TBR: I’m Every Woman

This week’s book is I’m Every Woman: Remixed Stories of Marriage, Motherhood and Work, by Lonnae O’Neal Parker. It’s the book about a black woman’s perspective on the whole work-family thing that was mentioned in the Times article I discussed last month.

It’s an interesting book.  At times it delivers exactly what it promises — insight into the ways that work and family issues play out differently for black women.  Parker says that she never realized that some women feel guilt for working outside the home until she was in her twenties, as all the women in her families had worked for pay.  She writes about the extra time that she needs to carve out of her day to comb and braid her daughters’ hair, and illustrates her stories with quotes from the blues, R&B, and hip hop.

Parker also offers insights that cut across racial lines:

"I no longer ask the people around me to give me time.  I do not know if it is fair to ask them to go against their most basic nature, which is to want me there, available for everything they need me for, for as long as they can have me.  Instead I do the hard work of being completely clear about what I need.  Then they don’t have to give me anything.  They just have to respect the boundaries I insist on maintaining.  It can still be a tough sell, but at least I’ve got half the battle won."

But at other points the book wanders and loses focus.  The long discussion of 1960s television shows left me cold.  One chapter simply reprints Parker’s Post magazine article about her "white" cousin who lives with her.  It was interesting — I remember finding it interesting when it was first published — but doesn’t really fit in with the rest of the book.  Another chapter includes a random paragraph about Michelle Obama that seems to be a left-over remnant from a section that got edited out.  At times Parker can’t resist including every tangential bit of history that she knows about a subject.

In several places, Parker discusses the slave history of black women in the United States, and points out that her burden is light compared to what her foremothers endured.  How can she complain about juggling the demands of writing for the Post and caring for her family when women worked from sunup to dark in the fields, and stole moments with their children at night?  When women routinely lost their children to the slave trade and death?

It’s a brutal standard.  Given the horrors of history, and the suffering of millions worldwide today, who of us has any right to complain?  Certainly not me.  And such comparisons are often used as a silencing maneuver.  But Parker uses these stories as a source of strength, telling herself that she can handle whatever fate brings to her.  And I’m sure she can.

One Response to “TBR: I’m Every Woman”

  1. Jennifer James Says:

    Thanks for the review Elizabeth. I ran an interview with Lonnae last year in Mommy Too! at http://www.mommytoo.com/november2005_3.htm, but haven’t gotten around to actually picking up a copy myself. Your review reminded that it’s one I really need to add to my library.

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