More Work for Mother

Abstract from article : More Work for Mother.

Environmental chemicals (e.g., lead, pesticides, flame retardants) accumulate in all human bodies and have the potential to affect the health of men and women, adults, and children. This article advances “precautionary consumption”—the effort to mediate personal exposure to environmental chemicals through vigilant consumption—as a new empirical site for understanding the intersections between maternal embodiment and contemporary motherhood as a consumer project. Using in-depth interviews, I explore how a group of 25 mothers employ precautionary consumption to mediate their children’s exposure to chemicals found in food, consumer products, and the home. Most of the mothers in the study situate their children’s chemical “burdens” within their own bodies and undertake the labor of precautionary consumption as part of a larger and commodity-based motherhood project. In actively expanding the sphere of responsible motherhood to include managing children’s body burdens, these mothers navigate multiple and overlapping contexts that hold women accountable for children’s futures and value the agency of the proactive consumer. Yet, as the sphere of responsible mothering expands, women without financial resources, time, and family stability are pushed to the margins of normative motherhood.


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