Exploring self-sacrifice, role captivity and motherhood

Sara Cantillon, Martina Hutton

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


This chapter explores the cultural subsuming of self sacrifice and motherhood focusing in particular on the concepts of choice and role captivity within households with children. Feminist theorists have long argued that the family acts as a central mechanism in the reproduction of gender inequality. The tendency for women, especially mothers, to channel their extra resources into household consumption has significant effects in terms of the differential levels of deprivation experienced by men, women and children within the same family. Drawing on two different data sets from Ireland, the chapter looks at the role of women within household managing scarce resources often at their own personal cost and why this is often seen as a “badge of honour” or personal empowerment rather than deprivation at an individual level or inequality. Secondly, it looks at the issue of role strain/role captivity

We find that not only were mothers more likely to “go without”, but that this was implicitly sanctioned within a hegemonic family discourse which saw the welfare of the children as the primary responsibility of the woman, and which normalised the idea that the woman should make sacrifices to this end. A key question in the reproduction of gender inequality in the family therefore relates to the ability of the family unit to disguise and sanction such inequality.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThriving Mothers: Depriving Mothers
EditorsKarine Levasseur, Stephanie Paterson, Lorna Turnbull
PublisherDemeter Press
Publication statusPublished - 2020


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