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The Cultural Contradictions of Motherhood Hardcover – August 28, 1996

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

With more than half of all American mothers working outside the home, the conflicts of time management and behavior in the differing environments of home and workplace are important contemporary issues. Hays (sociology and women's studies, Univ. of Virginia) examines these conflicts by looking at the history of child-rearing practices, analyzing three popular current child care manuals (Spock, Brazelton, and Leach), and conducting in-depth interviews with 38 mothers of toddlers from diverse social classes and ethnic backgrounds. Her conclusion: modern parenting is a child-centered, emotionally, financially, and labor-intensive process that is not cost-effective. Women bear the major responsibility for this work because it is beneficial to the white male capitalist political establishment. A revolution that will transform parenting into shared work among social equals, she notes, will give women greater power and make men more active participants in child rearing. This book makes good points, but it is laborious. Arlie Hochschild's The Second Shift: Working Parents and the Revolution (LJ 4/15/89) is easier to read and understand. Women's studies collections will want to add this book. It is not a necessary purchase for others.?Barbara M. Bibel, Oakland P.L., Cal.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From 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. -- Copyright ©1996, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press; First Edition edition (August 28, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300066821
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300066821
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.3 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,129,726 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 31 people found the following review helpful By b. on January 23, 2000
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
An interesting book for anyone who has ever grappled with balancing work and motherhood. However, Hays' review of secondary sources on family life throughout the ages reads like an undergraduate term-paper. Hays' analysis of child-rearing manuals concludes that while people are buying these manuals, the effect upon them is unknown. The meat of her analysis is based upon interviews with 38 women - a focus group too small to contain any conclusive evidence on the topic. If you are looking for a sociological analysis of motherhood & work, the rigorous quantitative approaches are just not there. If, however, you want an entertaining ancedotal book on how some women view motherhood, child-rearing & working, then this is the book for you.
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