Social Forces 80.4 (2002) 1416-1418
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Recreating Motherhood. By Barbara Katz Rothman. Rutgers University Press, 2000. 226 pp. Paper, $22.00.
In the second edition of her classic work, Recreating Motherhood, Barbara Katz Rothman first challenges conventional American notions of birth and mothering and then begins to offer an alternative vision of reproduction. Although Recreating Motherhood was first drafted more than a decade ago, Rothman's ideas are still avant-garde. The collective view of reproduction, which Rothman critiques, has grown even more problematic since Recreating Motherhood entered our societal consciousness.
In the first section of her book, Rothman critiques the traditional American view of reproduction. She argues that the ideologies of patriarchy, technology, and capitalism alienate parents and children. This alienation occurs because (1) the ideology of patriarchy causes us to define families by genetic ties rather than by nurturing relationships; (2) the ideology of technology leads us to expect rationality [End Page 1416] and efficiency from children and their caregivers; and finally (3) the ideology of capitalism causes us to devalue the work involved in raising children.
Next, Rothman lays a foundation for an alternative philosophy of reproduction. She begins by urging her readers to consider the meaning of reproduction and pregnancy from women's, rather than men's, perspective. For Rothman, this new vision means defining the period between conception and birth as an extended period of nurturing and awarding parental rights only to those who have nurtured the child. The implication of this view is that at birth, gestational mothers deserve full parental rights regardless of any prior contractual arrangements.
According to Rothman, seeing reproduction from women's perspective also involves valuing the work of mothers and respecting whoever performs mothering work. This entails giving caregivers the right to determine the medical care their children will receive, giving gestational mothers full control over their birth experience, paying child-care providers a decent wage, providing child-care workers with visitation rights if they desire them, and recognizing that raising children is work that can be performed by people of different genders and cultural backgrounds.
By challenging the notion that individuals are free to choose their own destiny, Rothman also encourages her readers to question liberal philosophy, technology, and the free market. She suggests that the development of technologies like prenatal screening is not necessarily as liberating as our traditional views might imply. She reasons that women do not have a real option to carry children with disabilities if they live in communities that do not provide adequate support services.
As a piece of social criticism, Recreating Motherhood is unsurpassed. Barbara Katz Rothman has not only provided us with a concise, clearly written explanation of how our societal views have limited our understanding of birth and parenting, she has also demonstrated how those limits have tainted all Americans' reproductive experience.
However, Recreating Motherhood is much better at getting people thinking about what is wrong with our society's approach to reproduction than it is at offering politically reasonable and workable solutions for improving current conditions. Throughout Recreating Motherhood, Rothman offers us policy recommendations that are based on her criticisms. Although I find most of those recommendations inherently appealing, I believe that Rothman's recommendations themselves raise a host of serious issues that require further attention.
For example, if we, as a society, were to define pregnancy and reproduction entirely in terms of women's experiences, we might run into some policy-related problems. How would we deal with the infamous high school student who gave birth in the bathroom during her junior prom and dropped her baby in a trashcan? It is clear that she did not "define" her newborn as a separate individual or herself as a murderer. Like Rothman, I strongly believe that society needs to incorporate women's experiences into their collective ideas about reproduction. Nevertheless, [End Page 1417] I sense that her view is not a sufficient basis for workable reform. Some form of compromise is necessary.
Similarly, although I am a strong supporter of public involvement in childcare, I believe Rothman's recommendations for public...