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Motherhood and its discontents


1. The economic and occupational disadvantages of motherhood are well documented in current social research. For examples, visit the resources section of the Mothers Movement Online.

2. Results of 2000 surveys from Public Agenda show that 70% of parents believe the best arrangement for child care during a child’s early is years is to have one parent at home full time, and that more than 2 out of every 5 Americans believe the trend of more women working and having a career at the same time they are raising children is a negative development.

3. Current census data suggests the number of dads who stay at home full time to care for their families is growing; an estimated 110,000 non-employed fathers in the U.S. who have taken on the role of primary caregiver (as compared to approximately 6 million moms).

4. A 2002 survey by State Farm Insurance and Public Agenda reports 74% of parents agreed that teaching children to be independent is “absolutely essential” while only 62% believe it's essential to teach children to “help those who are less fortunate." (The same survey reported that only 33% of parents surveyed feel it is absolutely essential to teach their children to “enjoy art and literature” -- no comment.) The Child Trends 2002 Charting Parenthood report indicates 59% of mothers and 52% of fathers believe that “thinking for oneself” is the most important thing for a child to learn; fewer than 10% of mothers and fathers in the same study placed a high priority on teaching their children to “help others in need”.

5. A recent study on cognitive bias found that homemakers are typically stereotyped as having a competence level similar to retarded people, the disabled, the elderly and the blind. (Susan T. Fiske, Amy J. Cuddy, A Model of (Often Mixed) Stereotype Content: Competence and Warmth Respectively Follow From Perceived Status and Competition, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, June 2002). Feminist philosopher Eva Feder Kittay describes care work as “dependency work” to clarify the dependent nature of both the cared-for and the care-giver (Love’s Labor: Essays on Women, Equality and Dependency, 1999).

6. The litany of disadvantages affecting children in America– which, as we know, is one of the wealthiest nations in the world— has been pretty well publicized, including high under-5 mortality rates, high poverty rates, and lower rates of access to health care in comparison to children in other wealthy nations. Visit the Children’s Defense Fund Web site (www.childrensdefense.org) for more details.

7. “Maternalist” social movements during the late 19th and early 20th century had a profound influence on policy-making though the mid-1900s. By promoting social programs to support children and families, middle-class women affiliated with massive voluntary organizations were extremely successful in securing social reforms. But rather than protecting the general needs of women for better working conditions and economic security, maternalist sentiment focused on the value of a woman’s well-being in relation to motherhood. A modern example of maternalist strategy was evident in the Million Mom March of May 2000. Concerned mothers organized a mass demonstration Washington, DC -- not to decry gun violence against women and mothers, but to call attention to the problem of gun violence against children.

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