Monday, April 16, 2007


Looks like I've made a huge mistake. Probably even ruined my life. Whoopsie.

(settle in, folks, it's going to be a looong post).

Leslie Bennetts has set off a firestorm with her book about the economic dangers faced by stay-at-home-moms. For anyone who hasn't heard of it yet, her book, The Feminine Mistake, posits that women who choose to stay at home to raise kids are depriving themselves of personal satisfaction, professional advancement, and long-term financial stability. Not surprisingly, the book's been getting a lot of attention (both negative and positive) in the press and on the Web.

Bennetts recently posted an article on The Huffington Post expressing her pique at the negative reaction her book has gotten from women who haven't read it yet. She is shocked, SHOCKED, that the women who've made the "mistake" of staying at home aren't running straight to the bookstore to find out why Bennetts thinks they're idiots. She simply can't understand why anyone is offended by her book, and ultimately concludes that us stay-at-home moms are "cranky children" who aren't reading her book because we have an "overdeveloped capacity for denial." Because, of course, if only we (poor, ignorant, dears) had the facts that Ms. Bennetts has, we would chose to live our lives just like her.

But of course, Bennetts didn't mean to be insulting, and is sorry that we're so sensitive. After all, she's only trying to help! Why, According to Bennetts, "[her] goal in writing The Feminine Mistake was to provide women with what [she] saw as one-stop-shopping that would help close this information gap. [Her] goal was to gather into a single neat package all the financial, legal, sociological, psychological, medical, labor-force, child-rearing and other information necessary for them to protect themselves."

I'm sorry, but hogwash. If Ms. Bennetts' goal were truly to help women, her book would have been titled something like "What Every Woman Needs to Know before Procreating." Instead, she called her book "The Feminine Mistake," a title that pretty much gives me all of the information I need. Before even reading the book's description, I could have presumed that Bennett's thesis will be that staying at home is a bad choice, and that only by staying in the workforce (or presumably, by returning to it RIGHT NOW), will I spare myself from financial doom.

While I admit that I haven't read the book yet (I'm waiting for my library's copy to be available), I have read many of its reviews (the New Yorker's Review is one of the more interesting), as well as the aforementioned Huffington Post piece and a few interviews with Bennetts. I've read enough to know that central to Bennetts' thesis is the idea that SAHMs can (and will in all likelihood) be blindsided if their source of support disappears, either through death, disease, divorce or downsizing.

This argument makes little sense, because it appear suggests that a one-income household is somehow more precarious than a duel-income home. I suppose this may be true if the second income is merely extra money and is not necessary to supporting the family, but I'm going to guess that in most families, this isn't the case. So in a duel-income family, wouldn't those fearsome Ds wreak the same kind of havoc on the survivors that they would for a SAHM? I don't quite understand what's so special about SAHMs that makes our choices so risky. (and hey, if you've read the book and care to enlighten me as to its finer points, please comment).

Moreover, Bennetts doesn't seem to consider that at least some of the dangers she warns of can be protected against. In her interviews, Bennetts repeatedly refers to the time when her husband was unemployed and she had to support her family for six months, and states that it would have been a catastrophe if she hadn't had a job. But can't a well-stocked savings account lend similar security? The Boy and I, for instance, planned for years before we decided to have kids, and poured money into savings and retirement accounts so we would have a buffer if I ended up staying at home for a while. We have six months of income saved, enough, we figure, to give one or both of us time to find a job should we need to. Why isn't that good enough? And can't a good life insurance policy provide a similar buffer for a widow?

One point that Bennetts makes does, I'll admit, give me some pause. She claims that women who take time out of the workforce find themselves unemployable when they want to go back. For all I know, this is true; I certainly don't expect to pick up my legal career when I left off. I accept that when I go back, it will probably be to a job offering less money and less prestige than my old one did. And that's ok with me. Maybe Bennetts thinks a loss of prestige is horrifying, but that's her own issue. Not everyone needs to be a shining star in the workforce.

I'm not saying that working moms are bad. I'm not saying that any other woman in the world should make the choices I did (I have no more use for Catilin Flanagan than I have for Ms. Bennetts or for Linda Hirshman). I just don't see why the Leslie Bennetts of the world feel the need to support their families by trashing someone else's.

1 comment:

meh said...

She'll be lucky if she doesn't get shot. I cannot believe this book is out there. Egad. I always thought I'd be a forever SAHM - that's how I was raised (until I was in high school). I remember having a huge debate with my former college roommate (also a lawyer) at the time I was a SAHM. She said she was "too well educated" to stay home with her future children. Then life got interesting for me, and I realized I needed some independence and when my kids hit 1st grade, I went to law school. I work part time, try not to miss big events, but still, I do something I never thought I'd do: work. And I love it. And my college roommate? SAHM with 3 kids (twins, too). Never wants to go back. So you never know what "works." And it's truly an individual choice. One thing I know - the kids grow up FAST. There's always time to work - but not always time to be with your kids. And my mom started a whole new career at 50 and was very successful, so phbbbbbb to this crazy lady who wrote this terrible book that should be burned.