Wednesday, June 23, 2010


Ever felt like there isn't a whole lot of appreciation in today's society for all the work we moms do? Aside from all the lip service, I mean. 

Well, in Mom: The Transformation of Motherhood in Modern America, historian Rebecca Jo Plant traces the dwindling of Mother Love and the growth of mother-blaming from the 1920s, with the growth of secularized values and followers of psychoanalysis that questioned the moral status of Mother, through world war II where pin-up girls replaced Mom for serving soldiers abroad, and up until its accumulation (in Plant's account) with Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique (1963) and second wave modernism. "Mother-blaming" allowed women of Friedan's generation to "signal a rejection of Victorian moral strictures and a commitment to a more secular, psychologically oriented approach to sexuality and the self. It could also be a way of mocking a middlebrow popular culture that seemed hopelessly sentimental, or a means of repudiating nativist patriotism in favor of a more democratic notion of American identity," explains Plant, adding that "for an ambitious young woman like Friedan, it could be a way of conveying a fervent desire for a different kind of life than that which her mother led" (150).

While I can relate with that last bit there in particular, there are some other interesting parts about Plant's book too, like how the quest for painless childbirth changed the way we view (and appreciate) the labor (!) women go through to give birth to children.

To me, the book is marked by being originally written as the dissertation of a Ph.D. candidate in history. It's limited in scope and it nails down its main point repeatedly. I found The Mask of Motherhood by Susan Maushart to be much more enraging and inspiring (blogged about here). But Mom is still worth checking out. Especially if you're interested in the historical nuts and bolts of how "antimaternalist" mother bashing came to replace mother praise.

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