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Mary Patrice Erdmans

On Becoming a Teen Mom: Life Before Pregnancy

Erdmans, Mary Patrice; Black, Timothy

University of California Press. 2015

 

In this book, we examine the life stories of 108 white, Latina, and black teen mothers. Following their life trajectories from childhood through schools, relationships, and family trauma, we tell the backstories to the early childbirth, arguing that focusing on the early birth distracts us from looking at systemic problems embedded in gender, class, and racial/ethnic inequalities. The book organizes the life stories around thematic trajectories – very young mothers, child sexual abuse, interpersonal violence, school dropout, and contraception and abortion. Each chapter begins with one or two life stories and then weaves concrete first-person accounts with interpretive third-person analyses to show how structural inequalities are manifest in individual biographies. The life stories and our interpretations challenge historical narratives of blame and shame often used to explain teen births and shape public policy. We use a critical paradigm to understand how the organization of power and domination shaped the trajectories of these young mothers by examining the intersecting grooves of patriarchy, poverty, and racism. We argue that strategies are needed on three levels: the larger structural level where inequalities of power shape resources, opportunities, and moral orders; the interpersonal, more immediate level, where parenting occurs; and the organizational level–the schools and workplaces–where we can chart more effective public policies to support families and children.

 


 

Title IX and the School Experiences of Pregnant and Mothering Students
Erdmans, Mary Patrice
Humanity & Society 36(1): 50-75. 2012

 

This paper examines why pregnant and mothering students did or did not stay in high school to see whether schools violated Title IX legislation by not providing equal educational opportunities. Examining life-story interviews conducted in 2002-2004 with 62 black, white, and Latina pregnant and mothering students in Connecticut, I found that: 1) while school policies and faculty were often hostile and unreceptive, mothers who dropped out were usually disengaged from school before pregnancy; 2) the presence or absence of school-based day care was a critical factor in school outcomes; and 3) alternative programs for pregnant and mothering students were experienced differently depending on whether students came from urban or non-urban school districts. In conclusion, I argue that when our attention shifts from teen mothers to the problems of underfunded and overburdened schools, we are confronted with the larger systemic problems of economic and racial segregation and consequently educational inequality.

 


 

The Problems of Articulating Beingness in Women’s Oral Histories
Erdmans, Mary Patrice
In Oral History: The Challenges of Dialogue, ed. Marta Kurkowska-Budzan and Krzysztof Zamorski, 87-97. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing. 2009

 

Based on an analysis of women’s oral histories, this article examines the problem of articulating motherhood.  Despite the fact that motherhood was a primary identity, their self-reflections on being mothers were circumscribed for several reasons. First, the omnipresent and ethereal nature of the mother identity make it difficult to capture in words. Moreover, everyday routines are taken for granted and less visible unless they become problematic. Finally, activities in the public sphere are perceived as more significant and worth discussing than those performed in the private sphere. In sum, when using oral histories to document the lives of marginalized populations, it is important to consider how the subordinate position influences the content and form of the narrative.

 


 

The Personal is Political but is It Academic: Women’s life stories and oral histories
Erdmans, Mary Patrice
Journal of American Ethnic History 26(4): 7-23, 2007

The article provides an interdisciplinary overview of narrative methods as employed in the social sciences. Examining the history of narrative methods (life stories, oral histories, personal narratives), I explore their place in academic journals. Narratives are useful counterparts to positivist-based social science in several ways: they stress the importance of intersubjectivity and reflexivity in social science research, the grapple with the tension inherent in the politics of representation, and they critique traditional scholars for obscuring, talking over, and speaking for the people they are studying. The issue that I address in this paper is when do narratives lose their academic moorings. I argue that when they privilege the individual and eclipse the social, when they focus on description and forgo analysis, and when they let the people ‘speak for themselves’ but lose their own social science voice then they are more suitable for non-academic journals.


 

New Chicago Polonia: Urban and Suburban
Erdmans, Mary Patrice
In The New Chicago: A Social and Cultural Analysis, ed. John Koval, Larry Bennet, Michael Bennet, Fassil Demissie, Roberta Garner, & Kiljoong Kim, 115-127. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. 2006

 

This chapter explores the differing landscapes of Polish immigrant settlement in Chicago in the the latter half of the 20th century, with a particular focus on Polish neighborhoods both urban and suburban. New waves of Polish migration resemble earlier waves in terms of economic position– the majority were still coming in search of jobs and a better life and most still worked as skilled laborers or in service positions. In the latter period, more educated professionals emigrated and Polish newcomers arrived not only as immigrants, but also as political refugees and undocumented workers. While many new immigrants continued to live in residential clusters in the city, an increasing number of immigrants resettled in suburban communities. This chapter explores the differences between the urban and suburban immigrant communities.

 


 

The Poles, the Dutch, and the Grand Rapids Furniture Strike of 1911
Erdmans, Mary Patrice
Polish American Studies 62:(2): 5-22, 2005

 

The Poles and the Dutch lived on opposite sides of the river, they attended different churches on Sunday, and they went their separate ways on Friday evenings, but on Monday mornings they both showed up to work at the same furniture factories. And in April of 1911, they were the majority of the 4,000 plus upholsterers, carvers, finishers, machine hands, trimmers, packers, and cabinet makers who walked off their jobs and shut down the furniture industry in Grand Rapid.

This unity lasted about four months. By the end of summer, capital remained organized and unified while labor was fractured along ethno-religious fault lines and unsupported by unions. The Poles and the Dutch remained divided at the river that gave Grand Rapids its name. There were a few concessions made to the workers such as a nine-hour work day, but not a pay raise, and more important, labor remained unorganized for another twenty-five years. Unions eventually came to the industry when the United Automobile Workers organized the Royal Furniture Company in 1937.  At the beginning of the twentieth century, however, ethnicity conflated with religion divided workers and the unions were not willing, nor strong enough, to promote labor solidarity.   


Looking for Angel:  White Working-Class Women Lost between Identities
Erdmans, Mary Patrice
Race, Gender & Class 11(4): 48-62, 2004

 

While the racial bias in classical feminist theory has been corrected, the class bias of these middle-class theories still needs to be addressed. In this article, I argue that there has been a neglect of the culture of white working-class women in gender studies. First, when scholars study white women, the privilege of whiteness tends to overshadow class differences. Second, when class is discussed, it is more likely to be the poor class or middle class, with the working class folded into one of these bimodal humps. Third, working-class behavior is examined mostly in the work place where class identities rather than gender are emphasized. Moreover, white working-class women’s lives are anchored as much in the home as they are in the workplace. Ignoring this private sphere limits our understanding of how gender identities are classed.

 


 

The Grasinski Girls: The Choices They Had and the Choices They Made
Erdmans, Mary Patrice
Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2004

 

The Grasinski Girls are working-class Americans of Polish descent, born in the 1920s and 1930s, who created lives typical of women in their day. They went to high school, married, and had children. For the most part, they stayed home to raise their children. And they were happy doing that. They took care of their appearance and their husbands, who took care of them. Like most women of their generation, they did not join the women’s movement, and today they either reject or shy away from feminism. Based on life-story interviews with five sisters, this study explores the private lives of white, Christian women in the post–World War II generation. Expanding Pierre Bourdieu’s concept of habitus to include gendered routines, the analysis focuses on the ways that social location shaped the choices they were given as well as the choices they made, and examines the complexity of ordinary lives, exposing privileges taken for granted as well as nuances of oppression often overlooked.

 


Page last modified: February 7, 2017