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Earning Power!: The mistake of The Feminine Mistake

Monday, May 14, 2007

The mistake of The Feminine Mistake

“Women who choose to be full-time mothers deserve a better hearing,” said Rebecca Mead of the New Yorker when reviewing Leslie Bennetts’ book The Feminine Mistake. The question is if dropping out of work to stay at home with kids is a terrible risk to women as the book suggests, or a wonderful reward.

Bennetts’ book is filled with accurate facts and is actually quite good. But the mistake of The Feminine Mistake is that it is clearly blaming men’s issues on women. In other words, the book is actually a great lesson for men couched in criticizing the victims and survivors of male financial neglect, abuse and coercion due to financial dependency.

The author’s inherent assumption is that the overall strategy of women needs to include giving up on men because men are inherently unreliable in caring for their wife or family. Husbands have a tendency to leave, die, lose jobs, have affairs, and generally behave with financial capriciousness that leaves women and their children destitute.

It’s arguable that having a husband is actually one of the best ways for a woman to have the assurance of financial stability not only during retirement, but also while staying home to raise kids. But assuming that Bennetts’ premise is correct, why blame women? A better focus is toward making men understand why and how their behavior is the biggest indicator of wives and mothers becoming financially empowered or financially destroyed. Husbands have a huge financial impact.

In a 2004 AARP article, researchers discovered that about two thirds of divorce by women over age 40 was a result of women leaving some sort of abuse. Their husbands’ behavior included non-consentual affairs or sexual abuse, alcohol and substance abuse, mental, emotional and financial abuse.

Bennetts dwells on stories of financial coercion or women by abusive men. This is a men’s anger and control issue. Financials must be consensual, equal or not. I usually make it a rule not to comment on what may go on in other peoples’ bedrooms, but if your wife is essentially a financial slave or an indentured servant, your married life is probably not working well. A man’s roles might include breadwinner, companion and lover, father, and spiritual protector. If a man fails by disempowering or infantilizing his partner through flexing his economic power, he does it to the detriment of all, including his children and ultimately himself.

Maybe prince charming isn’t coming, or maybe if he arrives he changes after his wife becomes pregnant and is no longer viewed as a respected peer. Even a woman who is a model of self-reliance before marriage may struggle with dependency during pregnancy or after having kids. It is not a woman’s choice to be financially abused or coerced,

Shirley P. Glass, Ph.D says, “Among the 350 couples I have treated, approximately 62 percent of unfaithful men met their affair partners at work.” Today’s workplace has become the new danger zone of romantic attraction and opportunity, with the biggest threat coming from women who are willing to damage other women by having affairs with breadwinning husbands. “The significant news about these new affairs-- and what is different from the affairs of previous generations--is that they originate as peer relationships. People who truly are initially just friends or just friendly colleagues slowly move onto the slippery slope of infidelity,” says Glass. Even a woman who is a model of self-reliance before marriage may struggle in competition with other women during pregnancy or after having kids.

A married man must be accountable for maintaining his own boundaries against the temptation of betraying his wife and family, the stay-at-home mom can’t be responsible for managing his boundaries for him. The Feminine Mistake would have you believe that wives are naïve or foolish, and perhaps they are hoping for fidelity. In reality they should be able to trust their husband when he made a commitment.

A woman’s choice to work or not can’t stop a lousy partner. A balance of power issue, such as a man drawing entitlement from the principle that “the earner gets the final say,” may be masked or truly alleviated by a woman who earns her own income. But the underlying problem is controlling men who chose not to defend, protect and empower women. Using male privilege, abandonment, intimidation or threats are forms of non-physical violence against women. We need to educate men toward shared responsibility, economic partnership, trust, support, negotiation and fairness, honesty and responsible parenting that begins with respecting the mother whether she makes income or not.

When a husband is divided against his wife they can’t stand. Similarly a woman should be able to trust her husband to financially do what is in her best interest not his own, his friends or his mistress. A couple should be transparent about protecting her and the kids in case of loss of job, health, or life. When done right, marriage is a great proposition for both genders.


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