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NWSA Journal 15.1 (2003) 181-186

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Mothers and Children: Feminist Analyses and Personal Narratives by Susan E. Chase and Mary F. Rogers. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2001, 343 pp., $55.00 hardcover, $25.00 paper.
The Price of Motherhood: Why MotherhoodIs the Most Important—and Least Valued Job in America by Ann Crittenden. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2001, 300 pp., $25.00 hardcover.
Mothers and Daughters: Connection, Empowerment, and Transformation edited by Andrea O'Reilly and Sharon Abbey. Lanham, MD: Row-man & Littlefield, 2000, 302 pp. $65.00 hardcover, $25.95 paper.

It has been fifteen years since I delivered an address to my own institution on motherhood. As a tenure-track, newly minted Ph.D., I spent weeks on research for this address and was frustrated that I found so little in the feminist literature. Of course, there was Nancy Chodorow's psychoanalytic reformulation and Adrienne Rich's work on the institutionalization of the mothering experience. There were other individuals, too, who urged us to consider the transformation process of woman to mother, the love/hate, separation/individuation process between mother and child, self-hate and mother blame, and motherhood as a biologically based [End Page 181] investment. Overall, however, I found a dearth in rich feminist analyses of motherhood. I was particularly excited, therefore, to review three new books that not only privilege a discourse on mothers but that also offer a feminist analysis. The good news surrounding all three works is that the feminist theoretical analyses informing each book are sophisticated and rich, a clear reflection of the substantive development of feminist theory in the past decade. The bad news is that the descriptions of mothers' lives and the experience of motherhood remain virtually the same as that described in my early reading of the literature. As Ann Crittenden puts it in The Price of Motherhood:

For all the changes of the last decades, it is still women, not men, who adjust their lives to accommodate the needs of children; women who do what is necessary to make a home; women who forego status, income, advancement, and independence. (27)

In spite of the progress made by women in this country, the voices heard in each of these books are very similar to those captured in much earlier works. As I read these works, I found myself saying "so what's new about this?" and, of course, I have come to the sobering conclusion that what's new about the motherhood experience is that nothing is really new.

Mothers and Children by Susan E. Chase and Mary F. Rogers is a collection of feminist analyses that assumes a feminist sociological perspective. In good feminist fashion, personal narratives that bring to life the issues addressed in the respective chapter follow each of the chapters. The authors have organized this work in three parts. Part one, "Social Constructions of Motherhood" includes chapters that explore the relationship between motherhood and feminism, the concept of the good and bad mother, and the intersections among the father absence literature, maleness, and fathers as caregivers. Part two focuses on issues surrounding motherhood and embodiment, particularly the relationship between mothering and sexuality and the institutionalization of pregnancy, childbirth, and other reproductive technologies. The final section encompasses chapters on mother-child relationships through the life-span with particular attention given to teen sexuality and father-daughter incest, othermothering or those forms of child nurturing not done by the primary mother, and mothering as political activism. Two of the book's most welcomed chapters are those that deal explicitly with marginalized groups and marginalized topics. "'Good' Mothers and 'Bad' Mothers,"centers on those women most diminished and rejected in this country: drug-dependent, poor, single, teen, and lesbian mothers. While Chase and Rogers clearly admit the differences among these groups of mothers, they are able to articulate the existing common threads in the social construction of good and...


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