EXCERPT: 'The Feminine Mistake'

But in striving to become a fully mature, fully realized human being, there is no substitute for taking complete responsibility for your own life. In making such a statement, I want also to make it clear that this book is not intended as a contribution to the Mommy Wars, an overdone subject most mothers got sick of a long time ago. I am not criticizing stay-at-home moms for placing the needs of their children ahead of other considerations; I did so myself, and I personally think every member of our society should give top priority to the care and education of our children. Nor am I disparaging the domestic arts; far be it from me to underestimate the satisfactions to be found in practicing such skills or to devalue the solace that one can provide a family with a good meal and a comfortable, well-ordered home. I have the utmost respect for the art of homemaking, in which I am an enthusiastic participant. I love to cook; I spend inordinate amounts of time arranging flowers and tending my plants; I am utterly absorbed by such tasks as the selection of sheets and towels, not to mention the ever-engrossing comparison of different paint colors and wallpaper. I would rather plan dinner than work any day.

I would also like to stress that this is not a book about the virtues or failings of feminism. It does, however, constitute a sharp rebuttal to those foes of feminism who—whether through ignorance, negligence, or deliberate, politically motivated dishonesty—encourage women to adopt a high-risk lifestyle that no longer serves their best interests, if indeed it ever did.

What I want to do is sound a warning to women who forgo income-producing work in favor of a domestic role predicated on economic dependency. My first goal is to document the long-term dangers of that choice in hopes of persuading these women to reevaluate its costs. My second goal is to reaffirm the immense value of income-producing work that gives women financial autonomy along with innumerable other rewards. In the endless acrimony of the culture wars, those key factors seem to have been largely overlooked, at least in the media and the standard public debate.

But unless they've got their eyes tightly closed so they won't have to see it, most women—certainly those past the early years of adulthood—secretly know the truth. When I finished writing this book, I gave it to a friend to read. A classic suburban soccer mom, she is struggling valiantly to support her children after downscaling her career to stay home, only to find that she couldn't get a decent job when she needed to resume full-time work after her husband ended their marriage and defaulted on his child-support payments.

Her reaction to reading the stories contained in this book was intense. "I just can't believe the way women get screwed," she said bitterly. "I finished your manuscript at the soccer field, where I was watching the game with three other women. Two of us are divorced; our husbands left us for younger women. One is widowed; her husband suddenly dropped dead last year. Only one of the four is still married. Then I went home and ran into my next-door neighbor, who told me her husband just announced that he's in love with someone else and he's moving out. She's a lawyer, but she hasn't worked in eighteen years and has no idea how to get a job. I tell you, it's carnage out here."

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