Note: I’ve been working through my archives here that go back nearly a decade (!?). I found this old post on The Feminine Mistake.
I don’t wish to associate myself with the feminist movement because of what that has become in recent years: anti-male and anti-family.
However, when it began, the feminists wanted equal rights and acknowledgement of the female contribution to society (at the time, that value was mostly produced in the home). I think this issue is just as relevant today as ever, so I’m republishing it today. Being a stay-at-home mom brings economic risk, and women need to be aware of that fact. This post is long, but hopefully worth it. Your comments are most welcome!
When I first heard about The Feminine Mistake and read a review of it, I thought, “Humph.” I hadn’t actually read the book yet but I had some preconceived notions about it. For one, I assumed that it was just another one of those criticisms of stay at home moms. Just another way to undervalue a woman’s contribution to home and family and therefore society at large. So I felt justified in being offended.
Then, I heard a speech by the author of The Feminine Mistake, Leslie Bennetts. She was the keynote speaker at a seminar I attended hosted by MomCorps, an organization that matches moms with corporations who want flexible, part time workers.
Leslie blew me away. She’s a soft, matronly blonde woman with bouncy curls and lipstick. I found myself agreeing with much she had to say. She was certainly not the hardnose, finger snapping feminazi I had imagined. I wanted not to like her and her message. I wanted not to like her book.
However, I am living proof that what she says is true.
Leslie made it very clear several times during her speech that she feels that parents should put their kid’s emotional well being first. She insisted that she places a high value on domesticity. She cooks a hot meal for her family every night. She loves gardening and decorating.
What is the Feminine Mistake?
Bennetts states that her book is not about disrespecting a woman’s choice to stay home with her children. Her book and message are not a condemnation of stay at home mothers. It’s a matter of being honest and open about the risks and dangers of what she calls “Economic Dependency”. She claims that women are only getting half the story – the media focuses on women choosing to “opt out” of the workplace and how they’re deciding that they can’t have it all.
How can a woman make an informed decision about something when she isn’t being told the long term consequences of her decision?
Leslie’s goal is to “…sound a warning to women who forgo income producing work in favor of a domestic role predicated on economic dependency… to document the long-term dangers of that choice … to reaffirm the immense value of income producing work that gives women financial autonomy along with innumerable other rewards.”
Far from being feminist propaganda, as some have stated, I feel that the book takes an honest look at the true state of affairs when it comes to women and money. The numbers just don’t lie. Statistics don’t have an agenda.
- Over 60% of child support cases are in arrears
- The average age of widowhood is 55
- When a couple divorces, the woman’s (and her kid’s) standard of living drops by 30% – while the man’s goes up by 28%.
- Women are twice as likely as men to live below the poverty line in their old age
- Young women living today are likely to live into their 90’s – are we prepared?
- 60% of women aged 60 and up are without a partner.
- When a woman opts out of the workforce for as little as 3 years, she experiences a 40% reduction in income over her lifetime. Ouch!
I have to admit, part of me still feels conflicted about the message of The Feminine Mistake.
But the realist in me knows that it has the ring of truth. I want to believe that a mom is valued for her contribution the family. I want to believe that most men will behave honorably. I want to believe that it (meaning being a stay at home mom dependent on a man for income) works out for most moms… because when it does work, it works beautifully.
But my wishing and wanting doesn’t make it so. My wishing and wanting didn’t make it true for me personally. Life has a way of blowing shotgun holes in our ideals.
Which got me to thinking:
This entire idea of a woman being totally dependent on a man for money is a relatively modern phenomenon.
It’s a Victorian idea, to be precise. It’s not an ancient idea. It’s not a Biblical one. The “capable wife” described at Proverbs 31 is far from weak. This ideal woman had several cottage industries going on and even bought and sold in real estate. Economic dependency? I don’t think so.
We joke about women in developing countries squatting in the rice paddies to deliver a baby then throwing it on her back and going back to work – but guess what? There is truth to it.
Women the world over have to provide financially for their kids. In many of these areas, the men sit around gossiping all day with the tribal elders, squandering their money on alcohol and drugs while siring kids with multiple women.
It’s been this way since the beginning of time. Even as recently as World War II, the idea of a man providing for his wife and kids while the mom stayed home, completely dependent on him alone for income, was a fantasy.
In the Western world women, even a hundred years ago, worked right alongside their husbands in family farms and cottage businesses while also raising children. Their work was vital to the family’s survival. And since men’s work was also around the home, they had a greater hand in childrearing responsibilities. We have the Industrial Revolution to thank for the way the modern workplace, with all of the problems is presents (mostly for women and children), operates.
Here are a few notable quotes from The Feminine Mistake:
“… when media coverage focuses on the financial consequences of staying home, it almost never considers the woman as an individual whose needs may someday diverge from those of her partner…”
“… the partner who leaves the workforce will stop accruing credits toward Social Security benefits … forgo several years’ work experience… and lose pension benefits, as well as the opportunity to contribute to a 401K”
“Marriage is not an equal economic partnership. Women assume nearly all of the economic risk.”
Why am I writing this novella? Partly because the warnings Bennetts sounds in her book have turned into an object lesson in my own life, so this is obviously a topic that I feel strongly about. But also because there is something missing from this book, which I want to share now.
Pursing work at home was a concept completely left out of this book.
Work at home moms. They aren’t making the feminine mistake.
Leslie herself pursued her career as a journalist and writer from home full time. She sprinkled through her book personal stories of women she interviewed who were entrepreneurs or work at home moms. Yet she never once offers work at home as an answer to the problems she is trying to help women avoid.
I have also seen my fair share of moms who lived in poverty while raising their kids because they wouldn’t (or couldn’t?) figure out how to earn some money. Even with all the things they were doing to be frugal, I have seen women live in economically depressed situations who were deeply unhappy with things.
These are the women whose signatures on forums declare them a “proud SAHM”. Yet I can’t help but wonder, how many of these stay at home moms will feel proud if their marriages end (sometimes, despite their wishes)? Will they still feel proud if they are forced to live with family because they aren’t earning enough to be financially independent? What if their ex isn’t paying child support? Or worse, if they must rely on government assistance?
Oh, I know the answer to the former question: They won’t be. Proud, that is. It’s a terrible blow to the self esteem. To be a grown woman and unable to care for yourself financially – either because you’re taking care of your kids full time or are terrified of getting back into the workforce – if you even could do so at anything other than a low paying job – is crushing to the dignity.
And if you don’t think it will happen to you, well everyone feels that way. But let’s not put our heads in the sand. No matter what your religious, political, or social views, the reality is that 85% of women will be completely on their own financially at some point in their lives. Whether it’s divorce, disability of the spouse, downsizing/losing jobs, early widowhood or whatever, them’s the facts, ma’am.
Motherhood is a temp job.
The years of intense, hands on mothering are only a small portion of a woman’s life span. The entire point of parenting is to make oneself obsolete! To invest totally in another person makes one very vulnerable – not just economically but emotionally too.
It’s a terrible burden for a child to feel responsible emotionally for a parent, and afraid to jump out of the nest fearing that mom will fall apart. This is a kind of emotional incest that is harmful to the child’s emotional well being.
It’s more likely that stay at home moms will fall into this trap. Since mothering is all they do, what’s left after the kids have moved on and want their own lives and space? Will they have anything?
Work at home has many benefits for women
A few years ago I wrote an article outlining the reasons why I thought moms should start an online business. It’s still one of the most popular and most downloaded articles I’ve ever written. I list many of the reasons why I believe this that Leslie also outlines in her book.
When a Mom has an online business, she’s got a “something else”.
Something that uses her talents and creativity, something interesting to talk about and do that’s part of the larger outside world. She has something that earns money and provides a financial hedge. Something that she can ramp up in an emergency. Stuff happens. Her husband may become disabled or unemployed. Divorce and untimely death are realities. She can be contributing to a retirement account at the very least. (Note: if I could have done one thing differently in my past, I wish I had started saving for retirement as a young stay-at-home-mom! Nowadays, we have an advantage, as we can start investing for as little as $5 using the Stash app – which I use and love.)
A work at home mom also keeps her skills fresh. Some of the same skills she used in the workplace before the children came, or even new skills she develops that she can leverage when (not if) the time comes. She maintains a professional network which is also very important.
The myth of “I’ll just go back to work once the kids are in school.”
Leslie spends quite a bit of time talking in the book about how women make the false assumption that they can seamlessly ease back into the workforce when they choose to… but this is not based in reality.
Future employers couldn’t care less that a mom had a nutritious, hot dinner on the table every night. That she kept her home spotless and baked organic, sugar free cupcakes for the school fundraiser. It’s irrelevant to a male employer, and to a female, may even be a point of hostility!
What’s more, what if the mom chooses to homeschool? The public school system is so bad in many areas that some families are sending their kids into an academically impoverished war zone if they don’t homeschool. Private school is so expensive that some women work just in order to send their kids to one. Which brings the argument right back around.
To sum up, don’t make the feminine mistake
In my opinion, every mom should be thinking seriously about protecting herself financially for the long term.
That might look a little differently for each woman, and this is where my thoughts diverge from Leslie’s. She seems to prescribe a rather cookie cutter approach. It involves a woman keeping her full time career outside the home aflame after having kids. Not every woman desires this. Solid part-time work seems to be the preference of most women.
The Feminine Mistake covers research findings that conclude that moms who work for pay are happier and healthier. For example, full time stay at home suffer from more depression and health problems including overweight and heart problems.
I think that a lot of stay at home moms are very unhappy and even feel guilt about their choice, whether they’re able to verbalize or even acknowledge it…
Yet, our guts tell us the truth. It feels wrong and scary as an adult to be completely dependent on another financially. It makes us feel like little more than an overgrown child. Someone who must put a hand out for any little bit of money to spend or keep for ourselves.
No matter how wonderful or generous your husband is, there is a dynamic that exists in the mind of both the dependent individual and the giver of support. And is it even fair to expect men to shoulder all the responsibility for the money in the first place? No woman expects her man to shirk parenting responsibilities just because he’s earning a living.
I realize this post may bring up a lot of emotion, and everyone who reads this will feel the way she (or he) does because of what they’ve been through in their lives personally. This is certainly the case with me. Keep that in mind as you comment. And if you haven’t read the book, don’t fall into the trap I did about drawing conclusions about it. Check it out and read it first. It’s nothing if not eye opening.
Leslie Bennetts speaks to Google – this is the speech I heard her give, and the question and answer session at the end is great too.
More posts related to the feminine mistake:
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