Friday, April 13, 2007

The Feminie Mistake and Leslie Bennetts

I wrote earlier this week about Leslie Bennetts and her book The Feminine Mistake.  I've been reading more articles and thinking a lot about this .  First of all, the title of the book, why is it necessary to call it the Feminine Mistake?  That is implying that it is a mistake for every woman to stay home after having children.  In essence, she attacked all stay-at-home mom's before even opening the book. 

I am a stay-at-home mom and find it very offensive for someone who doesn't even know me to call my life a mistake.  Perhaps it would be a mistake for you, Leslie.  Perhaps it would be a mistake for many women.  However, even if my husband were to pack up and leave tonight and I had to take responsibility for all the bills myself, I wouldn't consider one moment of my life a mistake.  Perhaps "poorly planned" if there were no savings or financial plan for me to fall back on while I got my life re-organized, but NEVER a mistake. 
Secondly, a woman who leaves the work force to have children can go back.  She can maintain her work skills while at home, or she can fine tune them before returning to the work force.  Yes, I agree, she most likely will not be able to return to the exact same place and income that she was in before she left.  However, she still has the ability to return to the work force, even if she chooses to wait 18 years until her child goes off to college.  I'm not arguing that it won't be difficult, but it is do-able.
Now, let's examine that in the reverse.  A woman is in the work force, let's say she is 29 years old and contemplating having a child.  Wait!  She will lose all she has worked for up to this point if she has a child she decides to wait.  Now, 18 years later and she is 47 years old and that desire hasn't gone away in the least.  How likely do you think it is that she will be able to get pregnant (as easily as she may have at 29) and have the energy to raise that child?  (That is NOT an attack on older women having children.  Believe me, I know from experince.  My oldest child and youngest child were born 19 years apart and age does make a difference.) 
But wait!  She can't have that child yet.  Not even at 47, because the same reasoning that kept her from having a child at 29 is going to keep her from having a child at 47.  Financial Autonomy and losing her place in the work force!  No, I'm sorry Miss, you will have to wait until your 65 and able to retire.  Then you will have completed your stint in the work force and able to leave with no financial risk to yourself and family.  Wow, if a woman thinks having a baby and leaving the work force is a mistake, what do the women who didn't leave the work force and were never able to have children think about their choice?  I wonder is Ms. Bennetts covers that question in her book. 
Well, of course there are mothers who have their children and then six weeks later, perhaps sooner for some poor women, return to work.  But then there is the matter of being a working mom.  Um, excuse me Ms.  Bennetts, doesn't that affect your role in the work force too?  Don't some employers, even women bosses, now consider these women less effective than their non-mother or men counterparts?  They may not be considered equally for that promotion or raise if there is the possibility they have to take a day off to stay home with a sick or injured child, or leave earlier for a parent-teacher conference.  Isn't that going to affect the financial earning ability or financial autonomy?
Oh my!  What a quandary!  It seems that by taking the side of financial autonomy over raising children, we need to stop having children completely!  Yes!  Yes!  That is the answer to the age old Feminine question...No children!  Because if you have children you are going to end up living on the streets and having absolutely no money.  Come on, get real.
I found this portion of a statement by Ms. Bennetts today.  "And when the kids grow up, the futures of working mothers are usually brighter than those of the homemakers, who often find themselves financially stranded and bereft of viable opportunities for employment."  Excuse me...but who said we wanted to be employed after the children go back to school.  Many, well those few of us who haven't been abandoned by our husbands or widowed, plan on doing things and perhaps traveling with our retiring spouses.  Many of the volunteers, who serve this country in a way that is irreplaceable, are former stay-at-home mothers.  Yes, what would people like Ms. Bennetts, who are too busy working, going to do without us pitiful SAHM's who take food (Meals on Wheels) to their poor shut-in parents, visit with them when their own adult children won't or can't.  Former SAHM's volunteer at nursing homes and a large number of other places.
Okay SAHM's, ready to be completely insulted?  Ms. Bennetts also say's..."As a result, the information contained in my book is being disseminated widely among working women, but stay-at-home wives -- the ones most at risk, and therefore the ones I most wanted to reach with my findings -- are being insulated from the truth by well-meaning decision-makers who are, in my opinion, infantilizing them. Yes, it's true that women who don't work are often so defensive about their choice that they've helped to create this regrettable climate. But do they really want to be treated like children who must be shielded from distressing information?"  
Oh my, I didn't really think it was possible to feel anymore attacked than I was by the simplistic idiotic title of her book, the one where she says my life choice is a mistake.  However, to that I have created a climate where I am being insulated from the truth and infantilized...Hey did that bibmbo just call me a baby?  LOL  No lady, I don't want to be treated like a child that needs to be shielded from distressing information.  Do you?  Because that is exactly how your acting, you don't want to hear the distressing information that many of us can and do take care of our finances.  You don't like the fact that we feel attacked by you, that we are vocal and protective of our decisions.  That we are able to stand up for ourselves against people like you who feel we've made a mistake with our lives and attack not only us, but our children by saying children of working mothers are better off than ours. 
And finally there is this bit from our friendly "fluff writer"...

"It's as if the adult world of work and public affairs regards these self-appointed CHO's ("chief household officers," in the self-congratulatory parlance of one magazine aimed at that constituency) as somewhat dimwitted second-class citizens who aren't really up to the task of dealing with reality, which has to be left to the grown-ups. And I'm not just talking about the mommy wars; if anything, this kind of condescension about stay-at-home moms is more apparent among men than among working women.

Thus buffered from harsh realities, stay-at-home mothers can often preserve their illusions for quite a while. But over the long run, neither willful obliviousness nor a double standard that treats them like second-class citizens will save these women from the all-too-real problems I have documented in my book. The facts don't change just because you refuse to look at them."

Wow!  This woman just knows no bounds in attacking Stay-at-home mothers, does she?  First, she calls our life choice a MISTAKE.  Then she calls us babies who need to be shielded and now we are DIMWITTED SECOND CLASS CITIZENS!  Good Lord, I feel so "mistaken" about my life and decisions...I better abandon mychild and run out and get a job!  HA!  If she really believes that society see's us as second classcitizens, when we should be considered a very valuable part of society, perhaps she should have written a book about that.  Second class citizen?!  I'm stunned.  Good gosh, I must be completely out of the loop because I certainly never felt that way.

Now I have a question for anyone who read this book.  Did Ms. Bennetts offer any suggestions, other than dropping your child off at a strangers home and staying in the work force, as to how women can protect their financial future in case your husband becomes disabled, dies or divorces you?
I have a few suggestions I'd like to offer.
1.  Buy disability insurance.  My mother had it and when she underwent treatment for cancer and it was a real life saver for her.
2.  Buy an adequate amount of life insurance.  I know it is expensive, but the younger you are when you purchase it the cheaper it is.  I believe there should be enough to cover funeral expenses, pay off the house, and at least enough to equal one year of your husbands income.  You will need to talk to a professional to make sure you are getting enough for your family.
3.  Start a business that you can run from your home.  Join in with a few other stay at home mom's so you can take turns working together and taking care of the kids.  This isn't only a good idea to help financially, but for a stay-at-home mom the interaction with other women will do her sanity a world of good.
4.  Every time you go to the grocery store get $5, $10, $15 or whatever amount you can afford back in cash.  Take that cash and put some sort of mutual fund or savings bond.  This will give you a little extra cushion should you need it for your future.
So no, I don't believe we need to throw the baby out with the bath water.  There are ways for us stay-at-home mothers to protect our financial futures.  Will we be able totake a trip to France every spring, or buy clothesoff the New York runway?  No.  But then that's not really what we are about is it?  Our main goal is our children and bringing up children to be loving, moral and responsible adults. 
Take what you need to from this argument.  Know that you do need to consider all possibilities and plan for your future.  Do NOT allow this woman or any other to scare you back into the work force at the expense of your child.  If working is what works for you, great!  However, if you feel it is best for you and your child(ren) to stay home, do that and be proud of it! 
If you have any other ideas that a stay-at-home mom could use to protect her financial future please leave a comment and share them. 
Also, if I've offended any working mothers, I certainly never meant to.  I would certainly never be able to do what you do and I respect you fully for your decision.  Working mothers are just a valuable as stay-at-home mom's except that they have 2 full-time jobs versus our one full-time job. 
Thank you!
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The quotes in todays post come from an opinion article written by Leslie Bennetts.


alilcountrycharm said...

Boy or boy! This lady really pisses me off. She obviously has no clue what it's like to "be" a SAHM. I think SAHM's around the world need to come together and call for a national boycott of this book! I have been a SAHM for the past 10 years. I worked from the time I was 15 years old and had my first baby at 29. So I couldn't wait to be stay home with my kids and RAISE THEM MYSELF instead of relying on relatives,daycares and babysitters to RAISE THEM FOR ME while I worked!  I have had the best of both worlds!
I just went back to work last month after 10 years and even though I have been out of the "work force loop" I am making more money now than I did when I worked 10 years ago.
This lady is so full of BS.

Thanks for sharing this book and this post.

jillannemarie said...

Thanks for the comment Angel.  It's nice to hear from someone who has been on both sides of this issue.  

I agree that as wives that stay at home and rely on the income of our husbands we need to be informed and prepared for any and all possibilities.  However, some of the things that she says about SAHM's really has my panties in a bunch.  

Her book would have been better received, I believe, if she had just given the financial information she felt women needed rather than taking the opportunity to attack SAHM's as making a mistake for our decision and calling us "dimwitted second class citizens".

Again, thanks for the comment!  Congratulations on your return to the work force and the income it provides for you and your family.  I wish you all the best.

Jill Marie