Author Amy Westervelt visits the Buena Vista branch of the Burbank Public Library on Thursday, March 28, to talk about the cultural and policy changes that need to be made to support working mothers in the United States, as she examines in recently-published Forget “Having It All”: How America Messed Up Motherhood — and How to Fix It.
Librarian Hubert Kozak booked the author event as part of Women’s History Month, a theme the library highlights each March.
“It’s about the double burden of working mothers who employers expect to work in their job as if they didn’t have children and who are expected to parent as if they did not have a job,” said Kozak. “Through all my working years I’ve watched working mothers, my colleagues, struggle with this burden and it seems that very little has changed for them, that we continue to do very little as a society to support them.”
“Westervelt explains why change has been difficult and she looks to the varying experience of motherhood in America, particularly the history of motherhood among marginalized groups, for what it can suggest about a way forward,” he added.
“Things need to change socially in some fundamental ways it appears, and perhaps what is most important about Westervelt’s analysis of the plight of working mothers is that she makes a compelling case that supporting working mothers is critical if we are to find a way forward to achieving broader and more comprehensive social and economic gender equality in America.”
“We need to make both cultural and policy changes,” Westervelt commented. “A lot of the discussion around these issues tends to be focused solely on policy solutions, which, while necessary, are unlikely to actually work in the absence of cultural shifts.”
“An example I point to in my book is Japan, where, in an effort to increase birth rates, they have instituted all the Scandinavian policies we often talk about here: maternity and paternity leave, flex time, subsidized child care. Fewer than 3% of people took advantage of these policies, despite the fact that 40% wanted to, because the cultural norms hadn’t changed alongside the policies.”
“You may have seen an article in The New York Times recently about how little Japanese men do around the house, for example,” Westervelt also said. “These policies didn’t shift that.”
“I would expect to see a similar culture-context gap were we to implement such policies here as well,” she went to say. “We can’t just change policies, we need to shift the gendered division of labor in homes, the way we impose particular parenting roles on particular genders starting in preschool (baby dolls for girls, never for boys, for example), the way schools reinforce these norms and the whole notion of the ideal worker, which no longer reflects the real lives of men or women.”
Westervelt will discuss these ideas with NPR West’s Elise Hu in a conversation that begins at 7:00 p.m. on Thursday, March 28. The Buena Vista branch of the Burbank Public Library is located at 300 N. Buena Vista Street and plenty of free parking is available on site.