January 30, 2003 Episode 33: The Mother of All Socialization
The old saying, "the hand that rocks the cradle will rule the world," hints at the possibility that parenting, especially mothering, has a powerful presence in the transference of culture from one generation to the next. But feminist critiques in the past 40 years have pointed out repeatedly that this position of power is undermined by the dependency many stay-at-home moms have on their spouses. Paid work, not domestic nurturing has been the main source of power in many families and this means that the one who brings home the pay cheque will rule the world, or at least the household.
Chris Bobel studied a group of women who take the old saying a bit more seriously. These women, usually in collaboration with their partners, have chosen to be stay-at-home mothers with a strong commitment to child rearing as a way to change the world "one child at a time." This approach appears to be a throw-back to the pre-1960s view of women's roles. However, these "natural mothers," as Bobel came to regard them, do not believe they are playing the old role of mother and housewife, but rather are transforming the role in order to effect social change. We spoke with Bobel this week about her book The Paradox of Natural Mothering and about how social change can come from parenting.
Finally, we discuss exactly how culture moves from one generation to the next and what role both parenting and education play in this transference. Is there a way to reform education and parenting approaches to effect social justice? Is there any hope of accomplishing such a goal in a world where schools are increasingly regarded as workforce preparation mills rather than facilitators of children's learning and parents are increasingly regarded as owners of their children rather than facilitators of their development.
Traditionally, in Western cultures, middle-class and upper-middle class women have stayed home taking care of children and men have been breadwinners. Because children are the keepers of the culture to the extent that they will continue traditions and cultural norms, this traditional arrangement seems to provide a pretty powerful position for women to occupy. However, traditionally, women have taught children to occupy gender roles in which men are powerful and women are domestic. Domestic work remains unpaid work and usually evokes dependency upon the person or persons in the family who are paid. So while it would seem that the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world, history has shown this not to be true.
In the 1960s and 70s, a number of women in North America and Europe began questioning their roles as homemakers and mothers. These women rejected the tradition and went into the workforce, becoming no longer dependent upon men, including their husbands, for their livelihoods. For a while, these women concentrated on sisterhood and daughterhood in their analyses of society. They saw motherhood as holding them back in the quest for equality.
But what if the power to change the world really were in how one reared a child? What if equality could be achieved by bringing up boys who were less violent, boys who saw their sisters as equals, boys who nurtured their sensitive sides as well as their protective sides? What if equality could be achieved by bring up girls who were more assertive, girls who developed to their potentials, girls who were honest with their brothers rather than passive aggressive and manipulative in their struggle for power? What if the hand that rocked the cradle really could change the world?
As part of her dissertation research, Christine Bobel, now an Assistant Professor of Women's Studies at the University of Massachusetts at Boston, spoke with a number of mostly middle-class women who could be out in the workforce earning money, but had chosen not only to stay home and take care of the children, but to take care of them in a particular way. These women strove to be organic in their childrearing, often providing vegetarian and whole foods, a simpler lifestyle, a social conscience and homeschooling. Bobel called these women "natural mothers."
We talk with Chris about her book, The Paradox of Natural Mothering, this week on First Person, Plural as we explore how parenting and education have the potential to create social change and social justice in an episode we call "The Mother of All Socialization."
copyright by Pattie Thomas and Carl Wilkerson 2002
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