Pregnancy and Childbirth in Women's Literature
Literature has been a bastion of male creativity, not of female procreativity, which has traditionally inhibited the voices of women and disempowered their self-expression. This book explores the underestimated legacy of women’s fiction and (semi-)autobiographical works about pregnancy and childbirth in Great Britain and North America during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, highlighting the symbiosis between the processes of childbearing and writing, problematizing female subjugation to the patriarchal institution of motherhood, and compensating for the silence around the experience of becoming a mother in literature.
Drawing on the anthropological concept of liminality, controversies about maternity within women’s liberation movements, and milestones in French feminist theory, this book discusses pregnancy and childbirth as transformative events that can engender both women’s imaginative responses to procreation and re-creations of memories about their prenatal/natal episodes, as well as therapeutic narratives of self-discovery and recovery from pain. Examining the works of authors such as Mary Shelley, Emily Brontë, Jean Rhys, Anaïs Nin, Margaret Drabble, and Toni Morrison, this book posits a literary corpus of procreativity, written by women with an empowering white ink to defend their (un)maternal freedom and (life-)writings.
INTRODUCTION: The Pregnant/Birthing Body and Mind of White Ink and Liminality
Pregnancy and childbirth occupy a privileged place in the public arena of feminist theory and debate, particularly since the 1960s and 1970s, when second-wave feminism and its motto “the personal is political” transform female bodily experiences into weapons of rebellion and social controversy. The non-exhaustive scholarly review of women’s intelligentsia in this study reveals the lack of consensus on pregnancy, childbirth, and childrearing within the feminist community. Heather Maroney argues that movements for gender equality walk “a tightrope strung between offensive and defensive poles,” because they must validate “what a woman does” as a parent, while contesting the patriarchal glorification of her social role as a mother “at the expense of the occupant” (1985: 44). In fact, it can be identified as a binary opposition between the so-called maternal feminism that exalts women’s free choice to become mothers – despite oppressive male institutions – and anti-motherhood factions that view the inevitable destiny of maternity as an imposition from the repressive alliance between biology and patriarchy.
The reemergent feminism in Europe and America after World War II vindicates professional careers – including writing – for women, the decriminalization of abortion, and the eradication of the paradigm of monstrosity when a woman rejects the idea of becoming a mother. In The Second Sex (1949), Simone de Beauvoir pioneers in denouncing that sexual reproduction enslaves women and places them in a position of inferiority to men, ←1 | 2→because their integration to the job market and their active participation in sociopolitical spheres are diminished by...
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