Motherhood represents a social construct that is given meaning within patriarchal systems of law and custom. The present study analyzes the Israeli legal discourse surrounding motherhood, parenting capacity, and sexual conduct of marginalized women whose parental rights were terminated. It examines how information about a mother’s sexual heteronormal life style played a role in the construction of her motherhood as maternal unfitness. Drawing from 80 court decisions terminating parental rights, three themes emerged: the bad wife as a marker of the bad mother, “legitimate” sexual life as a pre-condition to desirable parenting, and negative views of women who give birth out of marriage. Maternal unfitness was associated with sexual immorality, illegitimacy, and “inappropriate” sexual choices. Alternative explanations of the findings are discussed from a critical feminist and legal perspective. Implications of the findings are outlined, particularly the need for women’s voices to be heard in every decision-making process regarding state control of their parenting, and the need for professionals to avoid bias against socially marginalized women and engage in critical reflective thinking regarding why information about a mother’s sexual conduct and life style is considered relevant to any assessment of her parental fitness and the child’s best interest.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
The present study was funded by a research grant from the Zefat Academic College (grant number 54/2017). Study materials are available in Hebrew upon request.
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- At risk population
- Child abuse
- Legal decisions
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Gender Studies
- Social Psychology
- Developmental and Educational Psychology