Thursday, March 29, 2007

"The Feminine Mistake," part 2

I wrote about Leslie Bennetts' book The Feminine Mistake earlier this week, when I was halfway through it. After finishing the book I am definitely less positive, largely because her chapter called "Backward Progress" unfairly slagged Gen X women. One interviewee sums up the Boomer perspective when she says, "Where are the leaders, not to mention the troops? These young women could be the cutting edge, but what they're doing right now is sort of like being a blunt knife and complaining. Maybe they're too comfortable."

That condescending, uninformed attitude permeates the chapter, and to a large extent the whole book. I am more sensititve to the generational button-pushing than the stay-at-home Mom button-pushing.

Still, we shouldn't be afraid to read things we don't agree with. A magazine publisher recently passed on the advice that "You don't own an idea until you've written about it." I encourage you to read The Feminine Mistake, write out your response and then submit it as an review, posting on your own blog, or comment here.

I submitted my full review to Amazon almost 2 days ago and they haven't put it up yet, which is puzzling and frustrating.

Here's the part of my review that I added after finishing the second half of the book:

In later chapters Bennetts' negativity and strong point of view ultimately start to collapse under their own gravity. Her insistence on caricaturing stay-at-home Moms as lazy, dependent idiots is just not fair. I can say from extensive experience that the vast majority of stay-at-home Moms are intelligent, dedicated women who do have lives of their own. The choice to take time away from a paid career has its financial vulnerabilities but it does not mean that mothers are not living worthy lives, by any means. Being a stay-at-home Mom is also not a one-way street, as many women's lives are fluid and changing, including ongoing employment. There is still far too much of an "us versus them" mentality reinforced by this book. Women move back and forth between "camps" and they don't suddenly become stupid because they are not employed.

My second major criticism is that Bennetts oversells the strength of her supporters' arguments and undervalues other viewpoints. This was especially true with the voices of Boomer critics who think that younger Gen X mothers are wasting their lives. I could barely make it through her "Backward Progress" chapter because of this biased coverage that gave short shrift to the new motherhood movement and third-wave feminism. Her research needed to be a lot stronger and deeper. She touched lightly on the work of some Gen Xers whom she could have quoted more extensively to present a more balanced picture. I live in the world of Gen X women who are reinventing motherhood, career and activism. It is happening!

Finally, Bennetts missed a golden opportunity to present resources to help women get back into the workforce. Her book is well-referenced but lacks an appendix of resources. Bennetts' topic and point of view should definitely be followed up with next steps for women who are swayed by her argument. I would encourage her to expand her website to make up for this oversight.

In the final analysis I am giving "The Feminine Mistake" 3 stars, but it is an oversimplification to reduce it to such a rating. All mothers should definitely read "The Feminine Mistake," but be sure to make it part of a "balanced diet" that includes more optimistic works. Read a variety of books and don't just judge which author is right; decide what you think for yourself.


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