The natural mother : Discourse and representation of motherhood in an Italian Facebook group

University essay from Linköpings universitet/Tema Genus

Abstract: Nature still plays a prominent role in shaping social expectations about the tasks of parents, especially mothers. The transition from the previous model of mothering and the contemporary one in Italy is definitely characterized by a revival of what is perceived as the ancient way of childrearing. At the same time, nature is also used to establish ideas about women and motherhood that are socially constructed. The gender inequality that characterizes maternity is somehow justified as part of an inevitable process where it is only or mainly the mother who has to stay home and provide care for children. The belief is well-established in Italian society and many women embrace it without any questioning. This research seeks to understand the appeal that the concept of the natural mother exercises today on many women. Empirically, the focus is on the Italian context. Departing from questions coming from the personal experience of motherhood, the author carried out an investigation of a Facebook group that provides support and information about a natural approach to motherhood. Ecofeminist and intersectional theory have been used in order to address the thorny relationship between women and nature. With the aid of discourse analysis and online ethnography methods, the author tried to disclose contemporary use of nature in the cultural representation of maternity. The study reveals the role that breastfeeding plays in present-day Italy in modeling a natural approach to motherhood. More precisely, breastfeeding is the core for understanding the idea of the natural mother. The significance of the research is that it highlights how breastfeeding raises the contradiction of the natural motherhood approach: on the one hand, it claims a stronger voice for women’s needs and expectations of their pregnancy and maternity experiences; on the other, it supports a conservative rhetoric about gender roles.

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