Gender scholars have been critical of the expectations placed upon women to accomplish a perfect version of motherhood. Yet, as I argue in my recent Gender & Societyarticle, what we have often understood to be a “perfection project” is in fact a “normalcy project.” Exemplified by our celebration of infants born with all ten fingers and all ten toes, we desire, not perfect babies, but normal babies. Under the guidance of medical and scientific experts, mothers are expected to devote ample amounts of their energy and resources to the project of preventing disability and other unwelcome differences in their children.
Women themselves are also expected to possess “normal” bodies as they carry out the demands of modern motherhood. Yet, how do mothers who do not have typical bodies – those with disabilities – experience these ideals? I explore this question through interviews and focus groups with mothers who have physical and sensory disabilities. I find these Deaf women and disabled women experience a profound paradox of visibility as they mother. Continue reading “Perfectly Normal Mothers?”→
Ironically, at a time when getting married and having children are becoming optional for women, motherhood has acquired a mystique. Even women with advanced educational credentials and successful careers devote phenomenal amounts of time and energy to their babies and young children in the hope of ensuring their current and future security. Popular magazines regularly feature Hollywood celebrities’ stories about how motherhood transformed their lives. Yet motherhood seems not to have changed how these women look. The photos accompanying stories about celebrity moms promise that mothers devoted to their babies can also be trim and fit.
Our study examines Canadian women’s feelings about their changed bodies in the months following childbirth. In 2008-2009, Elena interviewed 27 Canadian women who had given birth within the last 18 months, to find out about their physical experiences of pregnancy. Although she was not asking, these women often talked about how upset they were with their changed bodies: They were upset about the weight they had gained with pregnancy, and very conscious of the messages about “getting your body back” that are so common in the popular magazines read by new mothers. To explore women’s feelings about their postpartum bodies, in 2012-2013 she interviewed another 21 women who had given birth within 20 months. These two samples of women were diverse with respect to age, number of children, income, education and occupation. Eleven women were immigrants and eight were racial minorities. Most women were employed, some were in school, and only five were full-time homemakers. Almost half, however, were on paid maternity leave, and others were back at work after having taken the year of maternity/parental leave that most Canadian women with full-time jobs can take. Continue reading “My Body Will Never Be the Way It Used to Be”→
Originally posted by Feminist Reflections on September 17, 2015 here. Cross posted with permission.
I traveled to Winthrop University five months after my baby was born to talk to faculty and students about women’s unique needs during disaster. I was flying with my electric breast pump, which would both save me from the horrifying pain of engorgement and allow me to avoid dumping what women’s health practitioners call “liquid gold.” I am not a “breast is best” advocate; I’m a “whatever-the-mother-wants-to-do” advocate. Women, after all, already experience a lot of pressure around what it means to be a good mother, and research shows that the discrepancies between their expectations (like breastfeeding) and their experiences (finding breastfeeding difficult, impossible, painful, frustrating, and just plain not wanting to do it) causes stress, unhappiness, feelings of failure, and affects their overall experiences of motherhood.
Older women have oohed and ahhed over my pump, wishing they had something so efficient when their children were babies. Indeed, I came home from the hospital with a manual pump that was completely useless (the only pump my insurance covered), and I wondered how the generation before me didn’t chuck them in the fire just to watch them burn (yes, they are that bad). To these women, I was a “good” mother—a mother so dedicated to breastfeeding my child that I was able to bridge my work and my motherly duties. If I was going to insist on working outside of the home, they suggested, at least I was still putting my baby first. There is no short supply of family and friends who applaud mothers of infants for toting their pumps to work, and who tsk-tsk women for forgoing breastfeeding (or, ironically, for breastfeeding “too long”).
Balancing work with new parenthood is hard, anyone will tell you that. Many couples that were previously dual-earner couples handle the increase in time and energy that a new baby requires by shifting their labor strategies, with most men ramping up and most women ramping down their career involvement. Sociological research that aims to understand why this trend persists, despite women’s significant advances in education and the labor market, have looked at couples with new babies and asked why they made the decisions they made. Continue reading “Does Thinking About Future Parenthood Influence the Career Choices of Even Childless Women and Men?”→