Holding It Together: 
How Women Became America’s Safety Net
By Jessica Calarco
Portfolio, 336 pages, $30

In Holding It Together: How Women Became America’s Safety Net, the sociologist Jessica Calarco argues that women, as mothers and carers, are propping up American society to compensate for an absent welfare state and men who too often shirk their responsibilities. Her solution is a stronger social safety net, more active male participation, and dismantling myths that underpin the unfairly distributed burden. One such myth is that the United States is a “DIY society,” in which individuals solve their own problems without the help of employers and governments. But that “illusion,” she says, “seems real because of the magic that women perform.”

However, Calarco fatefully leaves another important myth insufficiently examined: the myth of parental determinism. This is the widespread cultural belief that how parents raise their children determines the fates of individuals and societies. If children are the future, but are also immensely fragile, there will never be a solution too burdensome to thrust onto increasingly beleaguered parents. Until policymakers and the rest of society—not parents—abandon these assumptions, no amount of welfare-state spending or male involvement in parenting will truly alleviate the pressures faced by mothers. 

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