Inconceivable: An exploratory study of South African childfree lesbian couples

Attridge, Nicole (2018-03)

Thesis (MA)--Stellenbosch University, 2018.

Thesis

ENGLISH SUMMARY: Lesbians have historically neither been associated with motherhood nor considered fit to parent. However, in recent decades in an increasing number of countries, including South Africa, lesbian couples have obtained the legal rights to and increasing opportunities for motherhood. Despite these changes that make motherhood an accessible status for lesbians, as well as the prevailing beliefs that all women inherently aspire to motherhood, many lesbian couples choose to remain childfree. There is limited research regarding the latter group of women, and this present study therefore aimed to address this gap. This exploratory study adopted a feminist social constructionist framework and focused on exploring childfree lesbian couples’ constructions of their childfree status. In-depth interviews were conducted with ten white, middle-class, childfree lesbian couples (twenty participants) living in Cape Town, South Africa. Carol Gilligan’s Listening Guide method was then applied to conduct an analysis of the participants’ accounts. The analysis identified two major contrapuntal voices, each made up of three minor voices. Firstly, the Conscious Voice, made up of No Maternal Instinct; Obstacles; and An Alternative Path. Secondly, the Covert Voice, consisting of Unnatural; If I Could Have, I Would Have; and Inequality. The analysis found underlying conflicts between the participants’ Conscious and Covert voices reflecting the contradictions in their personal lives, as well as within the South African context in which they conduct their public lives. The Conscious voice conveyed a lack of felt desire for a child and the practical barriers lesbian couples need to overcome in order to have a child. However, the Covert voice suggested that their childfree status was less about choosing not to have children, and more about struggling to construct a lesbian motherhood alternative to the perceived ideal of heteronormative parenting in South Africa. A significant finding was that, despite asserting self-aware lesbian identities, their constructs of motherhood and parenting were still strongly influenced by heteronormative discourses and a pronatalist context. These findings suggest that although the participants lead meaningful and satisfying lives without the experience of motherhood, much more still needs to be done to expand alternative constructions of motherhood, parenthood and families before lesbian couples will be offered an equal social context in which they can consider motherhood without the conscious and unconscious barriers that are posed by hegemonic heteronormative constructions.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Histories is lesbiërs nie geassosieer met moederskap of geskik geag vir ouerskap nie. Oor die afgelope dekades het lesbiese pare egter wel in verskeie lande, ook in Suid-Afrika, wetlike regte tot ouerskap verkry, asook toenemende geleenthede vir moederskap. Ten spyte van hierdie veranderinge wat moederskap toeganklik vir lesbiërs maak, asook die heersende oortuigings dat alle vroue begeer om moeders te wees, kies baie lesbiese pare om kindervry te bly. Daar is beperkte navorsing aangaande laasgenoemde groep vroue en hierdie studie het ten doel gehad om hierdie leemte aan te spreek. Hierdie verkennende studie is gegrond in ‘n feministies sosiaal konstruktionistiese raamwerk. In-diepte onderhoude is gevoer met tien wit, middelklas, kindervrye lesbiese pare (twintig deelnemers) woonagtig in Kaapstad, Suid-Afrika. Carol Gilligan se “Listening Guide” metode is gebruik om hierdie data te ontleed. Die analise het twee hoof kontrapuntale stemme geïdentifiseer wat elk uit drie onderliggende stemme bestaan. Die Bewuste Stem bestaan uit die volgende onderliggende stemme: Geen Moedersinstink; Hindernisse; en ‘n Alternatiewe Pad. Die Verskuilde Stem bestaan uit die volgende onderliggende stemme: Onnatuurlik; As ek kon, sou ek; en Ongelykheid. Die analise het konflikte tussen die deelnemers se Bewuste en Verskuilde Stemme uitgewys wat die teenstellings in hulle persoonlike lewens, sowel as binne die Suid-Afrikaanse konteks waarin hulle hul publieke lewens gevoer het, weerspieël het. Die Bewuste Stem het die gebrek aan ‘n gevoelde begeerte vir ‘n kind, asook die praktiese versperrings wat lesbiese pare moet oorkom ten einde ‘n kind te hê, aangedui. Die Bewuste Stem het egter uitgelig dat hul kindervrye status nie soveel te make het met ‘n keuse om nie kinders te hê nie, maar meer met die problematiek om ‘n lesbiese moederskap konstruksie te skep wat ‘n gelyke alternatief tot die waargenome ideal van heteronormatiewe ouerskap in Suid-Afrika is. ‘n Belangrike bevinding is dus dat die deelnemers se moeder- en ouerskap konstrukte steeds sterk beïnvloed word deur heteronormatiewe diskoerse en ‘n pronatale konteks, ten spyte van hul polities-bewuste lesbiese identiteite. Hierdie bevindings dui daarop dat alhoewel die deelnemers betekenisvolle en bevredigende lewens lei sonder die ervaring van moederskap, daar nog baie meer gedoen moet word om alternatiewe konstruksies van moederskap, ouerskap en gesinne uit te brei voordat lesbiese pare ‘n meer gelyke sosiale konteks sal hê waarbinne hul ouerskap kan oorweeg sonder die bewuste en onbewuste hindernisse wat heersende heteronormatiewe konstruksies meebring.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/103418
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