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Contraception in Femmes d’Aujourd’hui (1960-2010): between visibility and gender assignment of reproductive work

Margaux Roberti-Lintermans

Research Framework: Femmes d’Aujourd’hui, Belgium’s first French-language women’s magazine, is mainly aimed at a female readership and transmits a discourse on contraception, while contributing to its construction.

Objectives: We analyze it through a long chronological perspective (1960-2010) with regard to societal and legislative transformations in Belgium. How is birth control presented? Who is responsible for it? How is it transmitted?

Methodology: Using a qualitative approach based on a systematic analysis of the review, we report on the evolution of the discourse on contraception as a fundamental dimension of reproductive work.

Results: Contraception is initially presented as a shared responsibility within the couple, in accordance with the Christian orientation of the magazine and its journalists. Subsequently, birth control gradually became an exclusively female responsibility. Contraceptives are classified according to criteria of effectiveness that are put forward by the medical profession. At the turn of the millennium, information on contraceptive methods diversified and gave way to criticism in readers’ letters.

Conclusions: By making the various methods visible with the aim of providing information above all, Femmes d’Aujourd’hui promotes a contraceptive and procreative norm. Thanks to contraceptive methods, motherhood can be achieved in compliance with social norms, prescribing in particular a certain time frame, when the type of contraceptive changes according to a maternity project. Finally, although it leaves room for debate via readers or journalists, the women’s press paradoxically contributes to the gendered assignment of birth control.

Contribution: The discourse on contraception in Femmes d’Aujourd’huicontributes to the diffusion of an injunction to motherhood. In our research, we identify procreative norms that contribute to this. These evolve in two phases linked to the societal and legislative context.