Federal Maternal Policy and Gender Politics: Comparative Insights
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Federal Maternal Policy and Gender Politics: Comparative Insights Seth Koven and Sonya Michel, eds. Mothers of a New World: Maternalist Politics and the Origins of Welfare States. New York: Routledge, 1993. vii +714 pp. ISBN 0-415-903-14-9 (pb). Alisa Klaus. Every Child a Lion: The Origins of Maternal and Infant Health Policy in the United States and France, 1890-1920. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1993. viü + 298 pp. ISBN 0-8014-2860-2 (cl). Theda Skocpol. Protecting Soldiers and Mothers: The Political Origins of Social Policy in the United States. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1992. vii + 447 pp. ISBN 0-674-71765-1 (cl). Kristin Kay Barker "¥AThat these three books share is a comparative approach to the w w origins, content, and trajectory of "maternalist" poUcies and politics in Western capitalist democracies between 1880 and 1940. Maternalism, as employed by the various authors, involves two interrelated aspects. First, it includes the political demands on, and subsequent responses of, the federal state concerning its obligation to care for its mothers, potential mothers, and chUdren. Second, and relatedly, each of the authors addresses the specific and varying ways in which women professionals and volunteers used maternalist rhetoric to articulate their unique qualifications to do the work of such caring. Together, these books offer historical accounts of the emergence of maternal and child welfare provisions in six nation-states and offer an exciting opportunity to address some of the most systematic comparative questions about the relationship between federal social policy and gender politics. Two overarching themes emerge from a collective consideration of these works. First, they all highlight the importance of maternalist politics and policies in comparative studies of welfare-state formation more generally. That is, in each country covered in the three books, maternalist policies were part and parcel of early welfare-state development. Evaluating and accounting for the specific matrix of maternalist policies adopted by each nation-state, the fate of those policies, and the importance of maternalist provisions to the process of state building is the larger task of these works. States adopted different configurations of policies such as child labor laws, maternal and infant health provisions, protective labor © 1997 Journal of Women's History, Vol. 9 No. 2 (Summer) 184 Journal of Women's History Summer legislation, and mothers' allowances or pensions. What were the conditions under which certain of these maternalist policies came to fruition or failed? What were the subsequent consequences for the scope and content of the welfare state? Under which combination of conditions and provisions were women's interests most fully realized? Through rich and detailed inquiry, these collective works offer answers that focus on political culture, party politics, women's relationship to dominant political parties and institutions, gender relations, state capacity (the ability of the state to implement federal policies), population concerns, and military and geopolitical concerns. The second resounding theme emerging from these texts is the ambiguity of maternalism as political strategy. Women used existing gender relations (based on gender difference and separate spheres) paradoxically to justify their public involvement in the lives of women and children. The particular permutation that maternalism took in each country was shaped as it intersected with the larger poUtical and economic culture and practices. For example, particular representations of "woman" (i.e. "citizen-mother" and "mother-worker") emerged within each nationstate . These representations in turn implicitly structured political debate and institutional formation and created and limited opportunities for women's participation in these policies and processes. In sum, these books dissect and advance the concept of maternalism in comparative context and offer both clear accounts of the trajectory of past maternalist struggles and insight into its contemporary potential as a feminist strategy. In Protecting Soldiers and Mothers, Skocpol argues that existing scholarship on comparative welfare-state formation has assumed a universal, evolutionary pattern through which states progress as they develop into a mature, modern welfare state. Because of this ideal-type theorizing, the U.S. welfare state has been identified as a "laggard" (emerging only with New Deal legislation) relative to other Western capitalist democracies. According to Skocpol, the United States was not a social policy laggard but rather followed a different...