A Moment of Jen
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Monday, April 09, 2007
posted by Jen at 4/09/2007 04:19:00 PM

Ever since Caitlin Flanagan unleashed her notorious “when a mother works, something is lost” screed upon an unsuspecting, sleep-deprived, hormone-soupy, guilty and conflicted nation (or maybe that wasn’t the nation, and that was just me), I’ve been waiting for the inevitable rejoinder: the woman who’d step forward and say, just as unapologetically, “Yes, and frequently what’s lost is her independence, financial security, and ability to support herself and her children once the man who’s making her stay-at-home lifestyle possible can’t or won’t anymore.”

I was interested to read about Leslie Bennett’s THE FEMININE MISTAKE, with its house-of-cards cover, which argues just that point.

(I was less thrilled that it's published by a new imprint at Hyperion that says its offerings are aimed at “women who are way, way over chick lit.” I suspect they meant that less as a critique of chick lit’s themes and quality and more as a comment on their putative readers’ age, but still. Feeling a little excluded here, Hyperion Voice…and if you imply that I’m too young or ditsy to appreciate your offerings, I’m likely to oblige you by not buying them).

Bennetts is a longtime contributing editor to Vanity Fair, a former New York Times reporter, first woman to ever cover a presidential campaign for the Times, and the married mother of two.

It’s a given that her premise, and even her title, would raise eyebrows and ire.

Any time you write a book telling large groups of women that they should feel guiltier than they already do because they’re screwing up their lives, their kids, their marriages, or all of the above, you’re going to raise eyebrows and ire.

I wasn’t expecting sizism.

I wasn’t expecting Penelope Trunk.

Penelope Trunk is a professional beach volleyball player turned business advice columnist with a book of her own to flog.

Her thoughtful, informed critique of TFM seems to boil down to this: who is Leslie Bennett to offer anyone life advice when Bennetts is “SO INCREDIBLY FAT!!!” (Caps and exclamation points Trunk’s).

“This woman,” Trunk wrote, in a blog post she’s since deleted and replaced with a sorta-kinda apology, “"is walking around telling people you have to have a career while you're raising kids in order to take care of yourself, and she is obviously not taking care of herself. Look, I wouldn't be harping on this if she weren't so fat..."

Wow. Always nice to see a sister raising the tone of the debate.

At first I figured Trunk for a brilliant, if deeply cynical, saleswoman. What better way for a writer without platform or name recognition to raise her profile than to by taking incendiary, Ann Coulter-esque shots at a more established author? (And here I am, helping her out).

But then I thought…what if she actually meant it?

What if she’d disqualify Bennetts from saying anything about life and kids and having it all because, in spite of her achievements both personal and professional, she’s not skinny and, thus, de facto, a failure?

Perhaps Penelope Trunk doesn’t know anyone bigger than a breadbox. Maybe it’s news to her that it is possible to take care of yourself and still not look like Paulina Porizkova. Health and happiness actually do come in sizes other than zero, and I’ve got no time for anyone who hasn’t figured that out. Nor do I have any money, either: I suspect my fat fingers will be unable to work the clasp of my wallet should I put down the Ho Hos, waddle down to the local bookstore and find Trunk’s book there.

If Leslie Bennetts had written a diet book, her size would be fair game.

As it stands, whether you agree with what Bennetts is saying, or disagree, or are so offended by her title or her premise that you won’t read a word of it, I can’t see how her size matters at all.

And really – incredibly fat? Or, excuse me, “SO INCREDIBLY FAT!!!”

I’ve seen incredibly fat.

I’ve been incredibly fat.

Leslie Bennetts? Not even close to incredibly fat.

(It reminds me a little of the Cedric the Entertainer routine about how white people were forever mistaking him for a famous rapper. “I’m big,” he’d say. “But not, you know, notoriously big.”)

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