'Everyone needs a holiday from work, why not mothers?' Motherhood, Feminism and Citizenship at the Australian Royal Commission on Human Relationships, 1974-1977

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Abstract

The Royal Commission onHuman Relationships was an initiative of the Whitlam government, instigated in 1974 to investigate 'the family, social, educational, legal and sexual aspects of male and female relationships', with particular attention to the concept of 'responsible parenthood'. The Commission heard evidence from thousands of Australians on a broad range of topics, and given the Royal Commission's origins in the 1973 Federal Parliamentary debate over abortion, it is perhaps unsurprising that motherhood featured so prominently in submissions presented to the Commission. In this article it is argued that mothers' submissions to the Royal Commission on Human Relationships reveal the ways that social and cultural meanings of motherhood were being contested in 1970s Australia. Rather than making claims for rights in the established language of maternal citizenship, many women deployed their private experiences of mothering to argue that the state should facilitate their access to both paid employment and time away from mothering. These mothers argued for equal citizenship rights, challenging the reproductive compact that had long been central to maternal citizenship. The submissions reveal the ways that mothers (and their critics) drew upon both new and old meanings of motherhood to articulate new cultural and political possibilities for motherhood and citizenship in 1970s Australia.

LanguageEnglish
Pages320-336
Number of pages17
JournalWomen's History Review
Volume25
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 3 Mar 2016

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holiday
motherhood
feminism
citizenship
parliamentary debate
parenthood
abortion
critic
Holidays
Human Relationships
Feminism
Citizenship
Motherhood
language
evidence
experience
1970s

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title = "'Everyone needs a holiday from work, why not mothers?' Motherhood, Feminism and Citizenship at the Australian Royal Commission on Human Relationships, 1974-1977",
abstract = "The Royal Commission onHuman Relationships was an initiative of the Whitlam government, instigated in 1974 to investigate 'the family, social, educational, legal and sexual aspects of male and female relationships', with particular attention to the concept of 'responsible parenthood'. The Commission heard evidence from thousands of Australians on a broad range of topics, and given the Royal Commission's origins in the 1973 Federal Parliamentary debate over abortion, it is perhaps unsurprising that motherhood featured so prominently in submissions presented to the Commission. In this article it is argued that mothers' submissions to the Royal Commission on Human Relationships reveal the ways that social and cultural meanings of motherhood were being contested in 1970s Australia. Rather than making claims for rights in the established language of maternal citizenship, many women deployed their private experiences of mothering to argue that the state should facilitate their access to both paid employment and time away from mothering. These mothers argued for equal citizenship rights, challenging the reproductive compact that had long been central to maternal citizenship. The submissions reveal the ways that mothers (and their critics) drew upon both new and old meanings of motherhood to articulate new cultural and political possibilities for motherhood and citizenship in 1970s Australia.",
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