A gripping explanation of the biases that lead to the blaming of pregnant women and mothers.
Are mothers truly a danger to their children’s health? In 2004, a mentally disabled young woman in Utah was charged by prosecutors with murder after she declined to have a Caesarian section and subsequently delivered a stillborn child. In 2010, a pregnant woman who attempted suicide when the baby’s father abandoned her was charged with murder and attempted feticide after the daughter she delivered prematurely died. These are just two of the many cases that portray mothers as the major source of health risk for their children. The American legal system is deeply shaped by unconscious risk perception that distorts core legal principles to punish mothers who “fail to protect” their children.
In Blaming Mothers, Professor Fentiman explores how mothers became legal targets. She explains the psychological processes we use to confront tragic events and the unconscious race, class, and gender biases that affect our perceptions and influence the decisions of prosecutors, judges, and jurors. Fentiman examines legal actions taken against pregnant women in the name of “fetal protection” including court ordered C-sections and maintaining brain-dead pregnant women on life support to gestate a fetus, as well as charges brought against mothers who fail to protect their children from an abusive male partner. She considers the claims of physicians and policymakers that refusing to breastfeed is risky to children’s health. And she explores the legal treatment of lead-poisoned children, in which landlords and lead paint manufacturers are not held responsible for exposing children to high levels of lead, while mothers are blamed for their children’s injuries.
Blaming Mothers is a powerful call to reexamine who - and what - we consider risky to children’s health. Fentiman offers an important framework for evaluating childhood risk that, rather than scapegoating mothers, provides concrete solutions that promote the health of all of America’s children.
Read a piece by Linda Fentiman on shaming and blaming mothers under the law on The Gender Policy Report.
"Blaming Mothers is gripping and powerful. It is also chilling as Linda Fentiman unmasks society’s penchant for shaming and punishing mostly young, poor women. She reveals subtle but profound gender and racial biases that pervade public discourse and drive prosecutors and judges to unfairly punish pregnant women and mothers. I strongly recommend this captivating book. It is beautifully written, weaving together vivid stories of women’s lives and impeccable scholarship. Anyone concerned about gender, children, and poverty will have to read Blaming Mothers." -Lawrence O. Gostin,Founding O’Neill Chair in Global Health Law, Georgetown University
“Advanced undergraduate and graduate seminars in sociology, psychology, women’s studies, and law will find it informative, stimulating of much discussion, and empowering.”“Blaming Mothers is...filled with an incredible amount of diverse information in the form of facts and examples, tightly interrelating the fields of law, psychology, and sociology.”-PsycCritiques
"Professor Linda Fentiman offers a probing analysis of a society and its government that blames mothers for various social ills and conditions that plague American society and that intervene during pregnancy and motherhood.. Professor Fentiman carefully studies this phenomenon and exposes the undercurrents of classism and racism that correspond to it. She explains how the pernicious nature of poverty creates impacts that result in significant health harms, including higher rates of lead poisoning and asthma among low income children of color. Sadly, in those instances too, mothers are blamed--sometimes civilly and criminally, making it risky to be a poor mother in America." -Michele Bratcher Goodwin ,Chancellor's Professor of Law, University of California, Irvine
"In Blaming Mothers, Linda Fentiman considers why mothers in the U.S. are so often regarded as hazardous to their children’s health. In such areas as breastfeeding, lead poisoning, and childhood diseases like measles, Fentiman explains the psycho-social origins of much mother blaming, contrasting it with the scientific bases of actual health risk. Blaming Mothers connects the dots across policy areas to provide a comprehensive answer to what can be done to improve children’s health when Mom is properly relocated to the sidelines. This is a wonderful book not only for those in medicine, public health, child welfare, education, and law but also for mothers and their families, that is, for everyone."-Carol Sanger,Barbara Aronstein Black Professor of Law, Columbia Law School