Friday, April 20, 2007

To work or not?

Leslie Bennetts has updated Betty Friedan. In her new book, Feminine Mistake, discussed on the blog "Fearless Voices," Bennetts argues that women should be alert to financial reality and not quit careers just to stay at home with children. As she says on that blog post above,
I wrote The Feminine Mistake: Are We Giving Up Too Much? because the typical reporting on the job-versus-family issue was so biased and incomplete. The media gave lots of coverage to women who quit the labor force to become full-time mothers, but they treated this decision as if it were simply a lifestyle choice. They never seemed to mention the risks of economic dependency -- or the myriad benefits of work. As a result, women were being lulled into a dangerous sense of complacency about relinquishing their financial autonomy. Why wasn't anyone telling the truth about how much they were sacrificing -- or what the consequences could be?
I so agree. Though of course, being raised in the "old days" I heard more about finding a husband than settling on a career. When I changed my undergrad major from math to Art History, people told me this was a bad career move. But when I was a senior and one of my art history professors asked if I were going to grad school, I was astonished. Of course not, I said, then. And little did I know that I would later, and am so glad. The summer before I started college my mother sent me to secretarial school "in case I ever needed a job." But the emphasis on girls in those days was always getting married and not careers. So Bennetts is right on, I think. Nowadays, everyone needs a career, a life calling, and financial independence. That room of one's own and 500 pounds (I wonder what the equivalent would be in dollars now?) a year.

But Bennett says that while she didn't expect everyone to agree, neither was she expecting such a backlash. Says Bennett,
Everyone knows that authors have to be prepared for negative reviews. What I didn't anticipate was an avalanche of blistering attacks by women who hadn't read my book but couldn't wait to condemn it. Their fury says a great deal about the current debate over women's choices -- all of it alarming.
Of course some of the opposition probably also would criticize Friedan. Years after Friedan wrote Feminine Mystique in 1963, I read it and thought that I recognized many of the frustrations my mother must have felt leaving her successful job when she married. All those years taking care of me, she lacked the satisfaction of her own work. Luckily, once I was in school, she went back to work she enjoyed. I have often wondered if this depression and lack of self direction was a factor in her developing Alzheimer's.

Bennetts' says that,
I hope I'm wrong about this. Maybe the stay-at-home moms will devour the information in The Feminine Mistake and debate my findings in their book clubs. Maybe some of them will even reconsider their choices and start making more sensible plans for the future than relying on the blithe assumption that there will always be an obliging husband around to support them. But judging by the opening salvos, I wouldn't bet the whole suburban Colonial on it.
This sounds a bit like Bennetts may be criticized as Friedan was for writing to and about upper middle class women who might even have a Colonial house in suburbia, rather than to poor women who have always had to work.

When I look around at the students here at OSU in our business writing classes, they seem so eager and powerful. I just hope that attitude lasts. And that they always have a house.



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