Friday, May 04, 2007

The Femine Mistake

Deja Pseu at Dilettante's Progress: More Big Fat Invalidation discusses Leslie Bennetts's The Feminine Mistake and the tendency of some reviewers to dismiss her thesis on the basis that Bennetts is fat. Now, I have an issue with people's work being dismissed because of how they look, no matter how that is. If someone were to invalidate the work of a blond or someone who is beautiful or a man with long hair or whatever, I would recognize that the critic is shallow. The same with the reasons someone might dismiss my work -- that I'm fat, female, old, and a secular humanist. And yet, what I want to say to you has much less to do with how disgusted I am that a woman's work is dismissed because of her weight, than with the work itself.

When my father died, my mother was 25 and utterly untrained to work, since this happened in 1948. She struggled and struggled and could only get her children back together and under her roof by marrying a man who would support us. Then, she was afraid to stand up to him, knowing that if he were to divorce her she would be back where she had been before, but with one more child to support. I am certain that, if she had not been so terrified of the possible (but, knowing Daddy, improbable) consequences of speaking up when she didn't like his harshness and sarcasm with her children, life would have been much more pleasant in that house. The fact is that Daddy worshiped her. How she didn't know it amazes me, but when I once told her that she was the love of his life, she was astonished.

Anyway, I vowed that I would never let myself get in the position of helplessness, and I never did; if you don't learn from other people's pain, you may have to suffer yourself. It was enough that my mother suffered not being able to take care of her children and that we suffered being separated from her and her fear of it happening again. My children and I never went through that.

Women who are not able to support themselves and their children often say that they can trust their husbands, they know they are married to honorable men. Some of them are wrong, and find themselves sinking into poverty when their husbands turn out not to be so honorable. And even when they are right, no one is so honorable that he can not die while you still need him. To me, it just makes no sense to allow that kind of vulnerability to threaten your children and yourself.


Author Mom with Dogs said...

All so true... As well as being independent, I also work hard to raise an independent daughter--even though I have a wonderful husband and she a wonderful father. As you say, there are no guarantees on how long any of us get to live.

This post helps to further explain your passion for the work you've done with women.

J at said...

I clearly agree that women should not let themselves be helpless, having never been willing to put myself or my child in that position either...but I think the idea that women should never be willing to take the chance of staying home with their children, that daycare is the only way to go, is wrong as well. What I think is a better answer, in a perfect world where we all get to choose how things will be, is to get an education, work at least for a little while, before having children. That way, if you DO divorce or find yourself widowed, you have something to fall back upon.

I haven't read the book, but I've heard that she doesn't think it's safe for women to stay home at all. That, I think, is her mistake.

How odd...I have never heard that she is fat...just arguments about her book. I guess I haven't read enough about it. The idea that she should be dismissed because of it is beyond ridiculous.

Joy Des Jardins said...

Your mother's situation and the way she handled it made you stronger....a person with a deep resolve never to let it happen to you or your children. It's amazing the lessons we learn from our families/parents...even if they don't know it. Your kids benefited beyond words because of the person you became J. The nice thing is....they know it.

Maya's Granny said...

J, I would have a world where every child gets to be at home with Mom or Dad, and I know that when people drop out of the work world they come back several steps behind where they were before -- which is hugely unfair. I don't think Bennetts wants it this way, she is just very realistic.

It is one Penelope Trunk who has written the review Pseu is referring to on her blog.

ShortWoman said...

I have a credit card that I have had since before I even started dating my husband. Every once in a while he asks why I still have it, and I suppose the easy answer is to make it easier to shop for him for Christmas and Birthdays. But his own Mother and Grandmother smacked him down with the real reason: they remember when his uncle divorced, and his aunt was left with no bank account and no credit history. Granted that banking laws are not as patriarchal as they used to be, but it's nice to know that I have a financial identity outside of his. I hope to be a spry but elderly woman before it becomes a critical matter.

I wish more young women would spend just 5 minutes thinking about what they would do if the love of their life were to leave or get hit by a bus. It won't take much longer than that to figure out the important things, and I find that disasters you prepare for rarely happen. Knock on wood, of course ;)