Chapter 2 - Summary

Chapter 2:
Women and Children First: Second-Wave Maternalism and thePolitics of Health
  • [* Of this capter only the summary given by the author in her Introduction, is given - Ipce].
  • [Page 20]

[This chapter] looks at The Boston Women’s Health Collective and The Elizabeth Stone House, two feminist organizations involved in the women’s health movement, to argue that “second-wave” feminist activism made strategic political use of the figure of the child and the role of the mother.

By arguing that fulfilled women — those who had access to education, careers, birth control, and other means of equality — made better mothers, these groups connected many of the feminist causes of the 1970s and 80s with a revised vision of maternalism.

This new maternalism abandoned earlier moral and biological arguments to focus instead on women’s fulfillment. This shift eased the tension between maternalist particularity and feminist equality by making individualism the central component of motherhood.

With a maternalist rhetoric the primary focus of which was on women rather than children, activists in this period were able to radicalize maternalism instead of using it to contain pre-existing radical politics.

I argue that second-wave feminists, though not typically understood as maternalist, attempted to recast victimhood, to re-imagine familial bonds, and to reshape dominant models of health as part of a particular understanding of the child and of a maternalist rhetoric that united women and children.

Focusing on debates about sexual development, parenting and the sexual vulnerability, I trace the ways that feminist approaches to the politics of health and the body were steeped in a maternalist pairing of women and children.

Within their educational and social service agendas, members of the Boston Women’s Health Collective and The Elizabeth Stone House advanced a radical politics of health that nevertheless had to contend with the conservative treatment of children.

I argue that their coupling of women with children was symptomatic of a broader crisis within leftist politics where increasingly protectionist narratives about children undermined broader leftist libratory agendas.