Academic journal article Journal of Research in Gender Studies

The Professional Is Political: The Absence of Motherhood Identity in Modern Us Health Policy Discourse

Academic journal article Journal of Research in Gender Studies

The Professional Is Political: The Absence of Motherhood Identity in Modern Us Health Policy Discourse

Article excerpt

Introduction & Literature Review

Stereotypes about a population and the accepted norms of behavior associated with them are limited world views that can restrict the behavior of the population subjected to them. These stereotypes often find voice during participatory efforts when the process experiences capture. Nonetheless, many populations have also found power in reclaiming and harnessing stereotypes for positive social change (Anten, Tood, 2006; Edley, Paige P., 2000; Henderson, Anita, 2003). Such is the case with women in American politics. Stereotypes about what "true womanhood" means and norms about the role of mothers in society have at times constrained women, but they have also been crucial mechanisms for empowering women in political discourse (Edley, Paige P., 2000; Baker, Paula, 1984; Capdevila, Rose, 2000; Hayden, Sara, 2003; MacGregor, Sherilyn, 2004; McGlen, Nancy E., O'Connor, Karen, Van Assendelft, Laura, & Wendy, Gunther, 2010).

While women now participate in politics more often than in the past, how they participate, the type of discourse they adopt and the public identities that they construct may reveal that capture is still occurring in a more subtle way.

Motherhood as Entry into Politics

Initially, the American political system was not seen as limiting the ability of women to participate in public affairs. While women could not vote, this was not due primarily to their gender but rather to their status as non-land owners (Baker, Paula, 1984). Additionally, early American life left little distinction between the public and private spheres of activity (Baker, Paula, 1984; Snitow, Ann, 1992). It was not until the 1820s as the vote was extended to all white men that it became clear that women's exclusion from politics was intentional and based exclusively upon gender (Baker, Paula, 1984). At the same time, growing divisions between the public and private created new norms of behavior (Baker, Paula, 1984; Snitow, Ann, 1992). Both men and women of the period justified the exclusion of women from politics by appealing to the role of women as mothers and moral caretakers of society (Baker, Paula, 1984; Snitow, Ann, 1992); the most appropriate contribution that women of the period could make to society was to ensure that the citizens they cared for behaved morally.

Despite their official exclusion from public life, however, women in the nineteenth century increased their sphere of activity to a variety of community organizations. Public activities aimed at supporting the poor, the elderly, or children fell neither entirely within men's prescribed roles nor within women's private ones (Baker, Paula, 1984). Thus, women found justification for public, and often very political, activity around these issues. Although not the traditional private sphere of home and family, women utilized the need to provide care and nurturance as legitimate access points to politics and administration (Baker, Paula, 1984; Snitow, Ann, 1992; Prokhovnik, Raia, 1998). Such activity provided ways for women to indirectly and informally influence political activity. Thus, "political domesticity provided the basis for a distinct nineteenth century women's political culture" (Baker, Paula, 1984).

As federal, state and municipal governments gradually extended their reach into social welfare throughout the nineteenth century, they were increasingly influenced by this culture of political domesticity. The Progressive Era's efforts to improve hospitals, regulate industry, support public schooling, and enhance various other public services shone a light on women's involvement in politics (Baker, Paula, 1984; Prokhovnik, Raia, 1998). Women circulated petitions, founded reform-oriented organizations, filled quasi-governmental roles in public service agencies, organized protests and lobbied legislatures (Prokhovnik, Raia, 1998; Snitow, Ann, 1992).

Through these activities, women gained political skills, a consciousness of shared womanhood, and a sense of competence and self-worth (Baker, Paula, 1984; Prokhovnik, Raia, 1998). …

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