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Myths of Motherhood: How Culture Reinvents…
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Myths of Motherhood: How Culture Reinvents the Good Mother (1994)

by Shari Thurer

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This book is a good look at the mythology of the images that surround motherhood, the longing for the 1950s style of mothering ala "Leave it to Beaver". The author tears apart the facade to demonstrate that such a style of parenting, to the extent that it existed even then, is not the norm throughout history, and in fact represents a deviant behavioral pattern, artificially imposed on history by the changing whims of a society that devalues women and motherhood in general, even while elevating the concept of the 'good' mother. The book suffers from a bit of turgidity in the prose, and also from the author's tendancy to extrapolate beyond her data, reaching for certainties that are in reality ambiguities. Oddly enough, after speaking with certainty about the role of mother and family in the pre-historic period, for which our only records are cave paintings and artifacts, she acknowledges the weaknesses of the data in the ancient Greek and Roman empires, where we actually have a slightly better record of thoughts and behaviors. She is at her strongest in the modern period, the 20th century in particular, and her final chapter is a tour de force on motherhood in the modern world. The final chapter is also a bit bittersweet, as her predictions for the future directions of motherhood and society (made in 1994) failed to materialize, and instead we are seeing a resurgence of the myth of the 'traditional' family. Recommended, with some reservations: only if a person is willing to recognize that some of her conclusions may be a bit more ambiguous and contested than she intended. ( )
  Devil_llama | Jun 25, 2011 |
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To all my good mothers and my daughter
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God used to be a mother who worked outside the home.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Given a voice, what would the Great Goddess, the Virgin Mary, Snow White's evil stepmother, or Portnoy's mom have said about child care, contraception, bonding, or breast-feeding? Would their feelings have mattered? After all, maternity has been constructed by men over the millennia. Aristotle thought mother's womb merely cooked father's seed. The Church preferred virgins to mothers, and Freud was father-fixated. Even a brief survey of history reveals a diversity of maternal practices and ideals that are at odds with each other as well as with the views of contemporary child-care experts and psychologists. "I cannot recall ever treating a mother who did not harbor shameful secrets about how her behavior or feelings damaged her children," writes Thurer. Today our sentimentalized conception of the good mother casts a long, guilt-inducing shadow over real mothers' lives. Never has there been so much advice and so little agreement. Never have the ideals of motherhood been as ambiguous, psychologically demanding, and unforgiving. One conclusion is certain: the "good mother" is a cultural invention. In this brilliant synthesis of history, psychology, the arts, and religion, Thurer shows how our current concept of the ideal mother, like all ideology, is culture-bound, historically specific, and hopelessly tied to fashion. Thurer exposes our current myths of motherhood as a backlash against recent gains in women's rights and control over their bodies. "For thousands of years, because of her awesome ability to spew forth a child, mother has been feared and revered. She has been the subject of taboos, witch hunts, mandatory pregnancy, and confinement in a separate sphere. She has endured appalling insults and perpetual marginalization. She has also been the subject of glorious painting, chivalry, and idealization. Through it all she has rarely been consulted." The Myths of Motherhood, finally, is her story.… (more)

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