Exploring self sacrifice, role captivity and motherhood

Martina Hutton, Sara Cantillon

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This chapter explores the cultural subsuming of self-sacrifice and motherhood focusing in particular on the concepts of choice and role captivity within households with children. Feminist theorists have long argued that the family acts as a central mechanism in the reproduction of gender inequality. The tendency for women, especially mothers, to channel their extra resources into household consumption has significant effects in terms of the differential levels of deprivation experienced by men, women and children within the same family. Drawing on two different data sets from Ireland, this paper looks at the role of women within household managing scarce resources often at their own personal cost and why this is often seen as a “badge of honour” or personal empowerment rather than deprivation at an individual level or inequality. Secondly, it looks at how mothers reluctantly assume the role of consumer within and for the family – a type of role captivity where the strain related to consumption is shouldered solely by women and legitimised as an extension of their caring responsibilities. We find that not only were mothers more likely to “go without”, but that this is implicitly sanctioned within a hegemonic family discourse which sees the welfare of the children as the primary responsibility of the woman, and which normalises the idea that the woman should make sacrifices to this end. A key question in the reproduction of gender inequality in the family therefore relates to the ability of the family unit to disguise and sanction such inequality.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThriving Mothers/Depriving Mothers: Mothering and Welfare
EditorsKarine Levasseur, Stephanie Paterson, Lorna Turnbull
Publication statusPublished - 2020

Cite this

Hutton, M., & Cantillon, S. (2020). Exploring self sacrifice, role captivity and motherhood. In K. Levasseur, S. Paterson, & L. Turnbull (Eds.), Thriving Mothers/Depriving Mothers: Mothering and Welfare (pp. 151-166)