Synopses & Reviews
"Hays's intellectually incendiary Cultural Contradictions could add needed nuance to feminist thought-and perhaps ignite change in mothersi overburdened lives."-Phyllis Eckhaus, The Nation "A lucid, probing examination of our culture's contradictory and troubled relationship to motherhood-and how it affects mothers. . . . A thoughtful analysis of the paradoxes that surround mothering. Hays is sensitive to the emotional issues involved-and equally astute in perceiving their sociopolitical context."-Kirkus Reviews "A thoughtful and carefully written new book that provides excellent material for family demography or women's studies courses at the graduate level."-Sandra L. Hofferth, American Journal of Sociology An ideology of 'intensive mothering' exacerbates the inevitable tensions working mothers face, claims sociologist Sharon Hays. While women are expected to be nurturing and unselfish in their role as mothers, they are expected to be competitive and even ruthless at work. Drawing on ideas about mothering since the Middle Ages, on contemporary childrearing manuals, and on in-depth interviews, Hays shows that 'intensive mothering' is a powerful contemporary ideology. These unrealistic expectations of mothers, she suggests, reflect a deep cultural ambivalence about the pursuit of self-interest.
Working mothers today 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, Sharon Hays points out in this original and provocative 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 childrearing 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 responsible for child rearing and dictates that the process is to be child-centered, expert-guided, emotionally absorbing, labor-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.