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Title:The motherhood myth: unrealistic expectations
Author(s):Tiberghien, Nathalie
Director of Research:Zerai, Assata
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Zerai, Assata
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Denzin, Norman; Liao, Tim; Mendenhall, Ruby
Department / Program:Sociology
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Gender Equality
Abstract:This dissertation explores the gap between women’s expectations of motherhood before they have children and the reality of their lives as mothers, a phenomenon that I call the Motherhood Myth. My study sheds light on how this Motherhood Myth takes shape, how it is transmitted and reinforced by culture and interpersonal expectations and what its consequences are on family life, women's mental health and well being. I use several frameworks centered on critical and interpretive perspectives, and conducted an autoethnography and in-depth interviews of two women. Among other findings, this research demonstrates that for those mothers in my study, the expectations of motherhood were very different from their actual lives with children. I present the findings and analysis from those case studies in an ethnodrama, a play in three acts, in which each act is a dimension of the shock of motherhood, and each scene represents an aspect of the myth. Act I is about the generational and cultural disconnect the women experienced while raising their children, the cultural expectations that feed the myth of the good mother. The second scene of this first act presents the emotional and physical tsunami that followed the birth, and the deceptive myth of the natural, organic, all sweet motherhood. Scene three is an attempt to understand the reasons for these women’s naiveté, which exposes the “can have it all” myth. Act II goes deeper in the intimacy and meaning of the experience, from the consumerist part of raising children as a way of coping, to the damages of individualism and mothering competition. It also explores the deep, never ending, and unexpected feelings of fear, worry, shame and guilt. Act III addresses the myth of gender equality that those mothers had internalized while growing up: contrary to what they always thought, they are not treated as equals with men at home or at work and this affects their lives negatively. The study shows that the Motherhood Myth has consequences on mothers’ well being, and by repercussion on their families and society. I anchor my work in the third-wave feminist movement and call for a move from universalism. I argue that this Motherhood Myth that my study highlights plays a role in the “stalled gender revolution,” discussed in sociology in the past few years. Addressing the motherhood myth is crucial because women themselves are reluctant to talk about it and prefer to find ways to cope and "balance" in silence and privately. Finally, I make propositions to modify this idealized image of motherhood.
Issue Date:2016-12-01
Rights Information:Copyright 2016 Nathalie Tiberghien
Date Available in IDEALS:2017-03-01
Date Deposited:2016-12

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