EXCERPT: 'The Feminine Mistake'

Is it a mistake for mothers to stay home with their children?

Leslie Bennetts, the author of the provocative best-seller "The Feminine Mistake," said on "GMA NOW" that working moms make better moms.

Below is an excerpt of her book, which hits stores in a new paperback version March 4, 2008.

Prologue

My grandmother made the world's best rhubarb pies and sewed extraordinary silk garments with exquisite craftsmanship worthy of a French couturier. Raised to devote her all to marriage and family, she worshipped her talented husband, doted on her children, and baked homemade bread whose enticing aroma drew everyone to the kitchen. Although she lived for nearly eighty years, she never worked outside the home or held a paying job.

Such latter-day paragons of traditional femininity often make people nostalgic for bygone times, but even then, the truth was frequently a lot darker than the champions of conventional gender roles like to admit. Although my grandmother's life adhered faithfully to the old-fashioned stereotypes so often held up as a modern ideal, the result was a disaster, not only for her but also for her children and relatives.

In 1932, when my mother was nine years old, her father left the family for his mistress, a stylish black-haired beauty unencumbered by the mundane burdens of domesticity. For my grandmother, who came from a well-to-do family, the emotional devastation of losing her husband was exacerbated by the dizzying plunge into poverty that accompanied it. My grandfather was an architect who had done pioneering work with men like Philip Johnson and R. Buckminster Fuller, but employment was hard to come by during the worst years of the Depression, and he soon defaulted on his financial obligations to his wife and children.

Left with no means of support, my grandmother considered getting a job, but her straitlaced sisters pressured her not to do so. Firmly in thrall to the Victorian concept of "separate spheres" that divided the world according to gender, they believed that men should be the breadwinners and that women—or at least ladies—should not work outside the home. If my grandmother began supporting herself, her sisters warned, that would absolve her husband of his familial responsibilities, and then he would never return to his wife and children. Best to wait until he got tired of "that trollop," as my grandmother and her sisters referred to the Other Woman (who may have been an adulteress but was also a hardworking schoolteacher with considerably more modern ideas about women's place in the world).

The loss of her husband left my grandmother virtually paralyzed with grief; according to family lore, she simply went to bed for two years. My mother's older brother was soon out of the house, so my mother was left on her own to care for my deeply depressed grandmother. In addition to the emotional toll that entailed, the rest of my mother's childhood was blighted by one financial crisis after another as she and my grandmother were evicted from a series of increasingly shabby apartments, unable to keep up with the rent.

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