A Review of The Feminine Mistake
By Peggy Orenstein
The most shocking thing about Leslie Bennetts’ book The Feminine Mistake (Voice) is that it had to be written at all: that some 44 years after the publication of the Betty Friedan classic that the title plays on, women still need to be reminded of the risks of being economically dependent on a man. Yet, according to census figures, professional women are busily dropping their careers to become “opt-out moms.” They do so at their peril, as Bennetts points out in a phone conversation. “Younger women think they have a small chance of bad luck catching up to them if they stay at home with their children, but if you start adding up risk factors — the 50 percent of marriages that end in divorce, and the husbands who die, get sick, or lose their jobs — the majority of women will end up on the wrong side of the odds. Imagine that you gathered eight women in a room, put a gun with six loaded chambers on the table, and said, ‘Let’s play Russian Roulette.’ Would the two women who survive say, ‘Russian Roulette is a fabulous idea,’ or would they say, ‘Man, was I lucky to survive’?”
Bennetts, herself a mother of two, pitches her analysis as economic, trying (perhaps naively) to sidestep the politicized Mommy Wars: Being an at-home mom is not inherently inferior or unfeminist — it’s just financially unsound. That’s the bad news. The good news, as she summarizes it for me, “is that if you find work that you care about and persist at it, you can have a fabulous life. Mothers who work are happier than those who stay home, have better marriages, are physically and psychologically healthier, and their kids do better.” The argument has been made before; it will probably need to be made again and again — until highly educated-women who are all too blasé about their “choices” finally stop kidding themselves and listen.
© Peggy Orenstein. All rights reserved.
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