Monday, May 14, 2007

Mystique? Mistake? Miss Condescending!

I had no intentions of commenting on Leslie Bennetts’ book The Feminine Mistake, and the debates rumbling around the 'blogosphere' and beyond. It has been discussed at length, passionately, and articulately. However, having caught a segment on Saturday’s Today Show, and having read a little more about, and by, the author I just had to throw my thoughts out there.

In this piece on The Huffington Post, Leslie Bennetts herself responds to criticism about her book. Justifiably, she is irritated by women bashing her book without even reading it. Well, Leslie, go ahead and feel irritated at me too, because as yet, I have not read your book, but I am basing this post on what I have read, and on what you said on the Today Show. I will read the book, and may have further comments, but I’ll borrow it from the library, since I am a stay at home mom, and you know, I am probably not financially astute enough to have the spare cash to actually purchase it.

How can Bennetts not see why her book, and the tone in which she defends it, be offensive to stay at home moms? I absolutely agree that there are women who are naïve about staying at home, and their perception of how easy it will be to return to the workforce. I agree that there are women who should have better financial preparations made in the event that something happens to their husband, or his ability to provide for the family. If the content of the book makes some stay at home moms pay attention, review their financial situations then great –it will have made a positive contribution to improving the security of some at home moms. BUT, is it not more likely that the very audience Leslie Bennetts claims to be concerned about, and whom she says she wants to help, will be so completely alienated by the language she uses, starting with the title of her tome, that none of these concerns will be heard or acted upon by ‘at risk’ stay at home mothers? To point the finger at an entire sub-segment of mothers and tell them they have made a mistake – in my opinion, is not very conducive to a respectful dialog with prospective readers.

Bennetts claims to have written the book to address bias in media reporting about the choice women make to stay at home. She states of the media:

“They never seemed to mention the risks of economic dependency -- or the myriad benefits of work. As a result, women were being lulled into a dangerous sense of complacency about relinquishing their financial autonomy. Why wasn't anyone telling the truth about how much they were sacrificing -- or what the consequences could be?”

Not all of us are oblivious to risk, and neither do we all expect to waltz back into our careers with ease. Has Bennetts considered that perhaps, all too aware of the risks, we have made the decision to stay at home, and chosen to make these sacrifices in spite of this knowledge? Making the decision to stay at home, does not negate any future earning power. Does Bennetts not consider the fact that many intelligent, adaptable and resourceful women made the decision to stay at home, and that these skills can be drawn upon in the event that, God forbid, something happens to their husbands?

Making the decision to stay at home does not erase our intelligence nor does it suddenly turn us all into ostriches! For my part, I fully intend to return to work, but not until my children are older, and I doubt if I will even attempt to return to the type of career I had before. The ‘rat race’, the stress, the commute and, yes dare I say it, the salary?, are not worth it to me, nor are they compatible with the family dynamic and lifestyle I envisage us being in going forward.

On the Today Show Bennetts says, and I paraphrase, that women do not consider ‘the enormous value of meaningful work’ done by women who work outside the home.

Language like this is offensive to stay at home moms, and not because, in Bennetts’ view (as she voiced in on the Today Show piece), that we are defensive about our choice, or that we think she’s right, instead it is because implied in the statement that we have failed to consider ‘the enormous value of meaningful work’, is that the work we do at home, raising our children, is not enormously valuable, or meaningful. This hits at the very core of what being a stay at home mother is all about for many of us. We have made a decision, and one not taken lightly, to ‘opt out’ of paid employment, careers, work outside the home, however you want to describe it, to focus on being primary nurturers to our children. Not a choice for everyone I agree, and just because I stay at home, this does not mean in turn that I dismiss the value of meaningful work of others who choose to work outside the home.

From the stay at home viewpoint, I can highlight a glaring media bias, that the media rarely depict the benefits of staying at home, benefits for the mothers, as well as for individual families – and no these are not financial benefits, but then so much of what I value in life has no financial bearing at all. Bennetts cites the fact that multiple studies have yet to prove that children of stay at home moms do better than children of working moms – fine, I don’t have any major issue with this – simply stating this however ignores the fact that some of us do it because we want to, because this is the choice that is right for us. For its part, I was pleased with the Today Show segment on Saturday, since it was a more balanced look at why women ‘opt out’, than I’ve seen of late, and it wasn't just another piece portraying stay at home moms as second class in some way.

Sweeping generalizations on any subject will raise hackles.

Bennetts says:

“These days women are so defensive about their choices that many seem to have closed their minds entirely. Unfortunately this will not serve our best interests, but apparently it's preferable to facing the facts. "The Latest Polemic Against Stay-At-Home Moms!" was the headline on one recent essay about The Feminine Mistake. If this were accurate, I wouldn't mind someone complaining about it, but my book is not a polemic; it's a painstakingly reported collection of information and interviews. If you want to disagree with my conclusions, you need to address the facts on which they're based rather than acting as if these were simply matters of opinion. They're not.

But you can't tell that to the stay-at-home brigade, who are enraged that I wrote it at all. When Glamour published a brief essay adapted from the book, the magazine was inundated with furious letters denouncing me. "I am so insulted by Leslie Bennetts!" and "I am so offended by Leslie Bennetts!" were typical openers. Of course, these women hadn't read the book either, but they weren't about to let the evidence get in the way of their pre-conceived biases.”

My observation is that the ‘stay at home brigade’ are enraged because of the condescending tone Bennetts uses, and the very cynical part of me questions Bennetts motivation to produce this book. I’m wondering if rather than her almost philanthropic claims that:

“naively, I assumed that once women were offered more accurate information, they would be eager to get it. After all, women aren't stupid; it's true that they've been deserting the labor force in record numbers, but surely the problem was just that unfortunate information gap. Wouldn't they want to protect their own interests by educating themselves about the dangers that lie ahead -- and to plan accordingly?”,
that instead she spotted the lucrative opportunity in weighing in on, and stirring up, ‘The Mommy Wars’, (another reason I’ll be borrowing this book from the library!)

My last comment on this, (at least until I read the book), relates to the premise of the book being that stay at home mothers are giving up too much, we’re not prepared should disaster strike, and we will no doubt be left destitute if our husband is not there, or not in a position to provide. Where is the guarantee then, that if a woman works outside the home and earns her own money, that she will by default be better prepared if something happens to her partner? In this age of dual incomes, and lifestyles fuelled by dual incomes, I have to wonder if many a working mother wouldn’t be just as screwed?


Slackermommy said...

Amen sister! I'm so tired of women not supporting each other and authors writing how there is only one "right" way. I do think there are a small percentage of SAHM's who live in ignorant bliss, not saving for the future, don't know what their finances are, and no plan in place in case of divorce or death. A percentage of these SAHM's don't have a college education or training in a trade so any job they could get would probably not be worth the cost of childcare. Where's the book for these women giving them guidance? The other percentage of SAHM's stay home by choice and are fortunate enough to be able to afford a one income home. Shockingly these women are quite intelligent and have held important jobs outside the home but CHOOSE to stay home because they feel it is in the best interest of their family. Usually these SAHM's handle the family's finances and have a big fat insurance policy on hubby. These SAHM's are quite resourceful. Often doing side businesses that can be done from the home. Many of these SAHM's do have a plan for the future; to return to college or a refresher course when their children are older so they may return to the work force just as valuable as before. So Leslie Bennett put that in your pipe and smoke it. You are just another self righteous women not supporting other women unless they live their life how you think they should.

Cooks on the Coast said...

Hear, hear, sisters! I'm also a SAHM and consider myself very fortunate to be able to have that choice. I used to be a lawyer and, as slackermommy wrote, I take care of the family finances and, yes, hubby has several insurance policies on him! In fact, if anything happened to me, he might be the one that is screwed.

p.s. wandered over here from OTJ

Shauna said...

I'm a WOHM, but I find it offensive that people would even try to make blanket statements about what is good for all kids, mothers, families. It's just not right.
Thanks for this post. I myself have been wrestling with whether I should post about this and just couldn't find the right words.

In the Trenches of Mommyhood said...

Good post. I agree that all this author is doing is trying to further polarize both sides. We all need to support each other as MOTHERS and forget about who's SAH or working or whatever, because let's face it...we're all mothers 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. I haven't read the book, and don't plan to. I think the author's whole tone seems very condescending.

Life As I Know It said...

I missed Saturday's Today Show segment, but saw her interview on there a few months ago and blogged about it as well.
Great post, and I agree with everything you said.
In the end, I think it's all about book sales...

moodswingingmommy said...

Great post! I have deliberately stayed away from blogging about The Feminine Mistake, because to think about it makes my blood boil, to be quite frank (and I'm stressed enough as it is at times). I am quite happy to have you speak for me, since you did such a wonderful job of articulating yourself.

Amen again and again!

Becky said...

I've read the book, and I just posted a review, if you're interested.