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Myths of Motherhood Hardcover – May 6, 1994

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In an enlightening, disarming survey of motherhood across the centuries, Thurer draws on feminist theory, psychoanalysis and cultural history to show that each society has its own norms, beliefs and expectations for mothering. She finds that pervasive misogyny and female infanticide subverted ancient Greek motherhood, while in the Middle Ages, fierce maternal love--personified by the archetype of the Madonna selflessly devoted to her Son--coexisted with child abandonment and widespread inhumane treatment of children. The "good mother"--properly married, subservient, modest, forgoing her own needs and desires to rear her children--was invented during the Protestant Reformation, asserts Thurer, a Boston clinical psychologist. Encouraging a diversity of mothering styles, she suggests that mothers today can be personally ambitious without endangering their children and advocates a family model based on "shared sacrifice," with new forms of public and private support to ease the burden of mothering.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Kirkus Reviews

Psychologist Thurer offers a historical smorgasbord of societal attitudes toward mothering, from the paleolithic period to the present. She views the Stone Age as a golden period for women: The prevalent divinities were powerful, complex mother goddesses, revered for their seemingly magical ability to bear children. By 600 bc, the patriarchy's ascendancy signaled the beginning of a long downward spiral for the status of mothers and, by extension, of children. In classical Athens, misogyny was particularly virulent; women were marginalized, and infanticide appeared to be the preferred form of family planning. Medieval and Renaissance Europeans venerated images of the Virgin Mary and her divine child, but in real life, deaths of infants (particularly girls) due to neglect and abandonment reached epidemic proportions. Throughout much of later European history, women who fit the mold of the submissive, fertile wife were idealized, albeit patronized, while unwed mothers were vilified and sometimes put to death. By the early 20th century, as medical advances made survival of birth more likely for both mother and child, ``scientific motherhood'' arrived. A stream of manuals offered advice on raising physically and emotionally healthy children, paving the way for psychological theories that blamed women for all their offspring's emotional ills. Recently, though, says Thurer, the image of mothers has been revitalized by feminist authors who portray them as loving but with a realistic range of emotions. Mom is finally becoming a person. Many of Thurer's conclusions, particularly those concerning early history, seem open to question, based as they are on scanty evidence. And there are some distracting factual lapses. (The Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary means that from the time she was conceived she was without original sin--not that she was conceived asexually.) Nonetheless, Thurer effectively demonstrates how transient any one view of mothering really is. -- Copyright ©1994, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 381 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin; First Edition edition (May 6, 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0395584159
  • ISBN-13: 978-0395584156
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6.1 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,974,599 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Carolyn Slattery on October 12, 1999
Format: Paperback
I found this book to be a fascinating, couldn't-put-it-down retrospective of motherhood seen in a historical and cultural perspective. Not only was the subject matter interesting, but it was written in a fresh and accessible manner for the non-historian.
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Format: Paperback
I read this book some years after its 1994 publication date. Because of that- which is of course through no fault of the author- much of the material in the book was not new to me, as similar ideas on motherhood have been explored in various other books & articles since 1994. This does not at all detract from the quality of the book, and perhaps it would be a good idea for the author to publish an updated edition to include the changes in our perception of motherhood since the mid-90s.

For those who haven't read this yet and are interested in buying it: Shari Thurer's book is a challenging, enlightening, and very readable exploration of motherhood through the ages. She looks at motherhood as the culturally defined concept it is, and traces the changes it's gone through, from the Stone Age until the mid-90s. There's a focus on US motherhood in the latest chapters of the books, which is a slight negative, but not one to dwell on.

Thurer starts from the assumption that today's view of motherhood (and this continues, sadly, since the 90s) has to do with mother-love as a 'moral imperative', putting unrealistic and unfair pressure on new mums to be as perfect as possible, at the expense of their own needs and desires. Shari Thurer's bottom line is an important one: there's nothing natural and timeless about the way we mother our children, and consequently, the way we mother (or shall I say, parent) our children today can be taken with a grain of salt. I feel it's an important message which sadly remains overlooked as we women tend to put ourselves under too much pressure to raise our kids the 'right way' and very often feel guilty, much more than men do, when our performance falls below par.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Jonathan M. Tran on March 11, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
An overall solid book on motherhood. It is written from the author's perspective and I used it throughout my global humanities class on motherhood.
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6 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Ck on May 23, 2000
Format: Paperback
Being a woman against political correctness also does not make me a big fan of many feministic studies, so I was a bit relunctant to pick up this book at my college bookstore. The Myths of Motherhood is a fascinating read and not written by the usual feminist fare of male-hating/bashing writers. Shari L. Thurer is a mother herself and she writes with confident prose of the "maternal" perception throughout areas of history. Even with convincing speculation on what may have gone on through the minds of women in their respective eras. This book is an excellent reference on several levels and will lead one to re-evaluate just how much society's changes have affected what we *think* is a proper "mother".
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19 of 52 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on April 9, 2003
Format: Paperback
Like so many works by liberal feminists, The Myths of Motherhood is a mixed bag of good. Some good, some bad, some just silly.
First the bad: Shari L Thurer is clearly a liberal feminist. She uses this book to expound her belief in abortion, shared parenting arrangements, government subsidized daycare, and all the typical liberal feminist stuff. In many places in the book Ms. Thurer switches from giving historical data of motherhood in particular times/places to postulating about she believes it can/should have been done differently, and openly expressing her opinions on the subject of the ancient people that she describes. I think it's safe to say that no one this far removed from ancient people is qualified to give opinions about them. The giving of opinion and liberal propaganda are a shame, because the really overshadow the good things in this book.
Another problem that some readers may have with this book is that all religion is relegated to 'myth'. Some people may be offended to find that their closely held religious views are treated somewhat callously in this book.
Second, the Silly: Ms Thurer in some places in this book has failed to do her research on the topic and makes mistakes that even a lay person can easily catch. For example: she makes reference to the Catholic doctrine of Immaculate Conception, but she completely screws up the exegesis by making it seem that Jesus was immaculately conceived. That is not what the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception refers to. Immaculate Conception is the Catholic doctrine which says that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was saved and cleansed from sin in her mother's womb. It's just silly of Ms. Thurer to make a mistake like this.
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