new formations: a journal of culture/theory/politics
Volume 80-81, 2013
This essay interrogates the emergence of a new moment in the unfolding of contemporary neoliberal hegemony which sees the political potential in creating strong connections with liberal feminism, updating this while also retaining some of its most salient features dating back to the mid to late 1970s. At the same time this process, which can be traced through the very contemporary entanglements of political culture, visual media and new social media, finds concretisation through the figure of the middle-class mother who is slim and youthful in appearance. This persona, whether in full time work or a ‘stay home Mum’ is accredited a more substantial professional status than was the case in the era of the ‘housewife’. With feminism ‘taken into account’ she is considered an equal partner in marriage and thus charged with making the right choices and decisions for her family needs. In this neoliberal version of past notions of ‘maternal citizenship’ a number of socio-political processes can be seen at work, she is compared favourably for her well-planned and healthy life in comparison to her less advantaged, low income, single parent counterparts. Her lifestyle and childcare choices mark a strong departure, indeed an entirely different trajectory to previous generations of mothers, who across the boundaries of class and ethnicity, benefited from a feminist post-war welfare ethos which regarded nursery provision for pre-school children, toddlers and indeed babies as a social good. And finally her presence and visibility in a number of campaigning and online organisations suggests a stronger class divide than was the case in the past and with this the eclipsing of the egalitarian principles of social democracy. The essay reflects on the film Revolutionary Road (2009) and the recent book by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg as conduits for this new ‘maternal-feminine’.