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Saturday, April 14, 2007

The Feminine Mistake


If your a mother and haven't read Leslie Bennetts book, The Feminine Mistake, get started. It's filled with information every mother should have, whether or not they choose to act on it. Bennetts looks at the decision to stay home with children from an economic viewpoint. She says the "feminine mistake" is giving up money-making work for a domestic role because of the steep toll of financial dependency. Although she says her book is not intended as a contribution to the Mommy Wars, it has become just that. I spoke to Bennetts , a journalist and mother of two teens, about her book and the reaction.

Q. Are you surprised by the reaction?
A. A lot of stay at home moms who haven't read the book have mounted campaign against it. They think I'm attacking stay at home moms, calling them stupid. I think they should just be gathering information to have informed choices and protect their interests. There's a lot of shooting the messenger going on.

Q. What gave you the idea for this book?
A. I was frustrated by way this issue was covered by the mainstream media. There was a lot written about women opting out to stay home and have Martha Stewart lives, but no one mentioned the economic risks. I found as I reported that many women were blindsided by the consequences of opting out and unprepared by the difficulties of reentering the workforce.

Q. Is there a way to gauge the economic impact of opting out?
A. Opt out for as short as three years and your earning power take a 40 percent hit. Opting out is just a disaster for women's economic future...I'm not talking about the ability to buy a Lexus. I'm talking about the ability to provide food and shelter if something happens to the family's breadwinner. What women find when try to go back in the workforce is they are lucky to get entry level jobs. Some companies are not even willing to interview women returning after a time out.

Q. How do you respond to women who say choosing to stay at home is about children's welfare?
A. I am not telling anyone else what to do. If they want to make the choice to stay home, that's fine with me. The fact is it's a high risk choice. I would not take that gamble with my children's future. No one has job security now. Even if you are happily married in a stable situation, your husband can still lose his job and what is the family supposed to do if he's the only breadwinner?

Q. How have working women responded to the book?
A. Working women are thrilled to point of euphoria about this book. They so rarely get validation in this culture. They are sick of being made to feel guilty for helping support their families.

Q. Do you think some women choose to stay home because they didn't find the right career?
A. When I interviewed women who love what they do, they usually found ways to persevere. I worry that we are not raising girls to understand they they have to take responsibility for themselves. They still think a prince is coming to take care of them. Marriage represents a segment of adult life. By the time women are 60, two-thirds already don't have partner and many will live until their 90s. We have to raise girls to understand it is crucial to find something they love to do because they will have to stick with it a long time and support themselves.

To read my full review of The Feminine Mistake, go to MiamiHerald.com.

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