Incest and other harms to daughters across cultures: Maternal complicity and patriarchal power

UMMS Affiliation

Department of Family Medicine and Community Health

Publication Date


Document Type



Mothers; Maternal Behavior; Culture; Body Modification, Non-Therapeutic; Circumcision, Female; Infanticide; Female; Women; Family Relations; Power (Psychology)


Community Health | Other Medical Specialties | Preventive Medicine


This article addresses the problematic position of mothers who know that their daughters are being sexually abused. Departing from the medical and psychiatric approaches that focus on the mother’s individual psychology or on the family system in incest, this article ranges across history and culture to examine the structural context of other instances where mothers participate in or have participated in harm to their daughters: footbinding, female genital mutilation, female infanticide, and the abortion of female fetuses. Though conducted in private, each of these practices is maintained by certain kinds of public knowledge and acceptance. All of these practices are closely connected with women’s survival in families within the intergenerational context of male domination. This exploration suggests that mothers’ participation in harm to their daughters needs to be considered within the broader context of power in their families and in the culture at large.

DOI of Published Version



Women's Studies International Forum 1999; Vol. 22, issue 2, p.185-201. Link to article on publisher's website

Journal/Book/Conference Title

Women's Studies International Forum 1999