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A Reading Vocation

"I Must Read, Read, and Read. It is my Vocation." - Thomas Merton

This is where I chronicle my reading life.  I also blog about writing at Lacey's Late-night Editing.


Book 4/100: Why Have Kids? A New Mom Explores the Truth about Parenting and Happiness

Why Have Kids?: A New Mom Explores the Truth about Parenting and HappinessWhy Have Kids?: A New Mom Explores the Truth about Parenting and Happiness by Jessica Valenti
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book made a return trip from Fargo, ND to Sioux Falls, SD (4 hrs) go by a lot more quickly than the trip out there. Jessica Valenti's social commentary on the way America perceives and treats mothers is smart and incisive, sure to rile anyone up with even an inkling of feminist sentiment. Listening to this at the same time as I read The Feminine Mistake, I pretty much could have skipped the, "Rah rah, you should keep your job" chapter, which just felt like a condensed version of an argument I'd already heard. (And, by the way, it seems significant that many of the women who push hardest for mothers to keep their jobs are professional *writers* who have a lot more work flexibility than in other professions, but, I digress ...)

What really captured my interest was her overview of the way pregnant women are often treated, even by the law, more as "vessels" than as individuals. Every feminist knows about arguments putting fetus rights over women's rights when it comes to the issue of abortion, but what really appalled me were some of the laws suggested (never passed) to regulate women's pregnancies. A few examples: every miscarriage should be investigated to make sure it wasn't "intentional" (as if going through a miscarriage isn't bad enough!); it should be a felony for women to do anything that they "know" might harm their baby while pregnant (taking medication, working long hours, having a sip of wine, the list can go on and on ...); women should not have the right to deny a C-section, etc. Her critique of the idea that all women are "natural" mothers or must become mothers before they can be fulfilled was also compelling, as was her exploration of women's ambivalence toward motherhood. Except ...

Except, Jessica Valenti seems to hide her own feelings about being a mother behind her social commentary. As the subtitle of the book is: "A New Mother Explores the Truth about Parenting and Happiness," I was disappointed by how little of her motherhood journey she divulged. I was keenly interested in her journey as a feminist deciding to become a mother, but she shuts us out of her process. She also shuts us out of any answer she may have come to regarding the book's central question: Why have kids? The end includes a pat, unoriginal mention of "the moments that make it all worth it" that could have been pulled from a greeting card or a conservative mommy blog. She doesn't really give a satisfying answer to the question she poses--and dang it, I wanted to know! So the exploration, while interesting, wasn't really what I was hoping for in this book.

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