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School of Social Sciences and Law 'Engaging with the maternal: tentative mothering acts, props and discourses’ Tina Miller, School of Social Sciences and.

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Presentation on theme: "School of Social Sciences and Law 'Engaging with the maternal: tentative mothering acts, props and discourses’ Tina Miller, School of Social Sciences and."— Presentation transcript:

1 School of Social Sciences and Law 'Engaging with the maternal: tentative mothering acts, props and discourses’ Tina Miller, School of Social Sciences and Law. Oxford Brookes University.

2 School of Social Sciences and Law Introduction to research & presentation overview: Research approach exploring periods of significant personal transitions and qualitative longitudinal research Making sense and narrative construction Discourses, selves and doing ‘mothering’ Weaving together threads of ‘nature’ and ‘nurture’ The ‘good mother’ discourse and presentation of competent self Tentative accounts Antenatal preparation – preparing ‘appropriately’ Men, ‘involvement’, consumption and fathering acts ‘buying and building baby things’ – consumption and acts of involvement Tentative acts? Birth and early mothering performances and public/private spaces Unconvincing mothering acts? - props, risks and baffled selves Early fathering acts

3 School of Social Sciences and Law Two UK studies: Transition to first-time motherhood Qualitative longitudinal study – 3 interviews (1x a/n and 2x p/n) and end-of-study questionnaire Sample = 17 women (average age 26years) Sample = white, heterosexual, most self-identified as middle- class, employed and partnered Data analysis focused on narrative construction Generated 49 interview transcripts Miller, T. (2005) Making sense of motherhood: A narrative approach. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

4 School of Social Sciences and Law Transition to first-time fatherhood Qualitative longitudinal study – same format as motherhood study (but ongoing) Sample = 17 men (average age 30 years) Plus pilot study with 4 teenagers fathers Sample = white, heterosexual, employed in skilled/professional occupations, partnered. Further follow-up interview at 2 years with participants – further interviews at 5 years planned Generated 56 interview transcripts to date Miller, T. (forthcoming) ‘Making sense of fatherhood: Men constructing and practising gender’. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

5 School of Social Sciences and Law Key findings from Motherhood study: Before the birth women anticipate that they will naturally and instinctively know how to mother Birth experiences were all different to what they had expected/been led to believe Mothering did not come ‘naturally’ for most of the women – but they felt unable to talk about these normal difficulties Only retrospectively could the women challenge the ‘myths of motherhood’ and ‘risk’ talking about how things had really been Se e: Miller, T. (2007) ‘Is this what motherhood is all about?” Weaving experiences and discourse through transition to first-time motherhood. Gender & Society. 21:

6 School of Social Sciences and Law Key findings from Fatherhood study: Before the birth men positioned themselves as ‘willing learners’ They emphasised ‘being there’ as an important feature of involved fatherhood – different to the fathering they had experienced They expressed a desire to share caring for their child – in emotional and not (just) economic ways During the year after the birth – men spoke of the ‘hard work’ of caring, of needing to ‘fit fathering in’ and eventually of the importance of their economic ‘breadwinner’ role and their worker identity

7 School of Social Sciences and Law Discourses, selves and motherhood In the discourses that shape reproduction and motherhood, associations with truth and science powerfully reinforce their dominance and potential “totalising effect” (Cosslett 1994, 6). In anticipating first-time motherhood expectations are unlikely to be informed by personal, subjective experiences of mothering – and so tenuous selves The taken-for-granted and “natural base” on which such discourse are premised have been challenged and the “layers upon layers of socially constructed elaboration and reinforcement of this ‘natural base’” exposed (Hays 1996, 13; Bobel 2002).

8 School of Social Sciences and Law Tentative accounts in uncharted territory Women construct and present – anticipatory and tentative accounts which demonstrate ‘appropriate’ preparation This involves drawing on discourses which emphasise ‘appropriate’ preparation: Attendance at antenatal clinics/ preparation classes Engaging with /accepting expert advice Being ‘healthy’ (diet, exercise) Consumption of information (expert ‘knowledge’, books, magazines and the internet) Purchasing of baby goods

9 School of Social Sciences and Law Preparing appropriately: consuming ‘expert’ information “I don’t like getting information from other people because it’s always so subjective and they always want to harp on about their little story and so I have actually avoided other people….those are the most unhelpful, personal experiences that I’ve steered away from. But I think the books, and the midwives and my doctor, my doctors been good” (Rebecca) “Well, a lot of the friends that have had babies say that they don’t like to say too much because they could say the wrong thing” (Faye) “I’m going for the breast first to see how I get on. I did actually say to the midwife that I wanted to do both, I wanted the bottle and …but she said you can’t actually do that…(but) it has been good. They just tell you everything” (Wendy)

10 School of Social Sciences and Law Anticipation and preparation Preparing, purchasing and (appropriate) timing “I went out and bought (pregnancy book) after 12 weeks once you know sort of the danger periods that you hear about were over…we didn’t do anything until after 12 weeks, we didn’t tell anybody until after 12 weeks, we’ve only just bought baby clothes (38 weeks pregnant). People said ‘you must have everything by now’ - no!” (Felicity) Preparation and ‘nesting’ – coinciding with maternity leave “the sort of nesting thing (has) definitely taken over” (Helen) – but ‘nesting’ more often used by men to describe aspects of partners pregnancy preparation

11 School of Social Sciences and Law Men preparing ‘appropriately’ for fatherhood In the antenatal period men’s tentative forays into the paternal/parental arena are often facilitated/mediated by their wife/partner, What information is accessed/ what is read and when Which classes are attended and by whom What is purchased in preparation for the baby But gendered modes of consumption and activity Men centrally involved in physical/structural aspects of preparing e.g. painting, building and buying the ‘big stuff’ Physical, hands-on involvement as a demonstrable ‘way in’ (an activity) for men anticipating/preparing appropriately for fatherhood These differences reinforce assumptions around biological determinism, gendered practices and the role of consumption in acts of ‘appropriate’ preparation

12 School of Social Sciences and Law Preparing the house “we’ve had to prepare the house and erect prams and cots and things and I guess financially we’ve directed money to this rather than other things…That’s definitely been (wife’s) lead really and she’s decided, well I supposed I’ve had a hand in the big stuff like which pram will we go for, what does a cot look like and stuff and that was by virtue of a fact of 2 trips to John Lewis so I haven’t really invested a lot of kind of effort in to it or knowledge really. I think (wife) has done all the talking to other people who’ve had kids, she’s found out what’s required, what the list of newborn stuff is that we need and I haven’t really got involved in that….I could have made up a list which would have been so not comprehensive. It would have been such a partial list you know, obvious stuff like a pram and a cot I would have got… but muslin cloths would have passed me by. How do I know about muslin cloths?” (M.M)

13 School of Social Sciences and Law Men preparing ‘appropriately’ “I suppose (wife) brought books. She has been reading books all the way through and you know ‘look that is what it looks like’, ‘look at the pictures’ sort of thing and ….when we went to the ante-natal classes I didn’t feel huge sort of drive to read books ….but I just thought it was really interesting” (Resp 5) “I suppose I’ve been trying to prepare the house. We’ve been buying and building baby things… trying to get rid of our junk, we’ve got a lot of it and we’ve only got a little house… so just going through those sorts of things” (Resp 14) “But over the last few months we’ve been buying bits and pieces and I’ve got a cot that I sort of lived in so to speak and I’ve just sanded it down and painted it and that kind of thing and you sort of sit there thinking, blimey this is for our future” (Resp 3)

14 School of Social Sciences and Law Men demonstrating ‘involvement’ “We have not bought much because we have got a lot of older brother and sisters who have kids already so that is great so we have sort of inherited a lot and we don’t like sort of.. consumption anyway but the things we have bought. Actually there was an example where I wanted to become more involved.. just buying a mattress and sheets for a cot which we ended up buying early because we were having somebody visiting with a baby so it was just an interesting exercise how we go about things and I think (wife) was quite surprised that I wanted to get involved in that decision. She probably thought that was just something I would do quickly and we ended up having a discussion about it sort of in the shop and I think she was a bit taken back that I was interested” (Resp 4)

15 School of Social Sciences and Law “buying things” “It probably took a couple of months to really sink in…I was thrilled because I’d wanted kids for ages and I was desperate to start planning and telling people and buying things. Yes. The cot arrived today and I’ve just put the cot up in the nursery and now the nursery has got everything whereas up to yesterday it was a room with lots of stuff in it, it’s now got everything in it. Yeah it could be any time” (Resp 7)

16 School of Social Sciences and Law Men “not the ones doing the research” “But I think most men are just literally the ones who carry the shopping to the car you know they go out to buy the buggy but are generally not the ones doing the research” (Resp 11) “I think it’s since we’ve started getting the nursery ready that I’ve felt as if I can sort of contribute a lot more as well, go out and get things and build things like the cot and put all that sort of thing together. So yeah definitely through that respect I’m very involved” (Resp 9).

17 School of Social Sciences and Law Tentative acts of early mothering: risks and props Birth - in all cases is different to what had been expected / led to believe Birth provides a ‘narrative turning point’ – from anticipation to lived reality (Miller, 2005) Leaving the house described as akin to a ‘military operation’ in the early weeks involving ‘taking all day to pack the baby bag’ – but also experienced as potentially ‘risky’ Giving a convincing performance was associated with having the right equipment and appropriate mother ‘props’ – baby, pram, baby bag, baby bottle – as well as knowing how to do mothering. But the props might not be enough….

18 School of Social Sciences and Law “they hate shopping” “So I didn’t go out very much which made it hard…I don’t think I went out, literally set foot outside the door for 3 or 4 weeks or something which is quite…it was a long time, and that was too long actually, because I didn’t…but I just felt …I didn’t feel very confident taking her out because I just thought she was going to cry the whole time and I felt a bit sort of self conscious about it…..I mean even now I feel, if I take her out shopping and she started crying….this woman in a shopping queue said to me ‘they hate shopping’, and they’re so sort of accusing and I felt like saying ‘well, I have to eat’…..” (Philippa) “but it has taken 8 weeks to be confident to walk along with a pram with a screaming child” (Abigail) “ I know I’m a mother…but I don’t quite feel like a mother yet…I went to [the shop] once and she screamed the whole way round, then I did feel like a mother because all these old ladies were there and they were going ‘that baby shouldn’t be out’, ‘it’s too hot for that baby to be out’ I could hear them rabbitting on behind me. So then I did feel very much like a mother…a dreadful mother” (Gillian)

19 School of Social Sciences and Law “I’ve got one of those baby bags like you’re supposed to” (Felicity) “We had to go to the doctors and both of us went, Robert and I went with the baby and then I got a prescription. Robert went to get the prescription. I said I’ll come home because the estimators were coming for the removals. And I’d done…you know I’d got one of the changing bags like you’re supposed to, taken a bottle of milk with us in case he got horrible, and he had in the doctor’s, and Robert had started to feed him and then we’d left and he was quite happy. But I was coming home and he started to get hungry again and Robert had the bottle in his pocket and had gone off to the shop to get the prescription, so I had this screaming child in the middle of town…it was hot….and I felt like shit and I couldn’t walk very fast, and I had to virtually run from the middle of town to here…and you could hear everyone was (saying) ‘poor child’, ‘what’s that woman doing with that child’. And I thought, I was convinced somebody was going to like stop me and say ‘you’ve pinched that child, that’s not your child, you aren’t a mother, you don’t look like you can cope with him, this baby, you should be doing something to stop it crying”

20 School of Social Sciences and Law New fathers – going out with baby Because men have not been so closely associated with hands-on caring going out with the new baby does not present the same ‘risks’ Men are positioned as ‘unpractised’ and not expected to display ‘natural instincts’ – (almost) any performance is positively received

21 School of Social Sciences and Law Men taking baby out “Yeah just being a whole part of…changing the nappies, dressing and putting her into her buggy and taking her round the block a couple of times or whatever and then when you get all the friends and family and villagers (saying) ‘oh lets have a look’ and stuff like that and it just kind of makes you stand up straight and think ‘yeah…that’s my daughter” (Resp 3) “took them (twin sons) out in the pram one time and a woman walked past and looked and looked again – ‘oh twins’ and will suddenly talk to you. So it’s like one baby, that’s interesting but two, wow! now that’s a talking point” (Resp 15)

22 School of Social Sciences and Law Concluding comments ‘Preparing appropriately’ is highly gendered and experienced in the context of different discourses and moral frameworks Acquiring ‘goods’ for the baby is one of the ways in which appropriate preparation can be demonstrated (the ‘right way’). This is a dominant theme in men’s accounts of preparation and ‘involvement’ Yet in the early weeks following the birth the acquired ‘props’ can help to present a veneer of appropriate mothering – but (for women) subjective experiences often feel very different Forays into public spheres with the new baby is experienced in very different ways by new mothers and new fathers – one is expected to instinctively know how to ‘mother’, whilst any public display of involvement by new fathers is applauded Note: These findings are explored further and theorised in the forthcoming text – Miller, T. (2010) Making sense of fatherhood: Men constructing and practising gender’. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

23 School of Social Sciences and Law Sources: Bobel, Chris. (2002). The paradox of natural mothering. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. Cosslett, Tess. (1994). Women and writing childbirth. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press. Doucet, A. (2006). Do Men Mother? Fathering, Care and Domestic Responsibility Toronto: University of Toronto Press Hays, Sharon. (1996). The cultural contradictions of motherhood. New Haven, CT:Yale University Press. Hearn, J and Pringle, K (2006). European Perspectives on Men and Masculinities: National and Transnational Approaches’ Basingstoke; Palgrave Macmillan. Hobson, B. (2002). Making Men into Fathers: Men, Masculinities and the Social Politics of Fatherhood. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press Miller, T. (2005). Making sense of motherhood: A narrative approach. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press Miller, T. (2007). ‘Is this what motherhood is all about?” Weaving experiences and discourse through transition to first-time motherhood. Gender & Society. 21: Miller, T. (forthcoming) ‘Making sense of fatherhood: Men constructing and practising gender’. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press


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