Access Type

Open Access Dissertation

Date of Award

January 2017

Degree Type


Degree Name




First Advisor

renée c. hoogland


In “Affective Dissonance: (Post)feminism and Popular Cultural Expressions of Motherhood,” I argue that motherhood in the so-called post-feminist age is structured by a conflicted relationship between affective expectations raised by public discourses of motherhood and the material, embodied experience of maternity, inflected by race, class, age, and sexuality. While recent feminist scholarship has engaged questions of (bodily) materiality, and popular medial discourses increasingly critique unrealistic ideals of motherhood, my dissertation considers these approaches together. Juxtaposing representations of motherhood from various sources – memoirs, digital media, art photography, and television – I demonstrate how the postfeminist rhetoric of female empowerment and the availability of choices conflicts with actual affective and embodied maternal experiences, a process that produces what I call “affective dissonance.” This experience is more than mere ambivalence and cannot be explained simply by asserting that ideological representations of motherhood are unrealistic. Instead, I consider both the expectations created by popular cultural discourses and maternal bodies’ encounters with them. For instance, I show how three memoirists of postpartum depression make sense of their ostensible illness by exploring the ways in which their experience of early motherhood failed to produce the kind of maternal bliss which contemporary ideologies of “good” motherhood led them to expect. In another example, I discuss photographs depicting the bodily materiality of breastfeeding and argue that while they may provide an “authentic” representation of early motherhood, they also present the maternal body as one that refuses to fulfill expectations raised by widely publicized ideals of young, white feminine beauty. In both cases, bodily agency interferes with discursive constructions of “good” motherhood, in this case one that complies with popular cultural beauty standards. This results in the experience of affective dissonance, which, I argue, is pivotal to the formation of contemporary maternal subjectivity.