I'm usually too busy working or doing things with my kids to spend much time prowling around the blogosphere, but publishing The Feminine Mistake
has educated me about what's out there in a big hurry. And what's out there seems to be an extraordinary amount of anger.
The fact that the book turned out to be so controversial has been a surprise to me. "This book is just common sense," said one male friend when he read the manuscript.
But the premise of The Feminine Mistake has obviously elicited some very strong responses, many of them negative. Judging by their tone ? "I want to punch her in the face!" one woman wrote in a typical posting after seeing me on The Today Show ? most such reactions seem to be from people who are extremely angry.
A lot of the rage has taken the form of the personal insults and untruths I mentioned in previous blogs. There's also a great deal of anger focused on the Mommy Wars aspect of this discussion, although I had hoped to avoid that by sticking to facts and figures and trying to turn this into a substantive debate instead of yet another finger-pointing free-for-all.
The stay-at-home mothers who want my head on a platter are angry about some things that are true, like the fact that I'm cautioning them about the dangers of economic dependency, which is indisputably a high-risk gamble for women. They're also angry about many things that are not true at all, such as the widespread but entirely mistaken belief that I've called them stupid.
But what's really odd is how many of these angry people are accusing me of being angry. So I've been doing some soul-searching about how I really feel ? and why. And I'm willing to admit to a considerable amount of anger, too. I'm not angry or bitter because I'm childless or because I've been dumped by a man, as so many have alleged, because neither of those things is true. My husband and I have been together for more than twenty years, and he has been extraordinarily supportive and compassionate in helping me to deal with the painful smear campaign being waged against me in recent days.
At 3:30 a.m. last night, the dog woke us up, barking, an exasperating problem we initially ignored in hopes that she would settle down. No such luck. As we tried in vain to go back to sleep, my husband put his arms around me and whispered, "I love you so much." Without a word being said about it, he understood that I was lying there in the dark feeling bad about all the people who suddenly hate me. A woman whose husband intuits her thoughts and responds to her feelings by comforting her that way is a lucky wife indeed. (The damn dog is lucky too; he finally got dressed and walked her at 3:40 a.m. You can imagine how thrilled he was about that.)
But my appreciation of my own husband doesn't mean I'm not angry. For starters, I am angry that so many women are not so fortunate. As a reporter for more than three decades, I couldn't possibly count the number of wives I've interviewed who believed in the promise of marriage, sacrificed their own financial self-sufficiency to accommodate their families, and were betrayed by husbands who left them, often without adequate means to take care of their children ? and sometimes with no money at all.
For women who are not prepared to support themselves and their families, the loss of a breadwinner can be disastrous. Women's standard of living plummets by 36 percent when their marriages are disrupted, while men's standard of living goes up by 28 percent. This isn't fair, and I'm angry about all the husbands who renege on their responsibilities to their families. Nearly 70 percent of the child support cases in this country are in arrears, and it's typically the custodial parent ? usually the mom ? who is not getting the payments she's supposed to get. I'm angry about the hardship and deprivation that departing husbands leave behind for their wives and children to endure. And I'm angry that millions of women are rewarded for the sacrifices they've made on behalf of their families by losing their security and jeopardizing their futures.
I'm angry that older women end up in poverty at twice the rate of men in this country. Four out of five of those women were not poor while they still had husbands around. I'm angry that the women now dropping out of the labor force to stay home with their kids will be much more vulnerable to poverty in their later years than women who stay in the labor force and maintain their ability to support themselves. By the time they hit the age of 60, two-thirds of the women in this country are without partners. What will all the dependent wives do when they no longer have anyone around to take care of them and find they can't get decent jobs that will enable them to take care of themselves?
I am also angry that the other industrialized Western nations put the United States to shame when it comes to accommodating the workplace needs of parents and children. In America, the lack of support for caregivers of every kind ? and that includes the growing number of adults now taking care of their own aging, ailing parents as well as those caring for small children ? is a national disgrace. I am angry that our putative leaders pay lip service to family values while doing so little to address the real issues that workers of either gender struggle with every day.
I am appalled by the increasing demands of the corporate world, and the emergence of entire fields characterized by "extreme jobs" requiring inhuman hours and brutal travel schedules that leave no hope of maintaining a sane family life. My best friend works for a corporation that just loves to schedule meetings for 7 a.m. Her children are now grown up, but at 7 a.m. this morning, I was making scrambled eggs and whole-grain toast for my kids, both of whom will be running in a track meet today and wanted a substantial breakfast. At 7 a.m. on any weekday morning, parents need to be with their children, making sure they're fed and organized and ready to cope with the challenges of the school day. In my opinion, there's no excuse for a corporate culture that routinely deprives employees of the ability to meet the needs of their children by demanding their presence at early-morning and evening hours that should be devoted to their families.
So yes, I'm angry too, but about very different things than the bloggers currently raging through cyberspace seem to think. I'm also sad, and what I'm sad about is the waste of energy these ugly personal attacks represent. If we all turned our time and energy toward addressing the needs of families instead of vilifying each other, we could actually generate the kinds of social change that would help all of us ? men, women and children.
It seems to me that there would be a lot less anger out there if we could join forces and work together to find solutions, instead of scapegoats.