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Essentialism and Mothering

  • By: Myrl Coulter
  • In: Encyclopedia of Motherhood
  • Edited by: Andrea O'Reilly
  • Subject:Sociology of Gender, Parenting, Maternal Health

As a philosophy, essentialism believes that the true essence of any person or thing is established prior to its existence and determines what shape that existence will take. In practice, mothering is the individual approach a woman brings to the experience of being a mother. Essentialism has had a tremendous impact on political, cultural, and social visions of what good mothering should be, because essentialist thinking has largely based that image on the notion that all women naturally possess innate female qualities that drive them to pursue maternal goals above all others. These essentialist notions go beyond the obvious biological fact that women physically give birth, and assume that women are genetically destined to be responsible for childcare and, by extension, most domestic duties. ...

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