Motherhood today: the good, the bad...the yummy

23 November 2010

Women's access to an ever-increasing range of social roles, positions and identities has had little impact on the stringent social regulations relating to motherhood, according to a book edited by the faculty of Education and Social Work's Dr Susan Goodwin and former postdoctoral fellow Dr Kate Huppatz.

In the book, Dr Huppatz and Dr Goodwin say images of the 'good mother' persist in public policy, the media, popular culture and workplaces. The result of this constant exposure is that mothers feel pressured to conform to particular standards, against which they are judged and judge themselves.

"Prevailing ideas about mothers and motherhood continue to influence the way 'types' of women are represented and the way that all mothers think, act and present themselves," Dr Huppatz said.

Dr Goodwin added: "The good mother in contemporary Australia is no longer exclusively white, heterosexual, economically dependent and child focused. She now has many incarnations. She may be working. She may be single. She may be lesbian. She may be Indigenous. She may adopt."

Drs Goodwin and Huppatz both make the point that the ideals of the 'good mother' have changed with time, fashion and context, defining who 'good' mothers are, what they do and how they feel.

The book explores how these ideals are created and reproduced through education, workplaces, government policies, cultural practices and the media, with contributions from researchers from a broad range of perspectives, including sociology, history, management, organisational studies, Aboriginal studies, education and social work.

Various chapters address the experiences of executive mothers; mothers working in manual trades; 'yummy mummies' and 'slummy mummies'; low-income mothers, single mothers, Indigenous mothers, lesbian parents, adoptive mothers and mothers negotiating schools and school choice.

The chapter by Drs Goodwin and Huppatz on 'yummy mummies' and 'slummy mummies' examines the way in which the competency of mothers in Australia is often judged by their appearance.

"What mothers look like - particularly pregnant women and new mothers - has become the focal point of women's magazines, newspaper columns, motherhood blogs and even parenting manuals, particularly in the affluent west," they write.

Dr Huppatz said the growth of products, services and industries concerned with maternal style itself suggested that motherhood has become more heavily bound up with consumption practices than ever, in ways that had impacted on women's everyday practices and interactions.

"This means mothers feel more pressure to 'look right' and 'have the right things'. It is also one of the ways motherhood is involved in making class distinctions."