Fifty years after “The Feminine Mystique,” the mommy wars rage on. If you believe the headlines, our kids are under enough pressure to crack granite or so coddled they can’t tie their own shoes. Meanwhile, moms still do more housework and bring home less money than dads. And this is in what’s left of the middle class. Lower-income families are grappling with far more devastating choices, such as health care vs. food. Three new books by and about women look at careers, kids and a satisfying home life.
1Gretchen Rubin, author of “The Happiness Project” (2009), was standing in her kitchen when she felt overwhelmed with homesickness. Determined to appreciate her husband, two girls and cozy life, she set out on a second happiness project, this time constructed around the school year and the home. If you have no idea how to spell “decoupage” and can’t be trusted around a glue gun, not to worry: De-cluttering their apartment and making photo albums are about as crafty as Rubin gets in Happier at Home (Crown Archetype, $26). While she has studied the subject deeply, she’s not on board with every happiness trigger. She tries acupuncture, for example, but rejects meditation and dogs. While thoughtful and sincere, “Happier at Home” will feel familiar to those who read her first book. And people in lower tax brackets can be forgiven for thinking it would be pretty easy to be happy if they had Rubin’s cushy existence — but that was precisely her point in taking up this exercise. At least, any book that encourages people to read Samuel Johnson has done a great deal to add joy to the world.
2Kate White rose from doing the dishes after breakfast meetings at Glamour to running Cosmopolitan for 14 years, penning such immortal headlines as “Mattress Moves So Hot His Thighs Will Burst Into Flames.”While some of the advice in I Shouldn’t Be Telling You This (HarperBusiness, $24.99) might work better in the fashion industry, much of it is decidedly practical. If you haven’t yet found your calling, “the best thing to do is get your butt off your chair.” Show up at work an hour before everyone else; don’t be afraid to grab what you want (within ethical bounds); if you have a toxic boss, get out fast. The book is divided into three sections: for women trying to land their first job; for those trying to take their career to a higher level; and, finally, for those lucky few, how to savor success rather than be overwhelmed by it.
3Given studies that show parents are less happy than child-free adults, Jessica Valenti’s provocative new book asks Why Have Kids? (New Harvest, $23). While in some cases she protests too much about the pressure modern women are under, Valenti raises a number of startling arguments. Because women are so busy blaming one another for parenting decisions, she writes, we’ve let society off the hook. The lack of paid maternity leave and decent child care should spark more outrage. The most compelling section details laws on the books in dozens of states where women are treated as baby receptacles, whether or not they ever want to have kids. “The Handmaid’s Tale” leaps vividly to mind as Valenti describes cases of women forced to undergo Caesarean surgeries by court order; women denied antibiotics even though they were not and had no intention of becoming pregnant; and a woman prosecuted for murder after her child died because of medication prescribed by a doctor. “The best kind of mother is one who gives up her life — literally — for her child,” Valenti writes: “There could be no clearer, or more disturbing, message. If we want to be good mothers, we need to give up ourselves — whether it’s our freedom, or sense of self, our careers, even our lives.”
Zipp regularly reviews books for the Christian Science Monitor and The Post.