CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Friday, August 5, 2022

Kukura on Punishing Maternal Ambivalence

Elizabeth Kukura (Drexel University Thomas R. Kline School of Law) has posted Punishing Maternal Ambivalence (90 Fordham L. Rev. 2909 (2022)) on SSRN. Here is the abstract:
For some women, becoming a parent is fraught because they feel ambivalent about parenthood or about adding an additional child to their families. The cloak of silence shielding these feelings from public awareness reflects the social stigma that attaches to maternal ambivalence, leading to emotional and psychological harm for some women who feel ambivalent about their pregnancies. The strength of this stigma enables feelings of ambivalence to be weaponized against pregnant and parenting women, sanctioning them for their deviance from social stereotypes regarding who is a “good” mother.

This Essay explores the punishment of maternal ambivalence, drawing on three case studies to illustrate the strength of the stigma that attaches to such feelings. In these cases, the stigma of ambivalence turns such feelings into a weapon for disciplining women who fall short of societal expectations for mothers.

Part I introduces three women whose private feelings of ambivalence became matters of public record. Part II briefly explores the concept of maternal ambivalence as understood in the psychoanalytic literature, comparing its meaning and significance to the ambivalence experienced by women facing criminal punishment. Finally, Part III explores how the social stigmatization of maternal ambivalence enables women’s complicated feelings about motherhood to be used against them in cruel and unforgiving ways.

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