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November 2017

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A Uterus is a Feature, Not a Bug by Sarah Lacy

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3 Stars

Best for: Men (because you need to be told); mothers working outside the home who are looking for some support.

In a nutshell: Tech journalist Sarah Lacy makes the case that motherhood is an asset to the workforce, not a detriment.

Line that sticks with me: “It was the men — not the kids — that had proven to be a net negative on many of these women’s careers.” (p 206)

Why I chose it: This is another book by someone in the tech world that my husband thought I might find interesting. He’s recommended a lot recently!

Review: In the first few pages I thought I would love this book. By the middle, I’d almost give up because I thought there was a whole lot of unintentional shaming of people who aren’t mothers. But the last third brought it back around to the point that I think I can give it about three stars (would probably be 2.5 if I did half stars).

The writing itself is fine – Ms. Lacy is a journalist and so knows how to write. But she doesn’t seem to entirely know how to put together a long-form piece. Sometimes this book feels like a memoir, sometimes it feels like a researched piece. Some chapters start with a vignette from her life that then illustrates the content that will be explored on a broader level later in the chapter; others have unrelated vingettes, or none at all. There’s no consistency to the book, so I found it challenging at times to really dive in.

The content, however, is interesting for sure. Ms. Lacy makes a very strong case for all the ways that motherhood is an asset to the workforce, and I appreciate the research she does into this. She sometimes veers into just examining sexism without the connection to motherhood, looking at how marriage (regardless of having children) affects women in heterosexual relationships.

The main problem I have is that, perhaps due to some inartful writing (or perhaps because it is her opinion), much of this book reads as though women who are NOT mothers are somehow incapable of the same achievements of women who are mothers. I don’t think that’s what she’s saying, but as a woman who works outside the home and will never have kids, I’m clearly more attuned to that kind of coded language. On the one hand, I would expect that major life changes would have affect people, and hopefully in a positive way (including motherhood). But I also think that experiencing life in general helps us to grow and make different choices.

I’m not sure how to best articulate this, but there is a way to discuss how life events (having children, getting married, getting divorced) can be seen as a way to improve your life without suggesting that not going through those things means you aren’t improving your life. And I don’t think Ms. Lacy does that very well. There are times where she discussed how mothers can just focus better because they have so many competing priorities they *have* to, and this leads to better productivity. I’m not sure how productivity is defined her, but the way Ms. Lacy discusses it, it sounds like that focus and productivity is only available to women who have kids. That seems disingenuous.

The book is also very gender essentialist – I don’t think how this affects trans men even crossed her mind. For her, uterus = woman. And I know that it is a shift in thinking for a lot of people, and that so much of the sexism and misogyny that exists is based on expectations of cis women; however, I think we’re at a point where our discussions aren’t as rich as they could be when we completely cut out our colleagues who don’t fit into this woman=uterus dimension. Sure, it might complicate the book a little, but I think Ms. Lacy could have figured out a way to work it in.

I’m glad I read the book and, as I said, I think there are lots of folks who will read it and enjoy it; it’s just probably not a book I’ll be recommending to folks like me.

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