As August closes with the long Labor Day weekend, we are recapping this past month’s book club selection, A Uterus is a Feature, Not a Bug by Sarah Lacy.
Before we dive in, a quick primer on who exactly Sarah Lacy is. Her LinkedIn bio probably says it best: “Sarah Lacy is the founder and CEO of Chairman Mom. She also founded Pando.com on maternity leave in 2011 and built it into a profitable investigative journalism company. She’s been a journalist for nearly 20 years, known for her fearless, outspoken reporting. She’s been profiled in publications as varied as the New York Times and San Francisco Magazine, and is a sought after speaker, and guest on national TV and radio. Her newest book, “A Uterus Is a Feature Not a Bug: The Working Woman’s Guide to Overthrowing the Patriarchy” (HarperBusiness) is part memoir, part manifesto on the power of working mothers. Sarah is an unapologetic feminist, mother, and supporter of women.”
As her bio outlines, A Uterus is a Feature, Not a Bug is part memoir—it provides an inside look at the life and career of Sarah Lacy from tech reporter to Senior Editor at TechCrunch during a tumultuous time, ultimately leading her to found PandoMedia in 2011 and Chairman Mom in 2017. Since the founding of Chairman Mom was running in parallel to the writing of this book, this is not a highlight of her story, but we do hear the ins and outs of founding Pando and all of the challenges and triumphs that came along with it.
Beyond just her checklist of achievements, we see Sarah’s career interwoven with her life, and more specifically, with the birth of her two children and the early years of their lives. Sarah tells the story of her ‘awakening’ from “Cool-Girl-Sarah-Lacy” to “Unapologetic-Feminist-Sarah-Lacy” as a progression that began with her son, Ian, and continued with force after her daughter, Evie, was born. Through this she identifies key research on the challenges that women face in the workplace and beyond, even when they seem subtle through the social construct of the patriarchy. The maternal wall, equal pay, maternity leave, motherhood expectations, the 50/50 parenting relationship, the confidence gap, imposter syndrome, single parent stigma… the list goes on and I highly recommend reading for a deep dive and personal view on each one.
As I listened to this book, I was regularly struck by key statistics and research that I had not previously heard and found myself vigorously nodding along with some of Sarah’s more personal revelations. Without getting into each one here, I will highlight my top three takeaways.
1. Expectations of motherhood.
Sarah begins this book by calling out that while aspects of this book are for “everyone,” readers can’t truly understand the experience or depth of impact that having a child has unless they have had one themselves. As someone who hasn’t had a child, I took this as an opportunity to build empathy rather than an excuse to stop listening. There are a million expectations and assumptions that attach themselves to a woman once she becomes pregnant or has a child—and likely long before that.
Here’s the stat that got me from Pew Research: 33% of research respondents believe that it is best for young children if their mothers do not work outside the home. Regardless of your own personal belief—consider how this introduces bias when only 7% of respondents answered the same way about fathers. When we form and perpetuate these expectations of what a woman should do or what is best on a broad scale, we ignore all of the nuance of what is best for each unique parent-child relationship vs. what is best for all parents and children.
2. Different cultures, different norms.
In the book, Sarah goes on the hunt for the perfect “control group” to better understand how a more equal society would look, function, and benefit everyone. She turned to Iceland where cultural norms for having and raising children feel quite different from the U.S.—two thirds of all children are born to unmarried parents, social programs support more equal maternity and paternity leave, and the concept of a non-working mother feels truly foreign. However idyllic or horrific this sounds to you as a reader, these differences don’t mean equality as the gender pay gap continues to widen, placing the burden on single mothers as heads of household. For me, this exploration was fascinating in that it reminded me of how much we as individuals are a product of our society. Our biases and expectations are being formed bit by bit, little by little over time until they are fixed and unwavering. Experiencing (even if only through stories and photos) different cultures can be so powerful in pushing us to rethink and soften those stances to make room for different ideas and opinions.
3. The cool girl.
Sarah speaks openly about all of the times when she went along with someone or something that made her uncomfortable with the aim of being “Cool-Girl-Sarah-Lacy.” Not believing there was a problem, not wanting to admit there was a problem, or not wanting to address the problem for fear of rocking the boat—the “cool girl” perpetuates the problem by not identifying it. I know that this is still something I am guilty of, letting comments slide from “well meaning” individuals that I wouldn’t tolerate from someone else, or tolerating comments made because I can handle them. But this doesn’t do anything to interrupt biases or change the assumptions and expectations about what women should (or should not) be. Being the cool girl may seem like the path of least resistance, but it takes its toll in the long run.
Questions to Consider
How do your expectations of motherhood align with the Pew Research study? How do you think this impacts your expectations of yourself, or the people around you?
When you read about the motherhood culture in Iceland, do you find it idyllic or horrifying? Why? What can you learn from other cultures when it comes to gender expectations?
When are you comfortable as “the cool girl”? When do you find it most important to address challenges head on, even if your cool girl image is shattered?
The “patriarchy” is mentioned in the subtitle of this book. What does the patriarchy mean to you? What are the positive and negative connotations that come along with it?
In the tech world, a bug is a glitch in a program—how do you think motherhood benefits women as a feature vs. as a bug for working mothers?
Thanks for debriefing with me! I hope this book was eye opening and impactful—looking forward to hearing your thoughts in the comments below.