From left to right, novelist Meg Wolitzer (The Ten Year Nap), journalist Leslie Bennetts (The Feminine Mistake), and [super-annoying moderator] Los Angeles Time columnist Meghan Daum had an on-stage conversation about increasing numbers of highly educated and accomplished women who leave the workforce to stay at home to raise their children.
I find this recent phenomenon rather alarming, disappointing, and worrisome.
A few clips from the night:
Wolitzer speaks on the anxiety of today's mothers.
Bennetts opines on "helicopter moms."
Bennetts shuts down the elitist Daum and her "people like us" theory.
Wolitzer explains that not everybody has a passion.
Work does not make you interesting. Interesting work makes you interesting.
The guy is not going to take care of you. And Daum is an idiot.
Men who are not earning huge incomes often resent their stay-at-home wives.
I was very sad that I didn't capture the simultaneous collective gasp and applause when Bennetts said that being a stay-at-home mom is "really not that hard" and is not, in fact, a career and should not be considered one.
Yeah, she went there. And then some.
When I told Mr. Monkey this when I got home, he laughed and said, "You were clapping, weren't you?"
Both Wolitzer and Bennetts were thoughtful and engaging, and both had many interesting things to say about the new wave of twentysomethings and thirtysomethings who are becoming housewives in droves.
The gist of Bennetts' book is that too many women our age no longer think like the independent baby boomers of old. Instead of furthering their standing in the workforce, these women -- many of whom are extraordinarily intelligent, have graduate degrees, and once earned six- or seven-figure salaries -- are making what they believe is a well-informed decision to give it all up and instead debate at PTA meetings whether selling tote bags or chocolate would be more lucrative for their children's schools.
Of course, you can guess that Bennetts thinks this choice is not well-informed.
The choice seems fine for a couple of years. Other people, namely men and other stay-at-home moms, purport to admire this decision. It's the noble thing to do to "sacrifice" your career, your personal aspirations, and even your advanced education for the sake of your family.
Daddy goes to work. Mommy stays at home. Done.
But what happens when the 1950s paradigm doesn't pan out? What happens if your man loses his job? What happens if your man leaves you? Or, heaven forbid, what happens if your man just suddenly drops dead one day?
You're shit out of luck, that's what. And so are your kids, if you have them.
According to Bennetts, "mothering" only really takes up a full 15 years of one's life. Bennetts argues that, by the time a child can drive himself around, a mother doesn't really have much to do during the day or even during the night.
And Bennetts is no stranger to motherhood. The frequent contributor to Vogue has two children of her own.
Fifteen years is only a small fraction of a woman's adult life. If you calculate from about age 20, a woman's adult life is about 60 or 70 years nowadays.
What happens after that 15 years of mothering?
Bennetts claims (and supports with statistics) that women who are out of the workforce for 15 years have extraordinary difficulties re-entering the workforce, no matter how educated and well-qualified they are. In fact, for most high-powered jobs with corresponding high salaries, any more than three years out of the game means you're toast.
Why this would be a surprise to anybody is beyond me. Further, it also baffles me that people would actually be offended by these stats. Offended! Such nonsense.
It should be emphasized that what we're talking about here are professional careers. By "professional," I mean trained in a "learned or artistic profession" -- law, medicine, dentistry, optometry, architecture, engineering, or accounting (i.e., work that is predominantly intellectual and varied in character as opposed to routine mental, manual, mechanical, or physical work).
In other words, leaving work for a number of years and then re-entering the workforce is not too much of a problem for those in lower-paying, traditionally female-dominated jobs, such as secretarial jobs, teaching, and even nursing, but such a prolonged break is almost an insurmountable obstacle for former professionals.
And that is the saddest part.
Even with all the progress that women have made these past few decades to achieve some semblance of equality in old male-dominated fields, they are still ultimately reduced to these old roles. After giving up their awesome careers to do what some people consider the most important thing in the world, women are relegated to the lowest paying and least prestigious positions, even if they are supremely overqualified.
Worse yet, uneducated women may not even be able to get jobs at all and end up sinking into the world of food stamps and poverty.
I don't know what to say to the uneducated women. That's a bad situation. That's all I've got on that front.
But, to the Yale-trained lawyers and Harvard-trained doctors who choose to relinquish their illustrious careers and then don't know what to do with themselves when their children are grown or fret when their husbands abandon them later in life, and they have no good way to earn a living anymore, I say, "Wah wah wah!"
Stop your whining.
Stop leaving the workforce.
Stop being stupid.
Stake your claim.
Exert some control over your own fate.
Don't be left without any recourse.
Respect yourself enough to take care of yourself.
Prim didn't seem to enjoy the Zocalo event at all. She said she found it overly bleak.
Well, life is bleak if you aren't self-sufficient.
After being married about a quarter of a century, my father divorced my mother. My mother had been a housewife for my and my younger brother's entire childhood. When she became pregnant with me, she halted her schooling and began her life as a stay-at-home mom.
That's all we knew her as for all those years. I often wondered why she didn't work. She is so smart and so industrious. She had so much to offer the world. She really should've done more than just raise us. To be entirely honest, while I have much respect for my mother today, I think I would've respected her more during my formative years if she had worked.
So many times as a teen, I would think, "What do you know? You're just a homemaker."
And, while this sounds harsh, I know my mother wouldn't be crushed by this sentiment because I know she feels the same way. She does consider my brother and me her greatest accomplishments thus far in life, but she also regrets that she didn't work all those years to better herself and to gain knowledge and experience in a trade.
How do I know this? I talked to her the day after the Zocalo event about this!
Even my mother, who was a homemaker for over 20 years, agrees that women need to take charge of their own economics. She and her husband are currently fretting about his daughter's decision to quit her career to become a stay-at-home mom. But, obviously, as an outsider of sorts, my mother can't really push the issue and is wisely keeping her mouth shut.
Yes, it's every woman's own choice.
But it's a dangerous choice.
And, in my opinion, it is an amazingly ill-advised choice -- one for whom a woman will have no one but herself to blame.
Women should live by the Scout Motto.
Every woman should be ready for anything life throws her way. Call me a pessimist, but life throws you lots of crap.
And who wants to be crapped on?
It's easy to prevent this, ladies. Don't stop working. Or, if you can't bear to be away from your baby, take only a couple years off from working. But go back to work. You can even work part-time. Just work in some form, any form.
It is one thing to share your life with a man who loves you. It is a whole different thing to rely on a man for your well-being.
The best way to be well is to be self-reliant.