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Lesbian mothers’ ambivalence in conveying gender norms: from criticizing stereotypes to emulating them “for the good of the child”

Camille Frémont

This article is based on accounts of lesbian mothers collected during a French sociological study on the transmission of gender roles in lesbian-parented families. The study aimed at determining how lesbian mothers represent gender norms and gender socialization for their children.

Individually, the subjects genuinely called gender norms into question. Their disconnection from heteronormative thinking manifested itself in criticism of gender stereotypes, condemnation of sexism, and a certain “deheterosexualization” in how they spoke about themselves and in their appearance. The couples’ day-to-day lives exhibited more equality than in the traditional heterosexual model of domestic life and parental roles.

In their accounts, they presented their lifestyles in a positive light and argued that it is not necessary for parents to be of different genders. These arguments were also found in the conception stories they told their children, so that their development would be based on a positive vision of the family. These stories provide a definition of the family that separates procreation from the conjugal relationship. On the other hand, their sense of legitimacy appears to be vulnerable to latent, inexplicitly hostile homophobia, the numerous day-to-day consequences of which they tend to minimize.

And while they were predisposed to convey identification models that are independent of gender stereotypes, the lesbian mothers questioned were mindful of promoting signs of normative gender socialization among their children in order to protect them from the social disapproval that they felt their atypical family model exposed them to. They teach their children arguments that will allow them to present themselves in a clear and socially acceptable manner.