The Rush to Motherhood: Pronatalist Discourse and Women's Agency

Diana Tietjens Meyers

in Gender in the Mirror

Published in print March 2002 | ISBN: 9780195140415
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780199871476 | DOI:

Series: Studies in Feminist Philosophy

 The Rush to Motherhood: Pronatalist Discourse and Women's Agency

Show Summary Details


Despite the importance of women's decisions about procreation, women's testimony shows that, even when the right to procreate and the right to refuse to procreate are respected, few women autonomously decide whether or not to become mothers. Pronatalist ideology, which I dub matrigyno‐idolatry, is comprised of figurations of motherhood that interfere with women's autonomy by obfuscating their distinctive needs, temperaments, capabilities, and hopes – i.e., by subverting their self‐knowledge – and also by blocking their ability to imagine alternative life courses for themselves – i.e., by subverting their self‐definition. Testimony from those few women whose decisions about motherhood are arguably autonomous suggests that these women call on two key discursive strategies – lyric transfiguration and appropriation/adaptation – to generate individualized self‐figurations as well as agentic skills that enable them to assess the aptness of dissident self‐figurations as articulations of their distinctive sense of self. It is necessary to reform child‐rearing practices that fail to cultivate these skills, and feminist discursive politics must contest the matrigynist discursive monopoly by fashioning and circulating both counterfigurations of motherhood and counterfigurations of adult women disassociated from motherhood. Coupled with efforts to ensure that individual women acquire the agentic skills they need to make selections from a pluralistic stock of imagery and to tailor that imagery to suit themselves, this latitudinarian discursive setting would secure a key social condition for women's autonomy regarding motherhood.

Keywords: adaptation; agency; appropriation; autonomy; child‐rearing; identity; motherhood; self‐definition; self‐figuration

Chapter.  11157 words. 

Subjects: Moral Philosophy

Full text: subscription required

How to subscribe Recommend to my Librarian

Buy this work at Oxford University Press »

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.