Cover image for Motherhood reconceived : feminism and the legacies of the sixties
Motherhood reconceived : feminism and the legacies of the sixties
Umansky, Lauri, 1959-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : New York University Press, [1996]

Physical Description:
x, 262 pages ; 22 cm

Format :


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HQ1421 .U43 1996 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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From the early days of second-wave feminism, motherhood and the quest for women's liberation have been inextricably linked. And yet motherhood has at times been viewed, by anti-feminists and select feminists alike, as somehow at odds with feminism. In reality, feminists have long treated motherhood as an organizing metaphor for women's needs and advancement. The mother has been regarded with suspicion at times, deified at others, but never ignored.

The first book devoted to this complex relationship, Motherhood Reconceived examines in depth how the realities of motherhood have influenced feminist thought. Bringing to life the work of a variety of feminist writers and theorists, among them Jane Alpert, Mary Daly, Susan Griffin, Adrienne Rich, and Dorothy Dinnerstein, Umansky situates feminist discourses of motherhood within the social and political contexts of the 1960s. Charting an increasingly favorable view of motherhood among feminists from the late 1960s through the 1980s, Umansky reveals how African American feminists sought to redefine black nationalist discourses of motherhood, a reworking subsequently adopted by white radical and socialist feminists seeking to broaden the racial base of their movement.

Noting the cultural left's conflicted relationship to feminism, that is, the concurrent demand for individual sexual liberation and the desire for community, Umansky traces that legacy through various stages of feminist concern about motherhood: early critiques of the nuclear family, tempered by strong support for day care; an endorsement of natural childbirth by the women's health movement of the early 1970s; white feminists' attempt to forge a multiracial movement by declaring motherhood a universal bond; and the emergence of psychoanalytic feminism, ecofeminism, spiritual feminism, and the feminist anti- pornography movement.

Reviews 2

Library Journal Review

Both in her first work (Reconceiving Motherhood: Feminism, Motherhood and the Legacies of the 1960s, Brown Univ., 1994) and here, Umansky is concerned with the history of contemporary women's movements, focusing on their relationship to the concept of motherhood. She begins by refuting Sylvia Ann Hewlett's assertion in A Lesser Life (LJ 2/1/86) that the women's movement rejected the needs of mothers and children; she then moves to treat the importance of race and class to American feminism. Umansky considers works of radical, cultural, and socialist feminists regardless of occupation who have been involved in activism "informed by feminist analysis" since the late 1960s. A lengthy bibliography of contemporary classics, notes, and Schlesinger Library files constitute about one-third of the volume. Other recent works addressing this issue include Ann Ferguson's Blood at the Root (LJ 7/89) and Elaine Heffner's Mothering (LJ 10/15/78). This work will appeal mostly to scholars but also to some informed lay readers and specialists.‘Helen Rippier Wheeler, formerly of Univ. of Californai, Berkeley, SLIS (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Umansky's well-crafted work closely examines the material and paradigmatic notions of motherhood expressed in feminist thought since the 1960s. This study traces not only the many twists and turns the motherhood concept has taken over the years, but also examines the ways these notions have "clustered in particular formations" as they have reflected the rhetoric of society at large. Umansky's skill in demonstrating how this is so via her exploration into, e.g., the rhetorics of black feminism, French feminism, lesbianism, and antipornographic activism provides the reader with a grasp of the overall feminist conversation not easily gleaned from other sources. She thus offers an avenue to understanding why it is more appropriate to speak of the "women's movement" in the plural, and of "feminist thought" as a set of oppositional theories that sometimes converge with antiabortion and other unexpected cultural discourses. Perhaps her most provocative idea is that motherhood serves as a way to mediate the often-opposed ideals of individualism based in sexual liberation and other forms of difference with that of the search for a holistic "model of ^D ' of untroubled human interaction." All levels. K. S. Fine-Dare Fort Lewis College