Th e Mother’s Voice: Str en gth en in g In tim acy in Fam ilies . Kathy Weingarten,
New York: Guilford Press, 1997, 241 pp. $16.95 (pape rback) .
This book is extraordinary. On one hand, it is an intellectually rigorous,
compre hensive feminist analysis of the components of conte mporary mid-
dle -class family life in the Unite d States.
Vete ran family therapist Kathy Weingarte n examine s this edifice brick
by brick. She begins by conside ring the impact of marginality on voice .
Voice , she says, depe nds on who is liste ning, how the y are liste ning, and
on the cultural value s and attitude s that create a conte xt for both spe ake r
and liste ners. For mothe rs, authe ntic voice is profoundly constraine d: by
the cultural myth that mothe rs hold the e ntire re sponsibility for the ir chil-
dren’s de velopment, by the dichotomous categorizing of mothers into good
(se lfle ss, available , patie nt, always child-focuse d) or bad (some times angry,
some times focuse d on he r own inte re sts and concerns), and by the belie f
that mothers can and should create a gre ate r se nse of orde r and safety
than reality allows. She explore s the ways that static conce pts of self and
developme ntal stage , privile ge d over more fluid views of se lf-as-story and
intimacy-as-proce ss, prevent family me mbers from re cognizing, naming, or
even allowing moments of intimacy and aspe cts of se lf. She deconstructs
breadwinne r and home maker, wife and husband, mother and fathe r, look-
ing at the se gendere d role s through a sophisticate d powe r analysis within
the conte xt of cultural value s—what is “good ” and can be spoke n of and
endorse d, what is “bad” and dare not speak its name .
In the last third of the book, she has dismantle d the edifice down to
the corne rstone s. With almost surgical pre cision, she distinguishe s mutually
desired authe ntic self-disclosure (which can build intimacy) from unilate ral
disclosure (which will be intrusive or abusive ). She te ases apart the sepa-
ration issues of infancy from those of adole scence , and acknowle dge s as
well the distinct se paration issue s of mid-life pare nts.
Throughout, her discussion is live ly and insightful; and her unobtrusive
footnote s care fully refe re nce the se veral de cade s of social scie nce lite rature
that have informe d it.
On the othe r hand, this book is one woman’s autobiographical re fle c-
tions on life afte r be ing diagnose d with cance r. In an entire ly accessible first-
Sex Roles, Vol. 38, Nos. 5/6, 1998
1998 Plenum Publishing Corporation