Pregnancy : a social construction
Sutherland, Suzanne Marie
Master of Arts
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Departing from conventional social science approaches to pregnancy and the pregnant woman’s body this study examines pregnancy as experience", a socially constructed state of being where attitudes about sexuality and maternity conflict. The study is based on a review of feminist and social science literature on pregnancy, the body and body image, as well as indepth interviews with a group of pregnant women and their male partners. Using a qualitative research design, a set of two interviews was conducted with twenty-eight female participants and their male partners, during the second and third trimesters of pregnancy. The interviews explored the themes the body as a social construction, pregnancy as a socially constructed experience; pregnancy as a liminal stage, and sexuality versus motherhood, as well as responses to a series of images of pregnancy and pregnant women drawn from recent popular women’s magazines. Drawing on Smith’s concept of ‘experience’ from the standpoint of the everyday world, it is argued that the media image of the pregnant woman as the realization of motherhood and a symbol of femininity is not an adequate reflection of women’s own experiences of pregnancy. In contrast, pregnancy is often experienced as a liminal phase - a state in which the pregnant woman may find herself stigmatized as she becomes identified with obesity and the ‘sick role’. As the embodiment of what it is to be a woman, the essence of pregnancy as socially perceived lies neither in its sexuality nor in its maternity but in its femininity. This study explores in what ways this is reflected in and amplified by societal and cultural sanctions to which pregnant women find themselves exposed during pregnancy.