Disruptive (m)others : lesbian parenting in Sweden and Ireland
A growing number of lesbian women are choosing to have children within the context of an openly lesbian lifestyle. This dissertation research represents a departure from much previous work in this area, with a shift in focus from children of lesbian and gay parents in the UK or North America, to an exploration of the perspectives and experiences of lesbian parents themselves within two particular European contexts. Interviews were carried out with 68 lesbian women in Sweden and Ireland. The role of social and institutional contexts in shaping these women's parenting possibilities, choices and experiences were explored. An important finding of the study concerns cross-national differences in discourses of fatherhood and parenting. Swedish women were far more likely to choose an involved donor than Irish women. The differing possibilities and strategies available to lesbian women illustrate wider assumptions about gender and 'the family'. An examination of the significance of the genetic 'tie' found that heteronormative constructions of biology were both displaced and retained in families with co-parents. The lack of legal recognition of co-parents amounted to a difference in social validation as a parent that was negotiated in diverse ways. The study also explored the concept of gender flexibility among lesbian parents. Participants in this research demonstrated a relative absence of dichotomous gender roles, resulting in a division of labour largely characterised by equality between partners. The reinscription of discourses of gender and kinship by lesbian parents highlights the centrality of symbols such as biology, at the same time that lesbian parents may reconstruct such discourses, creating points of rupture in heteronormative relations. Finally, the study reveals the heteronormative assumptions of the Swedish and Irish welfare states, which lead to these families' efforts to resist socially exclusionary practices in contexts where they are perceived as outside the norm.