ANT 11 Lewin 1976

When written, lesbian mothers were virtually invisible and most of them wanted to stay that way. The contradicted assumptions about the "natural" order of things.

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Motherhood in American Culture

Stanton and Rich motherhood as deterring women from reaching points of value in society. If children are their priority, then independant achievement will always be secondary.

Feminism fights against this as a prescribed role:

1) birth control enables/d many women to limit the number of children they have/d and enabled them to move into the public domain.

2) Women's rights. Firestone: motherhood was barbaric and should all be artificial. Not many agreed with this radical view but liberal feminists still focused on womens rights not to reproduce in order to enhance their public rewards.

The exclusion of women from public roles, their impaired access to economic resources, the symbolic devaluation of women and various kinds of physical and psychological abuse were observed as being effects of motherhood.

Enabled women to balance their personal and maternal goals.

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Motherhood: yay or nay?

Culture made all women mothers.
Women as closer to nature

But does this need to be a handicap? Potential for feminist reform and is a nobling factor of womanhood.

Motherhood both constrains and empowers women. Feminist activism is thus charged with enabling women to reduce the impact of motherhood and reproduction on their public lives but not to eliminate it altogether.

Feminist theories and the wider community tend to see motherhood as growing "naturally" from heterosexual behaiour as an assumed dimension of adult life.

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Lesbians in American culture

If procreation is not in some way the end result of sexual activity, then that activity appears to be wholly self-indulgent. ---> Violation of social order? Lesbian motherhood seems to subvert the link between sexuality and procreation: lesbian sexuality cannot result in pregnancy and reproduction in the biological sense and therefore is NOT THE DIRECT FOUNDATION OF THE "FAMILY."

One of the images of the lesbian that has deep roots in Western culture is that she is not a woman but rather an "invert", or the embodiemtn of some third and anomalous gender category.

This leads to her exclusion from the adult feminine world of motherhood and nurturance. She is imagined ad living a life of transitory relationships and as ending her days in isolation.

Culture questions their suitability to be mothers: often based on ecoomic grounds. Also have to struggle with the judicial prejudice about whether they can really be mothers at all.

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The centrality of Motherhood

Lesbian mothers

  • They spoke of motherhood overwhelming and engulfing other dimensions of their lives - including what they considered the lesbian component. Most people they encountered assumed that they are heterosexual, no matter what their stye, as they have children.
  • "There's a difference between people who have children and people who don't have children. People who don't have children, to my way of thiking, are selfish... It's hard for me to co-ordinate my needs and time with someone who's in a completely different head set... I just prefer being with people who have some sense of what it's like to be me, and I understand where they are too."
  • "I think it's definitely the most important thing that peopel do. It builds the next generation."
  • "My kid has given me more knowledge than any other experience in my life."
  • "Somehow having a child freed me... I mean inside of me felt kind of devoid of emotion." All of them talked about the "natural" impulses that led them to whatever method they selected. "sense of family", "home family situation", "was just a need." If biological links to mothers are significant, then the possibility that such ties to fathers may also be important.
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Defining Family

"There is a real shift in how lesbians are defining family. Ten years ao, it would have been lesbians raising a child, preferably a female child. Now that preference doesn't seem to be stated as strongly. More and more lesbians are seeking out men who want to play some role in their child's life. At that point, I'm not so sure we can still call the person a donor."

"These children were produced by Nancy, and Michele is not the legal or biological anythign to them."

So while the legitimacy of the family formed by a lesbian mother through artificial insemination was affirmed, the former partner is not seen as the noncustodial parent in the way that a former husband would be.

Gender roles have been stretched to accomodate for a new group of mothers.

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"Inappropriate" motherhood

"Motherhood is supposed to happen because women stand in a particular sexual and economic relationship to men, not because a woman determines that being a mother will meet her personal goals or be a desrable in some other, less readily articulated, way. Motherhood provides evidence that the gender system is working as it should."

"For lesbians or other "inappropriate" mothers to embark upon a maternal career means defying the expectations that motherhood and heterosexual marriage must be linked."

Lesbian mothers continue to have a foot outside the traditional gender system; their ability to challenge received truths in constructing reproductive meanings allows them personal rewards but also may have long-term significance for the organisation of motherhood s an increasingly politicised institution.

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