Modern Motherhood and Women’s Dual Identities: Rewriting the Sexual Contract, 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

Modern Motherhood and Women’s Dual Identities

Rewriting the Sexual Contract, 1st Edition

By Petra Bueskens


334 pages

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Why do women in contemporary western societies experience contradiction between their autonomous and maternal selves? What are the origins of this contradiction and the associated ‘double shift’ that result in widespread calls to either ‘lean in’ or ‘opt out’? How are some mothers subverting these contradictions and finding meaningful ways of reconciling their autonomous and maternal selves?


In Modern Motherhood and Women’s Dual Identities, Petra Bueskens argues that western modernisation consigned women to the home and released them from it in historically unprecedented, yet interconnected, ways. Her ground-breaking formulation is that western women are free as ‘individuals’ and constrained as mothers, with the twist that it is the former that produces the latter.


Bueskens’ theoretical contribution consists of the identification and analysis of modern women’s duality, drawing on political philosophy, feminist theory and sociology tracking the changing nature of discourses of women, freedom and motherhood across three centuries. While the current literature points to the pervasiveness of contradiction and double-shifts for mothers, very little attention has been paid to how (some) women are subverting contradiction and ‘rewriting the sexual contract’. Bridging this gap, Bueskens’ interviews ten ‘revolving mothers’ to reveal how periodic absence, exceeding the standard work-day, disrupts the default position assigned to mothers in the home, and in turn disrupts the gendered dynamics of household work.


A provocative and original work, Modern Motherhood and Women’s Dual Identities will appeal to graduate students and researchers interested in fields such as Women and Gender Studies, Sociology of Motherhood and Social and Political Theory.

Table of Contents



1.1 On mothers and modernity

1.2 Key questions

1.3 Definitions and theoretical framework

1.4 Situating the study and defining the theoretical argument

1.5 Situating the study and defining the empirical research

1.6 Scratching the empirical itch


2.1 Introduction

2.2 Establishing the parametres: structure and agency

2.3 Classical sociology: Durkheim, Weber and Marx

2.4 Feminist methodology and epistemology

    1. Postmodernism and its discontents
    2. Research methodology: structure and agency revisited
    3. Theoretical research
      1. Situating the self
      2. Theory as research
      3. Interdisciplinarity

2.8 Empirical research

2.9 Recruitment and interviews

2.10 Interpreting the data

2.11 Conclusions


CHAPTER 3: The social and sexual contracts

3.1 Introduction

3.2 The social contract and the birth of ‘the individual’

    1. The philosophers: Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau (deleted)
    2. Summarising the social contract

3.5 The ‘sexual contract’ or why women cannot be ‘individuals’

      1. Women’s position in ‘the state of nature’
      2. The emergence of ‘fraternal patriarchy’
      3. Women’s contradictory status in civil society
      4. Problems with the category of ‘the individual’

3.6 Duality theory or on the emergence of sovereign women

3.7 Conclusion

CHAPTER 4: The invention of motherhood and the ‘new woman’: 1750-1920

4.1 Introduction

4.2 The traditional family: women’s work and family roles

4.3 Transitions from feudal to industrial society 1600-1750: proto-industrialisation 1600-1750

4.4 Industrialisation 1750-1850: class division and the surge of sentiment

4.5 Working class women and the emergence of wage labour: 1750-1900

4.6 Middle-class women and the ‘invention of motherhood’: 1750-1900

4.7 The ‘New Woman’: shadow to the ‘Angel in the House’

4.8 ‘Woman Right’ Activists

4.9 New Women at the fin de siecle

4.10 Conclusion

CHAPTER 5: What is the new sexual contract?

5.1 Introduction

5.2 Late modernity: the end of ‘society’ and the rise of ‘the social’

5.3 Individualisation: self-making in late modernity

5.4 Women in late modernity: mapping the contours of freedom and constraint

5.4.1 Education

5.4.2 Employment

5.4.3 Families now 5.4.4 Domestic division of labour

5.5 Deregulated patriarchy and the new sexual contract

5.6 Women’s two modes of self (check heading)

5.7 The problematic as it stands


CHAPTER 6: Becoming a mother: or, revisiting the sexual contract

6.1 Introduction

6.2 Individualised partnering and parenting

6.3 The traditionalisation process and its discontents

6.4 Analysis and conclusion

CHAPTER 7: Leaving the default position in the home

7.1 Introduction

7.2 Revolving out the door: maternal transformations

7.3 Revolving in the door: paternal and partner transformations

7.4 External responses: envy, opprobrium, accolade

7.5 Analysis and conclusion

CHAPTER 8: Reconstructing the sexual contract

8.1 Introduction

8.2 Doubled selves, doubled lives and time-space de-sequencing

8.3 Domestic divisions of labour and leisure revisited

8.4 Rewriting the sexual contract: on the democratisation of intimacy

8.5 Analysis and Conclusion


CHAPTER 9: Concluding the contract: women in the twenty-first century

9.1 Theoretical overview

9.2 Research problematic

9.3 Research findings

9.4 Women in the twenty-first century









About the Author

Petra Bueskens is an Honorary Fellow at the University of Melbourne, Australia.

About the Series

Routledge Research in Gender and Society

The social sciences continue to be transformed and enriched by analysis which takes gender, and the ways in which gender and society interact, to be of vital, defining importance. This series is new and broadly based, and will publish high-level contributions from across the disciplines.

Learn more…

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Sociology / General