At Leslie Bennetts' "debate" with Elissa Schappell about her book The Feminine Mistake at the New York Public Library on Tuesday night, there wasn't a lot of dissent in the room. After all, to most of us, Bennett's thesis—that women risk their financial wellbeing and that of their children by becoming "stay at home moms"—seems like the purest common sense. But there was dissent out there, Bennetts told us: She was getting "beaten up by the blogosphere." It turns out that stay at home moms don't like it when you seem to imply that their life plan is a "mistake," and the thing about stay at home moms is, they have a lot of spare computer time (see: UrbanBaby). But despite the fact that the idea of a "debate" between Schappell and Bennetts (pals, moms, Vanity Fair contributing editors both) was as contrived as the latter half of Dana Vachon's novel, we did learn some things from their conversation. First thing: Leslie Bennetts is a badass.
This trait didn't get much of a workout as Bennett answered Schappell's incisive questions, which ran along the lines of, "Right, now talk about that a little bit," and "Is it true that [working women] live longer and are happier?" But when it came time for the Q&A—a traditionally fraught time at any NYPL event, as middle-aged people who miss college very badly compete to make pleading eye contact with the beleagured assistant who controls the mic—someone finally dared to disagree. Guess what? He was a man! One of the five men in the room. ("It's like yoga," one woman had whispered as the room filled.)
Anyway, the man asked Bennetts a kind of rude-seeming question about divorce law. He had some sort of European accent, or maybe he was drunk. He was young, besuited, and sort of good looking in a sleazy "I would neg you as a hitting-on tactic" way, and he was there with a heavily made up young lady who smirked throughout the program as if the terrible things that Bennetts mentioned—the "carnage" in suburbia as husbands leave their wives of twenty years with a year's alimony and no marketable skills, the mothers with nothing better to do than hover over their grown-up children's lives—would never have anything to do with her. Bennetts shut this twatty couple down handily, refuting whatever his point was with a handful of pertinent statistics. She's great at that!
She's also great with the inspirational quotes. A few favorites: "Is it news that women who have never found anything meaningful to do with their lives view men as a meal ticket?" And: "Being responsible for your own destiny removes all the fear." Or: "Success changes you. Work changes you. You become a different person. You become a stronger person." One least favorite, though: "This has nothing to do with feminism."
Say what? Bennetts actually said this several times. While we understand why she feels that she needs to hide the pill of her book's message in the applesauce of not-feminism, we wish she didn't feel that she had to. Saying that women should stay in the workforce for purely economic reasons really isn't news, but saying that everyone should work because work is important for our souls and identities is, and the thing is, the "blogosphere" will beat you up either way. It's not like it has anything better to do.