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People have gotten quite a few things about mothers and motherhood wrong over the last 700 or so years. Educators, historians, jurists, philosophers, physicians, social workers, and theologians have been telling us what mothers are like: what they need, how they feel, what pleases them, how and how well they think. Mothers didn't love their children in the fifteenth century and loved them too much in the 1950s. Black mothers felt no pain in childbirth, and white mothers felt no pleasure in intercourse. The obligations of motherhood, physical and social, have been used to explain why women should not work, vote, compete in sports, take public transportation or think too hard.

This essay is not an attempt to set the record straight. That massive task is being undertaken by others whose dissatisfactions with established medical, historical, and social facts have led them to uncover a different record with a truer ring. It now appears that, in general, women did feel affection for their children and mourned their deaths, that childbirth was painful, and that women's brains are not directly connected to their reproductive organs. This reevaluation of knowledge is the product of a deliberate, hard-won and on-going reformation of inquiry, in part the result of women themselves doing, consuming, and guiding research. Women in academic and public life have begun to come into power in Carolyn Heilbrun's sense of the word: "the ability to take one's place in whatever discourse is essential to action and the right to have one's part matter." The "well-known facts" that everyone knows have now been thrown into question, and the questions themselves are now the focus of examination. Why were certain issues raised and others not; why were particular avenues of inquiry pursued and others derided? Like revisionists in other fields, feminist scholars have had to rethink the basic terms of inquiry, as well as reconsider what was made of the answers that had been given. There is now keener attention to the questions asked, the sources considered, and the analyses used.


Family Law | Law | Law and Gender