Gender & Society in the Classroom: Reproductive Practice
Organized by: Katrina Kimport, University of California, San Francisco
Reproductive practice is a key element of gender construction and normative feminine identity. Here, I conceptualize “reproductive practice” broadly to include sex-related behaviors (e.g., virginity loss, contraceptive use) as well as social rituals and constructions that have emerged around the biological experiences related to reproduction (e.g., breastfeeding, menopause), regardless of whether or not the associated bodies are actually procreative (e.g., reproductive practice matters for parents as well as the intentionally childfree, for lesbian and gay individuals as well as heterosexuals). The articles are organized by theme, with the themes progressing roughly according to how they might be engaged over the life course, from menstruation rituals to post-fertility sexual experiences. Within each theme, articles are ordered alphabetically. There are, of course, some gaps in this list. Notably, these articles almost exclusively focus on the impact of reproductive practice in women’s lives, with only a few studies of men’s experiences, and there are no accounts of adoption or surrogacy. There is also a trend toward studies of white, American, heterosexuals’ experiences. Nonetheless, together these articles illuminate the complexities of reproductive practice, intersecting with different racial identities, classed experiences, religious practices, bodily experience, and social norms. Reproductive practice is an area where (normative) gender is actively constructed and, at times, resisted.
This study examines the well-being of same-sex attracted youth within the heteronormative culture of high school. The authors seek to understand how heternormativity may further marginalize homosexual adolescents by using data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescents. The results show that same-sex-attracted youth are at a greater risk for decreased well-being, these youths are at a higher risk in nonurban schools and in schools were football and religion have a larger presence.
This article examines the regulation of Latina youth sexualities in the context of sexual and reproductive health care provision. In-depth interviews with health care providers working in two Latino-serving community health centers are analyzed for how they interpret and respond to the sexual and reproductive practices of their low-income Latina teen patients. The author finds that providers emphasize teenage pregnancy as a social problem among this population to the exclusion of other dimensions of youth sexualities and encourage Latina girls’ adherence to a life course trajectory that conforms to middle-class, heteronormative ideals as a solution to this problem. By relying on such understandings, providers construct meanings of sexual citizenship that require participation in bourgeois heteronormativity. These findings suggest that Latino-serving community health centers, their providers, and their teen patients could benefit from questioning the assumptions that inform providers’ appraisals of Latina youth and developing a more inclusive approach to Latina youth sexualities beyond a discourse of pregnancy prevention. Such efforts could allow community health centers to actively participate in disrupting the structural inequalities that shape their young patients’ lives.
The author investigates how men in Mozambique talk about their role in contraceptive and reproductive decision-making. He finds, using data from 8 focus groups and 60 interviews, that, although men have comparatively less communication about these issues, they nonetheless form preferences and make decisions. The preferences and decisions are tied to their gender ideology, with more restrictive ideologies associated with less acceptance of contraceptive use.
Martin’s exploration of how white, middle-class, heterosexual women internalize gender expectations that they will be nice, polite, etc. even during labor and child birth identifies an additional way in which women’s bodies are controlled, in this case, by the women themselves in order to be in accordance with normative expectations of femininity. Her work focuses on high status women and uses interviews as data.
Feminine identity is historically tied to motherhood. Gillespie uses interviews with 25 intentionally childfree women to explore their decision to eschew the identity of motherhood and considers whether and how these choices represent a rejection of motherhood. She closes with discussion of how femininity can be alternatively understood without a focus on motherhood.
Winterich uses interviews with 30 women, both heterosexual and lesbian, to analyze the effect of menopause on women’s sex lives. She finds that the social circumstances around menopause, including relationship status and health, matter more to women in discussing their post-menopausal sex lives than the biological changes that accompany menopause. Her study serves as a call to situate studies of reproductive experiences in women’s lives, rather than simply in biological changes.
This article uses interviews with 44 women who had hysterectomies to unpack how gender identity is connected to the possession of specific reproductive organs. Elson finds the presence of narratives of a hormonal hierarchy wherein the retention of ovaries, regardless of their physiological impact on the woman’s body, are experienced as preserving sexual difference. Arguing that these are cases where the construction of sexual difference is grounded in the material body, she points to ways these narratives illuminate the crossovers between social constructionist and biological perspectives on gender identity.
Using a content analysis of all issues of Shape Fit Pregnancy magazine through 2003, the authors argue for a “third shift,” of fitness, that women are expected to perform after child birth to restore their pre-pregnancy body. They show how the pregnant body gains social approval for its visible participation in motherhood but is increasingly depicted as aesthetically problematic, pointing to a contradiction in social understandings of motherhood.
In contrast to feminist criticisms of the medicalization of pregnancy and childbirth, Brubaker finds that medicalized pregnancy can represent a positive in facilitating access to formal medical care for the poor African-American teens she studies, even as it contributes to the social construction of women’s and girls’ normative sexuality. Like adult women, these teens alternately accept and contest aspects of their medical care, participating in their pregnancy experience. Brubaker’s article contributes to understandings of the way social location impacts reproductive experiences with its focus on an elsewhere ignored population: poor, African-American, teen mothers.
Kelly, Kimberly, and Linda Grant. 2007. State Abortion and Nonmarital Birthrates in the Post-Welfare Reform Era: The Impact of Economic Incentives on Reproductive Behaviors of Teenage and Adult Women. Gender & Society 21(6): 878-904.
Kelly and Grant analyze the influence of the 1996 welfare reform legislation on women’s reproductive behaviors, legislation that aimed to reduce incidents of abortion and nonmarital births through economic incentives. They find, looking at state-level data, that these economic incentives have little effect on abortion and nonmarital birth rates in 2000 and suggest that this is evidence that such decisions are impacted by non-economic circumstances more than economic ones.
Avishai analyzes the practice of religion by 55 Jewish Israeli women to study how these women experience and negotiate religious rules around marital sexuality, specifically rules about when during the menstrual cycle sex (and any physical touch) is permitted and not permitted. She shows that these practices can serve to control the behavior of women but also offer opportunities for women’s agency, particularly around definitions of authentic religiosity. She describes women’s behavior as strategic compliance.