Labor Policy and the Social Meaning of Parenthood
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The article explores an aspect of the debate over the place of women in the paid labor force. Focusing on disputes over "protective" labor policies, "fetal protection" policies in particular, the essay discusses the implications of such policies for the social meaning of parenthood. Using data from interviews with 49 mothers and 37 fathers of children in neonatal intensive care units, the essay presents evidence suggesting that traditional social values inherent in female-exclusive labor policies are inadequate when one is dealing with the practical needs of parents. A policy that views women as nurturing and men as economically active resides in assumptions that women have the sole biological connection to children and overly determines a narrow conception of parenthood. The parents in this sample demonstrate the ongoing and complex negotiations involved in parenting, negotiations that labor policies have often ignored.
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