Women's Work

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 16 Apr 2019

Member Reviews

If you are/have been/aspire to be a wife and mother, this is a memoir that will shake you in your boots.

Megan Stack was proceeding along our culturally determined path for educated, middle class women: establishing her career, getting married, getting around to having children.  Granted, hers was more exciting than most, as she and her husband are globetrotting foreign journalists.  

But when well-written the particular can be universal, and Stack's squirmy issues with outsourcing cleaning and childcare to lower paid women so that she could focus on her (higher paid) work come up for many of us.  She lets no one off easy, being hard on her Chinese and Indian domestic help, hard on her husband, perhaps hardest of all on herself.  

She has her finger on the pulse of what I find to be a difficult, morally complex, culturally unresolved issue: how in this time of rising cost of living and dual careers are we also going to attend to the important work of childrearing and maintaining the home?  Must it involve exploiting others?  Spoiler alert: she concludes that the solution is all about getting men to step up.  I think she's strongest at identifying and describing the issues with real and heartrending specificity. 

And wow can she write!  This might be dry material in other hands, but it sings in hers.  

Big thanks to Doubleday and NetGalley for the ARC.
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WOMEN'S WORK by National Book Award finalist Megan K. Stack explores a "Reckoning with Work and Home" by relating events from Stack's time living in Beijing and India.  During those periods she and her husband became parents. They employed housekeepers and childcare workers – "migrants who'd left their own children behind to work in the city, and ended up in my house." This extremely personal and well-written text describes Stack's feelings about work (she had been a foreign correspondent for the Los Angeles Times) and motherhood, noting "Job, book, baby: I'd forced myself to choose the one I loved least. It was a terrible choice because I loved each of them." WOMEN'S WORK also confronts the ideas of feminism and privilege as Stack strives to explore the lives, homes, and families of the women who worked for/with her and says, "Xiao Li, Mary, and Pooja will forever give me strength and push me forward to what needs to be done." 

Stack recounts in detail her own experiences with post-partum depression, concluding at one point, "If a woman is in an intolerable situation, the answer is not to drug her so that she can tolerate it.  The answer should be – should be – to change the intolerable situation." And, she honestly reflects on the role of men, particularly fathers and husbands (expat or not), who often fail to appreciate the ambivalence - even guilt - over the unsatisfactory compromises involved with employing domestic workers. In addition, she writes about Asia: "[China and India] represent our collective future; they are the stuff of the world's dreams and nightmares. They are also places that have made statistical headway towards erasing women." There is SO much to explore here and our students could certainly use this book as a Junior Theme research text or perhaps read portions for Senior Writers Seminar. I definitely recommend WOMEN'S WORK which received a starred review from Kirkus.
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This book is definitely worth a read. 

Feminism is a complex topic, and Stack doesn’t shy away from it. This book contains the struggle and conundrum Stack faces when she’s pregnant and in a new country and decides to take help from the domestic workers to help her through everything. Stack describes the struggle of motherhood without any qualms. Her idea of feminism is affected, when she has to take help of other women to raise her children. To go further in her career, she has to inexplicably take advantage of the cheap domestic labour available in countries like India and China. Does that make her less feminist? The growth in her career depends on these women. And she has to decide if she can sacrifice her ideals for her career.
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Women's Work by Megan K. Stack is a free NetGalley ebook that I read in late March.

Stack is an American international news correspondent who gives birth to her children while travelling through China (son Max, emotional bundle of nerves toward his colic) and India (son Patrick, his birth invoking all kinds of Indian customs) before raising them and running a household with assistance from domestic workers, who she selects and letting go of with maybe too much concern toward their personal life and welfare. There are many segments of whinging and grievances based out of paranoia, safety, doubt, isolation, hyper-vigilism, and not having enough hours in the day to get things done before reuniting with all former domestic workers at the end to write of what happened to them and to reminisce.
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This is a very important book to be read as it deal's with how women are impacted by pregnancy, birth, and raising children and how this could impact their work life as well. It examines how tiring motherhood can be and how most don't consider it work even though it is. I found this a fairly good read and I loved learning about other cultures. 

I would like to thank Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with a copy of this book free of charge. This is my honest and unbiased opinion of it.
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This is such an interesting book, since it combines the angst of new mothers with the added burden of raising children in alien cultures.  As a journalist, Stack has lived in many parts of the world, but when she becomes pregnant, she gives up her career to write a novel and support her husband's career.

These choices take her to Beijing and to India where she gives birth, nurtures and starts to raise her two boys.  In these locations, there is plenty of "cheap" help, but the question is who should raise the children?  Can these women be trusted?  What role do they play in the life of the family?

Her feelings toward the women who run her house and raise her children bring her to the writing of this fascinating book, part memoir, part journalistic investigation about the lives and families of the women who raise hers.

I found this glimpse into the Chinese and Indian cultures extremely interesting, especially the role of women in the society and the low expectations they have of all around them.  Slack visits their homes and meets their families and gives us a view of the life of the "help" in these societies.

I really enjoyed this book, and found if incredible that the feelings Slack had, despite her household help, are not so different from the feeling of every working mother, every new mother and every one of us who has left her children in the hands of strangers.

This is a must for every woman to read and will spark discussions in seminars and book groups.  Thank you NetGalley.
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Didn't finish at 65% because it felt like the author was just whining the whole time about how difficult her life was (it's not) instead of actually showing us how difficult her employees actually had it. It wasn't a horrible read but I frankly lost all interest in what she had to say when she talked about how they all liked the alcoholic trouble maker Poonam over the hard working and dependable Angie. I mean I know some people have more interesting personalities but damn girl... that's just wrong. 

I may finish it eventually because she is very honest and it's somewhat interesting to delve into the world of employing nannies and maids but right now I'm sick of her writing career woes and I think I'd rather read a book that Angie wrote.
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Such a joy to find a book that is written well, enjoyable to read and thought provoking. A book with purpose that divulges the complex world of working moms who hire other women to help watch their children and maintain their households; other working moms. It’s a complicated topic that is strongly written by a talented author who sees this world through her lens as a journalist - a reporter and a writer - with the added filter of her own motherhood. She explores through her memoir the dichotomy of our (women’s) desire to continue our careers when we become mothers by hiring domestic help who leave their own children behind, to take care of our children and houses, for a fraction of the pay of our own jobs. She explores the fragile relationships we build with our domestic help; the people we think we get to know (that some call family) but she points out we actually don’t know very well at all; how could we with the inherent imbalance of power. The author is direct and intense revealing insightful thoughts yet remaining open to living with this inner conflict; doing what she must to maintain her family and work life while struggling with her conscious and what is best for everyone. She thoroughly exposes herself through her vulnerability and dry humor. I highly recommend you read it. 

Thank you to NetGalley and DoubleDay for providing me an early release of this book in exchange for this honest and fair review. It was such a pleasure to read.
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Megan Stack's Women's Work, is an important read for many reasons. It acknowledges a number of uncomfortable and irreconcilable truths: that childcare and housework are time and energy consuming labor which are not well respected or well compensated; that women's lives are deeply impacted by pregnancy, labor, and childbirth, and childcare, but that these impacts are overlooked and dismissed by all, including the women affected, who are unable to speak up without risking equal footing in the workplace; that outsourcing childcare is the only time it becomes acknowledged as having market value, albeit a low value; that the reality is that we are often outsourcing childcare and domestic chores to women who are compelled by economic stressors to delegate the care of their own children elsewhere and lavish affection on their charges. that there is a  discomfort in balancing the transactional nature of work for hire with the close familial relationship of domestic workers. Each of these truths  merits its own discussion, but gathered together in the framework of Stack's experiences of motherhood, they are a compelling
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This book is fantastic: interesting, curious, thought-provoking, challenging. After she got pregnant, Megan quit working full-time to stay home although “home” was first in Beijing and then in Delhi. She hired nannies and housekeepers to allow her the time to write her first novel. She began thinking about their lives—they were also mothers after all; whom had they left behind to take care of her children and household? As a former journalist, she was driven to find out and to explore the unresolved issue of housework. Megan argues that in the fight for gender equality, the “bloodiest, hardest, most intractable battle” is at home, and we haven’t yet had the nerve to face it. Somehow domestic topics seem unworthy of scrutiny, but as she writes, “If serious people never wrote deeply about the household, about work and gender and money and race, we couldn’t expect things to improve.” She does that here, not with facts and figures, but with compelling personal stories about human beings. I am so proud and impressed. I could quibble with the book’s organization and some self-conscious writing, but this is an important piece of work. Everyone should read it. From now on, we must always ask ourselves, “If you are here at work, who is at home? Who is cleaning, shopping, and cooking the food? Who is running the household? Who is raising the children?” Until we recognize the economic value of women’s work and put them on the payroll, their energy, time, and lives are given essentially for free in support of men’s work.
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