Historical Perspective on the Ideologies of Motherhood and its Impact on Social Work

Vesna Leskošek

Abstract

Throughout history, many attempts have been made to construct femininity. Women were chained to their homes by various rituals, customs and traditions that acted as unwritten laws which must be complied with. The construction of femininity was the most intense in times of industrialisation when migration from the countryside to the city was at its height. Social relations became more complex, with private life in rural communities no longer being subject to an effective social control. The modernization and emergence of new roles and power centres during the late 19th century deprived women of even those rights that they had enjoyed until then. There were several ways in which they were restricted and their roles and social positions determined. The most important were those that were a result of discourses on femininity. In this article, we will concentrate on the ideologies of motherhood and their impact on early social services for women and single mothers. We will restrict ourselves to early 20th century Europe, when contemporary divisions into the east and west, the north and the south had not yet been in place. Although in many ways the constructions of reality have specific local features, feminist theory has shown that the ideologies of motherhood place women in similar positions in the most part of the world. This article will therefore adhere to the general overview that does not comprise specific dimensions of the construction of motherhood within different and specific cultural, social and political contexts.

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