On March 24, Vanity Fair contributing editor and former New York Times reporter Leslie Bennetts spoke in The College at Florham’s Orangerie.
The presentation centered around Bennetts’ controversial book, “The Feminine Mistake: Are We Giving Up Too Much?”
Bennetts was invited to FDU by Professor Jennifer Lehr, chair of the communication studies department. Lehr is a fan of Bennetts’ work.
Lehr said she “couldn’t agree more,” with the message in Bennetts’ book, calling it something important, especially for young women.
The idea for “The Feminine Mistake” arose from Bennetts’ frustrations with the mainstream media coverage of women opting out of careers.
Being a woman of power in her field, she questioned a woman’s ability to live the “June Cleaver” life, leaving the workforce to have children, with plans to re-enter once the kids have flown the nest.
However, Bennetts argued that this is not how a woman can get the best of both worlds.
“The slogan over the last 20 to 30 years has been that women can have it all. But women can’t have it all if they don’t make the right choices,” said Bennetts.
“The Feminine Mistake” sends the message that women have the tools and resources to further their education and careers, but often opt out of those tools to become dependent on their spouses.
“Working women are happier and healthier than homemakers,” said Bennetts. “Women drop out of work with the best intentions.”
Bennetts argued that homemakers are more susceptible to poverty. In today’s current economy, a single income may jepoardize the structure of the home.
Men, who face layoffs, put their wives in the position to go back to work, or live in poverty.
“The chickens were coming home to roost in horrible, horrible ways,” Bennetts said.
She noted that women today are facing challenges that the women before them never faced. The male has, historically, been viewed as the breadwinner for the family.
However, women are outliving their husbands, and according to Bennetts, women can expect to outlive their mothers by nearly 13 years.
Bennetts posed the question, what does the wife do if her husband divorces her, falls terminally ill, or dies?
“The Feminine Mistake” discusses what the steps are to ensure that women do not become victims to what Bennetts called “the fault of our culture,” that fault being women’s dependence on men.
Ever since childhood, boys have been given different materials to grow and learn from than girls, Bennetts said. She noted that little girls are given the Disney princess movies, where the strong and devastatingly handsome prince saves a princess’ life and vows to provide and care for her. Thus, girls have been taught to find men who can support them.
Little boys, however, grow up knowing that they will always have to work.
“Girls were raised to find boys, while for boys, their point of existence is not to find a woman. It is to find adventure, experience, and a career,” said Bennetts.
“All these factors persuaded women that it’s a good thing to embrace traditional female roles.”
“The Feminine Mistake,” however, did not come without criticism.
The day Bennetts’ book was released, she appeared on “The Today Show.”
Bennetts said that the anger of “The Today Show” viewers caused the website to crash. Interestingly, though, these viewers hadn’t read the book.
“The people who needed it most didn’t look at it,” Bennetts said.
Viewers criticized everything from Bennetts’ family to her appearance. They even criticized her dog. One viewer commented, “She’s obviously bitter and divorced.”
However, Bennetts currently lives with her husband, a journalist. They have two children.
In a 2007 commentary published in The New York Sun, writer David Blum brought up the point that the people in Bennetts’ life do not reflect the majority of women in America.
Blum wrote that “most women in America aren’t nearly as affluent as Ms. Bennetts or the women she writes about, and don’t have a choice about whether to work or stay at home.”
Regardless of the monetary standing of herself and her friends, or the controversy regarding her book, Bennetts did make clear the difference between a job and a career, and how that separates a woman in the workforce from a woman in her home.
According to Bennetts, the distinction between a job and career is the length of time that can be spent at each.
Motherhood is a job; it is something that comes to an end in less than two decades, she said.
However, a career is something that can be built on for decades.
“A career gives life purpose and gives you something meaningful after the children are grown,” Bennetts said.
“Motherhood is a temp job,” Bennetts said. “You’re done in 15 years. It’s not a full-time job unless you’re going to have 25 children.”
Bennetts is a writer and career woman who is familiar with being loved, feared and hated.
But to all her listeners, regardless of their opinion of her, she offers the same advice.
“Follow your bliss,” she said. “Because you’re going to have to do that, or something else, for a really long time.”