Soapy, Gendered Glory: Performing ‘Papahood’ Through Routines and Spaces

By Emily Chapman

Pigeon, a Japanese family brand, advertises its baby soap with a father and his baby in the bath together, covered in soapy suds. The text reads: “Every time papa bathes you, you look more and more like him” (o-furo ni irete ageru tabi, dan dan papa no kao ni naru). The advert is not alone in singling out the father-child bond, but adverts featuring just papa remain rare. Of interest here is the use of bathtime as a space for the development of the father-child relationship exclusive of the rest of the family unit.

I asked Japanese friends whether the triumvirate of father, bath, and baby was familiar to them. With rapid assurance over coffee, one replied “it’s communication time” (komyūnikeishon-taimu), the implication of which is that there is no other time set aside for father-child bonding. It is perhaps too clean a jump to suggest that this is because of the rigid working schedules of urban male workers in Japan, yet, what if it is?

Tsipy Ivry’s 2010 monograph Embodying Culture compares the cultures of pregnancy in Japan and Israel. One of the strongest differences emerges in the expected and experienced roles of male partners during pregnancy. Ivry expertly unravels the knots of and around pregnancy’s institutions in Japan, in which the scope of male partners’ participation remains dually capped, first and foremost by “men’s enduring commitment to their workplace”. This obstacle is reinforced in turn by “the structure of prenatal care services” (Ivry 2010, 160). In Israel, prenatal courses surface as a place for father and foetus to coincide; however, as Ivry describes, in Japan “most of the “parents’ courses” feature only one lesson, out of five or more, in which husbands are actually invited to participate. The special class takes place during evening hours, to make it possible for husbands to attend, which again reinforces the primacy of their work over their partnership. The content of these lessons varies, but many of them include a practice session of baby bathing for the husbands. As participants explained, bathing is considered the “traditional” role of the father”. Ivry goes on to suggest that the “skinship” incarnate in bathtime is a sustained replacement for the “lack of opportunities to bond precisely because they are not as physically connected to their children as their spouses” (Ivry, 162).

Using the idea of gestation as a privileged bonding experience, bathtime may serve as a moment of exclusive gendered bonding and becoming which survives on the assumption that the mother will have had ample other time to bond with the child. Should her hours of bonding be reduced by virtue of her working hours, there is no allocated catch-up space – discursive or practical – since it has already been assigned to papa. It is his corporate-sanctioned runway for expressing and experiencing fatherhood through nightly ritual. From desktop to doormat, it is his “glory run”.

Sanctioned or otherwise, to what extent is Pigeon peddling a sud-fuelled imaginary rather than a viable reality? Drawing from the Nationwide Survey on Families and Children (Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare 2009), the graph below plots the time at which working mothers and fathers return home.

Mothers’ return peaks between 6 and 7pm with the majority returning before 6pm, whereas fathers trickle through their front doors between 7.30 and 9pm. The graph bolsters Pigeon’s storyline, with the hours before bath and bed as the statistical preserve of mothers with the time for bathtime remaining staunchly at the frontline of fatherly performance. For those fathers who do not make it home in time to bathe in both Pigeon soap and their daily dose of glory, the changing Japanese father-scape does offers other opportunities – whether it is feeding your baby, changing a nappy, or being a pushchair papa out in the park at the weekend. The unspoken assumption, however, is that in papa’s statistically likely absence, mother will bathe baby, yet oddly enough she will encounter none of this tantalising glory.


Tsipy Ivry (2010) Embodying Culture: Pregnancy in Japan and Israel. New Brunswick, New Jersey and London: Rutgers University Press.

Tamago kurabu (June 2012), Tokyo: BenesseLifeSmile.

Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (2009) Nationwide survey on Families and Children. Available at:



With an undergraduate degree in Japanese studies, Emily Chapman finished her MA in Gender Studies at SOAS in 2012 and will start a PhD in the SOAS History department this September. In the meantime, she blogs at with a focus on the gendered construction of the family in postwar Japan. Her work is geared in particular to broadening ways of looking at families in Japanese history in order to better appreciate the spaces and places of coping which do not, and have not, conform[ed] so cleanly to “work” and “home”.

Art in the Freeze Frame: Some Reflections on Elective Oocyte Cryopreservation

By Sophie Zadeh

In October of last year, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine issued a report on oocyte cryopreservation – egg freezing – in which it was determined that the proven success and safety of the technique permitted the lifting of its official ‘experimental’ label. In this report, however, it was also argued that too little is yet known about the medical, financial, ethical, psychological, and emotional effects of ‘elective’ oocyte preservation for the Society to recommend its use.

‘Elective’ oocyte cryopreservation – often dichotomised with egg freezing for medical reasons – has since become something of a hot topic within both professional and public discourse on assisted reproductive technologies (ARTs). Defined by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority as a possibility for women who may be “concerned about [their] fertility declining as [they] get older, and are not currently in a position to have a child” (2), up-to-date ‘elective’ egg freezing techniques are available in fertility clinics across the UK to women wanting, so it is said, to ‘delay childbearing’ (3). Experts have testified to the efficacy of the technology – not least as a father’s graduation present to his daughter (4) – and users have spoken of the relief of not having to find Mr Right – right now (5) – through the use of this technique. Most recently, distinguished academic Professor Marcia C. Inhorn encouraged students to freeze their eggs in a news piece which received what might be deemed a rather icy reception (6, 7).

An initial US study of the motivations of 20 women who had undergone the treatment found that most had done so in order to ensure that they had taken advantage of ‘all reproductive opportunities’ available to them. Half of the women who took part in the study felt pressured to freeze their eggs as a result of their ticking ‘biological clock’ (8). Indeed, it has been said that egg freezing gives women a chance to buy themselves more biological time, and, particularly if used by women under the age of 35, may be an effective means to ‘having it all’ (9). Seen in this way, ‘elective’ egg freezing technology has the potential to eradicate the cohort that Marny Ireland described in 1993 as ‘transitional childless women’ – who have delayed making a decision about whether or not to have a child until it is too late (10).

It is clear that rumination over ‘elective’ oocyte preservation must now move beyond the arguments made by those in favour of its use, and those against it. As a feminist, my thoughts about this technology are not based upon a (dis)agreement with the decisions of individual women, but with how ‘elective’ egg freezing might relate to the condition of women as a social group (11). ‘Elective’ egg freezing technology is both emblematic and symptomatic of the twenty-first century motherhood mandate. At the heart of this lies a dualistic conception of acceptable womanhood and motherhood, contemporarily characterised by having it all – the career, the heterosexual relationship, and the biological child. This is problematic.

Commentary upon the changing nature of acceptable motherhood is, of course, not new. We know that in the UK in 2011, more mothers were working than ever before. We also know that the age at which women have their first child is now substantially later than it was in previous decades (12). And most fundamentally, we know that contemporary cultural narratives serve to reinforce these trends. Popular discourse undeniably advises us not only that there is a ‘right time’ to be a mother, but also that good mothering can only be done in the ‘right’ socioeconomic and demographic context (13). As Woollett and Boyle inform us,

“Motherhood is constituted not as normal and natural for all women, but only for those who are married or in stable heterosexual relationships, who are not ‘too old’ or ‘too young’, and who are in the ‘right’ economic and social positions.” (14)

This notion of acceptable motherhood is tied to appropriate womanhood in a conditional matrix which ideologically imposes the woman-as-mother mantra. Quite separate from this dominant discourse, however, are the experiences of women themselves. Research on the narratives of mothers of different socioeconomic and demographic backgrounds has demonstrated that mothers ambivalently appropriate the concept of the ‘right time’, as it is biologically, relationally, and psychosocially defined (15). Some mothers find it difficult to reconcile what has been described as the ‘right time’ (chronological age) with the ‘right moment’ (biographical stage) (16). In fact, it is argued that in the pursuit of parenthood, women might rather be choosing what seems to be the ‘least wrong time’ – rather than the ‘right time’ – to have a child (17). It is also apparent that the ‘right time’ concept permeates the narratives of women who do not mother (18). Most fundamentally, it has been argued that the concept of time may serve as a useful tool with which to understand women’s childbearing choices in the contemporary context of assisted reproduction (19). This argument, it seems to me, is crucial to understanding the relationship between ‘elective’ oocyte cryopreservation and the modern motherhood mandate.

Indeed, unlike many other ARTs, ‘elective’ oocyte cryopreservation offers the possibility of motherhood in the future, as opposed to motherhood at present. It seems, therefore, that beyond Martin’s concept of ‘anticipated infertility’, ‘elective’ egg freezing technology gives rise to the new ontological category of the ‘future mother’ (20). More than this, it seems that ‘elective’ egg freezing rigorously reinforces a particular type of future motherhood which, in my view, is problematic for women everywhere. The paradox at the centre of this technology therefore lies in its ostensible acknowledgement of the acceptability of non-motherhood, and its implicit subscription to a social discourse which ultimately deems it – and (biological) motherhood prior to the meeting of milestones such as the high-flying career and long-term heterosexual relationship – unacceptable.

In practical terms, however, little is yet known about the efficacy of this technology for the ‘right time’ mother so imagined – with estimates of just twelve live births in the UK resulting from the technique to date (21). Indeed, it seems that despite the media attention regarding the opportunity to ‘elect’ to freeze one’s eggs, women are not yet scrambling to use this service. Like other ARTs, it will be the users – or non-users – who set the agenda on ‘elective’ oocyte cryopreservation. Whether this will be in line with, or against, the twenty-first century motherhood mandate as yet remains to be seen.


    1. ASRM Office of Public Affairs (2012). Fertility experts issue new report on egg freezing; ASRM lifts experimental label from technique. Retrieved from
    2. HFEA (2013). Freezing and storing eggs. Retrieved from
    3. Negi, L. (2013). With thriving careers and highly disposable incomes, more women are taking the gamble of egg freezing as they climb the professional ladder or wait for Mr. Right. Mail Online, 9 January. Retrieved from
    4. McAuliffe, N. (2012). Egg freezing – for the woman who can never win. The Guardian, 27 November. Retrieved from
    5. Bannerman, L. (2012). I froze my eggs at 38. It’s my back-up plan. T2, The Times, 26 November, 6-7.
    6. Inhorn, M.C. (2013). Women, consider freezing your eggs. CNN, 9 April. Retrieved from
    7. Morgan, L.M. and Taylor, J.S. (2013). Op-Ed: Egg freezing: WTF? The Feminist Wire, 14 April. Retrieved from
    8. Gold, E., Copperman, K., Witkin, G., Jones, C., Copperman, A.B. (2006). P-187: A motivational assessment of women undergoing elective egg freezing for fertility preservation. Fertility and Sterility, 86, S201-S201.
    9. Inhorn, M.C. (2013). Women, consider freezing your eggs. CNN, 9 April. Retrieved from
    10. Ireland, M. S. (1993). Reconceiving women: Separating motherhood from female identity. New York: Guildford Press.
    11. Sandelowski, M. (1990). Fault lines: Infertility and imperiled sisterhood. Feminist studies, 16 (1), 33-51.
    12. Office for National Statistics (2011).  Mothers in the Labour Market, 2011. Retrieved from
    13. Allen, K. and Osgood, J. (2009). Young women negotiating maternal subjectivities: the significance of social class. Studies in the maternal, 1 (2), 1-17.
    14. Woollett, A. and Boyle, M. (2000). Reproduction, women’s lives and subjectivities. Feminism and Psychology, 10 (3), 307-311.
    15. Perrier. M. (2013). No right time: The significance of reproductive timing for younger and older mothers’ moralities. The Sociological Review, 61, 69-87.
    16. Sevon, E. (2005). Timing motherhood: Experiencing and narrating the choice to become a mother. Feminism and Psychology, 15 (4), 461-482.
    17. Perrier. M. (2013). No right time: The significance of reproductive timing for younger and older mothers’ moralities. The Sociological Review, 61, 69-87.
    18. Earle, S. and Letherby, G. (2007). Conceiving time? Women who do or do not conceive. Sociology of Health and Illness, 29 (2), 233-250.
    19. Ibid.
    20. Martin, L.J. (2010). Anticipating Infertility: Egg freezing, genetic preservation, and risk. Gender and Society, 24 (4), 526-545.
    21. Magee, A. (2012). Fertility miracle or cruel myth? Daily Mail, 7 November. Retrieved from


Sophie Zadeh is an ESRC-funded PhD student at the University of Cambridge’s Centre for Family Research. Her research, supervised by Professor Susan Golombok, focuses on the experiences of single women who have used a sperm donor to have a child. She is most interested in social psychological approaches to assisted reproductive technologies and in the meaning of motherhood in changing sociocultural contexts.

Congratulations to Tabitha Moses

By Rebecca Baillie

Congratulations to visual artist Tabitha Moses, who was recently awarded the Liverpool Art Prize for a selection of work made on the theme of infertility. This blog entry serves as an interesting following piece to the suggestions made by Laura Seymour in a previous post: that we must think through IVF as ‘a multi-disciplinary phenomenon’, rather than as a solely de-personalised and medical process. In art, as in poetry discussed by Seymour, work is currently being made to creatively re-claim the experience of IVF beyond a clinical setting, and thus to open up the subject not only to individual contemplation, but also to public discussion.

After two unsuccessful attempts at IVF, Moses made three works, ‘Be My Parent’, ‘The Wish’ and ‘‘In Vitro I & II’. The first, ‘Be My Parent’, is a series of hand-stitched portraits of prospective sons and daughters from an adoption agency, protected and incased by white circular frames. ‘The Wish’ is a Duratrans print of childhood photographs of both the artist and her husband, merged together, and then mounted onto a light box to create the couple’s imaginary child. Finally, ‘In Vitro I & II’ are two delicate and mystical works, created simply, by piercing minute holes into pieces of dark grey card; they are again mounted onto light boxes where the tiny holes transform into a glowing constellation.

Of the series of hand stitched portraits, ‘Be My Parent’, Moses writes: “This series considers adoption as an alternative to ‘natural’ parenthood. Hand stitched images of prospective sons and daughters are obscured and somehow beyond reach. The title is taken from a national organization, which finds families for children who need them. This was a moving work to make. Leafing through the monthly ‘Be My Parent’ magazine is a strange thing to find oneself doing. You find yourself wanting to take every child home, wondering how you would fit into each others lives, how they might thrive in a loving family. Making those embroideries was something of a devotional act. As if it was the least I could do if I wasn’t going to adopt the children. In selecting which children to embroider I chose the ones I would most like to adopt. It felt weird and unpleasant to, seemingly, have such control over another person’s life and future.”

Of ‘The Wish’, the artist writes: ‘The Wish’ is a visualisation of elusive progeny. Childhood photos of the artist and her husband have been merged to create their imaginary offspring – exactly 50% mum and 50% dad.’

Finally, of  ‘In Vitro I & II’, Moses says: “These pieces relate to our two failed IVF attempts. Before the embryos are transferred to my uterus we see them on a digital screen, magnified hundreds of times. They looked like celestial objects floating in space. Here they are shown as the four-cell and eight-cell beings they were. According to the time of year we had each cycle, ‘In Vitro I’ has the Autumn night sky represented and ‘In Vitro II’, the Winter. Each piece was made by pricking cardboard with syringes used to deliver the IVF drugs. Nebulous thoughts come to mind, about matter, energy and the connectedness of everything in the universe.”

The use of the natural system of seasonal change to somehow ‘order’ such a profoundly emotional experience, recalls another recent work by Moses, that of ‘Islands of Blood and Longing’ made in 2010. The work was made in the days and weeks following a miscarriage. The artist writes: “Making this map was a way of making something beautiful and meaningful from the product of a seemingly meaningless occurrence. The stains of lost blood became islands which, in turn, became a chart to help me find my way. The phases of the moon counted the days while the compass brought order and direction.” Unlike a scientist though, Moses also points to the systematic rationality of the universe as a way to reveal the random and invisible landscape of interior emotions.

Moses often works in the revealing space between, where the often-considered disparate realms of art and science, do marry well together. Already demonstrated in the use of an IVF needle to pierce the card in ‘In Vitro I & II’, and in the use of miscarried blood to paint a new world, Moses uses the ‘stuff’ of science to illustrate the complexity of human existence.  In an earlier work of 2004, Moses hand bound a selection of found dolls using fabric, thread, human hair and other bits and bobs. The dolls were ‘mummified’, and in this sense representative of both the ‘mother artist’, and of a potential or imaginary child. Once complete, but interestingly three years later, in 2007, Moses carried the dolls to a neighboring hospital and asked the medical staff if the dolls could be x-rayed. The resulting x-rays became artworks themselves, poignantly revealing the pins that the artist had used to secure the fabric, and in turn the unconscious (I say ‘unconscious’ here as this was before the time that Moses started to try and have children) pain felt through longing for a ‘real’ child to behold. The point that I intend to stress here is that all of the works made by Tabitha Moses feel like births, that they are all, in a way, her children, like ‘The Dolls’, guided through the world long after the date of their conception.

I am, in fact, lucky enough to care for one of these dolls (to say ‘own’ here would be bad parenting). I first held ‘my’ doll two days after I had given birth to my son as my mother had bought it for me as a gift. The feeling that I felt with Moses’s lovingly swaddled doll cupped between two hands, although different, was one equal in intensity to that experienced upon meeting my newborn son.

As part of her prize, Tabitha Moses has been awarded a solo show at The Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool (dates to be confirmed). See more work by the artist at:


Rebecca Baillie is an art historian who has always practiced as an artist alongside conducting research and writing. Recently awarded a PhD, her academic specialism lies in the study of melancholia, surrealism and its legacies, and the maternal body in visual culture. In her artwork she uses photography, drawing and sculpture – whichever medium best supports the current idea. She is the curator of MaMSIE’s online ‘visual library’, and has published a variety of writings in the journal, Studies in the Maternal. She is currently a dissertation supervisor at Kingston University, as well as freelance writer and curator.