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“Bad” Mothers

The term bad mother is a moral, political, and social pejorative, applied to countless women in countless places. It is a label that is distinct from the case of bad parenting more generally, focusing in the specific task of mothering or, more precisely, on its failure. Because the mother-child relationship is burdened by cultural practices and sexual politics, the question of what makes a mother “bad” includes the issue of whether bad mothering is a legitimate category in the first place. It is therefore a distinctly difficult historical, philosophical, and psychological question. Although this discussion is limited to the Western (and especially American) 20th- and 21st-century preoccupation with good and bad motherhood, this is by no means a statement about the relative importance of other ...

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