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How Did Feminists Miss This? The Very Public Sphere of Mothering in the United States

Felice A. Jones-Lee


Merton’s theory of social structure wherein he delineated the latent and manifest functions of society’s institutions, has served well feminist theorists who have mined the family for all of its latent theoretical meaning for women. Although a women’s movement had rallied around women’s suffrage forged in the nineteenth century-century in the United States, the impact of the family on women has since then been analyzed primarily by feminists privileged by post World War II prosperity. It was not until 1963 that Betty Freidan articulated women’s discontent within the home. But if The Feminine Mystique was indeed an expression of dissatisfaction with postwar affluence, Nancy Chodorow’s, The Reproduction of Mothering (1978), could have been read as a response to the continued prosperity of the 1970’s, because mothering in isolation or in private can only be done from a relative position of privilege. Similarly, Adrienne Rich’s Of Woman Born (1986), a historiography of motherhood and childbearing, could only have been written from a position of relative freedom from the intrusiveness of the state. Although Chodorow and others have written ad infinitum about the privatization of the home, and abuse issues have been addressed to redress the violence that occurs in relative isolation, feminists have largely ignored the potential public-ness of the home when children are part of the equation. This may be because the state has no place in the homes of the middle class, where theorists tend to dwell. If we have learned anything from the seminal works of feminist theorists, it is that (1) privilege accords privacy, (2) privilege grants sanctity, and (3) privilege allows for inordinate self-reflection and narcissism.

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JENdA: A Journal of Culture and African Women Studies. ISSN: 1530-5686 (online).
Editors: Nkiru Nzegwu; Book Editor: Mary Dillard.

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