Negotiating motherhood identity : representations, resistance and regulation.
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
This thesis explores the negotiations of motherhood identity of four Pakeha New Zealand mothers. During unstructured group interviews the four women were asked to talk about their experiences as mothers and the representations of motherhood they encountered in popular culture. Rather than focus on media texts, the research was designed to explore the embeddedness of media reception in these mother's everyday lives. The death of Princess Diana part way through the research process provided an illuminating example of the differences between discussions of media texts and those of everyday mothering practices. Three sites of analysis were examined - the embodied experience of pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding; the home and family; and the institutional encounters these four women described. The women engaged in a complex and contradictory process of constructing their identities as mothers against the powerful regulatory processes of the Good Mother discourse identified in the media and throughout the culture. Identity construction involved both compliance and resistance to the Good Mother discourse, often requiring a careful positioning of each woman as a Good Mother in relation to other mothers. The disjuncture between the ideological representations of motherhood and the lived daily practices of mothering produced resistance, most clearly in the shape of rejecting the Idealised Nuclear Family by choosing to mother alone rather than remaining in unhappy relationships. Powerful constructions of childhood remained largely unquestioned,however, creating a motherhood workload that was exhausting and marked by feelings of guilt and anxiety. The increasingly unstable and contested nature of family life in New Zealand today brings with it the possibility of new definitions of motherhood, family and childhood that may allow mothers like these to construct new meanings of the Good Mother that more closely reflect their own lives.