After facing a firestorm of controversy earlier in the week following the release of her book “The Feminine Mistake,” author and Vanity Fair writer Leslie Bennetts came to the Yale Women’s Center to talk to students about the work-life balance Friday afternoon.
The discussion, titled “What I Wish I’d Known (What They Don’t Teach In College),” was the latest in a recent panel series on career and family run by the Women’s Center. Bennetts dedicated most of her talk to discussing the sacrifices and risks associated with giving up one’s career and job stability for full-time parenting.
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“Young women, when they are setting out on the paths of their lives, face a road riddled with booby traps,” Bennetts said. “The problem is, they often don’t know it until they have fallen into them.”
Bennetts emphasized the importance of work throughout her talk, in terms of offering women professional and emotional satisfaction and providing them with financial stability. Today, more women are living without partners than with them, she said, and even those who are married cannot predict whether or not they will get divorced or fall victim to an accident that would leave them with an unstable future.
“The most important thing is that you have to take responsibility for your own lives,” she said.
Bennetts said she is optimistic that women can find a way to balance work and family. She emphasized that while the act of juggling full-time work and children can be difficult at times, it is both doable and fulfilling.
“Can you have a meaningful career and marriage and children?” she said. “Of course you can.”
At Friday’s talk, Bennetts said she was surprised by some of the negative responses to her book, which was published April 3. “Stay-at-home moms” offended by an interview Bennetts gave to NBC’s The Today Show have started a campaign to discourage people from reading the book because they disagree with its conclusions, she said. But Bennetts said the work was a book of reportage, not polemic, and its conclusions are drawn from years of research.
Many of the women who were angered by “The Feminine Mistake” had not read the book, Bennetts said, and accused her of being “divorced,” “bitter,” “angry” and “childless” when in fact she has been married for 20 years and has two teenage children.
Overall, the reaction to the talk — which was attended entirely by women — was very positive.
“She was very earnest and honest,” Jing Cao ’10 said. “From all the stories she told about women who asked, ‘Why didn’t anyone tell me about this?’ I think she was actually trying to do something to remedy the situation and give us power to make better decisions. She was confident and I appreciate that she wasn’t more apologetic in her message.”
But there is some evidence that many women at Yale are already aware of the advice that Bennetts had to offer.
According to the results of the Yale Undergraduate Work-Life Balance Survey in October, there is almost no difference between the career aspirations of men and women in Yale College, Women’s Center coordinator Tina Wu ’08 said.
“I thought the talk this afternoon was excellent and very well attended,” she said. “But I think it’s important to acknowledge that most women at Yale who plan to have children in the future don’t plan to stop working entirely, or even partially. Most of the women I know at Yale want to be full-time doctors or journalists as well as mothers. So while Leslie Bennetts was a very compelling speaker, she was not speaking to a particularly tough crowd.”
Bennetts, a contributing editor of Vanity Fair, was the first woman to cover a presidential campaign for The New York Times.