A Critical Age: Single Motherhood, Male Continuity, and the Making of Family and Nation in Israel

Doberne, Jennie, Anthropology - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
McKinnon, Susan, Anthropology, University of Virginia

In Israel, where assisted reproductive technologies are subsidized until the age of 54, regardless of marital status, it would appear that older, unmarried women face few obstacles to motherhood. Indeed, increasing numbers of single women are using anonymous sperm donation to have children—children who count as Jews within the wider demographic politics of the region. Yet, the resulting “single-mother family” is problematic in a context in which citizenship is based on the unit of the family rather than the individual. A Critical Age: Single Motherhood, Male Continuity, and the Making of Family and Nation in Israel argues that the “single-mother family” makes visible—in its absence—the importance of male continuity to the constitution of Israel as a Jewish nation. The first part of A Critical Age illustrates the creative ways women endeavored to make families: overcoming medical obstacles to have more than one child, connecting to extended networks of kin, and co-parenting with gay men. However, in the absence of fathers and husbands, single mothers experienced their families as marginalized. The second part of A Critical Age considers how discourses about single motherhood and fertility preservation technologies (egg freezing and posthumous sperm donation) draw upon religious and nationalist logics of male continuity and make evident the gendered dimensions of the differential valuation of Israeli families: men’s procreative contributions are privileged as vital to building the Jewish family and nation, while women’s reproductive agency is hierarchically encompassed through conjugal and generational ties to men and their families. Even as motherhood is deemed necessary to reproducing Jews in this nationalist conflict, in the absence of known men, A Critical Age demonstrates that, on their own, single women are excluded from making families that build the Jewish-Israeli nation.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
kinship, family, assisted reproduction, gender and nation, motherhood, Israel
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