Thursday, April 12, 2007

The Feminine Mistake

Some of you may have read about or seen interviews with Leslie Bennetts, the author of The Feminine Mistake, a book that discusses the issue of women who choose to stay at home. In her book, she says that staying at home is the mistake. I first saw Bennetts on The Today Show while we were traveling and I was incensed not by Bennetts, but by the interview tactics of Ann Curry and the framing that The Today Show did of the whole issue. Basically, they preceded the interview with teasers and a montage that made it seem as if they were about to, once again, make working moms feel guilty for working. So I was surprised when Bennetts book basically supported the idea of mothers going back to work. Ann Curry kept trying to get Bennetts to admit that the decision mothers make to return to work or not is difficult. Methinks she doth protest too much. Really, watch the video.

Apparently, Bennetts has been hearing lots of serious disagreement from stay at home moms. In a post from March 31 at The Huffington Post, she expresses her disappointment at the rancor these women are expressing, especially without ever having read the book. I, too, haven't read the book, so I won't comment on it yet. I have read The Price of Motherhood, another book that details the financial impact on women who stay at home. That book made me mad, not because it was anti-sahm, but because I felt the wool had pulled over my eyes and I'd been sold a bill of goods about the wonders of staying at home. Bennetts goal in writing the book is similar to Crittendon's:
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?
The thing is, I don't think women decide to stay at home based on a clear analysis of the facts other than to determine that the family can afford for her to do so. I think most women decide to stay at home for emotional and personal reasons. They feel a real need to be with their children. They feel it's the "right" thing to do. They are unable to find good childcare. Etc. I don't think most of us make any decision by clearly analyzing the facts. If we did, I think the world would be a very different place. I also think, and Bennetts says this in her interview with Ann Curry, that the media (conceived very broadly to include most of what we read and see) plays a role in convincing women that staying at home is the "right" thing to do, that it's wonderful and that children will suffer if we aren't at home. Many, many of my friends are or have been stay at home parents. I wouldn't want to deny them that choice and as I've said a number of times here, what I think should happen is for the workplace to be a more family friendly environment. There needs to be more part-time options, more of a sense that it's okay for people to put their family first (and themselves!) when they need to. I remember Laura at 11D wrote a long time ago that sometimes work sucks and why should be push women to participate in the drudgery that most jobs really are.

I'm looking forward to reading the book and I'll say more once I have.