Failing Moms: A conversation with author Caitlin Killian

Location: Glickman Conference Center (RLP 1.302E) 305 E. 23rd St., Austin, TX 78712

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While many claim that being a mom is the most important job in the world, in reality motherhood in the United States is growing harder and harder. From preconception, through pregnancy, and while parenting, women are held to ever-higher standards and are finding themselves punished – both socially and criminally – for failing to live up to these norms.  In Caitlin Killian’s new book, Failing Moms, she uncovers how women of all ethnic backgrounds and socioeconomic statuses have been interrogated, held against their will, and jailed for a rapidly expanding list of offenses such as falling down the stairs while pregnant or letting a child spend time alone in a park, actions that were not considered criminal a generation ago. While poor mothers and moms of color are targeted the most, all moms are in jeopardy, whether they realize it or not. Women and mothers are disproportionately held accountable compared to men and fathers who do not see their reproduction policed and almost never incur charges for “failure to protect.” The gendered inequality of prosecutions reveals them to be more about controlling women than protecting children.  Using a reproductive justice lens, Killian analyzes how and why mothers are on a precipice and what must change to prevent mass penalization and instead support mothers and their children.

Caitlin Killian is a Professor of Sociology at Drew University specializing in gender, families, reproduction, and immigration. She is the author of Failing Moms: Social Condemnation and Criminalization of Mothers (Polity 2023) and North African Women in France: Gender, Culture, and Identity (Stanford University Press 2006). Her articles have appeared in Contexts magazine and The Conversation, and she has published in numerous academic journals about adoption, overblown warnings about women’s alcohol consumption during pregnancy, sexual and reproductive health and justice, and immigrant and refugee women. As a consultant for the United Nations, she developed the module on sexual and reproductive health and rights for UN staff training and co-authored a UNDP report on Syrian refugee women in Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey.


Sissy Farenthold Reproductive Justice Defense Project, Rapoport Center, Population Research Center, UT Department of Sociology, UT Department of Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies.

Event series: Book talk