|dc.description.abstract||Between 1880 and 1960, birth rates were steadily decreasing in the Netherlands. Simultaneously, however, motherhood was profoundly idealized and propagandized in Dutch public debate during that period. The aim of this thesis was to examine whether childless women, for not fulfilling their ‘reproductive destiny’, were represented as being inferior to mothers in Dutch public debate between 1880 and 1960. I decided to use a method of cultural historical psychoanalysis to answer that research question. For a complicated phenomenon like childlessness, it is crucial to take into consideration the subject position, of in this case childless women and mothers, and the way in which subjects are shaped and formed by sociocultural, biological, and psychological structures. By studying the in-text signs of resistance, silence, and transference, psychoanalysis was used to analyze the subconscious structures that influenced the binary opposition between mothers and childless women.
The sources that were studied – newspaper and magazine articles – represent the different aspects of childlessness in a significantly negative manner. Psychoanalysis showed that childless women were generally represented as the lesser, lacking ‘other’, since they could not answer what most people considered to be the ‘highest natural calling’ of women: motherhood. This resulted in childless women being portrayed as, for example, lonely, bitter, foolish, lazy, and jealous. I argue that the negative framing of childless women, as inferior to mothers, is a sign of both repressed frustrations and a partially subconscious practice of identity reinforcement. The fact that some women were challenging that status quo by not fulfilling their gender’s ‘destiny’ (both voluntarily and involuntarily), roused resistance in the patriarchal public debate. It is also an example of Freud’s narcissism of minor differences, that explains how the biological distinction between men and women served as a basis on which men could reinforce their group identity as opposed to women, and on which mothers could reinforce their identity as opposed to childless women.||