Give Your Daughters Betty Friedan Instead

A compassionate but finally blistering review of The Feminine Mistake by Leslie Bennetts in Sunday's NYT Book Review.

I have been curious about these "Mommy Wars," if exhausted by the prospect of reading all the disciplinary tomes that have emerged on the topic of stay-at-home vs. go-back-to-work mothers. The issue seems to be coming to the fore as baby boomers approach retirement, look back on their lives, and feel they have something urgent to teach their daughters. Or this is the supposed rationalization for writing these "I did it my way, and my way is the only way" books about working/mothering.

I think most of these books are truly written as a means to shame women who made different choices from the books' authors. It's really all so tedious. If we got good, solid education on the women's movement in school (which, if you're me, you didn't), if we were actually shown what our mothers' generations worked for and fought for and what we stand to lose by not acknowledging and celebrating it and working to further it, we wouldn't need such excoriating reminders from people like Leslie Bennetts and Linda Hirshman or the Dread Pirate Caitlin Flanagan. Why isn't Betty Friedan required reading in high school history classes? Why do we learn about the civil rights movement but not the women's movement? The issues of both "movements" are still on the table, they're still present in our everyday conversations, in Supreme Court decisions, in our selection of presidential candidates, in our payscales and secret and not-so-secret prejudices. Why are we so grossly undereducated?

I recommend the book Dear Sisters: Dispatches from the Women's Liberation Movement, whose font is way too small but whose content is a necessary and entertaining Women's Lib 101.

Also Jennifer Baumgardner & Amy Richards' Manifesta: Young Women Feminism and the Future and, of course, the Friedan classic.

From the final paragraph of Eugenie Allen's review of The Feminine Mistake:

Bennetts is right to dread an exodus of accomplished women from the work force. But this book is so unwieldy, and so polarizing, that it is unlikely to convince many stay-at-home mothers to return to work — or to develop that backup plan. Friedan wrote with elegance, authority and empathy for the readers whose lives she hoped to change. Bennetts seems to have little but disdain for the women she is trying to reach. When I finished the book, I didn’t feel the need to give it to my daughters, as Tina Brown’s back-cover blurb urges. Instead, I dug up an old copy of “The Feminine Mystique.” I hear it’s really great for teenage girls.