The Neutered Mother

by Martha Albertson Fineman

black-and-white outline of a woman breastfeeding an infant

A. Definitions:
Mother; a female who has borne offspring
Female; of or pertaining to the sex that brings
forth young
Neutered; neither masculine nor feminine in
Gender; the quality of being male or female
B. Mother as Symbol
I use the term “Neutered Mother” because it represents conflict and
contradiction-words in contraposition to each other, incompatible when placed together. The Neutered Mother presents a gendered noun, degendered by the adjective that precedes it-an opposition of meaning that mirrors the conflicts in culture and in law over the significance and potency of the symbol of Mother.


In this Article, I will assess the evolution of the symbolic aspects of “Mother” in modem family law reform and offer an argument for revitalization of the powerful and positive aspects of changes in law for real life mothers.’ Focusing on Mother in any context is dangerous. Mother is a universally possessed symbol (although its meaning may vary across and within cultures). We all have a mother-some of us are mothers. As a lived experience, Mother is virtually universally shared in our culture and, therefore, more intimately and intensely personalized than many other symbols. Mother, however, is an ambiguous symbol–one about which there is contest. For that reason, the importance of Mother as a symbol is greatly enhanced on both an individual and a societal level. In its various configurations, Mother is a significant factor in defining our understanding of our own familial, sexual, and social circumstances. In this way, it is also significant in our construction of universal meanings-defining the general qualities of life for us.

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The Social Foundations of Law

by Martha Albertson Fineman

The first few words of the Constitution of the United States capture the idea of the social contract-the legitimacy of government is based on the consent of the people.’ The renewed interest in social contract theory since the 1970s may have been generated by the public diversity of viewpoints and perspectives that began to emerge at the time and that challenged the very idea of “we the people.”
     In the sprawling, secular, contemporary American context, appeals to social cohesion based on religious principles or on shared geographic boundaries are
of limited usefulness. Voluntary participation in societal institutions may generate identification with a group, but this too is limited. As I have noted earlier, “A national identity can be based on acceptance of a shared or common language, culture, or history, but in pluralistic and diverse societies citizens often are fragmented along exactly these lines.” As a result, quite often a unifying myth is fostered and perpetuated as a way to build unity where division might otherwise prevail.

A Workshop on Vulnerability and Corporate Subjectivity – Call for Papers

Vulnerability theory has long been critical of the liberal legal subject and an ideology that privileges consent and contract, manipulating concepts such as choice and autonomy to justify a restrained state. This workshop seeks to explore questions around the legal subject as manifested in its corporate form. The corporation is a legal construct, originally designed to meet social goals. However, throughout the years, and particularly since the rise of neoliberalism in the last decades, it has transformed into an institutional structure that often thwarts human well-being. The recent shift from liberalism to neoliberalism not only re-positioned markets and capital, it also reformulated the idealized legal subject at the center of law and politics. Neoliberal legal subjects—both people and the corporations they form—are reconfigured as “units” of capital that, as such, demand constant investment and management to maximize value. Such units of capital then serve as the mediating institutions through which, according to neoliberalism, social goods are justly allocated and social goals are ideally achieved.

How has this profound shift been accomplished? What role has the perception of the corporation, as a legal construct, played in facilitating such transformation? To what extent have laws and policies been designed to respond to corporate vulnerability or to the need to support corporations by enhancing their resilience? A central tenet of vulnerability theory is that vulnerability is universal – for both natural persons and for legal persons (institutional subjects) created by law and policy. Despite this universality, individual and corporate vulnerability are fundamentally different – individual vulnerability is primary and corporate vulnerability is socially derived. A question can be asked about the ways in which the state chooses to address these universal vulnerabilities – directly, by focusing on individuals’ resilience, or indirectly, but focusing on corporate resilience.

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