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Child Care, Women's Rights, and the Myth of the Good Mother

by Mary Frances Berry

Pub Date: March 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-670-83705-9
Publisher: Viking

 A forceful overview of how what's perceived as good for the child changes as the culture and public-policy change--currently, Berry says, to the detriment of women. The author's fundamental thesis is that women's rights will never be seen as more important than women's responsibilities as long as mothers are thought of as the primary caretakers of their children. Berry (coauthor, Long Memory, 1981; American Social Thought and History/Univ. of Pennsylvania) builds her case slowly, beginning with the colonial era, when fathers were responsible for their children's upbringing. Revolution changed that--both the American Revolution and the Industrial Revolution propelled women into taking over the task of imbuing their children with virtue and knowledge. The angelic mother of the Victorian era evolved into post-WW II's demonic mother, as portrayed by Philip Wylie, and eventually into the Supermom of the 1990's. Throughout the 20th- century upheaval of wars, class struggles, and civil-rights and feminist movements, women remained--and still remain--in charge of the next generation. No amount of quality day care, nanny care, or family-leave policy will change that until, Berry says flatly, ``women decide that is what they want'' and demand that men assume their full share of what Ms. magazine early on dubbed the ``psychological responsibility'' of raising their children. Particularly deft is Berry's argument that the current view, put forth by Carol Gilligan and others, of women as ``different'' from men--more interested in relationships, for example--buys into the idea that women are therefore more suited to care for children. Also telling are frequent references to how the needs of poor women--usually black and Hispanic--collide with the feminist political agenda. An important and comprehensive reference for those involved in both gender battles and the fight for comprehensive child care.