The Longest Shortest Time

8 Books On Motherhood + Feminism

Hey, Hillary here. After I wrote my recent NYT op-ed, The Special Misogyny Reserved for Mothers, I got a lot of questions in interviews about why this special misogyny exists. Truthfully, I don’t know enough about feminist theory to answer that. But Amy Westervelt does. Amy is an award-winning journalist, and she’s spent the last year researching the history of attitudes toward motherhood in America for her book, Forget Having It All: How America Messed Up Motherhood—And How To Fix It. So I asked her to tell me about the intersection of motherhood and misogyny and feminism, and to give me a reading list so I can learn even more. Take it away, Amy.

As a science journalist who dipped my toe into the “mom beat” a couple years ago I’ve seen firsthand how dismissive people can be of the topic, as Hillary Frank pointed out in her recent NYT op-ed, and academics, sociologists, and medical professionals have told me the same thing about their fields.

And, like so much of feminism in general, discussions about motherhood in America far too often center straight, cis-gendered, white, middle-class women, a fact that not only perpetuates the marginalization of other types of mothers but also prevents all types of mothers from learning about and from each other’s mothering practices.

Changing long-held beliefs and entrenched systems takes more than a single policy, but fortunately there are a lot of people thinking seriously about this subject, and sharing those thoughts with the world. Following is an exhaustive (although still not comprehensive—there’s SO much great stuff out there!) reading list for anyone who wants to get a better understanding of how we got here and how to move forward.

Modern Motherhood: An American History, by Jodi Vandenberg-Daves, is a comprehensive look at the history of motherhood in America.

We Live for the We (out April 2019) by Dani McClain, is written as a handbook for Black women raising children and particularly daughters in a society that is hostile toward and often dangerous for them, but should be read by anyone looking for an intersectional lens on motherhood.

Mothering While Black: Boundaries and Burdens of Middle-Class Parenthood, by Dawn Dow (coming in 2019) pulls together and builds on Dow’s years of research on Black middle-class motherhood to present a comprehensive picture of how the interplay of racial identity, class, and gender shapes the cultural expectations, beliefs, and decisions of African American middle-class mothers regarding work, family, and parenting.

Black Feminist Thought, by Patricia Hill Collins, is a must-read for anyone trying to embrace a truly intersectional view of both gender and motherhood.

Matricentric Feminism, by Andrea O’Reilly, is a comprehensive look at feminist theory and history through the lens of mothers’ experiences.

Motherhood and Women’s Dual Identities: Rewriting the Sexual Contract, by Petra Bueskens argues that western modernization consigned women to the home and simultaneously released them from it in historically unprecedented, yet interconnected, ways.

The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap, by Stephanie Coontz blows away misconceptions about the past that cloud current debates about domestic life.

Mothers and Others, by anthropologist Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, reveals that humans have not evolved in the sort of every-family-for-themselves form Western society has taken in recent decades.

For even more, follow this curated Twitter list of researchers and journalists focused on the issue.