Why do women in contemporary western societies experience contradiction between their autonomous and maternal selves? What are the origins of this contradiction and the associated ‘double shift’ that result in widespread calls to either ‘lean in’ or ‘opt out’? How are some mothers subverting these contradictions and finding meaningful ways of reconciling their autonomous and maternal selves?


In Modern Motherhood and Women’s Dual Identities, Petra Bueskens argues that western modernisation consigned women to the home and released them from it in historically unprecedented, yet interconnected, ways. Her ground-breaking formulation is that western women are free as ‘individuals’ and constrained as mothers, with the twist that it is the former that produces the latter.


Bueskens’ theoretical contribution consists of the identification and analysis of modern women’s duality, drawing on political philosophy, feminist theory and sociology tracking the changing nature of discourses of women, freedom and motherhood across three centuries. While the current literature points to the pervasiveness of contradiction and double-shifts for mothers, very little attention has been paid to how (some) women are subverting contradiction and ‘rewriting the sexual contract’. Bridging this gap, Bueskens’ interviews ten ‘revolving mothers’ to reveal how periodic absence, exceeding the standard work-day, disrupts the default position assigned to mothers in the home, and in turn disrupts the gendered dynamics of household work.


A provocative and original work, Modern Motherhood and Women’s Dual Identities will appeal to graduate students and researchers interested in fields such as Women and Gender Studies, Sociology of Motherhood and Social and Political Theory.

part I|66 pages

Setting the scene

chapter 1|33 pages


chapter 2|32 pages


part II|30 pages

Philosophical, historical and theoretical context

chapter 3|29 pages

The social and sexual contracts

chapter 4|45 pages

Moral mothers and ‘New Women’

On the emergence of duality

chapter 5|54 pages

What is the new sexual contract?

part 3|93 pages

Empirical research

chapter 6|32 pages

Becoming a mother

198Revisiting the sexual contract

chapter 7|35 pages

Leaving the default position in the home

chapter 8|25 pages

Rewriting the sexual contract

part 4|20 pages


chapter 9|19 pages

Concluding the contract

291Women as mothers in the twenty-first century