Petra Bueskens

Jul 27, 2023

Modern Motherhood and Women’s Dual Identities

Rewriting the Sexual Contract

Routledge 2018

Why do women in contemporary western societies experience contradiction between their autonomous and maternal selves? What are the origins of this contradiction and the associated ‘double shift’ that result in widespread calls to either ‘lean in’ or ‘opt out’? How are some mothers subverting these contradictions and finding meaningful ways of reconciling their autonomous and maternal selves?

In Modern Motherhood and Women’s Dual Identities: Rewriting the Sexual Contract (Routledge, 2018), Petra Bueskens argues that western modernisation consigned women to the home and released them from it in historically unprecedented, yet interconnected, ways. Her ground-breaking formulation is that western women are free as ‘individuals’ and constrained as mothers, with the twist that it is the former that produces the latter.

Bueskens’ theoretical contribution consists of the identification and analysis of modern women’s duality, drawing on political philosophy, feminist theory and sociology tracking the changing nature of discourses of women, freedom and motherhood across three centuries. While the current literature points to the pervasiveness of contradiction and double-shifts for mothers, very little attention has been paid to how (some) women are subverting contradiction and ‘rewriting the sexual contract’. Bridging this gap, Bueskens’ interviews ten ‘revolving mothers’ to reveal how periodic absence, exceeding the standard work-day, disrupts the default position assigned to mothers in the home, and in turn disrupts the gendered dynamics of household work.

Helena Vissing, PsyD, SEP, PMH-C is a Licensed Psychologist practicing in California. She can be reached at She is the author of Somatic Maternal Healing: Psychodynamic and Somatic Treatment of Trauma in the Perinatal Period

Listen to more episodes on:

Your Host

Helena Vissing

Learn More