Elevate Difference

Forced to Care: Coercion and Caregiving in America

Evelyn Nakano Glenn is a professor of Women’s and Ethnic Studies at University of California, Berkeley and author of Forced to Care. Perhaps because of her vocation, the book has a bit of a textbook flavor to it, but as it progresses, she lets go and begins to fill it out with a more humanistic view.

Forced to Care begins with a look at those who are responsible for the lion’s share of caregiving in America. Glenn’s findings basically confirm what most of us know already: in most cases, women of color, women at the low end of the socioeconomic scale, and illegal immigrants are the ones caring for our nation’s young, disabled, and elderly.

The author then takes her inquiries one step further by tracing the roots of caregiving back to colonial America in an effort to discover why such a disproportionate amount of paid and unpaid caretaking falls to these individuals. Glenn does a terrific job of leading the reader through the individual events that occurred politically, socially, industrially, and economically to reinforce the notion that it is a woman’s duty to take care of needy family members. Following the shift from an agricultural, self-sustaining, family-based society to a market economy, Glenn shows just why gender divisions still remain with respect to these types of jobs. She illustrates, through the use of an amazing amount of research, just exactly how American women with very few other choices have been coerced into providing care for others to the detriment of their own needs for centuries. Our society’s continued devaluation of these kinds of “homemaking” services serves to perpetuate the problem.

It is clear that the author encourages a sea change with respect to both paid and unpaid caregiving, but she refrains from demonizing any particular groups or individuals, instead offering a clear, concise look at how we got ourselves here, and why we need to get out of this mess while we still can.

Glenn advocates for both care providers and those receiving care and uses her vast knowledge of the history and foundation of the problems to offer concrete solutions to the difficulties both face as our aging society pushes us closer to a crisis in the fastest growing segment of healthcare in America.

Before picking up this book, I was nearly certain that I would be called upon to care for elderly family members at some point in my life, although hopefully not until my children are grown and gone. Despite my fears of being able to do so with grace and love versus resentment and frustration, it was nonetheless something I didn’t see a way out of. I can’t say that Forced to Care allayed my fears in any way, but I gained a tremendous amount of insight as to how and why I might be called upon to provide such care and how, if I am so inclined, I might join in efforts to increase the availability of resources and respect for caregivers as a whole.

While the book is not an easy read—I didn't settle down with it in my lounge chair next to the pool—it is an absolutely eye-opening look at something many of us take for granted; that we as women will eventually be called upon to care for those family members who cannot do it for themselves.

Written by: Kari O’Driscoll, July 10th 2010

The final chapter of the book does have some pretty interesting ideas about how to care for our caregivers. I definitely recommend this book to anyone who wonders how to make life better for all involved. It is difficult for us to advocate for ourselves, and as the author points out, so much of that is cultural - our non-paying "jobs" are not as valued in our market economy and somehow we need to change that.

Thanks for commenting!

It often challenging to advocate for myself, even within our immediate family, while taking care of my daughter who has autism. A big sea change? Who has the energy?

I have to think there must be other countries who take better care of their caregivers.

Reading your review is in itself an eye opener. I have always seen women being the main caretaker, whether it is for healthy or sick kids, disabled or aging family members. My understanding on this subject was that women realize and accept that not everything has an easy fix and being a caretaker requires just presence, compassion and empathy without trying to always find an end solution. But maybe this is not the only reason, maybe we just follow a model that has been so impregnated in our mind that we just follow it without questioning it? I think that I need to read this book to just understand if we are really main caretakers by choice or if we are conscientiously or not conscientiously following to do what is expected from us.