whose compulsion to test their potency is often caused by unconscious homosexuality – are, no less than the female sex-seekers, Peter Pans, forever childlike, afraid of age, grasping at youth in their continual search for reassurance in some sexual magic” (pg. 383-4).
Neither Betty Friedan nor Laura Ingalls Wilder nor countless other artists should be scrubbed from history or acclaim for work created during a different time.
We don’t have to agree with every single thing creators did or said to acknowledge – and honor — their roles in shaping culture and history.
A question for the politically correct: Once you begin stripping history of its heroes, where do you stop? How do you decide who gets to stay and whose speech, though acceptable during their time, is too intolerable to honor within that context now?
And maybe for the particularly forward-thinking: What ideas, what words, what contributions to art and thought will YOU support or create today that future generations will decide is cause to erase your legacy tomorrow?
Rachel Blackmon Bryars is a writer living in Alabama