On Wednesday, Oct. 3, Leslie Bennetts, a long-time journalist previously with The New York Times and current contributing editor of Vanity Fair, gave a presentation on her book The Feminine Mistake: Are We Giving Up Too Much?
Bennetts used interviews with hundreds of women to demonstrate the danger of giving up a career in exchange for family life. She asserted that women should be very cautious about leaving the workforce to care for children full-time. She also made the case that relying on husbands for financial security is risky and that returning to a professional occupation after years off is often unsuccessful.
Bennetts explained how women today are going back to the "feminine mystique" of the 1950s. She stated that lately women of every socioeconomic level are going back to the "stay-at-home-life," and though two-thirds of these women say they want to go back to work when their children are older, the obstacles to returning are daunting. Ageism and sexism are not the only issues that face women returning to the workforce. One of the most striking hidden issues Bennetts calls "the mommy factor" is also an obstacle that women face, as the working world finds them "out of date, out of touch and undesirable," she said.
Her process in writing The Feminine Mistake included gathering financial, legal, sociological, psychological, medical, labor-force, child-rearing and other information in order for women to educate themselves about the ramifications of leaving the workforce. Bennetts explained that she was surprised to find that many women who participated in her studies hadn't even considered the problems that might arise when they gave up their careers. "Over time, most stay-at-home wives are likely to face major hardships as a result of divorce, widowhood, a spouse's unemployment or illness, or any number of other challenges," Bennetts said.
Bennetts asserted that it is a shame that American women would voluntarily give up their right to work when so many women around the world fight for that same right. Bennetts referred to the "15-year paradigm" as the time that parents will spend to raise their children. She asked whether it is worth it for a woman to give up decades of her life in order to care for her children for a considerably short time. "When the kids grow up, the futures of working mothers are usually brighter than those of the homemakers, who often find themselves financially stranded of viable opportunities for employment," she commented.
She spoke about how this "mistake" that women today are making has become a cultural problem. Bennetts closed by stating that social change only happens when people force it to happen. She quoted American philosopher George Santayana in her closing: "those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it."
Following the lecture and reception in the Union Ballroom, a panel discussion was held at the Union Fireside Lounge led by distinguished teaching professor of psychology Margaret Matlin, associate professor of English Rachel Hall, associate professor of sociology Denise Scott, and a vice president of Compliance at a major corporation, Ann Lewis, who is included in Bennetts' book.
The program was an all-college event and part of the theme series on "Finding One's Place in the Community: Making a Difference." The lecture was sponsored by the President's Office, Provost's Office, Women's Studies, Klainer Center for Women in Business, and the Womyn's Action Coalition.