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The Family of Woman

The Family of Woman: Lesbian Mothers, Their Children, and the Undoing of Gender

Maureen Sullivan
Copyright Date: 2004
Edition: 1
Pages: 323
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  • Book Info
    The Family of Woman
    Book Description:

    Amidst the shrill and discordant notes struck in debates over the make-up-or breakdown-of the American family, the family keeps evolving. This book offers a close and clear-eyed look into a form this change has taken most recently, the lesbian coparent family. Based on intensive interviews and extensive firsthand observation,The Family of Womanchronicles the experience of thirty-four families headed by lesbian mothers whose children were conceived by means of donor insemination.With its intimate perspective on the interior dynamics of these families and its penetrating view of their public lives, the book provides rare insight into the workings of emerging family forms and their significance for our understanding of "family"-and our culture itself.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93741-3
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
    (pp. 1-16)

    At the stroke of midnight on January 2003, a baby born to a lesbian couple in Washington, D.C., became, to great media fanfare, the capital’s first newborn of the year. At the time of her arrival the baby’s mothers were moving their residence to a district where the nonbiological mother could legally adopt the baby she had helped bring into the world, because she was prohibited from doing so in the place she and her partner worked and lived and called home. On June 26 of that same year, the United States Supreme Court overturned an antisodomy law on the...

    (pp. 17-39)

    The trend toward economic globalization in the last three decades of the twentieth century created social conditions in the industrialized world variously referred to as postmodernity, radicalized modernity, postindustrial society, media or spectacle society, and the information age. These terms try to capture the idea that the international order is changing so rapidly, with the breathless rate of technological innovation and the global movement of capital, that the West is in transition from one epoch to another.¹

    Globalizing capitalist forces produce different effects on national, regional, and local cultures. In the United States the effects often register and resonate within...

  6. Chapter 2 BECOMING PARENTS: Baby Making in the Age of Assisted Procreation
    (pp. 40-61)

    On a clear day from midway up Mount Tamalpais, with its popular hiking trails and fragrant eucalyptus trees, one can usually see three of the five bridges connecting the various landforms that make up the larger San Francisco Bay Area. Most days the City of Lights itself is nestled in a bed of fog and is known for its chilly summers requiring several layers of cotton, heavy sweaters, and often leather. Many of the denizens of the San Francisco metropolis, however, require neither weather conditions nor fashion trends to display, proudly, their membership in a community that sports and supports...

  7. Chapter 3 BEING PARENTS: The End of Oedipus and the Expansion of Intimacy
    (pp. 62-92)

    The San Francisco neighborhood called Noe Valley is known to locals as, among other things, a place where lesbians, their friends, and increasingly their children can reside relatively comfortably with likeminded folk. Like the rest of San Francisco and its suburbs, affordable housing for the middle class has all but disappeared here, but some lesbian couples have managed to acquire modest homes, packed in alongside other homes strung together like necklaces lining the hilly streets. There’s almost no space between houses, with the outer walls providing the only real boundaries where one home ends and the next one begins.


    (pp. 93-123)

    Coparents Bobbie and Mindy Covington legally changed their own surnames to Covington so as to fashion a family name for themselves and their two children, Trevor and Abbott. They were the only Bay Area family who created an entirely new family name for themselves, believing that, symbolically, the family name would unify them. Bobbie, who was originally from Australia and expressed strong opinions about the “sexist” culture there, gave birth to both children, while Mindy, originally from Texas and giving hints of her fondness for the country music and sensibilities she grew up with, had legally adopted them. Though Mindy...

  9. Chapter 5 TRUTH AND RECONCILIATION: Families of Origin Come Around and Come Out
    (pp. 124-156)

    So far, chapters have examined lesbian coparents’ practices in terms of primary interpersonal relations—giving birth to children and working through how best to balance breadwinning, child care, and emotional support for all family members. The focus now shifts to their relations with members of their own families of origin.

    People who occupy important positions by virtue of their status as friends or members of mothers’ families of origin inhabit a border territory between inside and outside the families mothers have created. They traverse the regions of inside and outside because they have been present as a force in mothers’...

    (pp. 157-189)

    In their 1990 bookWhat Is Family?the sociologists Jaber Gubrium and James Holstein analyzed the processes by which family as a socially recognized entity gets produced in the contemporary United States. Arguing that practice unifies ideas and things, they asserted that family emerges as an object of what they called “descriptive practice.” The family, as a thing separate and distinctive from its component members, is a practical accomplishment. But if the practical accomplishment of family depends on unifying ideas and things through descriptive practice, it first requires an idea through which family may be signified to the rest of...

    (pp. 190-210)

    Lesbian-coparent families formed by donor insemination make a unique contribution to the reconfiguration of postindustrial kinship systems in ways other than those I have already described. At a social structural level, they create a network of latent kin relations that may or may not become activated, depending on the degree to which biogenetic relatedness signifies for them a fundamental, irrevocable human connection. In the same way that the bio-ontological credential carries extraordinary weight in parents’ perceptions of their status in relation to their children at an intimate level (see Chapters 2 and 3), in mediating relations with families of origin...

    (pp. 211-230)

    How does a society respond to a new social formation to which it has itself given birth? Does it become a “rejecting and rejected parent culture,” to use Amy Agigian’s evocative phrase, in its refusal to accommodate the needs of its own progeny?¹ Or does it cede to this generation and genre of kinship, ever so grudgingly, social, legal, moral, and political ground? Can it even recognize such a historic innovation as “its own,” as the love-child of at least two modernist progenitors: techno-scientific advances in procreative knowledge (and their institutionalization in reproductive service organizations) and liberalizing developments in in...

  13. Appendix: FAMILIES BY THE BAY: The Study Design, Method, and Participants
    (pp. 231-246)
  14. NOTES
    (pp. 247-284)
    (pp. 285-304)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 305-312)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 313-313)