Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The Feminine Mistake Mistake

Ran across a WTF on Technorati that caught my interest.

Leslie Bennetts is hopelessly out of touch with American Women who live anywhere but Manhattan.

She's written a one sided diatribe that relies on non-peer reviewed, statistically insignificant literature to tell American Women that they are fools for giving up careers to raise their own children.

Bennetts aired her side of the story at the Huffington Post.

Everyone knows that authors have to be prepared for negative reviews. What I didn't anticipate was an avalanche of blistering attacks by women who hadn't read my book but couldn't wait to condemn it....

The media gave lots of coverage to women who quit the labor force to become full-time mothers, but they treated this decision as if it were simply a lifestyle choice. 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?

She goes on, noting that anyone who doesn't read her book and understand the facts is, well, stupid:

I was thrilled to see that bloggers were already talking about The Feminine Mistake -- until I saw what they were saying. The first woman to weigh in hadn't actually read it, but she was nonetheless certain that it would serve as "an indictment on my whole life as I currently live it."...At least she admitted that she might be bringing some personal baggage into her critique: "Am I bothered because I have a sneaking decision (I think she meant suspicion) that I've just been called a 'mistake'?...Sadly, I think I know."...

Equally encouraging was the woman who, after being introduced to me at a cocktail party, made a horrible face when the hostess told her about The Feminine Mistake. "I don't think I want to read it," she said, pursing her lips as if she'd just sucked a lemon. "The last thing I need is a whole book telling me why I should feel even more guilty about my life than I already do."

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.

Apparently Bennetts failed to undersand that people don't LIKE to have the word "mistake" addressed at them. Joan Walsh addresses both camps in the mommy wars when she asks:

[W]hy are women always told they're doing something wrong?...

If female fear and self-doubt were ever eradicated, the publishing industry would collapse. Another day, another book or magazine article about how women can have better orgasms, more money, smarter kids; mix job and family, spirituality and ambition; be a feminist and a stripper. But no matter the issue, the premise is pretty much the same: We're doing something wrong.

Leslie Bennetts' "The Feminine Mistake: Are We Giving Up Too Much?" is a great rejoinder to Caitlin Flanagan's "To Hell With All That: Loving and Loathing Our Inner Housewife," last year's contribution to the literature of how women are screwing up....

The problem is the so-called mistake at the heart of [Bennetts'] book. It made me think about Flanagan's false alarms about what's "lost" when a mother works, and the scary must-read for women from five Aprils ago (is this a Mother's Day thing?), Sylvia Ann Hewlett's "The Baby Panic." Women are constantly being warned about the way we keep bollixing this whole love, work and family thing. But are we?

Well, needless to say, it is now possible to assemble huge amounts of data that state that Leslie Bennetts' authorship of The Feminine Mistake was...um...a mistake. And her tone of voice is a mistake. And her lecturing is a mistake. And if she doesn't face the facts and realize this, well, I guess she's just stupid or something.

Let's brainstorm some alternate titles for Bennetts' work, remembering that they have to be catchy, but not insulting:

  • The Perils of Staying at Home

  • Maintain Your Freedom! Preparing for the Unexpected

  • What If? How working moms benefit

But you have to confess, "The Feminine Mistake" title got some publicity. And after all, isn't that what an author wants? (See "The Satanic Verses.")


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