One Is Not Born But Rather Becomes a Mother: Claiming the Maternal in Women and Gender Studies

Tatjana Takševa

Abstract


In their dominant, institutionalized iterations within the field of women and gender studies, as well as in much feminist theory, the concepts of female empowerment, self-direction, and gender equality are still largely based on Western neoliberal views of individualism, self, and agency. Notwithstanding important theoretical interventions from the field of motherhood studies and a recent strand of feminist theory and philosophy promoting a relational understanding of identity, self and agency, full equality in mainstream feminism still “requires that women be liberated from the consequences of their bodies, namely the ability to bear children” (Fox-Genovese 21). The aim of this article is to contribute to work seeking to deconstruct forms of essentialism embedded in women and gender studies and feminist theory by bringing together feminist critiques of Western conceptions of self and identity and the theory of the maternal articulated in motherhood studies. My hope is to make apparent the distance between the body in its reproductive function (pregnancy and birth) on the one hand, and the performativity embedded in the maternal role, on the other. By discussing maternal work as separate from pregnancy and birth, I wish to highlight the socially constructed nature of expectations and ideas associated with maternity and reveal that the often neglected agency involved in taking on and performing the role of mother.

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We are grateful to the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) for its ongoing support of the Journal of the Motherhood Initiative for Research and Community Involvement.