This panel will examine how various political and legal frameworks—the criminal legal system, child welfare system, the employment market, and historic regimes of slavery—interact to punish poor and working mothers and to prevent them from full participation in the demos. Barriers include a lack of affordable child care, increasingly high standards of expected parenting and the concomitant demonization of already marginalized women, double duty/swing shifts of elder care and child care, unequal burdens at both work and home, and the lack of equitable pay and advancement opportunities in virtually every type of job. Although these issues impact all mothers in their ability to fully participate as workers and citizens hierarchies of race and class compound the harm for low-income women of color. Whether or not women are tied to a man, specifically by marriage, also impacts their vulnerability to negative state action. Underlying this political economy of motherhood is both a lack of state support for caregiving and families, with services often linked either to punishment or perceived desert as with drug-using pregnant women and working war widows, respectively; as well as a deeply entrenched view, even among female activists, that a woman’s primary, essential role as a mother is incompatible with her full and equal status in the public sphere.
All of these presentations will examine the double-bind of motherhood—it is used to deny equal pay and political status, but also places women under intense scrutiny to (often single-handedly) provide and care for their children.