Search Results for "motherhood"

17th 2013
Raising Henry: A Memoir of Motherhood, Disability, and Discovery by Rachel Adams

Posted under American history & art & book reviews & childhood & class & Gender & happy endings & Intersectionality & the body & women's history

The offending photograph of "privilege."

The offending photograph of “privilege.”

After reading Cristina Nehring’s breathtakingly nasty review (described in the previous post) of Rachel Adams’s Raising Henry:  A Memoir of Motherhood, Disability, and Discovery (Yale University Press, 2013) I just had to read it myself.  So, a borrowed copy from our in-state interlibrary loan system arrived this week, and I’ve spent the last few days in my head with Rachel Adams and her family as they adjust to the surprise of having a child with Down syndrome.  I found the book smart, funny, and incredibly moving.  I also ordered a copy of it for our university library, as I hope it finds a wide audience of readers among parents, teachers, therapists, and people who work in medicine.

Raising Henry is also very self-deprecating–so many of the scenes that Nehring pretended to be offended by are clearly moments in which Adams is holding herself up for criticism or even ridicule.  One of the things I really like about Adams’s style is that she doesn’t brook any false piety about motherhood.  She doesn’t want to be informed that Henry is an “angel” sent to her by God for a special purpose.  She’s a secular (and highly successful) academic:  before becoming a mother, she loved having an entire room of their apartment as her office, where she could “work in pajamas and screen my calls, surrounded by piles of books and notes.”  (Isn’t that the fantasy of every humanist you know?  Those of us who live outside Upper Manhattan, where third and fourth bedrooms are much cheaper to come by, are frequently living that dream, Historiann included!)  When she and her husband move into a two-bedroom apartment of their own upon the birth of their first (non-disabled) son, she confesses to “imagining what it would be like to write in his big sunny room, my research spread out in the space that now held a crib, a changing table, and growing numbers of brightly colored plastic toys,” (82).  Like youth, expensive real estate is sometimes wasted on the young.

Adams is also the author of Sideshow U.S.A.:  Freaks and the American Cultural Imagination (University of Chicago Press, 2001) and a scholar of disability studies, and she incorporates insights from her decades of research in this field into her book about her younger son, Henry.  Continue Reading »


7th 2013
Competitve motherhood and envy meet the oppression olympics.

Posted under art & bad language & book reviews & class & Gender & publication & unhappy endings & weirdness & women's history

Just go read Cristina Nehring’s review of Rachel Adams’s Raising Henry: A Memoir of Motherhood, Disability, and Discovery (Yale University Press, 2013). I don’t want to exerpt any of it, it’s just so unbelieveably mean. So go ahead–I’ll wait.

I haven’t read the book, but it strikes me as completely appropriate (insofar as I can tell through this rather nasty review) that Adams writes about her own experiences of parenting a child with Down syndrome, as the subtitle suggests. As one commenter at the Chronicle notes: “I admire Adams’s restraint in focusing on herself. I am alarmed when parents seem to think that all aspects of a child’s growing up are theirs to tell. Adams has told a story about herself and is clearly careful to draw boundaries between her story and her son’s story, as any thoughtful writer would do.”

Word. Too many parents rush in to tell their children’s stories, making them props in their books or characters in blog posts.

I also think it’s an interesting and rather brave choice for a woman memoirist not to make herself the virtuous heroine of her own story. (I’ll tell you right now: I don’t think I could do it.) Continue Reading »


26th 2013
A Modest Proposal: the Defense of Motherhood Act

Posted under American history & Gender & happy endings & the body & women's history

Here’s an excellent suggestion from University of Wisconsin law proffie R. Alta CharoThe Defense of Motherhood Act!  Coming soon to a state legislature near you, if you decide to make it happen:

Having an abortion is a momentous decision. And a growing number of states are expressing concern for women who are contemplating that choice.

.       .       .       .       .

But while states give such solicitous attention to women planning to have an abortion, they ignore the needs of women planning to give birth. Bringing a child into the world is also a life-changing decision. Too many women have to make that choice without similar protections. It is time to demand equality and tell our legislatures to enact the Defense of Motherhood Act.

.       .       .       .       .

Physicians would have to inform pregnant women about the risks of childbirth and motherhood. They would have to note that childbirth, compared with abortion, is roughly 14 times more likely to result in maternal death and is more often associated with depression and other forms of mental illness. They would also have to emphasize that working women in the United States can expect to see their wages drop 9 to 16 percent for each child and that having a child makes it significantly less likely that an unmarried woman will ever marry. Continue Reading »


27th 2013
Historiann at the MCA Denver: more blah-blah about blogs, motherhood, and feminism

Posted under American history & Gender & jobs & local news & women's history

Howdy!  Didja miss me?  One of the reasons–aside from spring break!–I’ve been offline recently is that I have some real-life presentations to prepare and research talks to get ready.  For example, tomorrow I’ll be hitching up Seminar, my commuter horse, and high-tailin’ it down to Denver tomorrow right after class to convene a discussion on feminist blogging at the MCA Denver as part of the Feminism & Co. program this year.

I’ve been doing a little reading and reflecting on the feminist blogosphere lately, a timely undertaking since I’m sure you’ve all heard of the recent $hitstorm inspired by New York Magazine’s linkbaiting article on so-called feminist “retro-wives.”  Inevitably, this hi-larious fiction in turn inspired a foul and NSFW (but delicious) parody.  Perhaps just as inevitably, the women profiled in the original article complain that their comments were taken completely out of context and distorted beyond reason (h/t to Echidne for both of these last two links.)

The internet is an outrage machine, innit? I’ll be talking tomorrow night about the ways in which blogging fits in with the history of feminism as well as addressing some of the personal and professional issues that come up in blogging and other social media tools.  Continue Reading »


24th 2011
What I learned from blogging: authority, essentialism, and motherhood

Posted under American history & childhood & Gender & Intersectionality & the body & women's history

Suzie at Echidne has a list up of the six things she’s learned from blogging–go check it out, and if you’re a blogger (or a blog commenter), add your thoughts in the comments over there or here below.  Tell us what you’ve learned!  (If you click on over to Echidne, you’ll learn all about Wiener Nougat.) 

I’ve learned a thing or two–most of which I’ve already shared in my recent articles at the Journal of Women’s History and Common-place.  One of the things we haven’t talked about here for quite a while is that motherhood or not-motherhood seems like a bigger deal online than it is in real life.  In the JWH article, “We’re All Cowgirls Now,” I wrote:

I don’t want to give the impression that intellectual authority is simply a gendered problem—our identities are much more complex because gender is just one item on the long list of characteristics that mark us in both the meat and virtual worlds. While playing Historiann, I am clear about my sex (female) and my sexuality (heterosexual, married to a man) in real life, but I’ve chosen to remain deliberately ambiguous as to whether or not I am a mother. For the most part, this is because I blog with my professional identity up front, not my personal life or reproductive history: in other words, I blog as Historiann, not Mommyann or Not-mommyann. I’m qualified to write about history and politics because of my training and expertise in American history, whereas I don’t think that motherhood alone (if it pertains to me) would qualify me to write about anything other than my personal experiences as a mother. As a good feminist historian, I don’t believe that there’s anything essential, unifying, or eternal about the experience of motherhood. But, this refusal to identify myself either as a mother or a nonmother has also raised questions of authority. This becomes apparent when commenters disagree with me [when I write about motherhood from my perspective as an American women's historian]—they sometimes assume that I’m not a mother, and therefore question my authority to write about issues pertaining to maternity. I had thought that essentialism went out of style in feminism more than twenty years ago—but the blogosphere makes it apparent that essentialism about maternity endures, even among women in the academy. Continue Reading »


27th 2010
Is motherhood authorizing?

Posted under American history & Gender & wankers & weirdness & women's history

How’s this for a brilliant “feminist” argument:  Peter Beinart urges President Obama to “Put a Mom on the Court!” 

And that’s why it’s important not just to have lots of women in positions of political power, but to have lots of women with kids. It’s important because otherwise, the message you’re sending young women is that they can achieve professionally, or they can have a family, but they can’t do both. And without quite realizing it, that is the message our government has been sending. According to the Census Bureau, 80 percent of American women over the age of 40 have children. But look at the women who have held Cabinet posts in the last three presidential administrations. Only two of the Clinton administration’s five female Cabinet secretaries had kids. (Attorney General Janet Reno got her job only after two women with children, Zoë Baird and Kimba Wood, were dinged for hiring illegal immigrants as nannies). In the Bush administration, the figure was two of seven. In the Obama administration, so far, it is two of four. And if Obama chooses Elena Kagan for the High Court, the figure there will be one of three.

What–you didn’t realize that having all but one non-parent on the U.S. Supreme Court now was disadvantaging women?  Yeah:  that’s why we get teh suckity-suck from the SCOTUS these days:  The Ledbetter (2007) and Gonzales (2007) decisions were all due to the fact that there aren’t enough moms on the Supreme Court. Continue Reading »


15th 2009
Motherhood and the construction of women’s athletic talent, part II: U.S. Open edition

Posted under Gender & GLBTQ & Intersectionality & the body & women's history

clijstersOh, yeah!  You know that babies are like catnip to the international media, especially when their mothers are winning, world-class athletes! 

Last year during the Olympics, regarding the spate of stories about Darra Torres and other women athletes with children, I wrote about my bafflement about the ways in which women athletes who are mothers are represented in the media.  I asked, “Why does anyone think that motherhood necessarily erodes or competes with athletic talent?  Of course, not every mother physically gives birth to her children, but even for those who do, childbirth and its aftermath doesn’t necessarily alter the body in ways that would affect athletic performance.”  Well, the Mother-Athlete of the Year has to be Kim Clijsters, whose surprise upset (on faults) at the U.S. Open against Serena Williams has put her in the spotlight.  Once again, the English-language media find it utterly amazing that a 26-year old (26!) who has given birth can win the U.S. Open.

None of the broadcast or print media stories I’ve seen about Clijsters has failed to note that 1) she’s “a mom!” (or “mum!”), and 2) she had retired from tennis to focus on getting married and having a family.  (Never mind that that’s what a lot of people do, in addition to their day jobs, and that male athletes seem to manage getting married and having lots of children without “taking time off”–like Clijsters’s husband, Bryan Lynch!)  I understand the attraction of a comeback story, but this article from the Australian News really takes the cake.  It doesn’t even mention Williams’s name, let alone anything about Clijsters’s victorious match against her.  Check it out:

SUPER-mum Kim Clijsters hopes to complete some unfinished business in Australia after crowning her amazing comeback with a spectacular US Open triumph.

While unsure exactly how long her second career will last, Clijsters says a return to Melbourne Park in January for the 2010 Australian Open is definitely on her jam-packed agenda.

“I mean, my sister is about to have a baby in a couple of weeks and those are really important moments that I want to be home for,” the bubbly Belgian said.  Continue Reading »


5th 2009
Kennedy and aristocracy, Palin and motherhood, and the “trashing” of Hillary Clinton

Posted under American history & class & Gender & Intersectionality & nepotism & race & women's history

Speaking of American aristocracy and connections, go read Tina Brown on Caroline Kennedy.  “Why now?” seems to be the question everyone is asking, and Kennedy has been utterly ineffectual in answering that question with her Upper East Side-inflected, dispassionate Locust Valley Lockjaw.  It’s all about class, baby:

I  have my own theory of why Caroline wants it—or, at least, why she suddenly emerged from her Upper East Side walk-in closet after 51 years.

Her default state of mind is captured by that affectless voice we hear on the AP tape and its self-defeating y’knows—dozens of them in less than two and a half minutes. To a British ear, it’s the same low-energy stance of the younger generation of the Royal Family or the grander British aristocracy—which, in American terms, is exactly what she is.

Take a tour of a British stately home with the laid-back heir or heiress to all the Gainsboroughs and Reynoldses on the satin walls (“This is the Red Room, yah, where, y’know, the Duke of Marlborough was, I dunno, like arrested, we just roller skate here now”) and you will experience the same gusts of disinterest that Caroline [has displayed recently.]

Continue Reading »


17th 2008
Motherhood and the construction of women’s athletic talent

Posted under Gender & the body & women's history

Is anyone else struck by the way that men and women in both the print and broadcast media describe women athletes who happen to have children as (to paraphrase) “an Olympic athlete and a XX year-old mom!” in a tone that suggests they’re saying something like “an Olympic athlete and a XX year-old two-packs-a-day smoker!” or “an Olympic athlete and a XX year-old liver transplant patient!”  Why does anyone think that motherhood necessarily erodes or competes with athletic talent?  Of course, not every mother physically gives birth to her children, but even for those who do, childbirth and its aftermath doesn’t necessarily alter the body in ways that would affect athletic performance.  (And, if a woman is an Olympic-level competitor before she has children, her level of fitness means that she would be among the likliest candidates to snap back from pregnancy and childbirth extremely quickly.)

NPR did it again this morning in reporting on the women’s marathon gold medal winner, Romania’s Constantina Tomescu-Dita.  The reporter declared “she’s a 38 year-old mom who made it look easy!”  And U.S. women’s swim team member Dara Torres is almost always described as a “mom”in any reporting on her comeback efforts.  (With both Tomescu-Dita and Torres, the reporters seem equally amazed at their “advanced” ages, too, which are history-making but–do we really think of 40 as enfeebled any more?  U. S. Olympic weightlifter Melanie Roach’s motherhood is also heavily featured in the reporting on her, although she is still a relatively dewy 33.  The fact that reporters and the media are making such a big deal out of female parenthood suggests that culturally we’re still very invested in the notion of women’s bodies’ weakness and delicacy compared to men’s bodies.  I haven’t heard any male athletes being described in breathless terms as “dads,” although my study of this subject is admittedly accidental and anecdotal.

Finally, what’s with the word “mom,” instead of “mother?”  This seems to be an appropriation of the expression “stay-at-home mom,” or “full-time mom,” which are almost never rendered as “stay-at-home mother” or “full-time mother.”  To me, it sounds grating, because “mom” is a name, not a job, and not a word that should be used with the indefinite article (as in “a mom.”)


10th 2008
Childbirth, motherhood, and the maternal body

Posted under Berkshire Conference & the body & women's history

Since my post OB/GYNs, Ourselves was so popular (or at least inspired a very interesting debate in the comments), I thought I would let you all know about some of the large number of sessions we’re featuring at the 2008 Berkshire Conference this weekend on the subject of childbirth, motherhood, and the maternal body.  As anyone working in women’s history knows, the history of the body and the history of sexuality have been really big lately, and they’ve given birth (so to speak) to books, articles, and conference papers on the broad subject of maternity.  Here are some very interesting examples:

Saturday, June 13, 8:30 a.m.


Chair: Jacqueline H. Wolf, Ohio University

Comares: Mothers, Midwives, and Wetnurses in Late Medieval Valencia

Debra Gene Blumenthal, University of California, Santa Barbara

The Anatomy of Eve: Imagining the Maternal Body in 16th-Century Germany

Kathleen Maisie Crowther, University of Oklahoma

Examining the Wetnurse: Theory and Practice in Medical Texts of the 12th and 13th Centuries

William F. MacLehose, University of Tennessee, Knoxville

Comment: Rebecca Lynn Winer, Villanova University



Chair: Elizabeth Watkins, University of California, San Francisco

In Their Best Interests: Social Science, Feminism, and the Revaluing of Working Mothers in the 1960s

Elizabeth More, Harvard University

Mixers and Moulders: Neo-Evangelical Models of American Motherhood, 1943-1960

Eliza Young, Harvard University

Mother’s Milk without Mother’s Body: A History of the Late 20th-Century Milk Bank

Kara Swanson, Harvard University

Comment: Janet Golden, Rutgers University, New Brunswick



Chair: Rebecca M. Kluchin, California State University, Sacramento

Now You See It, Now You Don’t: The Maternal Body in Contemporary Art

Rachel Epp Buller, Independent Scholar

(Re-) addressing the Maternal Body: Representations of Motherhood, Modernization, and the Roots of Public Health in Chile

Jadwiga Pieper Mooney, University of Arizona

“Baby Factories” and Squatting “Primitives”: Laboring Bodies in Mid 20th-Century Representations of Natural Childbirth

Jane Simonsen, Augustana College

Comment: Cheryl Lemus, Northern Illinois University

Ann Simonsen Oswood, The Childbirth Collective


Saturday, June 13, 11 a.m.


Chair: Anna R. Igra, Carleton College

Enforcing Dependency: Immigrant Mothers and Health Care Access

Lisa Sun-Hee Park, University of California, San Diego

Begging a Different Memory: Revisionary Images of Mothers in Rickie Solinger’s Beggars and Choosers

Ruby Tapia, Ohio State University

Child Care Choices: Mothers, the Market, and Federal Policy
Elizabeth Rose, Central Connecticut State University
Comment: Assata Zerai, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
Since the conference starts on Thursday, and I’ve got official responsibilities pretty much every day all day long, I don’t think I’ll be able to blog about the conference.  However, a past U.S. and Canadian history Program Committee co-Chair will be blogging the Berks, so those of you who can’t be with us in Minneapolis can check in with Tenured Radical for news, views, gossip, and scandal!  (Well, I doubt that there will be scandal, or if there is, I hope that it won’t involve Historiann!) 


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