Rebecca Jennings will draw on her current research into lesbian relationships and parenting practices in post-war Britain and Australia to explore the history of lesbian motherhood in Britain between 1945 and 1978. This was a period when cultural attitudes largely assumed that it was impossible to be both a lesbian and a mother. In the immediate post-war decades, same-sex attracted women typically understood marriage as the only socially acceptable and economically viable route into motherhood and many of these women struggled to conceal or repress their desires for other women and maintain the appearance of a happy marriage. Drawing on press reports and accounts from lesbian mothers themselves, the talk will consider thedifficulties such women experienced in combining marriage and motherhood with a lesbian identity, and the consequences of a breakdown in the marital relationship, including a growing number of child custody disputes in the 1970s. The 1970s also witnessed the beginning of a shift toward new models of lesbian motherhood with the impact of reproductive technologies such as artificial insemination on lesbian practices of conception. The 1978 media scandal around lesbian motherhood offers an opportunity to explore cultural constructions of lesbian motherhood at this time and the talk will trace social attitudes and shifting practices of lesbian motherhood in this period.
Rebecca Jennings is a Lecturer in Modern Gender History at UCL. She has written widely on Australian and British lesbian history and her most recent book, Unnamed Desires: A Sydney Lesbian History was published by Monash University Publishing in 2015. She is currently working on a new monograph, ‘Sisters, Lovers, Wives and Mothers: Lesbian Practices of Intimacy in Britain and Australia, 1945-2000’, based on her Australian Research Council-funded research into post-war British and Australian lesbian relationships and parenting.
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