Though I am in possession of a graduate degree from a prestigious, if not Ivy League university, I found the focus of The Feminine Mistake, by Leslie Bennetts, on a tiny cadre highly educated, elite women who took time off from their careers to raise kids, a bit off putting. Joan Walsh, quoting E.J. Graff, in her review of this book says it better than I could.
Just 8 percent of American working women fit this demographic,(described in the book)" she says, while "only 4 percent of women in their mid- to late 30s with children have advanced degrees and are in a privileged income bracket"
What relevance does that have to the rest of us?
Well,, the basic premise of this book, women who choose to “opt-out” of their careers for a number of years to raise their kids may find it difficult to find a job in the same field, paying the same amount as it would have had they not quit. That’s valid and obvious. In other words, the trajectory of your career will be affected by the choices you make. Well, that’s not exactly a revelation!
Opting out to raise children, taking a job that doesn’t hold promise, moving to a different city, ticking off the wrong boss or majoring in the wrong subject all impact one’s career. In fact, do everything right and still you may not, and probably will not make it to the top.
Face it, the working world is a pyramid. For every 20 associates, interns, assistant mangers, there is only one managing partner, Chief Surgeon or CEO. So, even if these highly educated women had stayed in the workforce, the chances of making it to the top are still limited. And this goes for men as well as women.
That said, if the message of this book is to expect the unexpected and be prepared well, that’s common sense. I tend to believe that the vast majority of women are well aware of divorce statistics and the unfortunate issues that can befall one in life. And, those of us with an optimistic viewpoint tend to assume that they won’t happen. But, in two-income families, as well as in single earner families, lifestyle takes a deep dive in case of divorce, death, chronic joblessness or illness too.
So, the message that should be given to all young men and women is get a skill, get an education, and be prepared. And, I think we, as a society, have that covered.
Telling a sixteen year-old to finish high school prior to having children is one thing. Advising highly educated young women to forgo spending time with their young children on the chance that they will not make it to the top is high-handed and frankly invasive. Getting a good, actually a great education gives you the luxury of being able to do just that!
If, as is often contended, children of working parents fare no worse than those of stay at home parents – which I do tend to believe, then a parent with education and skills to support the family in case of emergency, should have the choice, a personal choice, a lifestyle choice. We make these everyday by where we choose to live, what hobbies we pursue, what vacations we take and what things we buy. Choosing to stay home for some number of years is just one of those choices; not for everyone, but for some.
Many women, me included, forgo the over-scheduling, ignore the hype and get both intellectual and emotional satisfaction from watching our children grow. My education ensures I can always get a job and support myself and my family. Besides the obvious, career enhancing aspect of getting an education, an education gives me choices. I chose to spend time with my son while he is young.
Most women I know, even those with husbands who can clearly afford to support them, work part time once their children start school. This is, I believe, prudent. Perhaps not at a job that would support a family but, half the battle of re-entering the workforce full time is making that first step toward working again.
Perhaps this is the better message. Get a good education so you can stay home for a time if you choose, and then get a part time to job just in case the unthinkable happens. Despite our proclamations prior to having children on staying home or working, most of us never quite know for sure what we will do until we have them.