Authoritative Knowledge and Single Women's Unintentional Pregnancies, Abortions, Adoption, and Single Motherhood: Social Stigma and Structural Violence

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Abstract

This article explores the sources of authoritative knowledge that shaped single, white, middle-class women's unintentional pregnancies and childbearing decisions throughout five reproductive eras. Women who terminated a pregnancy were most influenced by their own personal needs and circumstances, birth mothers' decisions were based on external sources of knowledge, such as their mothers, social workers, and social pressures. In contrast, single mothers based their decision on instincts and their religious or moral beliefs. Reproductive policies further constrained and significantly shaped women's experiences. The social stigma associated with these forms of stratified maternity suggests that categorizing pregnant women by their marital status, or births as out-of-wedlock, reproduces the structural violence implicit to normative models of female sexuality and maternity. This mixed-method study included focus groups to determine the kinds of knowledge women considered authoritative, a mailed survey to quantify these identified sources, and one-on-one interviews to explore outcomes in depth, [authoritative knowledge, social stigma, abortion, birth mothers, single mothers, unintentional pregnancies]

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