First an Obstacle, Then Every Woman’s Dream: Discourses of Motherhood in Print Media, 1970–1979 versus 2010–2019

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In this article, we focus on how motherhood is represented in print media interviews with mothers over two distinct decades, 1970–1979 and 2010–2019, in Iceland. We used an affective-discursive framework to analyse 67 and 207 media interviews published in the two periods, respectively. In the former period, we found that mothers challenged prevalent feeling rules that encouraged them to put the family before their own needs. They used the interviews to advocate for their individual subjectivity and right to choose to be both mothers and earners. The societal changes were considered instrumental for women’s ability to make choices. In the latter period, discussions about motherhood as a barrier to women’s participation in the workforce were minimal. Mothers embraced the Nordic earner–carer model and even-handedly discussed their careers and motherhood. Motherhood was framed as a joyful enterprise and an individual choice that marked the pathway to women’s personal and emotional fulfilment. We conclude that discursive-affective constructions of motherhood imply neoliberal models of subjectivity that draw attention away from structural inequalities. In both periods, the public construction of motherhood revolved around the experiences of privileged, white, middle-class and heterosexual women, with limited attention to the experiences of marginalized mothers.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)236-248
Number of pages13
JournalNORA - Nordic Journal of Feminist and Gender Research
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2 Oct 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the University of Iceland research grant, Post-doctoral research fund, University of Iceland. Authors names are arranged in alphabetical order. We use multiple ‘first’ authors practice in this study. Both authors have contributed equally to the ideas of the paper, design of the study, data collection and analysis, writings, and the discussion.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 The Nordic Association for Feminist and Gender Research.

Other keywords

  • carer-earner model
  • feminist movement
  • intensive mothering
  • Motherhood
  • neoliberalism
  • print media
  • women’s rights


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