Essentialism as a form of resistance: an ethnography of gender dynamics in contemporary home births

Mário J.D.S. Santos, Amélia Augusto, Jette Aaroe Clausen, Sara Cohen Shabot

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Feminist scholars have criticised the essentialist construction of femininity associated with ‘natural’ childbirth movements. Along these debates, planned midwife-attended home births stand as the typical representation of this counterculture. In this article, we present data from a multi-sited ethnography on Portuguese home births where we analyse how gender ideologies are reproduced and operationalised by families and home birth professionals. Our findings illustrate how home birth care and associated practices are configuring apparently contradicting gender ideologies. Essentialist perspectives, which conceive birth as an opportunity to reconnect with women's oppressed femininity, coexist with non-binary conceptions of gender, where masculinity and femininity are regarded as fluid forms of energy that everyone has in different degrees, and where men are potentially welcomed in the birth setting, either as fathers or as professionals. Given the androcentric references of modern obstetrics and the marginal position of home birth, we argue that essentialism was constructed as a form of resistance.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)960-972
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Gender Studies
Issue number8
StatePublished - 17 Nov 2019


  • Homebirth
  • Portugal
  • discourse
  • emancipation
  • essentialism
  • ethnography

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Gender Studies
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)


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