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Pregnancy centre stage, please: Contesting the erasure of pregnant bodies from workplace space

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  • UserDr. Caroline Gatrell, Management School, Lancaster University
  • ClockMonday 18 May 2009, 17:00-18:30
  • HouseCRASSH.

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Abstract: The notion of women as either visible or invisible (but never ‘the norm’) within workplace space has been much debated within the context of research on gender and work. In this paper, I focus on the erasure of the pregnant body from both workplace ‘space’ and conventional management texts. Drawing on a study of pregnant workers (using in-depth interviews and netnography), I show how the absence of the pregnant body within conventional management scholarship is mirrored by the erasure, and the abjuration of, the pregnant body at work. I observe how the pregnant body incites fears, among employers, of unreliability, breakdown and failure. As the pregnant body expands to accommodate ‘other bodies’ within itself, it threatens leakage in both the metaphorical and the literal sense, and as a consequence is seen as unstable and hazardous to workplace routine.

I demonstrate how negative responses to pregnancy by employers may pressure pregnant women to conceal leakage of any kind. The physical symptoms of pregnancy – tiredness, nausea, vomiting, expanding waistlines, the threat of leaky breasts and breaking waters – must be rendered invisible within workplace space: literally kept ‘off-stage’. Pregnant employees are encouraged and/or compelled to conceal their pregnant state by presenting at all times a body which appears ‘healthy’ and ‘reliable’ thereby rendering pregnancy invisible.

The experiences of pregnant women in my study indicate that the abjuration of pregnancy at work can reach the point where the basic human needs of pregnant women are ignored. The resulting denial of fundamental health requirements of pregnant employees (such as eating lunch) would seem likely to invoke illness even among non-pregnant workers. Thus, employers’ fearful prophecies that pregnant bodies may be prone to poor health and failure would seem to be, at the same time, self-fulfilling and self-imposed. If pregnant women are refused permission to eat, work flexibly and attend health appointments, it seems unsurprising that some do become ill, and require time away from work as a result.

My research findings suggest the need to place the pregnant body at the forefront of management scholarship, as a legitimate topic for study. In the context of both management theory and management practices, it is time for the pregnant body to be positioned in a positive spotlight: centre stage.

Biography My intellectual project focuses around the maternal body and I am engaged in examining changes, and changing relationships, in the context family practices, motherhood, fatherhood and paid/unpaid work. I am developing new work on Management and the (im)possibility of the maternal body, parenting and paid work and the sociology of the management of childbirth.


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