Journal of Bioethical Inquiry

, Volume 13, Issue 2, pp 327–347 | Cite as

“But You Would Be the Best Mother”: Unwomen, Counterstories, and the Motherhood Mandate

Original Research


This paper addresses and challenges the pronatalist marginalization and oppression of voluntarily childless women in the Global North. These conditions call for philosophical analyses and for sociopolitical responses that would make possible the necessary moral spaces for resistance. Focusing on the relatively privileged subgroups of women who are the targets of pronatalist campaigns, the paper explores the reasons behind their choices, the nature and methods of Western pronatalism, and distinguishes three specific sources of some of the more lasting, and stigmatizing attacks: popular culture, law and policy, and medicine itself. I then argue that because they are construed by motherhood-essentializing, and increasingly popular, pronatalist narratives as, among other things, “failed” or “selfish,” voluntarily childless women are subsequently burdened with damaged identities that can leave them personally othered and uniquely liminal in ways that are destructive to moral agency. Finally, I conclude with a challenge to the pronatalist master narratives by suggesting the possibility of counter narratives to the voluntarily childless woman's liminality that might serve as the ground of moral and political solidarity among differently situated women, regardless of their motherhood status.


Pronatalism Voluntary childlessness Narrative Marginalization Feminist moral theory Moral agency 


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Copyright information

© Journal of Bioethical Inquiry Pty Ltd. 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyBrooklyn College CUNYBrooklynUSA

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