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Making Choices: Contradictions and Commonalities in the Valuing of Caring and Working by Government Policy and First Time Mothers

By Ella R Kahu and Mandy Morgan
© ChildForum 

 

Abstract

This paper examines the discourses which construct women’s identities as mother and worker. In order to explore the discursive interface between policy and experience, two texts were analysed and compared: the New Zealand government policy for women and the talk of first time mothers. Both similarities and differences were identified but the key difference was one of priority.

The policy document privileged paid work and constructed women’s caregiving responsibilities as a demand. For the women, although paid work was financially and psychologically important, their priority was their mothering.

The analysis reveals the increasing dominance of discourses of economic rationalism, which elevate market work to the status of essential and diminish the importance of reproduction and care. We argue that these discourses do not serve women, men, or children well. Although the women drew upon newer discourses which enable a more comfortable weaving together of their identities of mother and worker, this must not be seen as the total solution.

What is needed is a more complete breakdown of the public/private divide: a society which values care and work, both as responsibilities and rewards of citizenship, and which will therefore allow both women and men to construct more balanced lives and identities.

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