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“I’m a good mother”: abused women’s resistance in the face of dominant mothering discourses Open Access


Other title
domestic violence
dominant mothering discourse
good mother
abused women
domestic abuse
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
McDonald, Caroline Beth
Supervisor and department
Gotell, Lise (Women's Studies)
Hogeveen, Bryan (Sociology)
Examining committee member and department
O'Reilly, Andrea (Women's Studies)
Kaler, Amy (Sociology)
Dunwoody, Alison (Sociology)
Department of Sociology

Date accepted
Graduation date
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
In recent years there has been a burgeoning literature in the area of domestic abuse and motherhood/mothering. However, there is surprisingly little overlap between these two literatures. Both do not specifically consider abused women’s subjective mothering experiences, and do not critically examine abused women’s mothering in light of dominant ideologies of mothering and individual social contexts. Consequently, there is little knowledge about abused mothers’ individual voices and lived realities. My research attempted to fill these gaps in the literature by examining abused women’s subjective mothering identities, the role, influence, and effects that dominant ideologies of mothering have on abused women’s subjective mothering identities, and the ways in which intersections among the social context of abuse, gender, social class, and race shape abused women’s subjective mothering identities. My research used a qualitative research approach, which consisted of face-to-face in-depth interviews with 30 abused mothers residing in abused women’s shelters in Calgary, Alberta. My research findings build upon Andrea O’Reilly (2006) and Patricia Hill Collins’ (2007) critical feminist theorizations of motherhood and mothering. The findings indicate that abused women are also among the groups of marginalized women who engage in “empowered/feminist” mothering as they constructed their mothering identities in ways that resisted the discourses of intensive mothering. I propose that these findings suggest moving beyond O’Reilly’s theory of “Mothering Against Patriarchal Motherhood” and instead towards what I refer to as “Mothering Towards Women’s Centred Motherhood” as abused women constructed their mothering identities in ways that not only resisted, but also redefined and replaced the discourses of intensive mothering. The findings also demonstrate that marginalized abused women resisted the discourse of intensive mothering in constructing their personal mothering identities. I propose that these findings indicate that marginalized abused mothers engaged in “motherwork for identity” not merely for their children’s identity as Collins discusses, but also for their own identities as mothers, what I refer to as “Motherwork for (M)other Identity”. My research contributes to research and theorizations of mothering in the social context of domestic abuse by illustrating that subjugated and marginalized women who mother find ways to exercise agency, resistance, and power.
Permission is hereby granted to the University of Alberta Libraries to reproduce single copies of this thesis and to lend or sell such copies for private, scholarly or scientific research purposes only. Where the thesis is converted to, or otherwise made available in digital form, the University of Alberta will advise potential users of the thesis of these terms. The author reserves all other publication and other rights in association with the copyright in the thesis and, except as herein before provided, neither the thesis nor any substantial portion thereof may be printed or otherwise reproduced in any material form whatsoever without the author's prior written permission.
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