Farewell, Betty Ford, and the Era of Republican Feminism

Betty Ford had higher poll numbers than her husband when he was president, and we can see why: The former First Lady, who died Friday at the age of 93, could, quite simply, not have been a cooler chick. The famous rehab center bearing her name aside — and that counts as quite an achievement in itself — the woman campaigned for the ERA, spoke in favor of abortion rights, and brought public attention to her battle with breast cancer. She was down with marijuana and premarital sex. While her husband was in the White House, she advocated vociferously for more women to be invited to state dinners on their own, not just as dates, during a time when many unmarried women still couldn’t get their own credit cards.

It’s telling, too, that her husband — and thus, presumably, she — was a Republican. We will probably never see the likes of her again. Yes, we’ve made progress, in the sense that there are now two viable female Republican candidates for president. But, alas, those candidates are “Evangelical feminists” Michelle Bachmann and Sarah Palin, who play up their submissiveness as good wives, mothers, and, most critically, anti-choice crusaders. These days, you can’t possibly be a Republican and a feminist — even if some moderate conservatives could get behind a woman who doesn’t sign a ridiculous marriage pledge, that whole choice thing is a dealbreaker in this play-to-the-extremist-base era. One can’t imagine even a Republican First Lady — much less a female candidate — so refreshingly individualistic as Betty Ford today. She will be missed.


Author: Jennifer Keishin Armstrong

Jennifer Keishin Armstrong grew up deep in the southwest suburbs of Chicago, then escaped to New York to live in a succession of very small apartments and write about pop culture. In the process, she became a feminist, a Buddhist, and the singer/guitarist in an amateur rock band. She also spent a decade on staff at Entertainment Weekly, cofounded SexyFeminist.com, and now writes for several publications, including Women’s Health, Runner’s World, Writer’s Digest, Fast Company, and New York‘s Vulture. Her history of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted, will be published by Simon & Schuster in 2013; her collaboration with Heather Wood Rudulph, Sexy Feminism, will be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2013. She is the author of the Why? Because We Still Like You, a history of the original Mickey Mouse Club published by Grand Central in 2010. She has provided pop culture commentary for CNN, VH1, A&E, and ABC, and teaches article writing and creative writing. Follow her on Twitter: @jmkarmstrong


  1. Olivia says:

    Thank you for such an incredible post about such an inspiring woman. It’s refreshing to read about a woman in politics that didn’t try to restrict women’s rights in any sense of the word.

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