Matrilocality and female power: single mothers in extended households

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Title: Matrilocality and female power: single mothers in extended households
Authors: Hyde, Abbey
Permanent link: http://hdl.handle.net/10197/4132
Date: Nov-1999
Abstract: Based on a qualitative study of non-marital pregnancy and childbearing in the Republic of Ireland, this article reports on the gendered power position of unmarried women who return to their parental homes following their babies' births. It is argued that in matrilocal households, centralised male power associated with the traditional nuclear family is diffused to some extent. Empirical evidence to support this notion is to be found in analysing the position of the putative father as ‘guest’ in the home of his partner and child (the martrilocal household) and also in exploring the relationship between the participant and her own father within that household. In relation to her own father, it was found that reproducing an offspring provided the women with some bargaining leverage vis-à-vis her own father within the family home. These reshaped relationships represent, to some extent at least, the undercutting of centralised male authority within the household. Non-marital childbearing in Ireland has increased sharply in the past 20 years (Central Statistics Office, 1974–1994, 1995, 1996), and there is evidence that many unmarried women who have children return to their parental home after the birth Flanagan & Richardson 1992 and Richardson 1992.1 This article reports on the experiences of a subsample of non-marital mothers who returned to their parental home after the babies' births, and focuses specifically on their gendered power position within the parental home since becoming mothers. The matrilocal2 extended family involved a complex network of relations and, it is argued, was the location where traditional patriarchal structures were found to be undermined. Where relations with the putative father were sustained, the power status of the male partner vis-à-vis the participant and child within the matrilocal extended family was eroded to a considerable extent, compared with the power position traditionally held by the male as presumed head of household3 in the nuclear family. Even in those situations where participants were no longer in relationships with the putative fathers, their power position in the home vis-à-vis their own fathers was frequently altered in their favour with the birth of the baby. The article will begin by outlining the methodological stance adopted in the study. This will be followed by an analysis of data on both participants' and putative fathers' positions within the matrilocal home. Participants' relationships with their own fathers since the babies' births will also be theorised. Since the focus of this article is on gendered power experiences within the home, the actual mothering experiences of the women will not be analysed other than where they mediate power relationships and are relevant to the central issue of the article. In conducting the study, there was no a priori assumption that non-marital childbearing was problematic; however, the stigmatisation of this style of mothering in the past Arensberg & Kimball 1968, Darling 1984, Kilkenny Social Services 1972, O'Hare, Dromey, O'Connor, Clarke, & Kirwan 1987, Smyth 1992 and Viney 1964, women's continued disadvantaged position within marriage (see Delphy 1992, Smart 1984 and Walby 1990), and the sharp increase in non-marital motherhood in Ireland (Central Statistics Office, 1974–1994, 1995, 1996) prompted an exploration of the topic.
Type of material: Journal Article
Publisher: Elsevier
Copyright (published version): 1999 Elsevier Science Ltd.
Keywords: Single mothers;Families;Matrilocal residence
DOI: 10.1016/S0277-5395(99)00070-9
Language: en
Status of Item: Peer reviewed
Appears in Collections:Nursing, Midwifery & Health Systems Research Collection

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