Subverted: How I Helped the Sexual Revolution Hijack the Women’s Movement
by sue ellen browder
ignatius, 232 pages, $22.95
Subverted recounts the untold history of how the feminist and pro-abortion movements became allied. Part exposé, part conversion memoir, Browder’s book defies easy categorization, but by the end, I understood her approach. Browder’s honest account of her personal life—including her choice to have an abortion, despite being in a loving marriage—highlights the contradictions between reality and the flashy fantasy of the sexually liberated woman that she fabricated and peddled as a writer for Cosmopolitan during the heyday of the sexual revolution.
A particularly fascinating thread in the book is Browder’s nuanced profile of Betty Friedan. She was initially ambivalent about legalizing abortion; the issue of “reproductive rights” was conspicuously absent from the first edition of The Feminine Mystique. By the 1980s, she was blaming the “failure” of the women’s movement on “our blind spot about the family.” As Browder reveals, the pro-abortion movement—led by Larry Lader, the central villain of the book—was decidedly male until successfully wooing the National Organization for Women in 1967.
Browder does not demonize feminism altogether, nor does she romanticize the situation of women in America prior to the activism of Friedan and others. Browder herself was fired for being pregnant; legal protections for pregnant working women did not exist until 1978. (Tellingly, the legal right for women to get rid of pregnancies came years before the right to keep them without losing one’s job.)
In the latter half of the book, the focus shifts toward Browder’s personal journey into the Catholic Church, where she discovered, as I have, a more compelling vision of sexuality and womanhood.
This review first appeared in the June/July issue of First Things.
Abigail Rine Favale is an associate professor in the William Penn Honors Program at George Fox University.