As much as anyone, Betty Friedan sparked the collective ah-ha! that startled the world into an awareness of the everyday politics of gender and reshaped contemporary consciousness. She was the trailblazer who provided the first careful chart of how such unlikely co-conspirators as Madison Avenue hucksters, Sigmund Freud and Margaret Mead, among others, had forged the all-pervasive rules that governed how men and women regarded themselves, one another and the possibilities for their lives. For the past 15 years, however, Friedan has been exploring another vast expanse of our collective social experience, which she believes is every bit as oppressive and blighting of human possibility as the feminine mystique: it's the mix of denial and dread of growing old that she calls "the age mystique."
As she sits in the living room of her spacious, spectacularly sun-drenched Washington, D.C., apartment, she looks tan and healthy after several months' teaching in Florida. She is saying what most of us would hope to hear from a 77-year-old cultural icon challenging Americans' bleak image of life's "third age": "I really don't feel that much different from when I was 40 or 50. In fact, physically, I'm in better shape now than I ever was, because for years I had asthma. I don't have asthma anymore. I just don't feel like I once imagined being 77 would feel like."
But lest she give the impression that she has somehow been…
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