Book Review Feminist Parenting edited by Dena Taylor

Feminist Parenting: Struggles, Triumphs & Comic InterludesFeminist Parenting: Struggles, Triumphs & Comic Interludes by Dena Taylor

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Edited collections are always difficult to rate because inevitably some of the selections are better than others. This particular volume is difficult to evaluate fairly because it is so dated–published in 1994, most of the authors are writing retrospectively about raising children in the 1970s. Needless to say, both mainstream culture and feminist thought have changed in the intervening years. Nevertheless, many of the concerns remain the same. How do we raise our daughters to have the self confidence to pursue their dreams whether or not those dreams are considered gender appropriate by mainstream society? How do we teach them to navigate a world that will judge their worth based on their worth based on impossible beauty standards? How do we raise our sons to be empathic, compassionate people? How do we teach them to recognize and reject the temptations of patriarchal privilege? How do we educate all our children about institutionalized inequalities of all kinds: how to name them and how to fight for a more just world?

Feminist Parenting contains the personal accounts of women from a variety of races, sexualities, and class backgrounds. Many of the essays are written by single mothers whose feminism inspired them to leave husbands uninterested in gender equality. Absent from the collection are any trans voices, and indeed one mother writes about her anxiety when her young son enjoyed wearing make up and dresses. Given the time at which the volume was published, the absence of trans voices is perhaps not surprising, but the omission makes the book weaker nonetheless.

I rated Feminist Parenting at three stars because I feel that it could have benefited from more thorough editing. The editor seemed to be more interested in compiling essays from as many contributors as possible than in seeking high quality submissions.

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Book Review: At the Breast by Linda Blum

At the Breast: Ideologies of Breastfeeding and Motherhood in the Contemporary United StatesAt the Breast: Ideologies of Breastfeeding and Motherhood in the Contemporary United States by Linda M. Blum

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In a culture where breast feeding is almost universally touted as the cure for everything from low IQs to allergies to breast cancer, Linda Blum provides a much needed critical voice into the discussion of breast feeding in the United States. She begins by placing the current public health campaign to increase breast feeding in the United States within a historical context that has seen a variety of infant feeding practices receive medical endorsement. Unlike most of the literature on breastfeeding, which centers around the infant, At the Breast focuses on breast feeding from women’s points of view. While she does not contest the validity of medical research that demonstrates health benefits of breast feeding, she locates that research within raced, gendered, and classed ideologies. Blum did research with the mostly white middle class mothers of Le Leche League who have been a driving force behind the breast feeding movement, with white working class mothers who generally wish to breast feed their babies but are often unable to do so due to a lack of support, and with working class African American Women who tend to reject breast feeding in favor of infant feeding strategies that are more compatible with the networks of female support women draw around themselves.

At the Breast is a vitally important book because it counters the prevailing belief that women who choose not to breast feed their babies simply aren’t educated about breast feeding’s benefits. Instead, women make decisions about how to feed their babies based on a number of factors. While breast feeding advocates will present breast feeding as a perfect solution–free, convenient, and healthy–Blum acknowledges the experiences of the women she interviewed that demonstrate that for women who cannot or choose not to live up to the ideal of the exclusive mother, the formula (provided free with WIC)that one’s mother, friend, or partner can feed the baby is a much more convenient and liberating choice.

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Sarah Baartman

Sara Baartman and the Hottentot Venus: A Ghost Story and a BiographySara Baartman and the Hottentot Venus: A Ghost Story and a Biography by Clifton Crais

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Sara Baartman and the Hottentot Venus is a book as much about the impossibility of uncovering historical truth as it is the story of a Khoekhoe woman brought from South Africa to Europe in the 1800s. While Crais and Scully do uncover much that was previously unknown about Sara Baartman–the task they ostensibly set out to do–they also discovered the myriad ways in which persona, myth, performance, and politics shade into each other.

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