Motherhood: A Research Companion to Feminist Legal Theory

Susan B. Boyd, Allard School of Law at the University of British Columbia


An extensive feminist literature explores how law interacts with the social institution of motherhood and with the ideological frameworks that contribute to women’s oppression in western, liberal states. This chapter’s main concern is with feminist theories about law’s role in relation to motherhood, which reflects both coercive and ideological aspects. That is, women can be coerced into normative ideals of motherhood and penalized for failure to conform, but women can also ‘consent’ or choose to conform to ideological norms, raising far more complex questions for feminists and for feminist legal strategy. The chapter also explores the degree to which law and feminist legal strategies reinforce and/or challenge dominant ideologies of motherhood, which are rooted in the histories of race, class, gender, and sexuality.