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A new book is out, the title is a play on words from the original 20th Century Feminist Classic: The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan. The new book is called The Feminine Mistake by Leslie Bennett.

This new book is still feminist in nature, although the author insists that it has nothing to do with feminism. Just because a book toes the feminist line about working outside of the home and spends lots of words (and scientific studies) encouraging women with children to work outside of the home doesn’t mean it is a feminist book, does it?

Most of the studies have to do with statistics. There is a certain number of marriages that end in divorce, men die, or become unemployed, and other financial issues and this book is here to convince you that just because bad things happen, all women are being stupid for giving up their careers and staying home with their children.

Lest you think that the “being stupid” description of her attitude is too harsh and unfair, here she is in her own words when describing the negative response she has received from stay at home moms and publications that cater to them.

But other publications catering primarily to stay-at-home mothers are terrified of offending them, and any coverage has to be tailored to accommodate their sensitivities, real or imagined. “We don’t want to upset the stay-at-home mommies,” more than one editor told me in a patronizing tone of voice that suggested the conspiratorial whisper of adults who are trying not to wake the cranky children.

The same thing is happening with organizations that are interested in speaking engagements. Groups of professional women are eager to hear what I have to say, but those whose membership includes many stay-at-home mothers are afraid to risk their wrath by offering potentially upsetting information. Institutions that rely on the volunteer efforts of stay-at-home moms are particularly leery of presenting any program that might challenge their assumptions and rouse their ire.

As a result, the information contained in my book is being disseminated widely among working women, but stay-at-home wives — the ones most at risk, and therefore the ones I most wanted to reach with my findings — are being insulated from the truth by well-meaning decision-makers who are, in my opinion, infantilizing them. Yes, it’s true that women who don’t work are often so defensive about their choice that they’ve helped to create this regrettable climate. But do they really want to be treated like children who must be shielded from distressing information?

Here is an account of a public “debate” at the New York public library where there was mostly a lot of agreement and head nodding apparently.

Here is another article by the author of the book about how deciding to stay home from work is not merely a lifestyle choice, but something much more.

From reading the articles by the author (and not the book, so there may be some errors), it is far better for women to work because the time when children are small and life is hectic really is just a few years and you can make it through that. Work is fulfilling, having money gives you leverage in your marriage and at the end of the day because bad things happen you can only depend on yourself to get things done so keep working.

One article notes that the book is dedicated to four people, and the second person (even in front of her own daughter) is Norma, the babysitter-nanny-substitute caregiver because the author continued to pursue her own career. This article is a well written rebuttal with this gem:

Bennetts offers the stay-at-home mothers a challenge: give up your idealised views of the perfect marriage and the perfect job and embrace chaos. So what if your house is a mess, and you’re not quite on top of your emails? So what if you are constantly exhausted? “A lot of women conceptualise the whole issue in ways that don’t serve them very well. They say: ‘Oh well, it’s a question of having it all, and if I can’t have it all I might as well give up and go home’.” Bennetts suggests they settle for just being good enough – and for getting by.

(spelling British in the original). The New Yorker also has a review of the book that points out many of the fallacies that Leslie Bennetts advances in her book.

To Bennetts, this domestic satisfaction is a travesty. Although she claims that her argument is an economic one, rather than one based on “values,” she believes not only that women have to work but that they should want to. She’s also convinced that working mothers are the best kind that children can have, teaching resourcefulness and independence by example, and demonstrating the virtue of engaging in work that one loves. A baby boomer to the core, Bennetts is happiest when she is quoting exultant, successful older women who have juggled work and child care and have come out the other side saying things like “You know what? I think my kids really benefited.” In her view, “a combination of good child care and an egalitarian marriage” is equal to the challenge of running a household, and she points to herself as a writer for Vanity Fair who works from home and also makes dinner for her kids every night, at least on those nights when she’s not interviewing Jennifer Aniston about being yet another woman who didn’t expect her husband to leave her.

Also, from The New Yorker article:

She barely considers the possibility that a woman might clear-sightedly find the rearing of her children the most rewarding work she can do, not out of a sense of self-sacrifice but out of a sense of personal fulfillment, a position eloquently characterized a few years ago in the book “Maternal Desire,” by the psychologist Daphne de Marneffe. Nor does she consider whether the flight from the workplace might be a justified rejection of a culture that assumes that parenting can be dealt with in the margins of one’s work life. There is a real economic cost when someone gives up work in favor of being a mother, as Ann Crittenden skillfully outlined six years ago in her book “The Price of Motherhood”; and that cost does, as Bennetts argues, become acute if a woman is unexpectedly widowed or divorced. But to some extent such circumstances can be hedged against with insurance policies and the efforts of a decent matrimonial lawyer. For many women, a contented life of motherho
od and homemaking, even given the uncertainties, may offer better odds of satisfaction than the guaranteed stress of unloved work and the difficulties, emotional and practical, of surrendering to another the task of caring for one’s children.

These kinds of arguments will continue because people like to argue, not because of the merits of Ms. Bennetts’ point of view.

The best caregiver of children is their mother. Of course there are a few exceptions, but to argue that women should have to work and love to work outside of the home is counter factual and asinine. If for some reason you find yourself compelled to believe polling data and statistics, you may want to read this book.

Comments Welcome


This story is interesting. It is from the UK where an author is writing about the danger of women who are a hybrid of gold diggers.

While a wife is a good thing for a man to have, this article seems to point out a special kind of abuse and a wife that is a curse. Specifically, economic abuse and virtual financial slavery.

These women are not just gold diggers, they also get married and divorced for money. Still nothing surprising there. From the article:

Winter Wilson, staggered by the flood of heartfelt feedback she got after first naming the syndrome in a lifestyle article for the Daily Telegraph newspaper, said: “Many women see it as a career choice.

“After leaving university, they stay on the party circuit until they trap someone. They try to get the most by doing the least. They develop an extraordinary sense of entitlement, becoming very judgmental and shrewish,” she told Reuters.

Here is the amusing part: “She said she had hate mail from women who accused her of being a misogynist who also betrayed feminism.”

Feminism used to be about freeing up choices for women who wanted to vote, work, or whatever. Modern feminism was about not needing a man and the war against masculinity. The feminist movement wasn’t about the rights of gold digging women to abuse their men.

Just to be clear:

The danger signals of a wife going toxic are all too plain:

— She gives up work to care for the children and then sends them to boarding schools as soon as they outgrow their nannies.

— She demands wall-to-wall help with a maid hired to work up to 14 hours a day six days a week.

— Cooking and housework are strictly out of bounds.

— They have to live in a country mansion, forcing the husband to commute daily to London.

“I have had feedback from readers around the world recognising the syndrome. In America, many people wrote in about their toxic wives,” she said.

This is not the same as a stay at home mom, and the article is clear about that too:

Stoutly defending her stand, Winter Wilson argued: “The toxic wife is a complete disservice to women. It does us no favours. Stay-at-home mothers should be applauded, not reviled.

I think the stigma of being at home and looking after children should be taken away. The toxic wife thinks she is above it all. It makes me burn with anger.”


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