Stockholm Colloquium in Philosophy: Fiona Woollard (Southampton)


Date: Thursday 18 April 2024

Time: 16.00 – 17.45

Location: D289

Why not get rid of mothers (and other gendered personal roles)?


In this talk, I will argue that to be a mother is not simply to be a parent who is a woman.  To be a mother is to have a female gendered parental role. Motherhood, like other gendered roles, is implicated in gender injustice. Those seen as mothers are typically held to unreasonable ideals of self-sacrifice with bad effects on both individuals and the structure of society.

So should we get rid of gendered parental roles and have only parents, no mothers and fathers?  I compare gendered parental roles with other gendered personal roles (spouse, daughter) and with gendered professional roles (nurse/doctor, actor/actress).

I argue that no one should have their personal roles gendered against their will: women should be able to be parents but not mothers.  

However, in contrast to many professional roles, gendered personal roles can be flexible enough for the people involved to negotiate individualised, and potentially emancipatory, understandings of how the role is gendered.

We can resist the injustice in current influential understanding of motherhood, while honouring parents’ and children’s experiences of the parental role as gendered. Gender neutral parental roles should be an option – but should not be the only option. The same applies to other gendered personal roles.