Jan 19, 08
not just for mommies-to-be (everyone needs to think more about the politics of reproductive labor)
Read in January, 2008
The heteronormativity of this book made me want to scream. This book doesn’t seem to consider the perspectives of mommies who aren’t white, upper-middle class, and married to loving feminist husbands who are also white and upper-middle class. One woman I spoke with while reading this book stated “I felt like it was an argument for ‘class trumps everything’.” Faced with motherhood, Naomi Wolf decides to become everything her class and race position encourages her to be as “mother”, and then complains about the feminist mystique affect she faces. At times the book embraces feminine essentialism (being pregnant is like being disabled, you are helpless and vulnerable, and need your husband to protect you especially when walking through ‘bad’ parts of town, this allows you to understand what it is like to be disabled or old or young which is also about being helpless and vulnerable, and thus causes women to support social programs --- I think you can begin to see how deeply offensive this is for multiple reasons).
In the first part of the book Wolf realizes that the medical profession didn’t have her best interests at heart and is truly about turning a profit – a critique I agree with. She also recognizes that romanticizing natural child birth methods also fails to deal with the fact that for much of human history it was “natural” for women to die in child birth and that adequate facilities for women’s reproductive health are in demand around the world. While I wouldn’t go to this book for the most recent science, I agreed with this general critique of the profit motive of the medical establishment. I also thought her emphasis on pointing out what is physically unpleasant about pregnancy in a society that likes to cover it in rosie images of nurturing contentment was valuable. I certainly found myself shuddering in the various descriptions of child birth. I think its actually worth thinking about how much having a baby is going to hurt – not just in the abstract but in the very specific ways she describes.
What the second part of the book does well is point out how the gendered assumptions about equal share in child rearing in upper middle class white heteronormative progressive families doesn’t always work out so well. Having a baby shifts the balance of power in a relationship. Certainly it made me realize that if I ever have a baby with someone, I want to spell out a contract before hand being very explicit about how responsibilities over childcare are split.
Oh and the book ends with a "Mommy Manifesto". Here Wolf deals with the nanny-care crisis (her childcare which allows her career to thrive comes by underpaying and exploiting the labor of women of color, who watch white babies instead of their own, and who receive no pensions, and no health insurance). Her suggestion is government subsidized unionized child care centers that would ensure workers get treated more as professionals, are better paid, and have true benefits. She doesn’t really deal with have a more equitable distribution of child labor between men and women. Certainly parts of her manifesto were compelling – it does leave me wanting to no more about the politics of child care and to think about how would I like to see child care dealt with in the society in which I live. It is really central to the contemporary politics of mothering and childbirth – and frankly I think its too easy in our society to not care about the politics of mothering until one decides to become a mother. And certainly there is not enough pressure for men to be reading books about the feminist politics of reproductive labor. Please give me your suggestions on books to read on this subject. From the academic realm I think of Pierrette Hondagneu-Sotelo’s Domestica and the writings of Rhacel Salazar Parrenas attack this dynamic well.