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Mother’s resistance to the Western dominant discourse on mothering Horwitz, Erika

Abstract

This qualitative study was undertaken for the purpose of answering the following two research questions: (a) What is the personal meaning and experience of mothering for women who feel they are actively resisting the Western dominant discourse on mothering?, and (b) How are these personal meanings and experiences grounded in the participants' personal contexts as well as in dominant and alternative discourses and discursive practices? Fifteen women ranging in age from 23 to 46 years, who self identified as actively resisting the dominant discourse, were interviewed about their mothering experiences. Their interviews were transcribed and analyzed following a critical interpretive approach (Cushman, 1995; Packer & Addison, 1989). In answering the first research question three themes were identified: (a) resisting is rewarding and liberating, (b) resisting entails juggling and balancing, (c) resisting entails cognitive work, refraining, and reconciling. Although acknowledging the pragmatic and cognitive challenges inherent in so doing, the women in the study experienced a sense of empowerment and pride in their choice to resist. In answering the second question, participants' identified concrete structural barriers to their efforts to mother differently and acknowledged the importance of supportive partners, friends, extended family members, education, financial resources, and flexible employment as critical in their efforts to resist having their own needs completely subjugated to those of their children. Participants drew on the discourses of feminism, achievement, individualism, collectivity, self-care, science, attachment, and alternative medicine in supporting their efforts to resist. They positioned themselves as caring responsible mothers, independent women, educated/professionals, critical thinkers, and activists. The findings suggest that in positioning themselves in opposition to the dominant, 'selfless mother' discourse, the participants were faced with negotiating between multiple and often contradictory discourses. In particular, the women in the study struggled to negotiate between the selfless mother and the individual rights/self actualization discourses. Furthermore, the findings suggest that the perception of resistance may be as important in engendering a sense of agency for women who mother, as the actual manifestation of resistance in their mothering practices. These findings are discussed in terms of their implications for research, theory, and clinical practice.

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