Historical Social Research

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Gerda Neyer & Laura Bernardi, Feminist Perspectives on Motherhood and Reproduction [Abstract]

Motherhood and reproduction have been at the core of the feminist discourse about women’s rights ever since its onset. For the first and second feminist movements, the right to abortion and the public recognition of motherhood have been main issues in the discourse on reproduction. Since the last two decades of the 20th century, the potentials of assisted reproductive technologies (ART) have opened up new venues of feminist discourse. In this paper we sketch the main feminist lines of argumentation regarding motherhood and reproduction since the 1970s, and we identify specific shifts in their recurrent issues. We argue that an essential contribution of feminism to the understanding of motherhood as a structuring category has been its insistence on the distinction between biological and social motherhood. Feminist discourse shows how ART has further decomposed biological motherhood and has altered the meaning of motherhood and reproduction. Feminist analysis maintains that despite the rhetoric of choice surrounding ART, these technologies have not increased women’s reproductive freedom. The decomposition of biological motherhood, the medical, legal, and commercial development of reproduction, and the change in the social perception of motherhood have rather established new forms of control over female reproduction.