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Confronting Postmaternal Thinking

Confronting Postmaternal Thinking: Feminism, Memory, and Care

Julie Stephens
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 208
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  • Book Info
    Confronting Postmaternal Thinking
    Book Description:

    There is a deep cultural anxiety around public expressions of maternalism and the application of maternal values to society as a whole. Julie Stephens examines why postmaternal thinking has become so influential in recent decades and why there has been a growing unease with maternal forms of subjectivity and maternalist perspectives. In moving beyond policy definitions, which emphasize the priority given to women's claims as employees over their political claims as mothers, Stephens details an elaborate process of cultural forgetting that has accompanied this repudiation of the maternal.

    Reclaiming an alternative feminist position through an investigation of oral history, life narratives, Web blogs, and other rich and varied sources, Stephens confronts the core claims of postmaternal thought and challenges dominant representations of feminism as having forgotten motherhood. Deploying the interpretive framework of memory studies, she examines the political structures of forgetting surrounding the maternal and the weakening of nurture and care in the public domain. She views the promotion of an illusory, self-sufficient individualism as a form of social unmothering that is profoundly connected to this ethos. In rejecting both traditional maternalism and the new postmaternalism, Stephens challenges prevailing paradigms and makes way for an alternative feminist maternalism centering on a politics of care.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-52056-0
    Subjects: Sociology, Psychology, Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xviii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-16)

    Listening to the radio during a blistering summer when the death toll from heat and bushfire was unprecedented, I was struck by an odd discussion of a book that promised to teach the skill and etiquette of how to be “kind and compassionate in a moment of illness.”¹ The author, Susan Halpern, offered advice about how to be at ease with a loved one who is gravely ill and identified the emotional challenges posed by visiting a seriously sick friend. The expertise required to manage such a situation was presented as something we needed to relearn. Apparently we once knew...

  5. 1 Unmothering
    (pp. 17-42)

    Two decades ago Sara Ruddick made an observation that to claim a maternal identity was “not to make an empirical generalization but to engage in a political act.”¹ Today, in stark contrast, it has become almost “politically impossible” to make a public claim on the basis of motherhood, according to feminist state theorist Ann Orloff.² Political support for women’s caregiving role has diminished in favor of endorsing women’s claims as workers or limiting entitlements to economically active citizens. This chapter will critically review some of the current explanations for this dramatic shift and proceed to discuss how its impact extends...

  6. 2 Feminist Reminiscence
    (pp. 43-70)

    The personal memories of feminists have taken on a public and collective significance. Nowhere is this more evident than in reminiscences concerning mothering and feminism, feminist mothers and maternal experiences. Time and again, media and popular representations reinforce the notion that feminism is responsible for women trading maternity for market work. The testimony of young women who blame feminism (or feminist mothers) for their decision to delay pregnancy or their childlessness is eagerly seized upon by publishers, bloggers, and cultural commentators in the print and electronic media. Dismissing the emotion generated by such discussions as a backlash, historical revisionism,¹ or...

  7. 3 Memory and Modernity
    (pp. 71-94)

    In contemporary narratives documenting the experience of early motherhood, women describe feeling as though they had been returned to an ancient time, to a “primitive, shameful condition” where they find themselves without language and drowning in a “primordial soup of femaleness.”¹ The maternal is rendered as persistently unmodern. Similarly, in narratives marking the success of second-wave feminism, the rejection of maternalism is a key ingredient. This rejection is also the sign of a particularly modern form of selfhood. The historical connection between ideas of female citizenship and maternity, in the form of policy support for the needs of mothers and...

  8. 4 Maternalism Reconfigured?
    (pp. 95-130)

    Despite the widespread repudiation of maternalism in social policy, public discourse, and in sanctioned memories of second-wave feminism, it would appear that resistance to postmaternal thinking is gaining momentum. Witness the debates about whether there is a new mothers’ movement sweeping the United States and the proliferation of maternal online advocacy groups. Other cultural manifestations have emerged in the form of conferences on motherhood in the twenty-first century, Mama Festivals, a Museum of Motherhood, rock concerts celebrating motherhood, and mamazines. A range of products have been launched announcing whether you are an Outlaw Mom, a Hot Mama, or a Green...

  9. Conclusion: Toward a New Feminist Maternalism
    (pp. 131-144)

    This book began with a discussion of cultural forgetting. It will end with speculation about a form of remembering that has emerged in some feminist responses to the current environmental crisis. I have attempted to advance an idea of postmaternal thinking and its relationship to particular memories of second-wave feminism. By examining some of the different cultural ways motherhood has been narrated, I have tried to theorize contemporary expressions of a profound cultural anxiety around the maternal and more general notions of care, nurture, and dependency. However, there are strong resistances emerging that challenge this postmaternal culture. As always, problems...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 145-160)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 161-174)
  12. Index
    (pp. 175-190)