The geographies of ‘good’ motherhood: Kinder, Kuche, Kirche – Kaput?

By Jo Norcup

The run up to International Women’s Day (8th March) provides an apt opportunity to consider the fundamental way geographies of motherhood affect the way families, societies, and cultures conceptualize and create the interrelated worlds of work, home, and leisure.  By looking at two recent newspaper articles links will be made to the way various research groups of the Royal Geographical Society have been looking at the geographies of power that play out differently due to constructions of gender and motherhood across different geographical times, spaces and scales.

In her recent New York Times article The Female Factor, Katrin Bennhold discusses the profound geographical difference that gender plays in terms of life opportunities for working mothers in the 21st century.  Taking Germany as her geographical example, Bennhold observe that:

Across the developed world, a combination of the effects of birth control, social change, political progress, economic necessity has produced a tipping point: numerically, women now match or overtake men in the workforce and in education.

Bennhold’s article gives examples of the complex ways in which conservative ‘traditional’ attitudes towards motherhood in and across different regions of Germany are being challenged.  By looking at the structure of a school timetable in Germany, Bennhold raises question at how ‘traditional’ rhythms of everyday life were created for mothers and how in turn this is being challenged through the increasingly needs and desire of mothers to take up forms of economic employment. Such challenges have in turn created new employment opportunities, revolutionising the everyday lives and power relations of families and societies across Germany.

Another recent news article, this time by Lizzie Davies’s written from Paris observes from through the research finding of Philosopher Elizabeth Badinter  a different geographical angle how feminism is being attacked with the promotion of particular constructions of ‘good’ mothers’ as being ‘slaves to their children’.

Social and cultural geographers at the RGS-IBG have long concerned themselves explicitly with the complex power geographies of gender since the formation of the Women and Geographies Study Group (WGSG) 30 years ago this year, considering the conflicting tensions of different opportunities to mothers depending on a mother’s respective everyday cultural, ethnic, economic and social geographies.  The recently formed Geographies of Children, Youth, and Families Working Group (GCYFWG) similarly looks at the profound impact of life stages and non-work based social structures in affecting how people conform or subvert the everyday geopolitics of life, while the Sexualities, Space and Queer Working Group (SSQWG) has amongst its research investigated the changing roles of parenting within and beyond heterosexual relationships. Of particular note is the work of Professor Linda McDowell at Oxford University whose research has been crucial in engaging with such geographies.  Her 2001 paper ‘Father and Ford: gender, class and employment change in the new millennium complements and challenges some of the ideas in Bennhold’s recent article, in particular negotiating the elusive and entangled problematics of ‘work/life balance’.

New York Times article

Guardian / Davies article


McDowell L (2001) Father and Ford Revisited: Gender, Class and Employment Change in the New Millennium. TIBG New Series 26:4 pp 448 – 464.

RGS research group contacts:




1 comment

  1. Recently flagged opportunties for A-level geographers to study geographies of gender and women to tie in with International Women’s Day and previously LGBT issues and ‘geographies of sexuality’ for LGBT History month…

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