We use cookies to give you the best experience possible. By continuing we’ll assume you’re on board with our cookie policy

Public foetal images and the regulaca Catriona

The whole doc is available only for registered users

A limited time offer! Get a custom sample essay written according to your requirements urgent 3h delivery guaranteed

Order Now

In Macleod and Howell’s article “Public foetal images and the regulation of middle-class pregnancy in the online media: a view from South Africa” (2015), the problematic use of public fetal imaging is decontextualized from online media to show how these websites serve to regulate pregnant bodies. Specifically, Macleod and Howell discuss the implications of these sites on non-white, non-heterosexual, and lower-class pregnant bodies. Macleod and Howell (2015) show that the disembodiment of the mother from the fetus grants a great deal of personhood to the fetus. The authors argue that the excessive use of fetal images on websites designed for pregnancy information represent and reinforce the “ideal” pregnancy, in which, the mother is a vessel for the fetus and she must be excessively conscious of her choices in food, water, and medication intake. These idealized pregnancy narratives on these websites serve to reinforce white, heteronormative, middle-class norms (Macleod and Howell 2015, 1208). Additionally, the authors argue that the such use of fetal images aid in bolstering anti-abortion claims of fetal personhood due to the increasingly public “clinical gaze” granted by fetal ultrasound technology (Macleod and Howell 2015, 1209). The methodology used by Macleod and Howell (2015) is a Foucauldian discourse analysis of 166 websites covering topics of pregnancy that were frequently visited by pregnant women in South Africa.

This methodology was chosen by the authors as a result of limited information on the implications of the cultural uptake of fetal imaging (Macleod and Howell 2015, 1210). They compared the pregnancy week-by-week sections of each of the websites including the images and descriptions for each week. The authors found that the predominant images were of white women or white heterosexual couples. The week-by-week images depicted a disembodied uterus showing the estimated size of the fetus. The descriptions referred to the fetus as “ your baby” and the pregnant woman as a “mother” and frequently discussed the activities (i.e. drinking amniotic fluid, sucking thumb, etc.) giving the impression of an active full-fledged person. These websites also push the sale of expensive “must have” baby items and provide images of what “your baby” should look like, as well as, what behaviors are appropriate with regard to medications and nutrition(Macleod and Howell 2015, 1214). Macleod and Howell (2015) point out that the low-income mothers in South Africa do not have access to regular fetal imaging, nor the lifestyle of middle-class women in this region. Pushing this ideal form of pregnancy and motherhood is problematic, inasmuch, that it is partial to white middle class expectations and possibly leads to heightened discrimination or policing of pregnant bodies.

As discussed by Macleod and Howell (2015), lower class South African women have an entirely different subjective experience during pregnancy. They do not have frequent access to ultrasound technology unless they are classified as high risk (Macleod and Howell 2015, 1210). The ability to afford products being pushed, the nutritional expectations that they should “be sure” to adhere to may be unattainable. Additionally, the implications for white middle class women is the expectation of perfection during pregnancy as the primary caregiver. This type of intense expectations my lead to self-blame should the baby be born with any medical conditions. The websites largely exclude fathers. However, when fathers were included they were often portrayed as emotionally inept with information on how they can learn to deal with their pregnant partners emotions (Macleod and Howell 2015, 1216). The framing of what a father’s role is on these sites reinforces heteronormativity through the expectation that the baby will have a mom and dad with no consideration for variation in family structures outside of the nuclear heterosexual family. One of the strengths of this article is the use of discourse analysis which is a great methodology that serves a purpose in the decontextualization of language and representation cultural norms and values. Their use of discourse analysis reveals how cultural expectations of pregnancy weave their way into the narratives of pregnancy and what one should expect.

The valued pregnancy is one that is white and heterosexual. The narratives on the websites also reflect the disembodiment of pregnant women from the womb, much like Ivry’s (2015) findings showing a separation between the pregnant body and the process of conception. In our current times, online media platforms are one way that culture is mediated (Thomas and Lupton 2015). This is true for the experience of pregnancy as well. Pregnant women with smart phones have consistent access to these pregnancy week-by-week websites and even apps that provide updates to women on the size of their “baby” in utero (Thomas and Lupton 2015). In a sense, pregnancy is regulated in the context of online media or apps, more so, than advice given by their prenatal care giver (Thomas and Lupton 2015, 496). The ways in which pregnancy and other aspects of sexual and reproductive health are facilitated on online platforms are an important area for additional research. One weakness I find in this article, however, is that it is missing data from the website users themselves to support the claims that these websites do in fact reinforce pregnancy expectations. A survey could have been a helpful tool in determining the extent to which women use and agree with the information on these websites. An example can be found in a study conducted by Henderson, Harmon, and Houser (2010), where Foucault’s theory of the “panopticon” and the theory of New Momism were used to analyze whether parenting websites influenced self-surveillance. The author’s used a survey based on three different hypotheses to gage how the use of parenting websites shaped women’s parenting experiences (Henderson, Harmon, and Houser 2010). Though the websites certainly facilitated this social policing, the social pressures via interpersonal relationships among fellow mothers to perform as perfect parent drove feelings of inadequacy and anxiety among women which led self-surveillance (Henderson, Harmon, and Houser 2010, 240). Aside from a survey to gage the effects of these websites on pregnant women’s behaviors, the use of qualitative data is necessary for a well-rounded understanding of the ways that women are affected. An additional weakness was the Macleod and Howell’s use of Foucauldian theory. As discussed in their article, the intention of the authors was to apply Foucault’s theory of the clinical gaze. This was only a brief section of the article.

They could have also discussed the problem of fetal imaging as a “panopticon” in which pregnancy is increasingly policed. The theory of New Momism within feminist discourse applies here as well. In Henderson et al.(2010), it was explained that “…both the tenets of New Momism and the application of Foucauldian surveillance suggest that mothers exist in a modern age of constant surveillance; they surveil themselves, and other moms. Their judgments are based somewhat on the formal guidelines for parenting behaviour and child development, but they are often arbitrary, based on heightened fear and “mother knows best” practices”(236). Generally, the idea of New momism is applied to parenting practices, however, it could also be extended to pregnancy. This social policing in New Momism reinforces unattainable norms of pregnancy and motherhood, thereby rendering low-income, non-heterosexual, non-white mother’s as deviant (Henderson, Harmon, and Houser 2010).

Macleod and Howell allude to this in their study, however, there really is no clear discussion of how mothers who cannot meet these normative expectations are affected. Macleod and Howell make a significant contribution to the topic of fetal images and their relationship to reproductive health in the decontextualization of the language used on websites for pregnancy information. More research should be done in this particular area using a variety of theoretical frame works and methodologies. Specifically, additional anthropological and feminist methodologies to expand on how pregnant women use these online formats for information to assess the potential effects on their choices and attitudes regarding their pregnancies. Additionally, expanding on methodologies would provide greater details on the ways that pregnancy apps and websites affect poor and non-white women during pregnancy. 

Related Topics

We can write a custom essay

According to Your Specific Requirements

Order an essay
Materials Daily
100,000+ Subjects
2000+ Topics
Free Plagiarism
All Materials
are Cataloged Well

Sorry, but copying text is forbidden on this website. If you need this or any other sample, we can send it to you via email.

By clicking "SEND", you agree to our terms of service and privacy policy. We'll occasionally send you account related and promo emails.
Sorry, but only registered users have full access

How about getting this access

Your Answer Is Very Helpful For Us
Thank You A Lot!


Emma Taylor


Hi there!
Would you like to get such a paper?
How about getting a customized one?

Can't find What you were Looking for?

Get access to our huge, continuously updated knowledge base

The next update will be in:
14 : 59 : 59