The Cultural Contradictions of Motherhood / Edition 1

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Overview

"Hays's intellectually incendiary Cultural Contradictions could add needed nuance to feminist thought-and perhaps ignite change in mothersí overburdened lives."-Phyllis Eckhaus, The Nation

"A lucid, probing examination of our culture's contradictory and troubled relationship to motherhood-and how it affects mothers. . . . A thoughtful analysis of the paradoxes that surround mothering. Hays is sensitive to the emotional issues involved-and equally astute in perceiving their sociopolitical context."-Kirkus Reviews

"A thoughtful and carefully written new book that provides excellent material for family demography or women's studies courses at the graduate level."-Sandra L. Hofferth, American Journal of Sociology

An ideology of 'intensive mothering' exacerbates the inevitable tensions working mothers face, claims sociologist Sharon Hays. While women are expected to be nurturing and unselfish in their role as mothers, they are expected to be competitive and even ruthless at work. Drawing on ideas about mothering since the Middle Ages, on contemporary childrearing manuals, and on in-depth interviews, Hays shows that 'intensive mothering' is a powerful contemporary ideology. These unrealistic expectations of mothers, she suggests, reflect a deep cultural ambivalence about the pursuit of self-interest.

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Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
A lucid, probing examination of our culture's contradictory and troubled relationship to motherhood—and how it affects mothers.

Hays (Sociology and Women's Studies/Univ. of Virginia) interviewed 38 mothers from various class backgrounds. Some stayed at home, some worked; all had young children. She found that all, despite their differences, subscribed to what Hays calls the "ideology of intensive mothering"—the belief that mothers (not fathers) should spend an enormous amount of time, physical and emotional energy, and money raising children. She critically examines the advice of three best-selling authors of books on child-rearing—T. Berry Brazelton, Benjamin Spock, and Penelope Leach—and finds that they have adopted the ideology as well. Hays provides some helpful social context, convincingly demonstrating that no one idea about mothers and children is inherently "natural." In the past, she points out, children have been expendable or even demonized as bearers of original sin, not worthy of much time or emotional energy, while even today, in many cultures, raising children is the responsibility of several women and older children, not just the birth mother. Hays points out that the ideology is problematic because it perpetuates a "double shift" life for working women, as well as the assumption that men are incompetent at parenting and superior in the professional world—which encourages the subordination of women. It also places mothers in constant conflict with the rest of society's ostensible priorities—wealth and individual fulfillment. But she also argues perceptively that part of the reason the ideology is successful and necessary is that in placing a high value on love and self- sacrifice, it offers an alternative to selfish, materialistic market values.

A thoughtful analysis of the paradoxes that surround mothering. Hays is sensitive to the emotional issues involved—and equally astute in perceiving their sociopolitical context.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780300076523
  • Publisher: Yale University Press
  • Publication date: 9/28/1998
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 901,544
  • Product dimensions: 6.14 (w) x 9.21 (h) x 0.75 (d)

Table of Contents

Preface
1 Why Can't a Mother Be More Like a Businessman? 1
2 From Rods to Reasoning: The Historical Construction of Intensive Mothering 19
3 "What Every Baby Knows": Contemporary Advice on Appropriate Child Rearing 51
4 Sorting the Mail: The Social Bases of Variations in Mothering 71
5 Intensive Mothering: Women's Work on Behalf of the Sacred Child 97
6 The Mommy Wars: Ambivalence, Ideological Work, and the Cultural Contradictions of Motherhood 131
7 Love, Self-Interest, Power, and Opposition: Untangling the Roots of Intensive Mothering 152
Appendix A Interview Questions 179
Appendix B Survey Questionnaire 182
Notes 195
Bibliography 227
Index 245
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