Tag Archives: mothers

Gendering responsibility for child obesity

The Daily Mail’s recent article ‘Has feminism killed the art of home cooking?’ serves as an example of the mediated discourses which hold feminist values and therefore women, as responsible for the so-called child obesity epidemic (WHO, 2010). The argument centers on three discourses – morality, science and gender.

In contemporary societies the responsibility for health is increasingly that of the individual (Petersen 1997). That is, we are held morally responsible for the quality and quantity of food that passes our lips, the amount of exercise we take and so on. So weight gain is presumed to be a result of health-defeating practices. However unlike adults, children are clearly not able to self-regulate and manage their own health because children cannot be responsible for food production and consumption themselves. That responsibility, it is argued, resides with parents and specifically with mothers. Drawing on natural science discourses, advocates of this position argue that due to biology ‘women possess a greater nurturing instinct than men’. Therefore mothers are presumed to have primary responsibility for their children’s health. If children are overweight it is mothers and not fathers who are held accountable.

Maher, Fraser and Wright’s (2010) research on media representations of mothers has identified two ways in which they are held accountable. The first, like the Daily Mail, points to the increasing absence of the family meal. It suggests that if women didn’t follow feminist values and work so long or so hard, then they would have more time to spend at home creating nutritious meals. It is their absence from the home that is blamed as the reason children eat at junk food outlets far too often, survive on processed meals and eat too many snack foods. The second way mothers are held accountable is through pregnancy. Scientists argue that ‘diet, exercise and women’s attentiveness before and during pregnancy are linked to specific disabilities, to childhood health generally and, more recently, to childhood obesity’ (Maher, Fraser and Wright, 2010).

It is these mediated discourses that hold mothers specifically responsible for the battle of the bulge, but more generally they argue ‘it’s feminism we have to thank for the spread of fast-food chains and an epidemic of childhood obesity.’

Has feminism killed the art of home cooking?

Is it really women’s fault our kids are fat?

WHO – Obesity and overweight

Obesity

Marriage and Parenting: For Better AND For Worse

Couple_01 A recent New York Times Science article documents the efforts that family clinics and parenting groups are making to get fathers more involved in parenting. However, the issue is not only getting them involved, but in getting the mothers to let them be involved in their own ways. The biological connection that a mother and child share is undeniable but, as the article explains, our social and cultural constraints on fathers, and what is expected of them, can often make parenting confusing and unbalanced.

This article comes only a few days after another article on family relationships in the Times Magazine — one documenting the Obamas’ marriage. That article presents the Obamas as committed to one another but also not afraid to have conflicts, experience difficult times, and turn them into “teachable moments.” As a recent article in Social Development argues, conflict can actually be productive — if it occurs under the right circumstances. As the authors explain, both the type of conflict (constructive or coercive?) and the type of relationship in which it occurs (positive or negative?) can help predict the consequences of conflict.

So, whether the task is negotiating a balanced parenting arrangement in a society with fairly prescribed gender (and parental roles) or negotiating a marriage, psychology reminds us that conflict can be productive, and the process of working through the conflict can be beneficial to the relationships in the family.

square-eye Laursen and Hafen (2009). Future directions in the study of close relationships: Conflict is bad (except when it’s not).

square-eye Fathers gain respect from experts (and mothers). New York Times.

 

square-eye The Obamas’ Marriage. New York Times.

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Mothers, Sex Tapes and Gender Morality

Coleen NolanColeen Nolan’s recent televised revelation that she made a sex tape provides an interesting example of how talk and discourse is saturated with moral work. Her self-confession allowed for a host of consequential moral assumptions to be made about her making of a sex tape. These assumptions rest on the known-in-common attributes that are associated with gender categories. The apparent ‘shock’ experienced by her sons, panel and audience about the revelation allows us to see her actions as a ‘breach’ to the common-sense cultural knowledge about how ‘moral types of women’ (e.g. mothers) should behave.

Wowk’s (1984) research from a murder suspect interrogation and Stokoe’s (2003) neighbour disputes research provide interesting examples of this moral accountability in practice. Their data revealed that peoples’ perceptions of morality, in relation to women, were aligned with specific activities and characteristics for ‘good mothers’ (e.g. ‘sexually discreet’, ‘mother-as-childcarer’) and ‘bad mothers’ (e.g. ‘being overtly sexual’, ‘swearing’). They also found that moral judgments were often non-explicit and smuggled in through indirect references to illicit behaviour in order to subtly police moral boundaries. Coleen’s sons, the panel and the audience therefore, by their very (re)actions, can be seen to be unavoidably engaged in producing and sustaining a gendered moral order out of the particulars provided by Coleen.
square-eyeLoose Women – Coleen Nolan

square-eyeColeen Nolan shocks the Loose Women TV audience – and her sons – as she admits to starring in a sex tape

square-eyeSocial Psychology and Discourse

square-eyeMothers, Single Women and Sluts: Gender, Morality and Membership Categorization in Neighbour Disputes