Today’s Women Aren’t Mistaken; They’re Making a New Way

This post originally ran on August 19, 2011. I’m re-running it today because it introduces the themes of Work Shift so well. Launch day is Thursday, September 13! Stay tuned for details. 

I’ve just finished reading Leslie Bennets’s 2007 book The Feminine Mistake.  (The title riffs Betty Friedan’s landmark work The Feminine Mystique.)

The eponymous “mistake” Bennets refers to is women leaving the workforce to stay home with their kids.  Bennets argues that to be fulfilled and financially secure, women need to stay in the workforce full-time and resist the pull of the babies at home. Women have come a long way–we have so many more options than we did fifty years ago–and it would be a crying shame, she says, to throw it away by abandoning our careers and heading back home.  We’ll be happier if we stay, and the odds are good that leaving our jobs could mean financial ruin down the road.

Besides, Bennets argues, stay-at-home mothering is for losers.  (I paraphrase.)

“Is it asking too much,” asks Bennetts, a baby boomer, “that the generations coming along behind us should contribute to further progress instead of setting it back?”

But she’s wrong:  we’re seeing that progress.  It just doesn’t look anything like what Bennets expected it to.

The generations following Bennets’s just don’t share her values.  My generation doesn’t just want a job at the office; we want to choose how work and family blend together.  And more and more, we’re getting those choices.

Mothers can choose to work, or choose to stay home.  Staying home is increasingly viable and valuable–especially in the emerging new economies, which make all kinds of income-producing work possible from home–anything from telecommuting for Procter & Gamble to selling headbands on etsy.  Many women employed outside the home are deliberately choosing fields that are flexible (like my part-time position) so that our family lives will run more smoothly.  And we’re marrying men who aren’t married to their jobs.

Bennets says to women:  the workplace is rough on family life, but you’ll be happier in the long run if you tough it out. And if your husband dies, or leaves you (because she says the odds are fifty-fifty he will), you’ll have a solid income.

But my generation says:  that’s not a trade I’m willing to make. Bennets says the woman who leaves the workforce for home is a fool.  My generation isn’t buying it.  And better yet, we’re blurring the lines between her opposing choices.  (For example, I know many of my readers are devoted stay-at-home moms–and bloggers.  But what’s a blogger, but a person who is pursuing a passion online, perhaps for income, and building a writing portfolio to boot?  That’s halfway to Bennets’s definition of “work.”)

How is it backwards to forge a new path, to make the workplace itself family-friendly instead of conforming ourselves to what Bennets acknowledges to be its brokenness?  We’re making a new way. It’s not just women who value flexibility and family time–more and more, these things are important to men, too.  And it’s reflected in the increasingly family-friendly workplace.  Maybe not if you’re an investment banker or NYC law partner, but change is happening.

How are you seeing these issues play out in your own life?  Do you feel like you have options?  Is that a good thing for you?  Or do you think Bennets is right?  Post to comments.

 

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Comments

  1. Linda says

    I’m glad I live now. When I watched the movie Becoming Jane, it was really brought home to me how dependent women were on men for their very existence. It is a blessing to live in a time that my daughters don’t have to be married to be able to eat and live indoors. It is also a blessing that if God brings a husband into their life, they can choose to stay home to be a blessing to their husband and to any children they may have. It’s unfortunate that Ms. Bennets doesn’t see the gifts we have today.

  2. Amber @ neuronmommy.com says

    I have never enjoyed these types of one-sided, opinionated books. I grew up hearing my Mom say over and over that she wished she hadn’t worked so much and was home more with us. Before she knew it, we were all grown and out of the house. I do think women have come a long way. And if you love your career and can find the balance, go for it. But to undermine and trivialize the importance of your presence in your kids (and husbands) life is just ridiculous. Why have kids if you aren’t going to put them above your career? On the flip side, I do think working women have contributed so much to the progression in our society. BUT, as you brilliantly stated, our generation is now demanding, if you will, that our careers conform to our needs. And with advancements in technology, the traditional career is changing every day and I am so happy to be a part of that!

    • says

      Amber you make such a good point about how quickly the hands-on child-rearing years go by (although it doesn’t usually feel that way in the thick of it!) Ms. Bennets worries about what will be lost if moms of this generation give in to the pull to stay home, but I grieve for what has been lost by her generation and the one before who so willingly left home and refused to pass on valuable knowledge about how to make and keep a home (not just housework — the whole spectrum of what that means) competently. One of the biggest challenges I see among my younger mom friends who want to stay home with their children is that they don’t really know what it looks like to be an excellent career homemaker. I have been writing about that lately. Here is the link to my Cerebral Homemaking series:
      http://www.inmykitcheninmylife.com/category/cerebral-homemaking/
      Perhaps some of you will find something of value there. I appreciate this good article AND the thoughtful comments about this topic.

  3. says

    While I agree with the push for equal pay for equal work, I don’t appreciate the push for all women to work outside the home full time or she’s wasting her life. I had a career, I had a really good career for 13 years, I loved what I did.
    However, I am now a stay-at-home mom and while that didn’t come about quite as I had envisioned http://wp.me/p1sSea-5 (my first blog post), I’m very happy with it now.
    I recently had an opportunity to go back to my career and this time it was my choice to stay home and not take the opportunity. Given my field of work, that was my last chance, saying no meant permanently closing that chapter in my life.
    That was hard, but once I made the decision I was at perfect peace.
    I support a woman’s choice to have a career, I pray for those who can not exercise a choice and are forced into a role, I know many who work 2-3 part time jobs to make ends meet. I just wish we could all respect each other no matter what we choose.

    • Anne says

      Kara, I just visited your blog and read your story, and I’m so glad that though things aren’t as you envisioned, that the way it’s turning out is satisfying to you. And you are so right about respecting other women’s choices.

  4. DFrazzled says

    I agree with you, Anne, that a change is happening, and I think it’s something that’s been wanted for a long time but now technology makes this transition between work and home possible. Keep in mind, we haven’t had wide-spread use of smart phones and tablets or mobile Wi-Fi hotspots for very long, which work together allowing us to tele-commute from the most remote locations.

    I would be interested to see if Ms. Bennetts still believes what she published in 2007 or if she, too, enjoys an occasional day working out of the office.

    I think the new challenge for this tech-savvy generation will be the ability to un-plug and relax without needing to read every text, respond to every voicemail immediately. As technology allows the boundaries between work and home to blurr, it will be up to the individual to distinguish a healthy balance of the two.

    • Anne says

      I’ve been wondering too if Bennets would revise anything now, 4 years later. It’s amazing when I stop and consider how much has changed since that time, but I think that if we can have the healthy balance you mention, it really expands the options for workers in general, but especially for women.

  5. says

    My 2 cents?
    I’ve spent the last 15 years solely at home. I’ve used any extra time on a volunteer basis for church and community groups, which is rewarding emotionally and spiritually. It also, at times, consumed hours that took me away from my home and family.
    I toyed with the idea of working from home many times, but when I did the math, it came out to about $2/hour. I can save more than that amount through careful planning and purchasing (thrift stores, baking & cooking from scratch, coupons, etc.) I have a number of friends that do very well working from home, and wouldn’t trade it for the world.
    Now I’m back at 15 hours a week baking bread for a local restaurant in the late evening hours. I make a good hourly wage, do something I love, and make money for some of the one-time extras that are hard on the budget. This is a new restaurant, so I’m acutely aware that I may not have a job in 6 months. We can’t budget my paycheck, and even if we could, we wouldn’t.
    Speaking strictly for our family, whether I’m working volunteer hours, part time, or even full time, my husband & I want my focus and energy being directed into our home, not someone else’s business or organization. When I lose that focus, it’s time to pull back on hours outside the home.

    • Anne says

      Rebecca, that is such an awesome example of a fulfilling side gig that fits with your family life. I’m wishing you and that restaurant well!

  6. says

    I believe that taking time to focus on raising a child/children is one of the greatest things a person can do with his or her life. I don’t think that a career is as important as a child. Of course there are people who need to work, for financial or mental health reasons, but I don’t think that every parent needs to focus on a career at the expense of the family.

    I do think it is important for women, if they do decide to stay home, to stay marketable in some way, whether that is taking classes, or learning skills. Life is uncertain and it is always good to know you could go back to work if it was needed.

    • Anne says

      Bethany, I think you’re right about the need to be continually learning and growing. (Reminds me of Eleanor Roosevelt and her urgings to be interested in the world around you!) And marketability doesn’t hurt, either :)

    • says

      I agree totally Bethany.
      By contrast the tone of some of the other commenters here is so offensive. I hope none of these women find themselves in the position I did several years ago, with 4 kids and a husband divorcing me. No matter how a woman devotes herself to her marriage and kids and home, there are NO guarantees. Adultery, abuse, alcoholism… these are realities.

      Not to mention, for the Christian women (which also is not a guarantee of anything regarding marriage!) think of the ideal woman described in Proverbs 31. She had an income of her own, did real estate transactions, buying and selling, etc.

      Economic dependence is dangerous, period. It’s not just about US as women either, it’s also our kids who are negatively affected by our poverty. Since many men fall behind or don’t pay child support (mine is a year behind right now), this is an important topic!

      • says

        Excellent points, Carrie. There are too many variables in all these families to insist that one size fits all, whether it’s the issue of work or parental roles or whatever.

        Tim

  7. says

    I generally agree with the previous comments and don’t have much to add to preach to the choir! I do find it interesting, though, that women who choose to work outside the home when they don’t have to (very different from someone who has to to make ends meet) really try to belittle what I do. It’s not always the case, but many of them express their ‘superiority’ through small comments and insults. It can really be discouraging…but then there’s the other side of the coin. Like when they say things like, “I can’t wait for Monday, because I can’t handle being with the kids all day.” I’ve heard things like that MANY times. What a pity that you could dread the time with your own children! I’ve also known a great many women who seem incredibly defensive about their decision to work…and I’m not a vocal judgementalist at all. It’s almost as if they themselves are insecure about their purpose because their very emotions and consciences are telling them they are wrong.

    I’d like to finish by saying that I know a great many women who work and love their children and want what is best for them. Those women I do know like that, however, usually wish they could stay home, and I don’t think I’ve ever heard them voice opinions like the author of this book. Your classic feminist shouldn’t have children at all…if your focus is on self-advancement, you have little to no energy left to invest in advancing what is right for your own children. Being a Mom is a process of dying to yourself for the good of your children. I don’t see how that can be done if you are first and foremost prioritizing what is good for yourself.

  8. says

    I think that it is very sad the the feminism movement at least originally emphasized opening up choices to women – choices to work outside the home, to work in traditionally male fields of business and science, etc. but now the choice element seems to be lost. If women choose to stay at home or to work more traditionally female jobs (teacher, nurse, childcare), we are exercising our right to choose our future as well! I want to stay home but I understand that each woman should be able to make her own choice and other women prefer to work outside the home (or have to, but then that is not true choice either). If I don’t judge women who work outside the home for doing so, why do (some) women who work outside the home judge my decision?

  9. says

    We each choose a career or profession. My chosen career is to stay home and raise my children. It is not a paid position, but the benefits rock. Wet slobbery kisses, hugs of gratitude, seeing my children grow, seeing my efforts grow as my children learn to read, ride bikes, be kind to others, and mature in so many ways that I can’t list all them here. It is hard to know that others don’t see what I do as a profession, but then in the end (or the now), I am not responsible to answer to them. I am so glad that I answer to my children, my husband and finally my Lord for the decisions that I make. I may not ever make an income, I will not ever retire with a pension, I may not recieve accolades from the powers that be, but so be it. I am proud of my CHOSEN profession!!!!

    Thanks Anne, for this post.

  10. says

    Looks like I’m among friends and fellow homemakers here. :) It’s SO encouraging to know how many others there are who have a similar mindset to mine!!

    I plan to follow in my mother’s footsteps, Lord willing. She went to college for seven years, worked professionally for two, and then after I was born she became a stay-at-home mom. She homeschooled me and my two siblings, and because of the blessing of my dad’s job, we were able to live on just his income. Was her college education wasted? Nope. She went to school to be a professional church worker, and she kept doing basically the same thing, just as a volunteer- teaching and superintending Sunday school, leading a Mom’s Bible study, singing in the church choir, etc. We were so blessed by the life we had.

    And I am blessed with a husband who wants me to be able to be an at-home mom. I believe my highest callings are wife and homemaker and, someday, mother. Having been married for not quite three months and with a few years left of college, we don’t plan on kids for a while yet, but when the Lord sees fit to bless us with children I hope to stay home with them. I’d like to write professionally, which I could do from home.

    I know that as long as we are living our lives in obedience to God and to his glory, he will provide for all our needs and will enable us to continue living to glorify him.

  11. Katie says

    We are expecting our first child in a couple months. I have always wanted to stay home with my children like my mom did with me and my siblings. My husband was not fully on board until after we got married and I worked in a daycare for a while. After me seeing and him hearing what went on there (along with some other circumstances) he made the decision that I should stay home with our daughter. I am already without a job due to the fact that I was so sick. We also looked at the fact that with what we would spend on daycare I would hardly be bringing any income home due to my options here. I don’t feel deprived about not going to work, I feel like it is my privilege to raise my daughter and not pass her off for someone else to raise. She is the future!

  12. says

    One thing I’ve noticed is the interest in women (and men) choosing to stay home for reasons of sustainability. These are women who had very good jobs but started raising chickens and veggies and found much fulfillment in doing so. The pressure for women to work comes partly from those concerned with economics. We are a consumerist country and more workers means more spenders.

    • Katie says

      Josee, I think so very much about this these days.

      As much as we laud Mary Kay (well, I don’t personally), making jewelry and all things etsy, and telecommuting, what are the secure jobs? The ones whose needs are never going to go “out.” Growing food will always, ALWAYS be needed.

      It blows my mind how we have an economy that supports so many office people and other professionals and salespeople and so on–on so FEW laborers. Or perhaps it seems that way. Perhaps much of the work is being done by immigrants we don’t see…

      Not everyone gets a “cushy” job. The economy doesn’t work that way. Life doesn’t work that way. And those who farm seem to find it incredibly fulfilling. Difficult, yes, but when was the last time we knew of a farmer that said “I don’t want to do this anymore; I’m selling my farm?”–as a personal choice.

  13. says

    I think it’s important that those of us who choose to stay home with our children not disparage those who choose to work. There are a lot of families in which both parents work out of choice, and both parents are well-connected to their children. Choosing not to work doesn’t always equal parenting well – or at all (remember The Nanny Diaries?).

    For myself, I have had at least a part-time job since I was 15 years old. I worked full-time for ten years in the non-profit sector (both children’s services and church work). Then my husband got a job that pays well enough that I don’t have to work at all, so I finally got to change my career. Now I am pursuing a writing career, and doing freelance editing (and the occasional temp gig) to bring in a bit of extra cash. We don’t have any children yet, but we do hope to have some soon. And I will be a stay-at-home-mom by choice.

  14. says

    I sense bitterness.

    Perhaps Ms.Bennets was a little girl who did not get to experience the rich comfort of a mother who cherished her to the point of self-sacrifice.

    Perhaps Ms.Bennets mother was not available to meet her emotional needs in a timely fashion.

    Or worse – it could be that Ms. Bennets mother was a SAHM who complained about it incessantly!

    It’s clear she is bitter against men.

    Books written by such people are so draining!

  15. Laura says

    I’ve been home now for 18 years. I don’t regret one moment of it.
    I did however, have a conversation with my 2 oldest children the other night that disturbed me. They are 18 and 16 year old boys.
    I was asking them to do more around the house. Just the usual, pick up after yourself, put dishes in the sink, make your bed kind of “do more’.
    They went on to say that if I “worked” then they would feel compelled to do more. But since I’m “just home”.. they figure it’s the least I can do. (I’m paraphrasing).
    I felt very sad after that conversation. I mean.. I didn’t stay home to be noble or anything like that… I just wanted to be the woman that raised my own kids. I wanted to be here for them when they were sick. To be able to volunteer at their school etc.
    I hope that someday, they will feel badly about this conversation. That they realize that I stayed home for them, for our family life. Not because I wanted to lay around all day. :(

    I can’t stand women like Ms. Bennet. Blah.

    ((Hugs))
    Laura

    • says

      I gave my mom such grief for “not working” when I was growing up! I suspect your kids will go on to regret what they said, as I do. And now all these years later, I’m a SAHM–because I can look back and see how great it was that my mom was there when I got home from school every day. Take heart, your kids will catch on eventually!!!

  16. Claire says

    I think Ms. Bennets is very misguided. When my son was a baby I had no choice but to work fulltime outside the home (my husband worked part-time and cared for my son when I was at work). I will never get over the pain of having to be away from my three-month old baby 40+ hours/week. I now work 15 hours/week outside the home (in the evenings when my husband is home to watch our son), and have no plans to go back fulltime even when my son starts school. My choice to stay home has meant huge sacrifices. My husband earns 1/3 of my earning potential, so living off his salary means living in a small house and skipping lots of extras. But the trade-off is so worth it. Someone on another forum put it well: it’s not so much a question of whether to work fulltime, part-time, outside the home, from home, etc, it’s a question of making your children your first priority when deciding which arrangement will work best for your family. The fact that Ms. Bennets is encouraging women to do something despite acknowledging that it’s tough on family life, shows that the interest of the family is not her highest priority. And that is really sad.

    Furthermore, for women like her who don’t think staying home to raise kids is a valid option, how does she justify daycare? It’s okay for women to be employed caring for other people’s children, but not okay for them to stay home to take care of their own? I don’t get it.

  17. says

    So Bennets says that SAHMs set back women’s progress, I say her book sets back women’s progress. Because feminism is about CHOICE. That women should be able to choose to work or to stay at home (or some combination of both, hooray) and so should men.

    I also think it’s all very silly. Most of my fellow SAHMs and I will at some point be working moms, when our kids are in school full time (unless we have a large number of kids and/or homeschool), so I don’t see a big distinction between SAHMs and working moms.

    Does staying at home for a few years set back my career path? Often that is the case–and that is where SOCIETY needs to change, not women’s choices. The workforce needs to acknowledge that those of us who’ve been childrearing full time have plenty of skills to bring to the table when we go back to work (we have not been sitting on the couch eating bon bons).

    Yeah, I think Bennets sets back the movement more than women choosing to stay at home. :-(

  18. says

    I have to say that staying home with my kids has not been what I wanted. Before kids I was an English professor at large university where I loved teaching and researching. BUT the Lord changed my heart and helped me to see the blessing of staying home and teaching my children, and, because of that, my daughters know the Bible and how to love others and countless things that I have taught them that they could never have learned in a daycare. Do we want our children to be a product of society? Or do we want to influence who they will become?

    Love this post and need to read that book.

  19. says

    Maybe the reason the her 50% of men die or leave is because they have worked themselves to death, or because they don’t have anyone at home to take care of or take care of them! My husband and I are in this life together. No, it is not easy, but we HAVE to rely on each other to make and therefore we are closer than most. Our lives are no longer going in different directions and it has made a world of difference.

  20. says

    I come from the perspective of a woman who stopped working outside the home 5 days before her oldest child was born and never went back, the classic stay at home, homeschooling Mom. I am also divorced and since remarried. Together we have 7 children (one bun is still in the oven). So my perspective may be different than some here, who have never had to deal with the pain of adulteries, abuse, and divorce.

    Women who haven’t dealt with these and other issues (widowhood, their man becoming disabled or unemployed) have a different perspective and it’s SO EASY to be judgmental. I do not judge women who stay employed after having babies because the reality is (even though I didn’t choose that path) that women WILL be reliant on themselves at some point in their lives. And I might add that if you have children, you had better be prepared to support them financially at some point. There is no guarantee that your husbands will always be able to take care of this, and it’s irresponsible and a denial of reality to assume so.

    And I’ve actually heard Leslie Bennetts speak. She came across to me as a sweet, matronly kind of woman, not a hard hitting, ball busting feminazi that some of the comments seem to assume. http://carrielauth.com/blog/work-at-home-moms-arent-making-the-feminine-mistake/

    Because of my life experiences (and that of my sweet husband who was also the innocent mate in an affair situation that led to divorce) I try not to judge.

    Here’s another thought. It is not safe to assume that a woman who works outside the home doesn’t spend a lot of time with her kids. Perhaps she spends more focused time with than than a distracted stay at home mom. Perhaps not. But some time studies have shown that SAHMS don’t spend as much time with their kids (literally minutes a day interacting) as people commonly think.

    I do wish that Leslie B had given more space in the book to flexible work arrangements and work at home moms.

    • Anne says

      Carrie, I’ve just finished re-reading Laura Vanderkam’s 168 Hours, in which she cites the numbers for just how many minutes stay-at-home moms and working moms each spend with their kids, on average, each day. (And you’re right.)

      Thanks for linking up that great article. I agree, I wish that Bennets have talked more in her book about flexible work arrangements and work at home moms. The opportunities for mingling creative, meaningful work with family these days are numerous–but I can recall only one strong example from her book.

  21. says

    Hmm. One of these topics – choose a topic, choose a side! Ding ding! Round 2! It’s like bottle feeding vs breast…hospital birth vs home…We all have a huge soap box that requires a ladder to make our point.

    I tend to “side” with the SAHM, but I think Carrie up there makes a wonderful point. My sister will be going through this promptly, and my heart aches for her. This isn’t what she “signed” up for when she got married and had three babies.

    Though I’m still happily married, I’ve had several part time – full time jobs over the years, in spite of still identifying with the SAHMs and homeschooling them. I’ve been a medical transcriptionist (shudder! That was short lived), a barista, even a full time Group Home (orphanage) Mom to seven inner city teenage boys, who lived with us. Now, I’m writing from home for magazines, wrote my first book, and teach 10 ballet classes a week – plus Nutcracker rehearsals. All while homeschooling, and yes, baking the occasional loaf of homemade bread.

    Since my eldest is seventh grade now, she’s “employed” as my nanny of sorts. Otherwise, I’d really be pulling my hair out. When they were small, and I had to do something to bring in some dough, it was extremely stressful. I couldn’t afford sitters and didn’t want to take advantage of family members. But we couldn’t afford enough groceries. What’s a modern girl to do?

    Such a polarizing topic! Both sides of the debate can get snotty (not here. I mean, in real life!) The working women can look down their polished noses at the SAHMs who have boogers in their hair, and the SAHMs can sniff self righteously and offer to pray for the working women (reminding me of the man praying in the bible, “thank you God that I am not like HER…”)

    Stuck somewhere in the middle, though my heart resides with SAHMs first, a loving balance (not to be confused with Having It All!) is key. I’ve been at home full time and still managed to neglect my kids. I’ve worked too much and spent better quality time with them. In a perfect world…well, I’ll never know. :)

  22. says

    First: THANK YOU for writing this! It came at the perfect time for me.

    Second: I’ve always believed the entire point of the feminist movement is to give women a CHOICE. And there is no choice that is right for 100% of women.

  23. says

    Anne, the book you’ve described appears to be an effort to put women into a box, only this time the box is promoted by a feminist. “Go to work, don’t stay home.” As if there is a one-size-fits-all that can be applied to women any better than it can be applied to men. Ha!

    Good job getting this converation going here, Anne.

    Tim

    P.S. Clicking on my name above leads to a new and wonderful place on the web. Or at least it leads to my new blog.

  24. says

    Anne, thanks so much for posting this again. I see this “new feminism” happening in my own life and in so many others around me. My parents have always seen it as, you either work or your at home with the kids there is no in between. I just couldn’t accept that reality. I wanted to help my family out financially, but I also want to be there for me daughter and any future children. (and my household runs so much smoother when I am not gone all day long). Now I am in a path to make that happen. I decided to go to grad school for occupational therapy. Since it is a female dominated field, part time work is often the norm. I am fairly close to graduating and am so excited to make this “new feminism” dream a reality. The women in my program mostly feel similar. Everyone always talks about how they can’t wait to get out of school, have babies and work part time. It’s such a beautiful thing that this new work environment is emerging and I feel so fortunate to be living in a time when this becoming possible.

  25. says

    I couldn’t agree with you more, Anne! We are foraging our own way, which leads to more independence/freedom/whatever-you-want-to-call-it than women have ever had before! We don’t have to stay home and take care of the babies as women were expected to do in the past. But we also don’t have to be bogged down by demanding jobs that force us to put family lower on the totem pole of our priorities! We want the best of both worlds and, where that was an impossibility of the past, we are slowly but surely creating ways to make that happen. So exciting! :)

  26. Jennifer H says

    Kind of like how “pro-choicers” really don’t want unmarried women to choose to raise their baby or give it up for adoption – they really just want women to choose abortion.

    Although I can see how women who fought for the right to have careers would see a different choice as setting them back.

  27. says

    The caution I would say with all this is that while it’s important to create new ways to work, there’s also an element of taking work seriously — and that I think is what Bennets is getting at. Your new way to work also needs to still ensure you have the earning capacity to support your family at a reasonable standard of living if required.

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