Feminism, the Public and the Private

By Joan B. Landes | Go to book overview

2
Citizenship with a Feminist Face: The Problem with Maternal Thinking

Mary G. Dietz

In the past twenty years, perhaps no other theoretical issue has created as much controversy within the feminist movement as the role of women in the family. First-wave feminists as varied as Kate Millett, Betty Friedan, Juliet Mitchell, and Shulamith Firestone all shared at least one common task: to desanctify the family and demystify motherhood.1 These first-wave thinkers considered the bureaucratic state, capitalism, and the patriarchal family to be three sides of an iron triangle of women's oppression. By the mid-1970s, later feminists were deepening first-wave criticism by further examining the relations between capitalism and patriarchy, the family and the capitalist mode of production, housework and surplus labour, motherhood and oppression.2 Needless to say, the family did not fare well under this withering criticism. Far from being an idyllic haven in a heartless world, the family appeared to reproduce capitalism at home and to subordinate and oppress women on a daily basis.

But the family soon came to have its feminist defenders, and now a battle is brewing between those feminists who stand by the earlier critiques of the family and those who argue that we must reconsider the value of the family and motherhood for feminist consciousness. The 'pro-family' feminists' aim is both a practical and a theoretical one: practical insofar as they seek to wrest the defence of the family from the New Right (which they correctly perceive as having distorted and mystified the role of women as mothers and wives); and theoretical insofar as they intend to reclaim mothering as a dimension of women's experience and defend it as

____________________
Reprinted by permission from Political Theory, 13/ 1 ( Feb. 1985): 19-37. Copyright © 1985 Sage Publications, Inc. An earlier version of this article was presented at the Western Political Science Association meeting in Seattle, WA., March 24-26, 1983. I would like to thank Terence Ball, Amy Gutmann, Hanna Pitkin, Joan Tronto, and especially James Farr for their many helpful comments and suggestions on various drafts of this article.

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