(En)Gendering the word ‘midwife’: semantics, etymology and orientations

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticlepeer-review


This discussion paper takes as its starting point the marginal existence of men in the seemingly mono-gendered arena of childbearing, both as midwives and as service users. It seeks to explore how their problematic presence can be both accommodated and rejected within the limits of existing language which manifests itself most rigidly in the word ‘midwife’. I argue that ‘midwife’ has multiple meanings which are mobilized in different situations to call upon either a seemingly stable etymological understanding or a more fluid and adaptable semantic meaning. I engage in the heuristic device of ‘orientations’ inspired by the work of Sara Ahmed to illuminate how these multiple meanings serve to exclude people who do not identify as female. Lastly, I illustrate how a recent focus on gender-neutral and additive language to accommodate men into a historically exclusively female discourses has further exposed the limitations of the gendered word ‘midwife’ to be able to include people of all genders and none.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-13
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Gender Studies
Early online date20 Jul 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 20 Jul 2021


  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Gender Studies


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