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The Feminine Mistake

I was cleaning out some old papers and magazines today and came across an article I ripped out from Women’s Health in June contributed by Leslie Bennett, author of The Feminine Mistake and writer for Vanity Fair.

The excerpt was entitled “Letter to My Younger Self.”

Let me preface the rant I am about to go on by saying this:

  • I haven’t read Leslie’s book, just the excerpt from the article referenced above and a bit of info about her online.

  • I wholeheartedly agree that women (and men) should plan for the unexpected–both personally and financially—through financial planning, insurance policies, ongoing training, etc. etc. That is a book about finances – not about women selling out.

The fast facts that accompanied this excerpt:

  • 5.6 million – Moms who stayed home with kids in 2006

  • 4.4 million – Moms who stayed home in 1995
  • 43% — Percentage of moms with graduate or high-honors bachelor’s degrees who have left the workforce

Some of Leslie Bennett’s core messages (some taken from her bio as well):

  • Stay at home mothers are “misled by the fairy-tale version of life, in which Prince Charming comes along and takes care of you forever.”

  • “What animates the most interesting person I know is the passion for their work and the lives their work has given them.”
  • “The truth is, most women end up alone, one way or another.”
  • “It’s meaningful careers, well-earned success, and enough financial security to ensure a broad range of options that sustain women through the rough patches of life.”
  • “My career has given me more enduring gifts than my lovers ever did.”
  • Stay at home moms are unwilling to look at the risks of staying home.
  • She says that the stay at home moms she talks to insist that “bad things would never happen to them, only other people.”
  • Full time mothers have an overcapacity for denial
  • They demand that their choices be respected and attack those who question them.
  • Magazines are afraid of offending the stay at home “mommies”; they didn’t want to wake the “cranky children”
  • Stay at home moms are buffered from harsh realities and preserve their illusions about their choice

My Take:

Here are the juxtaposed messages between the stats bolded in bright red at the bottom of the article and the author’s message: – More women are choosing to stay home with their children than ten years ago – and Leslie Bennett is screaming from the big glass building at Vanity Fair, “Big Mistake Ladies!!!”

You are a day late and a thought short for this generation, Leslie. Your message might have fit for the hungry women’s libbers of the 70’s or the droves of women returning to work in the 80’s to go head-to-head with the boys. But the new generation of women and mothers in the workplace and at home have learned a thing or two from the women of yesteryear. We don’t want to fit in the box of whatever you think we should be. We’re perfectly content to navigate our own lives – thanks.

We’ve watched our parents and our grandparents hack it out and witnessed the impending results over time. So we want to make changes to make our lives work out a little better. The definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Praise for the women who decided to leave corporate America for motherhood for a little more fulfillment AND praise for the women who decided to go back for a little more fulfillment or financial advancement. Praise for choices!

For those who left corporate America and those who want to leave right now: We don’t want to bank on failed marriages, late nights proving ourselves in the workplace and the over-riding sense of guilt wondering if we’ve failed our children AND ourselves. You no doubt find “GEN Y” and many of our “GEN X” counterparts entitled – because we want more control of our personal time than ever. Generally speaking, we place a higher value on family and the time we spend with them. And watch out boomers – apparently we’re poised to bring on a “GEN Y” baby boom that may rival that of the post-World War II population explosion. There could be a 17% population increase in the next 10 years. Say goodbye to the 2 kid average and hello to the impending new national average of 3 kids per household.

It’s not surprising that 43% of moms with graduate or high honors bachelor’s degrees have left the workplace. They are smart! They realize the workplace doesn’t provide enough flexibility, and they have the strength to say, this isn’t worthwhile for me anymore.” We can’t all write for Vanity Fair. You also fail to mention the fact that 40% of those women who leave the workplace start their own businesses. Why? Once again because they are smart and talented women with much to offer the world – and their children. We didn’t give it all up as the “giant feminine mistake” – we took back what was ours. The ability to have an identity with and without our children, and to be happy at what we are doing, and to contribute at many levels.

The fact that we continue to evolve is ignored. Bennet seems to think that today’s stay-at-home mom is living on Plumb street with cookies baking in the oven, a glint of emptiness in her mind, and happily cashing in daddy’s pay check. I wonder where she’s living?

Women today have more choices than ever. To have anything that is truly valuable there is a price to be exacted. There is a price exacted to stay home with your children, there is a price exacted to work full time, there is a price exacted to start your own business, there is a price for supporting your husband through medical school, there is a huge price to educate yourself and overcome obstacles as a single mother. At every level there are prices. Who is this woman to say which ones are worth it for which people.

I’ve already hopped on a soap box about how I think the Mommy Wars are a big lie that we inflict upon ourselves and how much I hate labels so if you’d like to continue to hear me rant on that level you can click here.

Here is the bottom line:

The feminine mistake is that we are led to believe that we belong in a box with limited decisions and paths set in stone. “Stay at home mom, working mom, etc. etc.” Thanks, Leslie Bennett and Women’s Health Magazine, for throwing us all in one jar and stepping back a few decades when women thought they had to choose one or the other!

The real feminine mistake would be following someone else’s advice rather than following your own path. It would be taking Leslie Bennett’s advice and listening to the people in the big glass buildings instead of the divine inspiration that we are all entitled to. Be who you are, love what you do, and pass that on to your children!

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  1. Pingback: Seven Billion Children TodaysMama

  2. Carina Wytiaz 11/02/2011 at 11:20 pm

    Amen!