Race, Class, Gender, Sexuality

Leslie Bennetts – Betty Friedan for a new generation

Two books that changed my life were recommended to me by a good friend during senior year of high school. One was The Autobiography of Malcolm X, and the other was The Feminine Mystique. Recently, I picked up Leslie Bennetts’ The Feminine Mistake from the library, and I think it’s a life-changing book that everyone—both male and female—should read. It’s kind of an unofficial sequel to Friedan’s groundbreaking book of a similar name.

Yes, Bennetts is a self-proclaimed feminist. But she doesn’t spend most of her energy on ideological battles (she does shove a few into the last chapter of the book, which may anger some conservatives). She looks at working while having children from a pragmatic point of view. Her main point is that women who decide to quit their jobs for full-time motherhood are putting themselves (and their children) at economic risk, because they can’t anticipate the likelihood that their husbands will leave them, suddenly lose their jobs, or become extremely disabled or dead. Coupling those unfortunate possible future circumstances with the unlikelihood that someone 15 years out of the workforce will be able to find a job on par with the one she left makes it a no-brainer that simply for economic reasons, women should keep their jobs while having kids, or at least not leave the workforce for too long.

Added to that, Bennetts notes that the burden of being the sole breadwinner also adversely affects men and traps them in jobs they may not like or feel fulfilled in. More importantly, she debunks the idea that women have to “have it all” or “be perfect.” You don’t have to put 110% attention into your job and 110% attention into your children. Both men and women have various aspects of their life that need to have attention paid to—personal relationships, hobbies, achievement, community involvement, etc. And sharing work, children, and household chores ends up benefitting the whole family.

Even though Bennetts does repeat herself a lot, the book doesn’t feel as repetitive as some other one-idea books, mainly because Bennetts (who is a journalist by trade) goes so in-depth into her topic (using the full breadth of sociological studies, books, magazine articles, interviews, and personal anecdotes to flesh out her point).