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Forget "Having It All"
Cover of Forget "Having It All"
Forget "Having It All"
How America Messed Up Motherhood—and How to Fix It
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A clear-eyed look at the history of American ideas about motherhood, how those ideas have impacted all women (whether they have kids or not), and how to fix the inequality that exists as a result.


After filing a story only two hours after giving birth, and then getting straight back to full-time work the next morning, journalist Amy Westervelt had a revelation: America might claim to revere motherhood, but it treats women who have children like crap. From inadequate maternity leave to gender-based double standards, emotional labor to the "motherhood penalty" wage gap, racist devaluing of some mothers and overvaluing of others, and our tendency to consider women's value only in terms of their reproductive capacity, Westervelt became determined to understand how we got here and how the promise of "having it all" ever even became a thing when it was so far from reality for American women.


In Forget "Having It All," Westervelt traces the roots of our modern expectations of mothers and motherhood back to extremist ideas held by the first Puritans who attempted to colonize America and examines how those ideals shifted—or didn't—through every generation since. Using this historical backdrop, Westervelt draws out what we should replicate from our past (bringing back home economics, for example, this time with an emphasis on gender-balanced labor in the home), and what we must begin anew as we overhaul American motherhood (including taking a more intersectional view of motherhood, thinking deeply about the ways in which capitalism influences our views on reproduction, and incorporating working fathers into discussions about work-life balance).


In looking for inspiration elsewhere in the world, Westervelt turned not to Scandinavia, where every work-life balance story inevitably ends up, but to Japan where politicians, in an increasingly desperate effort to increase the country's birth rates (sound familiar?), tried to apply Scandinavian-style policies atop a capitalist democracy not unlike America's, only to find that policy can't do much in the absence of cultural shift. Ultimately, Westervelt presents a measured, historically rooted and research-backed call for workplace policies, cultural norms, and personal attitudes about motherhood that will radically improve the lives of not just working moms but all Americans.
A clear-eyed look at the history of American ideas about motherhood, how those ideas have impacted all women (whether they have kids or not), and how to fix the inequality that exists as a result.


After filing a story only two hours after giving birth, and then getting straight back to full-time work the next morning, journalist Amy Westervelt had a revelation: America might claim to revere motherhood, but it treats women who have children like crap. From inadequate maternity leave to gender-based double standards, emotional labor to the "motherhood penalty" wage gap, racist devaluing of some mothers and overvaluing of others, and our tendency to consider women's value only in terms of their reproductive capacity, Westervelt became determined to understand how we got here and how the promise of "having it all" ever even became a thing when it was so far from reality for American women.


In Forget "Having It All," Westervelt traces the roots of our modern expectations of mothers and motherhood back to extremist ideas held by the first Puritans who attempted to colonize America and examines how those ideals shifted—or didn't—through every generation since. Using this historical backdrop, Westervelt draws out what we should replicate from our past (bringing back home economics, for example, this time with an emphasis on gender-balanced labor in the home), and what we must begin anew as we overhaul American motherhood (including taking a more intersectional view of motherhood, thinking deeply about the ways in which capitalism influences our views on reproduction, and incorporating working fathers into discussions about work-life balance).


In looking for inspiration elsewhere in the world, Westervelt turned not to Scandinavia, where every work-life balance story inevitably ends up, but to Japan where politicians, in an increasingly desperate effort to increase the country's birth rates (sound familiar?), tried to apply Scandinavian-style policies atop a capitalist democracy not unlike America's, only to find that policy can't do much in the absence of cultural shift. Ultimately, Westervelt presents a measured, historically rooted and research-backed call for workplace policies, cultural norms, and personal attitudes about motherhood that will radically improve the lives of not just working moms but all Americans.
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About the Author-
  • Amy Westervelt is an award-winning journalist with eighteen years' experience writing about health, psychology, technology, business, and environmental issues. Her work has recently appeared in Popular Science, Elle, Smithsonian, and Aeon. As a cofounder of Climate Confidential—an award-winning collaboration between six female journalists who syndicated environmental reporting to various national outlets—she helped get longform investigative environmental journalism into a host of national publications, including The Atlantic, Quartz, Smithsonian, Modern Farmer, and many more. In 2014 she was awarded a Rachel Carson Award for environmental journalism.
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from September 24, 2018
    Reporter Westervelt argues in this forceful call to arms that American mothers have long suffered from institutional sexism, and she proposes bold political and cultural shifts intended to put mothers on an equal footing with men. Based on conversations with hundreds of women (and some men), both parents and not, and a dive into relevant scholarship, Westervelt identified the “rotten foundation on which modern American parenting stress is built”: the idea that “children are the sole responsibility of their biological parents.” Fixing this, she maintains, requires a “rethinking of motherhood” drawing on traditions of community parenting from outside “Anglo-American” culture, a true valuing of caregiving and systems to support it, and an expansion of the definition of family beyond traditional marriage. She looks frequently to the example of Japan, which “has been slapping Scandinavian-style policies on a committedly patriarchal capitalist society” similar to the U.S.’s with mixed results; for example, merely strengthening maternity leave did not succeed in encouraging heterosexual Japanese women to have more children—their male partners’ lack of domestic involvement was a bigger barrier for them. Many of Westervelt’s ideas might be hard for traditionalists to swallow, but she writes with insight and posits inclusive solutions.

  • Library Journal

    December 1, 2018

    Reviewing the history of motherhood in the United States from the Puritans to now, award-winning journalist and podcaster Westervelt discusses how motherhood has changed in definition, often having a negative impact on mothers themselves. Touching not only on white motherhood, Westervelt relays how historical and current attitudes in sex education, eugenics, fertility, abortion, gender roles, corporate structures, and more also affect Latina, Native American, and African American motherhood experiences. Not only are her conclusions well documented with primary resources, she clearly lays out both cultural and policy fixes well worth debating. Although some changes may be perceived as radical, the true work will be in adjusting our ingrained cultural ideals that devalue caregiving and reinforce patriarchy. The author's solutions are practical but challenging. Westervelt doesn't abandon men; to the contrary, she stresses that we need to assist men in transitioning out of patriarchy before we can have a more equal society. VERDICT Westervelt's refreshing take on feminist literature will inspire further exploration of both classic and current works. Highly recommended for feminist collections and book clubs reading nonfiction.--Maria Bagshaw, Elgin Community Coll. Lib., IL

    Copyright 2018 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

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Forget "Having It All"
How America Messed Up Motherhood—and How to Fix It
Amy Westervelt
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