The Cultural Contradictions of Motherhood by Ms. Sharon Hays

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Working mothers in the late-20th century confront not only conflicting demands on their time and energy but also conflicting ideas about how they are to behave: they must be nurturing and unselfish while engaged in child rearing but competitive and ambitious at work. As more and more women enter the workplace, it would seem reasonable for society to make mothering a simpler and more efficient task. Instead, as Sharon Hays points out in this book, an ideology of "intensive mothering" has developed that only exacerbates the tensions working mothers face. Drawing on ideas about mothering since the Middle Ages, on contemporary child-rearing manuals and on in-depth interviews with mothers from a range of social classes, Hays traces the evolution of the ideology of intensive mothering - an ideology that holds the individual mother primarily respon-sible for child rearing and dictates that the process is to be child-centred, expert guided, emotionally absorbing, labour-intensive and financially expensive. Hays argues that these ideas about appropriate mothering stem from a fundamental ambivalence about a system based solely on the competitive pursuit of individual interests. In attempting to deal with our deep uneasiness about self-interest, we have imposed unrealistic and unremunerated obligations and commitments on mothering, making it into an opposing force, a primary field on which this cultural ambivalence is played out.

About Ms. Sharon Hays

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Sharon Hays is assistant professor of sociology and women's studies at the University of Virginia.
Published August 28, 1996 by Yale University Press. 272 pages
Genres: Political & Social Sciences, Gay & Lesbian, Parenting & Relationships. Non-fiction

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Hays provides some helpful social context, convincingly demonstrating that no one idea about mothers and children is inherently ``natural.'' In the past, she points out, children have been expendable or even demonized as bearers of original sin, not worthy of much time or emotional energy, while ...

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Hays, a professor of sociology and women's studies at the University of Virginia, examines the differing views of mothers about their parenting roles and how these views have been shaped by society's view of working women.

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