Researching women’s lives

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This book is written as debates cont inue about the relevanc e of femi nisms

to women’s lives in the early twenty-first century. The topic of mothering

and motherhood is an area of social research that has greatly benefited

from a range of feminist contributions, not least identifying it as an area

worthy of scrutiny. Most importantly, it was earlier feminist research,

debate and argument that led to the mapping out of the contested terrain

of mothe ring and motherho od (Fireston e, 1971 ; Rich, 1977 ; Chodo row,

1978 ; Oakle y, 1979 , 1980 ; Ru ddick, 1980 ; Davis -Floyd, 1992 ; Ribbe ns,

1994 ). These wri ters que stione d the social process es that framed mothe rhood

in particular ways and challenged assumptions of biological

determinism and essentialist readings of the self. More recently others

have charted the contours of continuing scholarly work on theorising

mothe rhood and women’s experi ence s of mothe ring (Ar endell, 2000 ;

Chas e an d Rogers, 2001 ), whilst othe rs have critica lly explored new

reproductive technologies and the ways in which scientific ‘advancements’

and their management continue to produce new challenges for

women and the ir bodies (Sta nworth, 1987; Rapp, 2000) . The invidious

ways in which women continue to be defined and labelled according

to different types of mothers – ‘good’, ‘bad’, ‘single’, ‘lesbian’ – has also

been recentl y note d (Garc ia Coll et al ., 1998 ). Given this cont ext,

I believe there is no question about the continued relevance of feminisms

to women (and men’s) lives today. Gendered assumptions and

stereotypes continue to shape experiences and knowledge claims, for

example in relation to parenting, whilst structural and material

inequalities prevail. In view of this, the question is not about whether

feminisms are relevant in the twenty-first century, but rather how they

can fail to be relevant. This book then is written as a result of my work as a

feminist researcher. I position myself in this way because of my concern,

noted elsewhere, ‘with conducting research about neglected aspects of

women’s lives, grounded in their own experiences and from a particular

the oretical and methodo logical pers pectiv e’ (Birch et al ., 2002 :3).

I acknowledge that there is breadth in the term ‘feminist’ but share with

other feminists an ‘interest in the interplay between public, social

knowledge and private and personal lived experiences’ (Birch et al.,

2002 :3). In this book , I explore the ways in wh ich the cons tructio ns and

reconstructions of individual narrative trajectories of transition to

motherhood are contingent on the societal framing of contemporary

motherhood. This approach brings into focus new mothers’ everyday

experiences of becoming mothers and motherhood, and enables us to

see the gaps between expectations and experiences: how things should be

and how they are currently configured and experienced. For as Chase and

Rogers have recently noted ‘it is only when we pay close attention to

mothers’ everyday experiences are we [sic] informed enough to contribute

to discussions about how motherhood should be socially constructed’

(20 01:xx, emphasis added). In the followin g sections curren t debat es

conc erning na rrative, se lves and app roache s to collecti ng onto logical

self-narratives are explored.