After reading Women’s Work, A Reckoning With Work and Home by Megan K. Stack, I debated whether to even review it for BoomerBroadcast. If I don’t particularly enjoy a book, I usually don’t finish it, but the excellent writing compelled me to keep going, despite the fact I did not like the author or her message. I’ll review it anyway and if any of you read it, you might have a completely different take on it.
First of all, the title is misleading. I thought I was embarking on an overview of the work/life balance faced by so many working women today. What I found was someone pretending to have the same challenges as other working mothers, but is so self-centred and narrow-minded that I struggled to sympathize with the perceived challenges of her life.
Megan Stack is an American journalist who is experienced in reporting from war zones and foreign countries—kind of a new-age Murphy Brown. While working in China with her husband, who is also a journalist, she becomes pregnant and finds her adult-only, self-centred life turned upside down. With the easy availability of cheap domestic labour and trying to maintain her career as a writer, she decides to hire a Chinese nanny/housekeeper following the birth of her son. She naively imagines continuing her writing career while the ‘help’ takes care of domestic chores and babysitting.
This is when Stack’s world implodes. After a difficult delivery, she’s physically drained and finds it challenging to cope with her new role. Her new baby is fussy and discontented. Despite having domestic help, she’s unable to rebuild the daily life she had envisioned—cuddling her new baby and being productive writing her novel while the baby sleeps. Domestic help comes with its own set of challenges. Does she trust the woman looking after her child? How much should she get involved in this woman’s personal problems? How much extra financial support should she dole out?
Stack’s husband has the advantage of going out each morning to an office or on assignments that keep him out of the line of fire. This arrangement only serves to inflame Megan Stack’s resentment of her husband and exacerbates his hands-off behaviour. No one is happy with the new lifestyle.
Then, when Stack is pregnant with their second child, her husband is transferred to Delhi, India. Domestic labour is even cheaper there and she hires two women to do the cooking, cleaning and childcare while she writes. Sounds simple enough but it’s not. Her domestic problems with her help have literally doubled. One lady travels across the city an a series of buses to work and the second one lives in quarters behind the main house. Stack still cannot cope and whines when her ladies want to take a Sunday off.
Obviously, Megan Stack can write. She’s a journalist and her writing skill is what kept me reading even though I thoroughly disliked her and her husband. It’s impossible to forecast what any one of us would do in similar circumstances but the whole time she’s whining about her staff problems and her inability to keep her writing career on track, I found myself wondering what she would do if she had to face the same challenges so many less affluent new mothers are faced with.
How can she complain when there are so many single mothers out there trying to simply put food on the table and pay the rent by working menial, low-income jobs, often without husbands much less the advantage of domestic help? What about abused women? Her lack of perspective left me frustrated and angry, even though she claims to be on the side of those ‘other women’.
It’s not the fault of the author that the content is not what I expected. It was not an objective overview of the unbalanced gender-based distribution of domestic work to women. It was the experience of one woman delegating domestic work to her own employees in her own home. Since the beginning of time, women have been victims of our biology. We’re the ones who have the babies and are expected to shoulder a disproportionate amount of time for childcare and homemaking. Because of this, we will never have the same freedom from domestic drudgery that men enjoy.
When the novel she was working on wasn’t picked up by a publisher, Stack resorted to the handiest bit of research and experience she could access. She used the three women who had been in her employ to create Women’s Work, a case study of working women but it’s not of our larger world. I did empathize with these women, and their stories, which unfolded at the end of the book, made it worthwhile finishing.
So many women and mothers face unimaginable struggles every single day of their lives. How could the author imagine her life even compares? Stack’s personal story was annoying and frustrating, but the stories of her three domestic helpers were definitely worth the read. The quality of the writing is definitely 9 out 10 but the author’s ability to get me on side with her personal story was much, much lower. I’d be curious to know if you agree or disagree with me.
(Disclosure: If you order from this link you will receive Amazon’s best price and I may receive a teeny, tiny commission. Thank you.)