Biologising Paternity, Moralising Maternity: The Construction of Parenthood in the Determination of Paternity Through the Courts in Portugal [Book Review]

Feminist Legal Studies 16 (2):215-236 (2008)

This article explores how the Portuguese legal system’s efforts to determine paternity of children born outside legal marriage, automatically initiated by the Registry Office when a birth registration does not indicate the father, reveal cultural models which reinforce the naturalisation of the differences between mothers and fathers, with significant effects on the social construction of parental roles and on expectations of family organisation and female sexual behaviour. The article relies on ethnographic data drawn from direct observation of court proceedings for the determination of paternity, as well as interviews with judges and prosecuting counsels all over the country. It is argued that judicial practices in the specific context of courtroom investigations of paternity reinforce gender inequalities in two interrelated ways. On the one hand, they are strengthened in the discursive practices performed during the course of the interactions between judges, prosecuting counsels and the mother of the child, as well as the alleged father. On the other hand, the normative model of family life and the dominant ideology of women’s and men’s relationships, which emphasise women’s socially subordinate position, are revealed by the selective use of DNA testing in paternity cases, based on the judge’s evaluation of the mother’s sexual behaviour. The article argues that legal attempts to establish the paternity of children born outside marriage—though based on novel technical and supposedly objective procedures—tend, nevertheless, to reproduce the prevailing patriarchal structures
Keywords Children’s rights  Court proceedings  Family ideologies  Family law  Gender inequality  Legal discourse  Parenthood  Paternity testing  Sexual norms  Unmarried mothers
Categories (categorize this paper)
DOI 10.1007/s10691-008-9089-y
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Request removal from index
Revision history

Download options

Our Archive

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy     Papers currently archived: 43,914
External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library

References found in this work BETA

View all 22 references / Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

Add more citations

Similar books and articles

Paternity Fraud and Compensation for Misattributed Paternity.H. Draper - 2007 - Journal of Medical Ethics 33 (8):475-480.
The Making and Breaking of Paternity Secrets in Donor Insemination.L. Turney - 2010 - Journal of Medical Ethics 36 (7):401-406.
Should Maternity Leave Be Expanded?Ingrid Robeyns - 2012 - Ethics and Social Welfare 6 (2):206-212.
The Changing Face of "Misidentified Paternity".Dena S. Davis - 2007 - Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 32 (4):359 – 373.
Recognising Family Diversity: The 'Boundaries' of RE G.Julie MCandless - 2005 - Feminist Legal Studies 13 (3):323-336.
Intentional Parenthood and the Nuclear Family.Liezl van Zyl - 2002 - Journal of Medical Humanities 23 (2):107-118.
Conflicted Love.Kelly Oliver - 2000 - Hypatia 15 (3):1-18.


Added to PP index

Total views
22 ( #393,286 of 2,266,396 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
4 ( #351,880 of 2,266,396 )

How can I increase my downloads?


My notes

Sign in to use this feature