The Feminine Mistake: Are We Giving Up Too Much? Hardcover – Apr 3 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. It would be easy to dismiss this as yet another salvo in the mommy wars-—the debate over women opting out of careers to be stay-at-home moms. But Bennetts, a longtime journalist and writer for Vanity Fair, is more interested in investigating what she sees as the heart of the matter: economics. Through impressive research and interviews with experts and with real women, Bennetts shows that women simply cannot afford to quit their day jobs. Long-term loss of income has a cascading impact in areas such as medical benefits and retirement funds, not to mention a woman's sense of autonomy, derived from financial independence. Further, a career supplies a woman with a measure of security for herself and her children in the event of unexpected sickness or divorce. As any woman who has tried knows, returning to the workforce and finding a well-paying job after an absence of years, or even decades, is difficult. Not so long ago mothers would pin a dollar bill to their daughters' underclothes when they went out on a date in case, for some reason, they needed carfare home. Those mothers knew all to well that without money of your own it's easy to be left stranded. As Bennetts expertly shows, it's still true. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Many well-educated American women are giving up the struggle to balance career and motherhood and making the "willfully retrograde choice" of relying on men to support them and their children, Bennetts maintains. Financial dependency can jeopardize women's futures and those of their children, she warns. Drawing on interviews with hundreds of women as well as sociologists, economists, legal scholars, and other experts, Bennetts lays out the dangers of giving up careers. She looks at how new divorce laws have altered alimony, reducing the likelihood of a lifetime guarantee of support for stay-at-home mothers after divorce. She details the impact of a loss of income on medical and retirement benefits and weighs it against lifelong financial needs. Bennetts encourages women to consider a "fifteen-year paradigm," viewing their lives beyond the years of motherhood and asking themselves what they want from life when their children are grown and gone. Allowing women to tell their own stories of economic abandonment, Bennetts presents a cautionary tale for women pondering giving up economic independence. Vanessa Bush
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
I speak from personal experiences when I say that it is of crucial importance for a woman to ensure her own economic independence. It's imperative to her own well-being and also that of her child. I would never suggest that money is more important than family because for me it isn't. I have no desire to hold a high-powered job making six or seven figures. I want only to make a decent living for myself and for my family.
Three years ago, I came to the harsh realization that for my own sake and that of my daughter, I had to leave my marriage. It was an agonizing decision made all the more so by the fact that I was a stay-at-home mom at the time. With no way of providing for myself or my child, I was terrified at the idea of leaving and yet I knew I had to for the good of everyone involved. The end result is that I have struggled for the past three years to provide for myself and my child. I could not possibly love my daughter more and had I been given the choice, I would have continued working so as not to have had to put her through this period of economic instability. Fortunately, she is very young and will likely not remember the vast majority of it but I will never forget the pain of knowing that I couldn't provide for my child the things I so desperately wanted to provide for her. I certainly gave her all the love and attention possible but neither of those things will put food in a child's belly or clothes on that child's back. There were days when I cried over being unable to spend a few dollars on an ice cream or a ride on the merry go round. I would never wish that experience on anyone, male or female.
Having been a stay-at-home mom, I know how difficult the job is and how little recognition women in that position often receive. In no way am I looking down on women who choose to stay home with their children. I'm simply cautioning them to think carefully about their choices as the unforeseen can strike any of us at any time and with no warning. I certainly never expected to get a divorce from a man to whom I'd been married for five years before getting pregnant and to whom I was utterly devoted, a man I had loved so passionately for the nearly seven years of our marriage. I certainly never imagined I'd feel the powerlessness that my economic dependency brought about, nor did I imagine I'd submit to the misery I did because of this dependency. Even at this considerably more stable point in my life, I shudder to think of those dark days and of the physical and psychological toll they took on me. This book is absolutely correct in stating that a man is not a financial plan and I am living proof of this.
I have never before written a review on Amazon, despite being a very avid reader. But, then, I have never before felt as strongly about a book as I do this one.
The working moms interviewed employ full-time nannies at $30,000 a year, and have flexible schedules. One woman solved her child care issues by buying two additional homes (one for her aunt and one for her parents) near her own home. This made it possible, she says, for her to work and to have a family. Another working mom comments that she is in demand as a dinner-party companion, since she is not the "dreaded housewife." One claims her working status has given her the "power" to decide where the couple's pool will be installed at their country home. This is why they work? To be a desirable party guest and to dictate the location of a pool? Bennetts should spend some time in the real world and figure out why the rest of us work. She should also spend some time with some real at-home mothers and find out, shockingly, that most of them work hard and are interesting people. She should also examine the contradictions and double standards in the book. The book is, in part, dedicated to the family's full-time nanny. How strange that a book deriding women who take care of their own children full time should be dedicated to a woman who takes care of another family's children full time. Wasn't the nanny simply allowing herself to become financially dependent on Bennetts? And why didn't Bennetts set this woman straight?
Bennetts' point that women need to take care of themselves financially is valid, but this simple point is not well made. The droning on and on about how horrible at-home mothers are is senseless. The at-home mothers (usually given fake names, but she claims to have interviewed them) seemed only to voice Bennetts' own distain and lack of respect, and were indeed so stupid that I wondered where Bennetts managed to dig them up. In general, the book is a very negative, and unrealistic, portrayal of mothers, and it doesn't come close to addressing the real issues. It is also a very negative depiction of fathers, who are portrayed as unreliable cheaters who, common sense will tell you, cannot be counted on for anything. The book was disappointing, but Bennetts is a celebrity writer, not a scholar. For more serious books on this topic, check out Unbending Gender (by Joan Williams, a law professor) and The Price of Motherhood (by Ann Crittenden, a financial journalist and Pulitzer Prize nominee). Neither delivers a harangue against working or at-home mothers; they just deal with the issues.
When I first started out, I represented many women who were married in the 1940's, 50's and 60's, when society felt that every woman's place was in the home. As a result, many "displaced homemakers" suddenly found themselves facing poverty in their old age. My own generation (the baby-boomers) all seemed to gravitate towards careers, so the displaced, poverty-stricken homemakers would be a thing of the past, right?
I am stunned to discover how many women in their 20's and 30's (the so-called post-feminist generation) are opting to become stay-at-home moms.
What is the problem, you ask?
In one word - DIVORCE.
And don't say it'll never happen to you. After all, I'm sure you buy smoke detectors, don't leave matches within your children's reach, don't leave candles or a stovetop unattended - but I'll also bet you also have homeowner's insurance, in case the unthinkable happened and your house caught on fire.
I've known so many women who tried so hard to be terrific wives, great mothers - and still found themselves divorced. Making sure you always have marketable skills so that you are able to support yourself and your children is like buying homeowner's insurance.
Of all the divorced SAHM's I've known, very very few are able to return to the workforce and earn enough money to support their families in the same lifestyle they enjoyed during the marriage. Sure, you can always get a minimum-wage job as a sales clerk or a waitress, but it will not buy you a middle-class lifestyle. Well-paying jobs will go to either a) recent college graduates, with newly-learned marketable skills or b) people who have spent the last 5, 10 or 15 years working their way up the ladder.
This book is a must-read, especially for young SAHM's who are confident that their marriage will last forever and that they will have no trouble re-entering the workforce any time they choose. I do have two criticisms, though: one, it is repetitive (one needn't repeat the same thing over and over to make a point) and it focuses almost exclusively on upper-middle class women, who are only a minority of the population.
Actually, upper-middle class SAHM's often suffer the worst, financially and emotionally, from a divorce, since they tend to have the most unrealistic expectations about the workplace (especially those who never worked outside the home at all) and they experience the biggest drop in lifestyle.
The men, on the other hand, tend to do very well after the divorce, simply because they have always had a well-paying career, without interruption, and after the initial financial hit (splitting the assets and paying child support) they keep on earning a high income, year after year.
It may seem elitist to some, but women, particularly well-educated, professional women are the focus of the book because those are the women who are perhaps making the worst choice possible when they stay home with their kids.
After all the years fighting to gain entry into the best colleges and board rooms, women appear to be giving it all up to have children. The author's argument is valid -- it's financially and personally risky, and at the end of the day, why should they? More specifically, why should women leave important, influential jobs in the prime of their career -- jobs that they've spent years to attain? Or why would women cut back, take part time jobs, work from home, etc. and risk losing ground to men in the workforce?
For me, it's not even about the money or the career track -- it's about the value of my labor. I went to school and spent years learning a trade and I want to continue to share that with the world. I want my daughter to know that she can do anything, and not have to stop her professional life because she has a child.
I think this book applies to women who have lower paying jobs as well. IMHO, though you may pay a babysitter a little more than you actually make, your labor, experience, training, and livelyhood is worth more than your paycheck.
Each family needs to reach their own decision, and I think women should respect each other, but we need to acknowledge that there is a price to every decision. At the end of the day, it's an unfair price that only women have to pay. We should work together to make every choice lest costly. The author could have done a better job at exploring that, but that wasn't the purpose of the book.
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