She's Still Bad: Contrasting Judicial Discourse on Mothers From 1980-2001

Michelle Hughes Miller, Southern Illinois University

ABSTRACT
This paper is based upon an assertion put forward by feminist legal scholars: that judicial decision-making is gendered in its practice and its outcome (Smart 1992), and that this is particularly true for decisions regarding mothers (Hanisberg & Ruddick 1999). Hence, I have concluded (Miller 1997) that imbedded in judicial discourse are definitions of "good mothers" and "good mothering." Further, I contend that these definitions of "goodness" are built upon idealized conceptions of motherhood constructed within the larger social context of the ideology of motherhood. At the core of this ideology are three myths: maternal self-sacrifice, maternal instinct, and maternal fulfillment (Schwartz 1993). Women have been (and still are) expected to become mothers, to realize satisfaction in their mothering, and to sacrifice their selfhood for their children's needs.

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Updated 05/20/2006