A vision for postmaternalism: institutionalising fathers’ engagement with care

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Social policy development under neo-liberal logic glorifies paid work in the market over relationships involving care, nurture and dependency. Under neo-liberal conditions, the social policy framework in a large number of welfare states has moved towards the norm of the adult worker model. The prevalence of this model, which signalled a ‘farewell to maternalism’, has had the consequence that supporting mothers’ care-giving roles are dismissed in state policy-making. Such neo-liberal logic leads to the creation of an apparent cultural anxiety about caregiving and nurturing. Julie Stephens [2011. Confronting Postmaternal Thinking: Feminism, Memory and Care. New York: Columbia University Press] calls this ‘postmaternal’ thinking. Drawing on feminist critiques of neo-liberal developments in social policy, this article provides a divergent and even slightly positive interpretation of postmaternalism that does not abandon care and nurture. This is evident in the recent development of parental leave policies that institutionally encourage men to become involved with caring. I argue that a ‘farewell to maternalism’ in social policy is therefore not too problematic. Parental leave policy – particularly with institutionalised incentives for men to take up parental leave – is creating a transformative space for men to experience the maternal thinking that confronts the cultural logic of what Stephens conceptualises as postmaternal thinking.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)432-447
Number of pages16
JournalAustralian Feminist Studies
Issue number90
Early online date20 Mar 2017
Publication statusPublished - 2017

Bibliographical note

Issue 90 (October 2016): Refiguring the Postmaternal


  • Care
  • Parental leave policy
  • feminist social policy
  • maternal thinking
  • gender equality
  • postmaternalism

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