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In Greece, women speak of mothering as "within the nature" of a woman. But this durable association of motherhood with femininity exists in tension with the highest incidence of abortion and one of the lowest fertility rates in Europe. In this setting, how do women think of themselves as proper individuals, mothers, and Greek citizens? In this anthropological study of reproductive politics and ethics in Athens, Greece, Heather Paxson tracks the effects of increasing consumerism and imported biomedical family planning methods, showing how women's "nature" is being transformed to meet crosscutting claims of the contemporary world. Locating profound ambivalence in people's ethical evaluations of gender and fertility control, Paxson offers a far-reaching analysis of conflicting assumptions about what it takes to be a good mother and a good woman in modern Greece, where assertions of cultural tradition unfold against a backdrop of European Union integration, economic struggle, and national demographic anxiety over a falling birth rate.
List of Illustrations
A Note on Transliteration
Prologue: Varnava Square
1. Realizing Nature
2. Remaking Mothers: From an Ethic of Service to an Ethic of Choice
3. Rationalizing Sex: Family Planning and an Ethic of Well-Being
4. Maternal Citizens: Demographics, Pronatalism, and Population Policy
5. Technologies of Greek Motherhood
Appendix 1: Total Fertility Rates: Children per Woman Age 15-49
Appendix 2: Legislation of the Greek State Pertaining to Gender Equality, Marriage, Family, and Reproduction
Appendix 3: Birthrates, 1934-1999
Heather Paxson is Lecturer in Anthropology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
"Making Modern Mothers explores the ethics of reproductive agency and the changing meanings of motherhood in modern Greece where abortion is still more widely practiced than modern contraception, and having children represents a woman's social-moral achievement. In this very readable ethnography, Paxson analyzes how urban women manage their reproductive and sexual lives, and make sense both of being women and of being mothers. This is a welcome addition to a growing comparative literature."—Gail Kligman, author of The Politics of Duplicity: Controlling Reproduction in Ceausescu's Romania
"Whether addressing abortion, family planning, or pronatalist population policy, Paxson has perfect pitch, grounding these issues in women's stories, concerns, and dilemmas as they seek to achieve and embody a sense of modern Greek femininity."—Faye Ginsburg, author of Contested Lives
"An arresting book…. It is a powerful commentary on the cultural specificities of morality in the modern world."—Michael Herzfeld, author of Cultural Intimacy
"A fascinating study. Paxson's focus on ethics allows her to explain why individuals' efforts to be good women, mothers, doctors, and citizens can lead to counterintuitive results, such as high rates of abortion in a country where most women aspire to motherhood and politicians decry the low birth rate."—Jane F. Collier, author of From Duty to Desire: Remaking Families in a Spanish Village