Maternity in the Time of "Traditional Values" and Femonationalism






In this project we explore the place of “good motherhood” in new nationalist initiatives. The study is based on the example of three countries belonging to the Baltic Sea region, different in their histories of gender equality, support for maternity, and democracy (including status vis-à-vis EU), and situated in Eastern and Western Europe - Lithuania, Russia, and Sweden.

Our theoretical inspiration for this project is the latest book by Sara Farris (2017) who has offered the notion of “femonationalism” as a way to describe a specific fusion of women's rights’ ideas into nationalist projects in Western European societies.

The primary aim of the study is to explore what constructions of the “good mother” are produced by the nationalist rhetoric and policies’ initiatives in Eastern and Western Europe and whether/how they are resisted by women:

  1. What image of a “good mother” and maternity are created by different nationalisms, and what do they have in common? What status do mothers have in the new discourses on depopulation, aging population and “traditional values”?;
  2. What new social and economic hierarchies are created? Is marginalization of some maternities increasing?;
  3. What can be said about resistance to the new nationalisms’ interpretations of mothers’ rights and duties?

Between Soviet maternalism and post-Soviet nationalism: constructing the story of a ‘good mother’ - by Ieva Bisigirskaitė

This sub-project is concerned with a Lithuanian social policy that awards retired mothers of many children with a second grade state pension. Since 2014, retired Lithuanian women who have given birth to/adopted five or more children are entitled to receive a second-degree state pension - a significant contribution to the household income. However, the law comes with conditions - women need to prove the ‘proper upbringing’ of their children. Maternalist in its rhetoric, this welfare policy assumes a paternalistic role that awards elderly women for performing their task ‘properly’. On the one hand, it positions mothers as sole reproducers of the nation (Yuval-Davis 1997). Furthermore, by entrusting women with permanent responsibility for the actions of their [adult] children it follows cultural mythology of mothers as ultimate ‘scapegoats’ for all ‘that is wrong with the world’ (Rose 2018). Importantly, this Western ‘good mother’ fantasy (Arendell 2000) is projected on to a group of women who mothered under very different historical and political circumstances. In fact, they gave birth to and were raising the citizens of the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic.

Positioned within the field of Gender and Cultural studies, this project aims to present feminist critique of this postcolonial social policy which, while built on the heritage of Soviet maternalist logic, provides a complex intersection of Lithuanian nationalist agenda and contemporary hegemonic ‘Western’ representations of motherhood. Consequently, this project inquires into ideological, political, social and discursive aspects of this social policy with a particular interest in political and discursive construction of “good motherhood” that can be observed within the data collected through media analysis, interviews with experts as well as textual analysis of social policy documents. As part of her project, Ieva Bisigirskaitė will also perform individual interviews with the women who have been awarded this state award as well as the women whose application for this pension have been rejected. Furthermore, she will undertake critical textual analysis of “Personal Biographies” that applicants for this state award are expected to submit in her aim to provide an inquiry into the notion of “good motherhood” both as ideological and lived experience as presented by women who have mothered in different socio-political contexts. What aspects of their lives are included and what are excluded in order to construct an image of a good mother? How do their constructions of good motherhood differ or contribute to the dominant representations of good motherhood in a postsocialist context? Additionally, these biographies will serve as important resources into widely under-researched materiality of elderly women in a postsocialist context.

The expected contribution of the sub-project performed by Ieva Bisigirskaitė is to provide critical inquiry into ideological constructions of “good motherhood” in post-Soviet Lithuanian with a particular interest in how those constructions intersect with nationalist and neoliberal discourses and agendas as well as provide critical inquiry into the role (or a lack thereof) of feminist political engagement with issues concerned with motherhood in postsocialist Lithuania

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Maternity in Sweden - by Soheyla Yazdanpanah

The case of Sweden, in this project, has several similarities with Sara Farris’ prominent research on femonationalism and migrant women in Europe.

My focus, in the case of Sweden is, however on “migrant mothers”. I will analyse what does “good motherhood” mean and what is the expectation of “good mothering” in official policy documents, printed and digital media publications, and documents of nationalist and conservative political parties and think thanks, targeting migrant mothers in Sweden. I will also explore and analyze experiences of mothering among migrant mothers, born and raised in a former socialist country in Central Asia or Eastern Europe, living in Sweden for the past 10 years.

I’m a senior lecturer in Gender study at Södertörn University. My research interest include inequality in livelihood, working life and migration. In my research, I often pay particular attention to women’s life conditions and experiences through an intersectional perspective.

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Maternity and ”traditional values” in Russia - by Yulia Gradskova

This sub-project is focused on the maternity politics and resistance in the context of the Russian authoritarian government’s ideology of “traditional values”. The Russian authoritarian state openly presents itself as a defender of “family values” not only in Russia, but also in the post-Soviet space. While the Russian government officially promotes “family values,” this kind of “family-friendly” nationalism supports only particular type of families often excluding migrant, single parent or same sex families.

Thus, this part of the project is studying actors and discourses behind policy of “traditional values” in connection to maternity. It explores policy documents, but also materials published by think-tanks cooperating with the government, Russian Orthodox Church as well as educational publications on family and maternity and the documents of the state-supported women’s organizations (united in the Women’s Union of Russia, WUOR). The second level of analysis for this sub-project supposes collecting interviews in Russia (Moscow) with mothers who do not correspond to the nationalist construction of a “good mother,” including those with a migrant background, single and non-heterosexual. The interviews will show how much the informants rely on the construction of “good motherhood”; it will also show how the informants are coping with their lack of correspondence to “traditional values” and heteronormativity as well as their precarity and/or racialized marginality. The analysis will offer the possibility of comparing the construction of “good motherhood” and resistance to nationalism in Russia with nationalist visions of “good motherhood” in other countries under research.

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Ieva Bisigirskaite, PhD, Postdoctoral Researcher

Soheyla Yazdanpanah, PhD, Lecturer in Gender Studies

Forskningsområde / geografiskt område

Institutionen för kultur och lärande Genusvetenskap Människans villkor Östersjö- och Östeuropa Östersjö




2022 — 2024


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