Ideologies and Technologies of Motherhood: Race, Class, Sexuality, Nationalism

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If there is a single thread, a kind of recurring mantra that joins many of these postpartum celebrity bodies together, it is the claim that both as pregnant women and as new mothers, these celebrities are "still sexy.

Ideologies and technologies of motherhood : race, class, sexuality, nationalism

There are, of course, unique reasons why celebrity women might embrace these postpartum scripts. For women in Hollywood, "sexiness" means more than just one's own sexuality and capacity to enjoy sex—it is, in the final instance, the source of their employment and the "capital" which makes or breaks themas a marketable commodity. Madonna's postpartum sprint to the Golden Globe awards, for example, was largely dictated by Evita 's promotional plans which required her presence.

The pregnant and the postpartum form can therefore interrupt the career of a female body-entrepreneur. Yet, beyond these industry-specific concerns regarding the merchandising of good looks, the sexy postpartum body is the product of a kind of pop feminism, one which claims that women, in all their roles, are rightfully sexual and sexy creatures.

Sex and sexiness have taken on profound ontological and political connotations for women.

In the universe of western pop culture, to be not-sexy signifies an incomplete being, a repressed self in a society seemingly defined by an ever-active sexuality. Given the current inclination to esteem sexual expressiveness for its own sake, women who retain sexiness in the midst and aftermath of biological reproduction can appear particularly valorous.

Women who get their bodies back seem to platform "sexual self-identity" over the confines of a repressed "body"—their own human agency over the old orthodoxy about immutable biological laws and a chaste motherhood. The body-back concept resonates with contemporary societal beliefs about a liberated sexual expressiveness by proclaiming that sexuality can and should persist through what has traditionally been a culturally loaded obstacle.

These bodies, pop culture intimates, bravely traverse the canyon separating maternity and sexuality. To become a mother is no longer to become an asexual creature.

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But here also, the body-back belies a deeper contradiction. For one thing, the sexual characteristics of both the pregnant and postpartum bodies are strikingly homogeneous. Kelly Preston and Cindy Crawford aren't sexy because they are pregnant, but rather because they are pregnant in a particular way— slender everywhere else except their bellies. The nagging question here is: what if you never had a body even remotely like Pamela Anderson Lee, Demi Moore, or Madonna? What if your prepartum self is also physically problematic next to the ideal body-back?

If this is the case, as it must be for so many women, the journey to the postpartum body-back is indeed a hopelessly befuddling one. Which is perhaps why the postpartum body, while it is supposed to be just like the pre-pregnancy one, is often called a "new body. In getting her body back after pregnancy, a woman will get a make-over into her new self.


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Or should have been? A second troubling aspect of these bodies that "come back" is that while they claim to have crossed over the divide between maternity and sexuality, they end up reproducing and reinforcing the original stereotypes. And interestingly, women can be sexy and good mothers—but only mothers of a particular kind. A closer inspection of what kinds of mothers the celebrities are reveals that they often conform to white middle-class notions about what makes a good mother.


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Madonna is a striking case in point here. From the cover of People 's March 13, edition, the public saw Mama Madonna with hair dyed and coiffed to look natural and a face bereft of heavy make-up. According to the interview, Madonna has "grown up. Although Madonna's sleek postpartum body proves that she still is "sexy" and therefore hadn't forsaken her sexuality , her carefully crafted appearance for the People cover is also indicative of the kind of mothering she represents.

Madonna is described as a doting and devoted mother. Madonna, readers learn, doesn't give Lourdes everything she wants—even if she wants a new dress, that doesn't mean she automatically gets it. No material girl here. In this setting, Madonna sent her daughter to an exclusive, half-day French school, ostensibly because she loves to hear her daughter say "Bonjour Maman. It is perhaps a bit strange to think that although June Cleaver the archetypal mom of Leave It to Beaver might raise her eyebrows at Crawford's spreads in Playboy or Madonna's gambols in Sex , and look quizzically at the role of the father s in the celebrity scenarios, she might approve of at least the "mothering" represented by these women.

Maybe what is also being erased here is not just the reproducing body, but a diversity of mothering roles leading to the production of a kind of monoculture of female sexuality and motherhood. June Cleaver, however, represented a solidly white, pearl-necklaced middle class; these supermoms are unmistakably diamond-studded elites. These are the bodies of women who not only handle career and family effectively, but do so with style.

The body-back, if achieved, is ultimately the body of a very powerful woman, a woman who is wealthy, self-defining, nurturing, and sexy. In common parlance, it is the body of a woman who has it all. Take Cindy Crawford again. Crawford's postpartum pose for W magazine is in many respects a visual representation of "having it all. In this image, the child's identity and agency are recessed we see only its backside , and our gaze is focused on the extraordinary body of Cindy Crawford. Her sleek, sexy, postpartum body powerfully draws together the different symbolic realms contained in the frame: the world of work and sexuality presented by the suit, and the world of motherhood and maternalism represented by the child.

Her postpartum body seems to make home and work, sexuality and maternity, contiguous rather than jarring realms of experience, and it is through the medium of her manageable body that she creates fluidity between her identities as sexy worker and nurturing mother.

But Crawford's postpartum body is also an arrogant body, a body that knows its place in the hierarchy of beauty. It is a body that seems to go so perfectly with her haughty stare—the scornful gaze of a "beautiful" woman who "has it all. In the interview, Zeta-Jones, amidst her "sumptuous apartment, where servants come and go noiselessly," preens over her recent successes—she is another beauty who has attained the state of having it all.

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Both of these body-backs are gendered displays of class—Crawford's body representing the rise of a suburban, middle-class woman to extreme wealth, and Zeta-Jones reflecting a working-class body's ascent to affluence. In this sense, the postpartum body-back is a body that not only sets certain women off from others, but also promises upward class mobility. As Zeta-Jones curbs her "peasant" impulses to eat bread and butter, she becomes a "civilized" body, a body that has been catapulted out of its working-class origins into a world of luxury and wealth.

The woman who gets her body back is thus the classic "bitch," as Zeta-Jones remarks.

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She is the female who can harness male attention and then acquire what seems to follow: affluence. Both Zeta-Jones's and Crawford's bodies seem to say that it isn't enough to be the fairest in the land —elite women are now the ones who have it all. Ironically, as exemplars of sexy, nurturing, working mothers, they are also models of women who have to do it all. Another thread connecting many of the bodies of celebrity mothers is work. Significantly, the vast majority of these bodies-back belong to back-to-work moms. In some cases, they are the bodies of moms who never really absent the working world.

In , for example, just four months after her third child was born, Demi Moore was performing skin-laden sex scenes with Michael Douglas in Disclosure while breast-feeding between takes. Three months after Lourdes was born, Madonna was in full swing for the promotion of Evita , and two months after Dylan's birth, Zeta-Jones began to look for another film role. Others, such as Cindy Crawford, incorporated their pregnant and postpartum bodies into their work routines, taking very little time off for motherhood.

Crawford did this by modeling maternity wear, producing a pregnancy diary which she sold to Good Morning America , and developing her own line of reproductive products including a pregnancy and post-pregnancy exercise video called New Dimension. After the birth of her son, Crawford also sold installments to Good Morning America that covered such topics as how to "balance career and motherhood" and "reviving your post-pregnancy wardrobe," and more recently, marketed motherhood in a series of child development segments again for Good Morning America called "Presley's First Year.

Again, pop feminism suggests that they have refused to fall victim to a Donna Reed-like motherhood in which mothers are imprisoned in the domestic sphere. But even in Hollywood there is perhaps a less sanguine dimension to this alleged escape from the domestic. A celebrity body, for example, that stays looking post-pregnant can mean being overlooked for a role, missing a photo shoot, or worse, falling permanently out of the loop.

Although some women like Demi Moore can command extra time to work on their bodies something Moore requested for Striptease , a film she made as a mother of three , or a Zeta-Jones can persuade her director to write her pregnancy into a script as happened for Traffic , not everyone is equally positioned. Janine Turner, for example, actress for Northern Exposure , had to abandon a movie role and take a five-month career hiatus after pregnancy complications.

She felt that her career suffered for it. Indeed, there is evidence inside and outside of Hollywood to suggest that many women experience nervousness about what pregnancy and the postpartum will mean for their jobs. Prejudices against and consequences for motherhood remain constant problems for women despite the emergence of these liberated bodies and the do-it-yourself philosophy they project.

Third Wave Feminism and the Politics of Motherhood

How do the empowering messages of the managed-pregnancy and get-your-body-back fly among working-class women, for example, who find themselves increasingly replaceable or downsizable? Many women also continue to feel that they must completely hide their pregnancies from employers for as long as possible. This happens particularly for women as they negotiate job advancement or new placement opportunities in the workplace.

Women often fear that they will be passed over for promotion if it is discovered that they are pregnant.

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And women in corporate jobs often feel considerable pressure to minimize the appearance of their pregnancies so that they will not gain reputations as deadbeat workers. In these kinds of jobs, women frequently experience pressure to be available as "committed players" in a world of competitive colleagues, high-stakes deals, and long, unpredictable working hours. This is perhaps one reason why many private health clubs now offer special pregnancy and postpartum exercise classes to their "corporate" clientele.

In these kinds of circumstances, then, the body-back is not simply a statement of self-respect, or female empowerment, or liberation from the domestic realm. Rather, it can become an expectation of the workplace, a symbol of a woman who has gotten her priorities straight. Lingering postpartum bodies, then, like pregnant bodies, have also become aberrant in the workplace. While pregnant bodies interrupt work schedules by being occasionally sick or tired, un- recovered postpartum bodies are bothersome to the working world because they link women to the world of family and therefore signal a more long-term disruption of capitalist routines.

Maternity leaves, to begin with, are inconvenient and non-productive—they force employers to pay extra-work benefits, put jobs on hold, or find replacement workers who in turn will be interrupted by a returning employee.

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