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Carl Friedan fights back

Published Jun. 19, 2000|Updated Sep. 27, 2005

Accused of abusing feminist and author Betty Friedan during their marriage, the 80-year-old Sarasotan has launched a Web site to defend himself.

The slam-slam of potshots can be heard between Washington, D.C., and Sarasota in a sudden war between feminist guru Betty Friedan of Washington and her ex-husband, Sarasotan Carl Friedan.

In her latest memoir, Life So Far, published more than 30 years after these parents of three divorced in 1969, Betty Friedan charges her ex with what he considers a throwaway accusation: spousal abuse, as in, "I never went on a television show in those days without a black eye I had to cover with makeup."

He contends it was her violence that prompted his. "I've never initiated violence with her, never," he said in an interview.

He conceded being violent with her, saying he was forced into it by her bad temper.

Particularly galling to him are articles about the book that keep repeating the charges without context.

"I prefer not to say anything about the marriage," he said. "But I don't want to go to my grave as a wife beater."

If he was, an 80th birthday bash in September thrown by his children suggests it doesn't matter. Among the 85 guests at Sardi's Restaurant in Manhattan were all the wives of this thrice-married man: Noreen, 65, Donatella, 35, and Betty, 79. And to hear him tell it, each spoke well of him, even Betty, who wondered aloud why they ever got divorced.

His view of her suggests why: He calls her "brilliant" but "ugly." Even so, he wonders why she's turned on him. "We've been fairly friendly for these 30 years," he said. "Then, out of the blue. . . . "

Each visits the other regularly, he at her Long Island home in the summer, she at his Sarasota home in the winter.

Betty Friedan spent a week in Sarasota with him as recently as February, he said. She had galley proofs of the memoir with her and was correcting what he characterized as "big mistakes," including getting names wrong.

But the biggest mistakes are what he says are false statements about beatings she suffered at his hands.

In a rush of bitter remembrance, he has set up a Web site (http://www.carlfriedan.com) to give his side of the story. The site is getting some 2,400 hits a day, and he's getting e-mail "all the way from Texas to Australia, with encouraging slaps on the back," he says on his Web site. "Looks like I'm becoming the hero of that wing of maledom that recognizes at least 50 percent of all domestic abuse is female initiated. But of course, I am against all abuse whether male or female induced; no one has any right to hit another person."

He also writes editors of newspapers that review the memoir, asking for equal time. Like this:

"If you are considering reviews or articles on Betty Friedan and her new book of memoirs . . . Her ex-husband is alive and well. Why not get another side of the story _ on his own Web site."

Friedan asked for more than equal time from the New York Times, which he said was guilty of "pretty sick journalism" for reporting the abuse allegations without getting his response. After he lodged a complaint with New York Times publisher Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr., the newspaper ran a 200-word "Editor's Note" that said, in part, "In fairness, in view of the accusation, the Times should have sought Mr. Friedan's response . . . and should have quoted him early in the article."

Friedan took some satisfaction from that: "No one I know has ever seen the New York Times apologize the way they did to me."

But he remains bitter. "It ran in agate type on Page 2," he said, wondering how many readers saw the apology.

Why would his now frail and ailing former wife have raised the battery issue in her memoir?

"All that is is an excuse for our divorce," he said.

Betty Friedan seemed to confirm his side of the argument in the New York Times feature on her book. When pressed about the abuse, she told the newspaper, "Well, don't make too much of that. He was no wife beater and I was no passive victim. We were both hot-tempered people."

She went on to say that her success made her husband jealous, which he denies.

"I never wanted to run any revolution," he said, referring to her first book, The Feminine Mystique, which is credited with jump-starting the modern women's movement. "I admire what she did. She's brilliant. I don't knock anything she's done."

Until now.

She sold the serial rights to her memoir to George magazine, which ran a full page in red heralding the first installment with the headline, "Battling for women while being beaten at home."

"That's what made me flip and motivated the Web site," he said.

Betty Friedan had called him to say she didn't expect the press to focus on those parts in the book about beatings and was "livid" at George magazine. He hung up on her, he said.

Friedan, now a consultant for Muralo Co., a paint manufacturer, after a long career as an advertising executive, said, "She's asking for it. I'm looking to do a book.

"But not an anti-Betty thing. That would look like too much whining."

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