The knowing mother: Maternal knowledge and the reinforcement of the feminine consuming subject in magazine advertisements

Teresa Davis, Margaret Hogg, David Marshall, Alan Petersen, Tanja Schneider

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

The caring mother is one of the most recurring images of femininity in post-war advertising. We examine how mothers are depicted as knowing consumers in advertisements in Australian Women’s Weekly and the United Kingdom’s Good Housekeeping magazines between 1950 and 2010. Our data suggest that although visual representations of maternal consumer knowledge change over this period, assumptions about the responsibilities of mothers endure in the family-related advertisements in these women’s magazines. There is a shift over time, however, from a representation of mothers as passive recipients of advice provided by external experts to a more active representation of mothers as experts themselves within both domestic and private spheres. We trace historically how the trope of the knowing mother works as a visual discursive device that helps to reinforce not just patriarchal hegemony, but a particular form of maternal hegemony. The hegemony of motherhood presents a particularly desirable/idealised femininity. However, this visual depiction also serves to gender the very way in which maternal knowledge is to be used. While maternal knowledge is depicted as changing from being merely intuitive or practical to subsuming the technique of knowledge or prescribed expertise; the purposes for which such knowledge is used remain firmly situated within the maternal/feminine realm of nurturing and caring consumption for the family. Despite shifts in discourse that appear to increasingly value mothers’ knowledge—there exists an enduring assumption that mothers should use their knowledge for domestic caring and consumption, ultimately reinforcing a heteronormativity of the use of women’s knowledge that subdues even expert knowledge for a domestic purpose.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Consumer Culture
Early online date2 Dec 2019
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 2 Dec 2019

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • constructing motherhood
  • discourse analysis
  • hegemony of maternal knowledge
  • hegemony of maternity
  • maternal knowledge
  • motherhood
  • visual discourse analysis


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