The Routledge Companion to Motherhood 9781138052413, 9781315167848

Interdisciplinary and intersectional in emphasis, the Routledge Companion to Motherhood brings together essays on curren

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The Routledge Companion to Motherhood
 9781138052413, 9781315167848

Table of contents :
Half Title
Section I Maternal theory
1 Maternal theory: patriarchal motherhood and empowered mothering
2 Feminist mothering
3 Matricentric feminism: a feminism for mothers
Section II Mothering through difference: hearing the voices of marginalized mothers
4 Queering and querying motherhood
5 Disabled mothers
6 Mothering while Black: strengths and vulnerabilities in a sociopolitical racial context of structural inequality
7 Welfare mothers in the United States
8 Indigenous mothering: birthing the nation from resistance to revolution
9 Voluntarily childless women: a look at Western society and the definition of motherhood
Section III Mothers, mothering, culture, and art
10 Mediated celebrity motherhood: representing the norms, values, and practices promoted by and through celebrity moms
11 Feminist art and motherhood: an overview
12 Religions and mothers
13 Mothers and music
14 Matrifocal voices in literature
15 Motherhood memoirs
Section IV Mothering and health
16 Beyond disordered brains and mother blame: critical issues in autism and mothering
17 No fixed address: the everyday health challenges of mothers living in an emergency homeless shelter
18 Midwifery in historical and contemporary perspective: the collusion of race, class, and gender
19 Mothers in prison: matricentric feminist criminology
20 Abused women’s mothering experiences: making the invisible visible
Section V Mothering, families, and domestic space
21 From home to house: neoliberalism, mothering, and the de-domestication of the private sphere?
22 Mothering or parenting?
23 Homing in on domestic space: the boundaries and potential of home-making
24 Configuring the mother-daughter dyad
25 Mothers and sons
Section VI Mothering and work
26 Mothers and work: social reproduction and the labours of motherhood
27 The lasting impacts of “The Opt Out Revolution”: disciplining working mothers
28 Shifting gender norms and childcare in Canada
29 Poor and working-class mothers
Section VII Mothering, economics, and globalization
30 Mothering, neoliberalism, and globalization
31 Mothering and the economy
32 Transnational motherhood: conceptualizing ideas of care here and there
33 Mothering, urbanization, and Africa
Section VIII Mothering, governance, and politics
34 Formal governance of and by mothers: mothers, public policy, and law
35 Mothering and politics
36 The criminalization and incarceration of mothers in Canada and the United States
37 The governance of mothers
Section IX Mothering and activism
38 The politics of motherhood: maternal appeals in the public sphere
39 Mothering and activism
40 Reproductive justice as environmental justice: contexts, coalitions, and cautions
41 Motherhood and the struggle for reproductive justice

Citation preview


Interdisciplinary and intersectional in emphasis, the Routledge Companion to Motherhood brings together essays on current intellectual themes, issues, and debates, while also creating a foundation for future scholarship and study as the field of Motherhood Studies continues to develop globally. This Routledge Companion is the first extensive collection on the wide-ranging topics, themes, issues, and debates that ground the intellectual work being done on motherhood. Global in scope and including a range of disciplinary perspectives, including anthropology, literature, communication studies, sociology, women’s and gender studies, history, and economics, this volume introduces the foundational topics and ideas in motherhood, delineates the diversity and complexity of mothering, and also stimulates dialogue among scholars and students approaching from divergent backgrounds and intellectual perspectives. This will become a foundational text for academics in Women’s and Gender Studies and interdisciplinary researchers interested in this important, complex and rapidly growing topic. Scholars of psychology, sociology or public policy, and activists in both university and workplace settings interested in motherhood and mothering will find it an invaluable guide. Lynn O’Brien Hallstein, PhD, is an Associate Professor of Rhetoric in the College of General Studies and an Affiliated Faculty of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program at Boston University. She is the author/(co)editor of five books, including Bikini-Ready Moms: Celebrity Profiles, Motherhood, and the Body, which won the Organization for the Study of Communication, Language, and Gender’s 2016 Outstanding Book Award, and has published in variety of feminist and communication journals. Andrea O’Reilly, PhD, is a Professor in the School of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at York University. O’Reilly is founder and director of the Motherhood Initiative for Research and Community Involvement, founder and editor-in-chief of the Journal of the Motherhood Initiative, and founder and publisher of Demeter Press. She is the editor/author of 22 books including Matricentric Feminism: Theory, Activism, and Practice (2016). Melinda Vandenbeld Giles is a lecturer in Anthropology and English at Lakehead University (Orillia). Her research focuses on neoliberalism, public policy and homelessness (particularly for mothers) in Ontario. Melinda’s publications include her Demeter Press edited volume Mothering in the Age of Neoliberalism, her co-edited volume The Routledge Companion to Motherhood, and her Inanna feminist novel Clara Awake. Melinda’s work also appears in many Demeter Press edited collections, JMI ( Journal of the Motherhood Initiative for Research and Community Involvement) and Development ( Journal of the Society for International Development).

“This book is indeed a companion, a wise and wide-ranging guide for anyone who wants to spend time exploring the world of contemporary motherhood studies. Across topics and disciplines, it accompanies the reader to the most engaging sites in the field.” – Joan B. Wolf, Associate Professor, Women’s and Gender Studies, Texas A&M University, and author of Is Breast Best? Taking on the Breastfeeding Experts and the New High Stakes of Motherhood “This is an anthology whose time has come! The editors have garnered an extraordinary number of international scholars to discuss motherhood from a broad range of perspectives, more than one might ever have thought possible. Adrienne Rich’s pioneering distinction between motherhood as institution and ideology versus motherhood as experience and identity structures the volume’s chapters on diverse mothering/motherhood concerns across the globe. The volume will guide Motherhood Studies for years to come.” – E. Ann Kaplan, Distinguished Professor of English and Women’s Gender, and Sexuality, Studies, Stony Brook University


Edited by Lynn O’Brien Hallstein, Andrea O’Reilly, and Melinda Vandenbeld Giles

First published 2020 by Routledge 2 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon OX14 4RN and by Routledge 52 Vanderbilt Avenue, New York, NY 10017 Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group, an informa business © 2020 selection and editorial matter, Lynn O’Brien Hallstein, Andrea O’Reilly, and Melinda Vandenbeld Giles; individual chapters, the contributors The right of Lynn O’Brien Hallstein, Andrea O’Reilly, and Melinda Vandenbeld Giles to be identified as the authors of the editorial material, and of the authors for their individual chapters, has been asserted in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilised in any form or by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publishers. Trademark notice: Product or corporate names may be trademarks or registered trademarks, and are used only for identification and explanation without intent to infringe. British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data A catalog record for this book has been requested ISBN: 978-1-138-05241-3 (hbk) ISBN: 978-1-315-16784-8 (ebk) Typeset in Bembo by Apex CoVantage, LLC Cover Art Artist – Meaghan Brady Nelson, PhD Title – Mothering Size – 24 x 48 inches Acrylic on gallery wrap 2019


Acknowledgementsx Introduction Lynn O’Brien Hallstein, Andrea O’Reilly, and Melinda Vandenbeld Giles



Maternal theory


  1 Maternal theory: patriarchal motherhood and empowered mothering19 Andrea O’Reilly   2 Feminist mothering Fiona Joy Green


  3 Matricentric feminism: a feminism for mothers Andrea O’Reilly



Mothering through difference: hearing the voices of marginalized mothers


  4 Queering and querying motherhood Shelley M. Park


  5 Disabled mothers Gloria Filax and Dena Taylor




  6 Mothering while Black: strengths and vulnerabilities in a sociopolitical racial context of structural inequality Marva L. Lewis and Karen T. Craddock   7 Welfare mothers in the United States Brianna Turgeon and Kaitlyn Root

89 103

  8 Indigenous mothering: birthing the nation from resistance to revolution Jennifer Brant


  9 Voluntarily childless women: a look at Western society and the definition of motherhood Emilie Lewis



Mothers, mothering, culture, and art


10 Mediated celebrity motherhood: representing the norms, values, and practices promoted by and through celebrity moms Lynn O’Brien Hallstein


11 Feminist art and motherhood: an overview Myrel Chernick and Jennie Klein


12 Religions and mothers Florence Pasche Guignard


13 Mothers and music Martha Joy Rose


14 Matrifocal voices in literature Elizabeth Podnieks


15 Motherhood memoirs Heather Hewett



Mothering and health


16 Beyond disordered brains and mother blame: critical issues in autism and mothering Patty Douglas and Estée Klar




17 No fixed address: the everyday health challenges of mothers living in an emergency homeless shelter Rebecca Hughes


18 Midwifery in historical and contemporary perspective: the collusion of race, class, and gender Alicia D. Bonaparte


19 Mothers in prison: matricentric feminist criminology Sinead O’Malley


20 Abused women’s mothering experiences: making the invisible visible Caroline McDonald-Harker



Mothering, families, and domestic space


21 From home to house: neoliberalism, mothering, and the de-domestication of the private sphere? Melinda Vandenbeld Giles


22 Mothering or parenting? Linda Rose Ennis


23 Homing in on domestic space: the boundaries and potential of home-making Jennifer L. Johnson


24 Configuring the mother-daughter dyad Dorsía Smith Silva


25 Mothers and sons Nicole L. Willey



Mothering and work


26 Mothers and work: social reproduction and the labours of motherhood Catherine Bryan


27 The lasting impacts of “The Opt Out Revolution”: disciplining working mothers Jennifer L. Borda vii



28 Shifting gender norms and childcare in Canada Brooke Richardson


29 Poor and working-class mothers Patrice M. Buzzanell



Mothering, economics, and globalization


30 Mothering, neoliberalism, and globalization Melinda Vandenbeld Giles


31 Mothering and the economy Margunn Bjørnholt


32 Transnational motherhood: conceptualizing ideas of care here and there Gabrielle Oliveira


33 Mothering, urbanization, and Africa Grace Adeniyi Ogunyankin



Mothering, governance, and politics


34 Formal governance of and by mothers: mothers, public policy, and law Rebecca Jaremko Bromwich


35 Mothering and politics Simone Bohn


36 The criminalization and incarceration of mothers in Canada and the United States Catherine Borshuk and Gordana Eljdupovic 37 The governance of mothers Michelle Hughes Miller

451 462


Mothering and activism


38 The politics of motherhood: maternal appeals in the public sphere Sara Hayden




39 Mothering and activism Reena Shadaan


40 Reproductive justice as environmental justice: contexts, coalitions, and cautions Catalina M. de Onís 41 Motherhood and the struggle for reproductive justice Natalie Fixmer-Oraiz

496 510

Contributors520 Index531



Editors’ Collective Acknowledgements: Our deepest appreciation to the contributors to the Companion for their steadfast commitment to seeing the book come to life and to our Routledge editor, Alexandra McGregor, for her support and guidance throughout the process.

Each editor’s acknowledgements Lynn O’Brien Hallstein: I would like to dedicate this book to my mother, Nancy O’Brien. Her gift of raising me within 1970s American feminisms allowed me to have my own ambitions in ways denied to her when she was growing up. I will forever be grateful that she did so. I also hope that my intellectual work helps to lay a foundation so that women who want to mother can be both mothers and ambitious-for-themselves women in ways my mother was denied. I, too, wish to thank my wonderful co-editors, Andrea O’Reilly and Melinda Vandenbeld Giles, for their support and willingness to work hard to make this book happen. And, finally, I am also proud to be affiliated with all the contributors in the book and am grateful for their hard work and willingness to participate. Andrea O’Reilly would also like to thank Jesse O’Reilly-Conlin for his accomplished copy-editing and Angie Deveau for her invaluable research assistance. Thank you always to my MIRCI family for providing the safe and sustaining “homeplace” that makes possible my maternal scholarship possible. Melinda Vandenbeld Giles: I would like to dedicate this book to all of the incredibly strong and hard-working mothers out there who every day make this world a better place! In particular, I dedicate this book to my own mom, Maria Vandenbeld, whose courage, love and support have always been an inspiration, and my daughter, Maya Vandenbeld Giles, whose incredible positive outlook on the world makes me a better person. I would also like to thank my fellow editors, Lynn O’Brien Hallstein and Andrea O’Reilly, two amazing women and mothers who have been such a joy to work with creating this companion. A final thank you to all of the wonderful contributors whose dedicated maternal scholarship collectively brings the voices of mothers globally to the forefront.


INTRODUCTION Lynn O’Brien Hallstein, Andrea O’Reilly, and Melinda Vandenbeld Giles

Adrienne Rich opens her monumental work Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution (1976) stating: “We know more about the air we breathe, the seas we travel, than about the nature and meaning of motherhood” (11). In the forty plus years since the publication of Of Woman Born, the topic of motherhood has developed from an emergent to an established field of scholarly inquiry. A cursory review of motherhood research reveals that hundreds of scholarly monographs, anthologies, journal issues, and journal articles across disciplines have been published1 on every imaginable motherhood theme. Given the depth and breadth of motherhood research to date, it is impossible to list all the themes explored; however, some examples are: sexuality, peace, religion, public policy, economics, literature, work, popular culture, the maternal body (both able and disabled/differently abled), health, carework-caregiving, ethnicity, environment, militarism, young mothers, motherhood and feminism, mothers and sons, mothers and daughters, queer mothers, Black mothering, Muslim mothering, Indigenous mothers, Latina mothers, incarcerated mothers, third-wave mothering, mothering and globalization, and mothering and domestic violence. In 2006, Andrea O’Reilly coined the term motherhood studies to acknowledge and demarcate this new scholarship on motherhood as a legitimate and autonomous discipline – one grounded in the theoretical tradition of maternal theory developed by such scholars as Patricia Hill Collins, Adrienne Rich, and Sara Ruddick, and one explicitly interdisciplinary in both scholarship and teaching. An undergraduate student of women’s studies in the 1980s would be expected to know feminist theory as well as study women’s experiences from across a wide variety of disciplines. Students would remember learning the differences between liberal and socialist feminist theory as well as examining women in courses as diverse as “Women and Film,” “Women in Literature,” “Women’s History,” “Women in Society,” and “Psychology of Women.” Similarly, students and scholars of motherhood studies today must know maternal theory and examine mothers and motherhood across diverse disciplines and disciplinary approaches. While motherhood studies continues to grow, understanding the historical significance of Rich’s pivotal work is essential to contextualizing where we are at today. Rich first published Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution in 1976. Today, the book is recognized as the first and arguably the most important book on motherhood. The book – a wide ranging, far reaching meditation on the meaning and experience of motherhood that draws from the disciplines of anthropology, feminist theory, psychology, literature as well as narrates Rich’s personal 1

Lynn O’Brien Hallstein, Andrea O’Reilly, and Melinda Vandenbeld Giles

reflections on her experiences of mothering – has had a broad and enduring impact on feminist thought on motherhood. In particular, it is Rich’s landmark distinction between motherhood as an institution and mothering as practice that continues to be of relevance. As O’Reilly first noted, despite the patriarchal limits of motherhood, it is essential to recognize the potential for mothering to provide a source of empowerment. Indeed, in Of Woman Born, Rich distinguishes “between two meanings of motherhood, one superimposed on the other: the potential relationship of any woman to her powers of reproduction and to children; and the institution – which aims at ensuring that that potential – and all women – shall remain under male control” (7).“This book,” Rich writes, “is not an attack on the family or on mothering except as defined and restricted under patriarchy” (8). The term “motherhood” refers to the patriarchal institution of motherhood, which is male defined and controlled and is deeply oppressive to women, whereas the word “mothering” refers to women’s experiences of mothering and is female defined and centered and potentially empowering to women. Rich was the first feminist scholar to argue that the reality of patriarchal motherhood must be distinguished from the possibility or potentiality of empowered mothering. In other words, whereas motherhood operates as a patriarchal institution to constrain, regulate, and dominate women and their mothering, mothers’ own experiences of mothering can, nonetheless, be a site of strength, especially if mothers can define mothering for themselves. Since the publication of Of Woman Born, motherhood research has focused upon the oppressive and empowering dimensions of mothering and the complex relationship between the two, employing this field-defining distinction first made by Rich. Following the above distinction, motherhood studies may be divided into four interconnected themes or categories of inquiry: the institution of motherhood, motherhood as experience, maternal identity or subjectivity, and finally maternal agency/activism. Within motherhood studies, the term motherhood is used to signify the patriarchal institution of motherhood, while the term mothering refers to women’s lived experiences of childrearing as they both confirm to and/or resist the patriarchal institution of motherhood and its oppressive ideology. While scholars who are concerned with the ideology or institution investigate policies, laws, ideologies and images of patriarchal motherhood, researchers who are interested in experience examine the work women do as mothers, an area of study paved with insights derived from Sara Ruddick’s concept of maternal practice. The third category, maternal identity and subjectivity looks at the effect that becoming a mother has on a woman’s sense of self; in particular how her sense of self is shaped by the institution of motherhood and the experience of mothering. Since the turn of the millennium, a new theme has emerged that we have termed maternal agency. Motherhood scholarship, whether its concern is mothering as institution, experience or identity, has tended to focus on how motherhood is detrimental to women because of its construction as a patriarchal institution. For example, scholars interested in experience argue that the gender inequities of patriarchal motherhood cause the work of mothering to be isolating and exhausting for women, while those concerned with ideology call attention to the guilt and depression that is experienced by mothers who fail to live up to the impossible standards of patriarchal motherhood. In contrast, little has been written on the possibility or potentiality of mothering as identified by Rich more than forty years ago. The point is not lost on Fiona Joy Green who writes: “Still largely missing from the increasing dialogue and publication around motherhood is a discussion of Rich’s monumental contention that even when restrained by patriarchy motherhood can be a site of empowerment and political activism” (31). More recently, agency has emerged as a prevailing theme in motherhood scholarship. Around the world, mothers are rising up and claiming their rights, demanding that mothering as an everyday site of empowerment be enacted through self-expression and bodily self-determination. This activism can also be seen in the rise of a vibrant and vast global motherhood movement that has paved the way for more meaningful explorations into the emancipatory potential of motherhood in the twenty-first century. 2


The Routledge Companion to Motherhood is the first extensive collection to bring together essays on the wide-ranging topics, themes, issues, and debates that now ground the intellectual work being done on motherhood, while also creating a foundation for future scholarship and study as the field of motherhood studies continues to develop and extend globally. Interdisciplinary in emphasis, the Companion to Motherhood focuses on how mothering and motherhood intersect with class, race, ethnicity, religion, ability, sexuality, work, popular culture, literature, family, the economy, neoliberalism and globalization, social media, politics, social policy, feminism, and maternal agency and empowerment. Moreover, the collection is also interdisciplinary in scope with chapters utilizing a range of disciplinary and interdisciplinary perspectives, including anthropology, English, communication studies, disability studies, race studies, sociology, women’s and gender studies, queer studies, history, law, political science, and economics. As a result, the emphasis of the companion is to map out the development of motherhood studies and detail current critical issues and debates, while also pointing to future scholarship and study. The extensiveness of this approach means the collection: mirrors the interdisciplinarity that has been at the foundation of motherhood studies, introduces the foundational topics and ideas in motherhood studies, delineates the diversity and complexity of motherhood and mothering, points to what future work motherhood studies must address, and, finally, also stimulates dialogue among scholars and students approaching motherhood from divergent backgrounds and intellectual perspectives. To do so, the Companion to Motherhood is divided into nine sections, which are detailed below.


Section one: maternal theory The relationships among feminisms and motherhood have been complex, sometimes fruitful and sometimes ignored, even though motherhood studies primarily emerged via the larger disciplines of feminist and women’s studies. The chapters in Maternal Theory open the Companion and explore some of the contemporary problems, biases, silences, and issues that currently exist among feminist and motherhood studies as well they consider the transformative possibilities of matricentric feminism and feminist mothering. As noted, in 2006 Andrea O’Reilly coined the term “motherhood studies” to acknowledge and demarcate a new scholarship on motherhood as a legitimate and autonomous discipline – one grounded in, and sustained by, a distinct tradition of maternal theory. The aim of the first chapter of this section, “Chapter 1: Maternal Theory: Patriarchal Motherhood and Empowered Mothering,” by Andrea O’Reilly is to introduce the field of maternal theory within the larger discipline of motherhood studies. The chapter, drawing upon Adrienne Rich’s distinction between motherhood and mothering, is principally organized by two standpoints: motherhood as institution and ideology, and mothering as experience and identity. The chapter introduces three central theoretical concepts of motherhood studies: motherhood versus mothering; maternal thinking and practice; and intensive mothering. As well, the chapter explores mothering as experience to consider how patriarchal motherhood is resisted and redefined through empowered maternal practices and identities. The following chapter by Fiona Joy Green, “Chapter 2: Feminist Mothering,” builds upon the inaugural chapter by considering the transformative possibilities of feminist mothering. Three prevailing themes characterize feminist mothering: understanding, troubling, and opposing the institution of motherhood; viewing feminist mothering as an empowered and political act; and practicing matroreform through claiming motherhood power by instituting new 3

Lynn O’Brien Hallstein, Andrea O’Reilly, and Melinda Vandenbeld Giles

mothering rules and practices. The chapter examines the important differences between feminist and empowered mothering and considers how an emphasis on intersectionality facilitates the disruption of gender-essentialist beliefs about mothering and care norms. Overall, the aim of the chapter is to theorize the lived experiences of feminist mothers to undermine and transform patriarchal culture at large. The final chapter of the opening section, “Chapter 3: Matricentric Feminism: A Feminism for Mothers,” by Andrea O’Reilly introduces a mother-centered mode of feminism – what O’Reilly has termed “matricentric feminism” – and considers the context and challenges of a mother-centered feminist theory and politic. Matricentric feminism seeks to make motherhood the business of feminism by positioning mothers’ needs and concerns as the starting point for a theory and politic on and for women’s empowerment. The chapter develops a definition of matricentric feminism, identifies the absence of matricentric feminism in feminist thought, and considers the reasons for this disavowal: the confusion of mothering with motherhood and the conflation of maternalism, and hence gender essentialism, with matricentric feminism.

Section two: mothering through difference: hearing the voices of marginalized mothers Primarily employing interdisciplinary perspectives, contributors to the all-important second section of the collection, Mothering Through Difference: Hearing the Voices of Marginalized Mothers, investigate how differences from the hegemonic mothering norm – white, middle class, heterosexual and cisgender – are challenged, re-shaped, and expanded via non-hegemonic mothering practices, different family formations and practices, including how families are built as well as how they are structured by queer, disabled, Black, welfare, Indigenous mothers and voluntarily childless mothers. Thus, this section explores the lives of mothers marginalized by race, class, sexuality, ability or any other form of “othering,” revealing how structural inequalities in society magnify existent biases but can also produce empowered and creative responses. The first chapter by Shelley M. Park, “Chapter 4: Queering and Querying Motherhood,” opens this section discussing the ways in which theories and practices of motherhood have been queered by mothers who live outside of so-called “traditional” nuclear families comprised of one mother, one father and their biological offspring. Park also suggests that mothers who are sexually queer (e.g., lesbian or non-monogamous) challenge legal and cultural definitions of family as heteronormative, while parents who are gender queer (e.g., butch, trans or intersex) challenge the gendered discourse of “motherhood” itself. Whether straight-identified, femme-identified, or queer-identified, those who mother queerly (i.e., “do” motherhood in ways that deviate from standard practice), also implicitly and explicitly challenge prevailing notions of good mothering. Such deviations from culturally dominant standards of “good” mothering often come at a cost, leading some queer mothers to seek social approval through processes of cultural assimilation. Thus, this chapter also explores the consequences of normalizing of lesbian and gay families mimicking the heteronormative ideal. These consequences include the further stigmatization of queer mothers who cannot or will not assimilate and the exploitation of brown, black and poor birthmothers whose invisible reproductive labors may secure the possibility of homonormative lesbian and gay families. The following chapter, “Chapter 5: Disabled Mothers,” by Gloria Filax and Dena Taylor explores disabled mothers. The authors suggest mothers with disabilities cover a wide range of being in this world including illness. Disability may be hidden or visible, and disabled mothers may be birthmothers, stepmothers, co-mothers, or adoptive mothers. Filax and Taylor also examine who counts as disabled and the various theoretical models (individual/medical, social 4


and cultural models) provide context to understand disability. Drawing on critical issues, they explore how these models shape disability, the disabling of the disabled, what we can learn from disabled mothers, the challenges and possibilities facing mothers with disabilities, how/if disabled mothering offers insights to feminist practices of mothering, and what the future may hold. Filax and Taylor conclude with a discussion of how disabled mothers need, like most mothers, support, nurturance, and care. The third chapter of this section written by Marva L. Lewis and Karen T. Craddock, “Chapter 6: Mothering While Black: Strengths and Vulnerabilities in a Sociopolitical Racial Context of Structural Inequality,” presents an overview of several overarching themes relevant to Black mothers and multiple social indexes of physical and mental health and well-being, shaped within a lived framework of structural racism. These structural themes include racial disparities and disproportionality based on stereotypes and implicit bias – all unresolved legacies of the historical trauma of slavery. Lewis and Craddock also discuss the longstanding schema of a “strong Black woman” that often obscures the gentle and more vulnerable side of Black mothering and minimizes the mental health needs of Black mothers and their need for emotional, physical, or monetary support. The authors conclude with a discussion of a strengths perspective to briefly examine the practices of racial socialization through protective nurturing and adaptive parenting practices leading to resilience in young children to survive in a hostile, racially stratified society. Brianna Turgeon and Kaitlyn Root’s chapter, “Chapter 7: Welfare Mothers in the United States,” follows with a discussion of how the history of US welfare is marked by race- and class-based stereotypes of welfare clients and their ambitions. The authors also explore the over-simplified stereotypes and erroneous assumptions that have emerged across history that have caricaturized “welfare queens,” presenting them as lazy, greedy, and selfish women who live lavish lives at the expense of the state. While overtly racist language has been used with less frequency in recent years, the – now colorblind – imagery and stereotypes of the welfare queen persist. The “real” experiences of mothers on welfare often involve interacting with state surveillance through government programs, struggling to balance work and family demands – ­especially with childcare, cobbling together resources from a variety sources, and – for some – using agency to push back against the state. Turgeon and Root conclude that, through their resistance, welfare mothers work to reclaim their narrative from the history of controlling images that have pervaded their lives. The fifth chapter of section two, written by Jennifer Brant, “Chapter 8: Indigenous Mothering: Birthing the Nation from Resistance to Revolution,” discusses the historical, colonial, contemporary, and socio-political realities of Indigenous mothering by drawing attention to the assimilationist policies that have implicated Indigenous families and communities for generations. The chapter also introduces the Indigenous ideologies of motherhood that informed Indigenous worldviews and ancient traditions of physically and spiritually bringing forth new life since time immemorial. Brant also examines notions of Settler environmentalism, along with the acts of ongoing gendered and colonial violence that continue to target Indigenous mothering practices, and the “policing” of Indigenous motherhood: the imposition of binary understandings of patriarchal models of motherhood; the issues associated with maternal evacuation and the work that is being done to reclaim Indigenous midwifery. Brant then proposes a deeper examination of the connections between contemporary forms of violence against Indigenous women and the ongoing interventions and systemic attacks on Indigenous motherhood. Finally, Brant suggests that contemporary physical and spiritual modes of birthing the nation are presented as acts of resistance that highlight the revolutionary possibilities of empowered Indigenous mothering. 5

Lynn O’Brien Hallstein, Andrea O’Reilly, and Melinda Vandenbeld Giles

The final chapter in this section explores women who have voluntarily remained childless. To do so, Emilie Lewis in, “Chapter 9: Voluntarily Childless Women: A Look at Western Society and the Definition of Motherhood,” suggests that, prior to the 1980s, few identified as voluntarily childless women. Women and mothers had always been synonymous, but the rise of birth control, a new wave of feminism, and shifting understandings of gender identity have prompted a growing group of childfree women in Western society. To better understand the status of voluntarily childless women, historical precedents and new feminist theory is being studied. Lewis also reveals that some suggest that these women must be a new gender identity all to their own, however, Lewis concludes that room must be made in current definitions of womanhood and motherhood as sex and gender continue to be deconstructed.

Section three: mothers, mothering, culture, and art Mothers are everywhere in literature, culture, art and popular culture. Indeed what is significant and seldom observed in discussions on the rise of motherhood studies is the central and pivotal role culture, literature, art and popular culture have played in its development. Contributors in this section explore how cultural, textual and artistic spaces are accepted, embraced, and, negotiated, to challenge traditional conceptions of mothering to create alternative practices and visions for mothers in the present and the past. Lynn O’Brien Hallstein’s chapter, “Chapter 10: Mediated Celebrity Motherhood: Representing the Norms, Values, and Practices Promoted by and through Celebrity Moms,” opens section three. O’Brien Hallstein, first drawing on the Susan J. Douglas and Meredith Michaels’ ground breaking work, argues media represent and promote a kind of intensive mothering – the new momism – that seems to celebrate motherhood but ultimately works to promote standards of perfection beyond most mothers reach, while also being ensconced in economic, race, heteronormative, and cisgender privilege. O’Brien Hallstein, however, then argues that the celebrity mom profile, which continues to be the most influential media form to refine and reinforce an intensive mothering, has changed in structure and focus and now requires a third shift of body works as the energizing solution to “have it all” by doing it all, alone. O’Brien Hallstein also suggests that more recent scholarship also reveals that, even though their responses vary by class and education, “real” mothers continue to be impacted by celebrity mothers, and reality TV celebrity mothers are beginning to play a key role representing the norms, values, and practices of mediated celebrity motherhood. The following chapter, “Chapter 11: Feminist Art and Motherhood” by Myrel Chernick and Jennie Klein, is concerned with the relationship between maternity, maternal ideology, second wave feminism, and the art world. The chapter charts the growth of art about motherhood and addresses the current debates surrounding art and the maternal. Chernick and Klein also present an alternative economy of language and representation and consider the centrality of care-giving and the relationship of humans to the material world. “Chapter 12: Religions and Mothers” by Florence Pasche Guignard discusses key issues at the intersection of motherhood, mothering, and maternity with religion and spirituality and addresses methodological difficulties for studying religions and mothers. Building on interdisciplinary scholarship, the chapter explores various themes including: divine motherhood and mother goddesses, maternal cosmological narratives, maternal figures of the divine and other maternal metaphors in religion and spirituality, religious othermothering, spiritual mothering and mothering in various religious and cultural contexts, mother blame and religion, spiritual leaders as mothers, religious feminist movements centered on or led by mothers, religion as a way to eschew motherhood, traditional and emerging ritualizations centered on motherhood, 6


and the influence of religion on maternal health and well-being. The chapter also addresses how mothers use a variety of spiritual and ritual resources to resist or reshape religious normative injunctions, presented as divinely ordered or as legitimized by sacred texts. Martha Joy Rose in her chapter, “Chapter 13: Mothers and Music,” explores how the rise of mother-identity-making and mom-made performance art have been instrumental in helping to amplify women’s voices within the motherhood movement at large as well as within the global landscape. A timeline of this groundbreaking work is recorded, as are some of the challenges faced. The chapter also examines how the Mamapalooza organization and the larger creative women of the motherhood movement have facilitated the coalescence of a body of work that contributes to women’s stories in popular culture and to the emergence of the field of motherhood studies within the academy. The following chapter, “Chapter 14: Matrifocal Voices in Literature” by Elizabeth Podnieks, surveys maternal literatures in historical, critical, and theoretical terms. Matrifocal literatures are written and narrated by mothers in the first-person or limited third-person voice, rendering maternal identity and experience from subjective perspectives. The chapter considers and provides specific examples of matrifocal fiction, life writing, and poetry written in English from and within American, British, African, and Caribbean Canadian contexts. Podnieks concludes with references to the matrifocal genres of “mommy lit,” for its increasing cultural and commercial currency; and “nanny lit,” which is directing our attention towards the role of care-takers in the raising of children, and expanding definitions of what we mean by “mother” and “mothering.” The final chapter of section three, “Chapter 15: Motherhood Memoirs” by Heather Hewett, expands upon the previous chapter by examining the emergence of motherhood memoirs in the later twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. The chapter considers various topics related to the workings of narrative and the formation of maternal subjectivity and considers some of the central debates of the maternal memoir. They include: whether the form remains complicit with, or critical of, heteronormative gender formation; why the majority of its authors reflect privileged identities, and to what extent this is changing; and how maternal autobiographical subjects are produced through the act of writing about mothering. Overall, the chapter explores how motherhood memoirs provide a valuable window into the shifting landscapes of contemporary parenting and family life and invites us to imagine new possibilities and ways of forming family and raising the next generation.

Section four: mothering and health Access to affordable and relevant health services and to accurate, comprehensive health information are fundamental to mothers’ basic human rights. Yet, gender-based discrimination, lack of access to education, poverty, and violence against women and girls can all prevent these rights from being realized for mothers – challenges that are often particularly acute when it comes to sexual and reproductive health rights and safe motherhood. Contributors from a wide range of disciplines in Mothering and Health explore how mothers’ health shape both their ability to mother and the challenges mothers face if they or their children’s health care and needs are not met. Finally, this section also explores how structural inequalities affect not only access to health resources and services but also how health, economics, and motherhood are intertwined. Section four opens with Patty Douglas and Estée Klar’s chapter, “Chapter 16: Beyond Disordered Brains and Mother Blame: Critical Issues in Autism and Mothering.” Douglas and Klar’s chapter provides an overview of critical issues in autism and mothering in order to open up the complicated terrain of mother blame, deficit understandings of autism and biomedical regulation of mothers. They first briefly introduce the reader to historical currents in autism and 7

Lynn O’Brien Hallstein, Andrea O’Reilly, and Melinda Vandenbeld Giles

mothering, tracing the emergence of autism as a brain based difference and mothers’ labour as the presumed “fix” for the disorder. Along the way, they meet the “refrigerator mother” – that “cold” mother of the 1950s whose destructive love was thought to cause autism – as well as the “mother therapist” and “mother warrior” of today who must shore up all her resources to wage war against autism in her child. Next, the chapter introduces neurodiversity, feminist disability studies and critical autism studies as academic and activist movements that challenge this fraught terrain and offer new possibilities to understand “autism” more positively and to be in relation with those who have attracted the label of autism. Finally, Douglas and Klar recommend future research directions that center lived experience, embrace difference as fundamental to life and value interdependence as both an ethics and a politics, while providing recommendations for further reading. Unlike many of the chapters in the book, the next chapter, “Chapter 17: No Fixed Address: The Everyday Health Challenges of Mothers Living in an Emergency Homeless Shelter,” written by Rebecca Hughes, draws on interviews with homeless women living in an emergency homeless shelter located in Greater Toronto. Using institutional ethnography as a method of inquiry, Hughes explicates the broader lineages of administrative and governmental entities that not only mediate and control women’s everyday experiences but that also mediate their access to health care services. Through an in-depth examination of women’s first-hand experiences accessing health care services in Toronto, Hughes’ study also examines the institutional practices or rules of governance that mediate relations between homeless women and institutional organizations. The everyday work of basic survival consumes a significant portion of homeless women’s everyday activities. Hughes concludes, for the mothers interviewed in the study, basic survival work included negotiating pre-natal and post-natal intervention, seeking support after sexual and physical assaults, and managing blood-borne diseases such as HIV/AIDS. The third chapter of section four, written by Alicia Bonaparte, “Chapter 18: Midwifery in Historical and Contemporary Perspective: The Collusion of Race, Class, and Gender,” examines how rising maternity care costs highlight the complexities embedded within choosing a birthing attendant for US expectant parents of color. Bonaparte suggests midwife-attended births within the United States previously and currently mitigate these costs, while also demonstrating how one’s race, class, and gender determine access to midwifery services. Bonaparte also examines the history of Black midwifery in the southeastern United States and its contemporary applications, emphasizing how and why race, class, and gender collude to produce health disparities, while also demonstrating the necessity of these maternity care providers in the present-day. The next chapter, “Chapter 19: Mothers in Prison: Matricentric Feminist Criminology,” written by Sinead O’Malley, reviews how mothers in prison in the US and parts of Europe have been historically ignored, cast aside, silenced and ultimately invisible within the broader discourse on criminology and the study of prisons. Therefore, as O’Malley argues, the development of feminist criminology was vital to address the gendered nature of crime and imprisonment. However, O’Malley also contends the recent matricentric focus is merited as it explores the unique concerns of mothers who are engaged with the prison system, especially in terms of imprisoned mothers’ health. While feminist criminology explores the general class and gendered struggles of offending women, a matricentric focus provides a lens through which to view such challenges, traumas and adversity via a maternal lens, placing the subject of motherhood and mothering as central to the experience of imprisonment. The chapter maps the development of matricentric feminist criminology, its current debates and most broadly discussed and relevant topics of enquiry, namely: the relevance of imprisonment, the impact of trauma, mental health, addiction and considers the issue of mother-child contact. The chapter ends with some suggestions for further research. 8


Section four closes with Caroline McDonald-Harker’s chapter, “Chapter 20: Abused Women’s Mothering Experiences: Making the Invisible Visible.” McDonald-Harker argues that the idealized standards of intensive mothering is disconnected from the reality of the various and diverse social positions, locations, and circumstances in which many women carry out their mothering. In recent years, mothers who are victims of domestic violence are one group of mothers who have become especially criticized, stigmatized, and vilified for mothering outside the socially constructed boundaries of “good mothering” because they have lived in circumstances of abuse. McDonald-Harker also argues that, even though abused mothers are the victims, they are often unjustly perceived and characterized as “bad mothers” because their ability to shelter, care for, protect, and provide a safe and secure environment for their children is called into question and deemed deficient. Despite the increasing marginalization of abused mothers, our knowledge about mothering in the context of domestic violence is relatively recent and limited in scope. As such, the chapter provides an important background for understanding the multiple and varied ways that abused women’s mothering has thus far been framed, explored, and discussed in scholarly work, and how this framing shapes the ways that abused mothers are constructed, perceived, and treated in wider society.

Section five: mothering, families, and domestic space The focus for these chapters is on exploring how normative ideas regarding what it means to be a “mother” and what the domestic space actually signifies are constantly shifting. We are surrounded with overt narratives of “choice,” a societal embracing of diverse “parenting” styles, and a neoliberal identification of the domestic sphere as also an economic zone. Yet, do these overt initiatives signify equality or simply mask an increasing return to more stringent definitions of what “mothering”, “families” and “domestic space” ought to be, thereby often reducing or taking away mothering choices instead of providing empowerment? In “Chapter 21: From Home to House: Neoliberalism, Maternal Pedagogy and the Dedomestication of the Private Sphere?,” Melinda Vandenbeld Giles discusses how the increasing financialization of society and marketization of housing appears to remove all attached meanings connected to “home” or “mothering”. However, upon closer investigation, this overt narrative of pure economic choice actually masks an increasing moral imperative further entrenching naturalized ideas of home, mothering and family. In the next chapter, “Chapter 22: Mothering or Parenting?,” Linda Rose Ennis discusses the degree to which overt narratives of inclusive parenting mask the reality that mothers still continue to be the primary caregivers. If we encourage or in some cases legally enforce coparenting, particularly in cases of divorce in which the father may not have been an active parent initially, could this have the very real consequence of disempowering mothers? Jennifer Johnson further complicates any singular narrative of “domestic space” in her chapter, “Chapter 23: Homing in on Domestic Space: The Boundaries and Potential of Homemaking.” Johnson reveals the need to acknowledge the diversity of mothering experiences across time and place in relation to gender, race, class, and sexuality. In particular, she investigates the question of whether and how domestic spaces confine mothers or have liberatory potential. The significance, complexity and multiplicity of mother-daughter relationships is then explored by Dorsía Smith Silva in “Chapter 24: Configuring the Mother-Daughter Dyad.” This chapter examines the intersections of mothers and daughters with the changing dynamics of everyday life such as, classism, racism, sexism, and lesbianism. In exploring how the institution of mother-daughter relationships is influenced by the narrow binaries of patriarchal motherhood, empowered mothers and daughters also reconfigure motherhood, challenge patriarchal 9

Lynn O’Brien Hallstein, Andrea O’Reilly, and Melinda Vandenbeld Giles

authority, and create symbols of power and agency. By reclaiming their empowerment, mothers not only empower their individual selves but also their daughters. Section five closes with Nicole Willey’s chapter, “Chapter 25: Mothers and Sons.” Willey suggests that we need to move away from traditional gendered and binary thinking, rejecting shame, disconnection, and a “boys will be boys” mentality in mothering our sons. She discusses many crucial issues including the fear of effeminizing sons, masculine violence and the need for peace-building, African American mothering of sons and queering the mothering of sons. Finally, Willey also concludes it is only through a push for systemic and structural change that we can begin to see a true intersectional feminist mothering ethos.

Section six: mothering and work The labour of mothers reveals the complexities in which “work” and “mothering” are to be understood. Despite mothers providing the basis upon which our current neoliberal economic system is reliant, there remains lack of recognition, economic compensation or childcare supports for this crucial role. All mothers are implicated in this neoliberal regime of accumulation; however, the chapters in this section further explore how historically and into the present day, issues of class, race, geography, sexuality, ability and other identifiers directly affect the everyday experiences and expectations of mothers as they labour in both waged and unwaged contexts. In “Chapter 26: Mothers and Work: Social Reproduction and the Labours of Motherhood,” Catherine Bryan illustrates how motherhood as a form of labour, and mothers as particular kinds of workers – both waged and unwaged – are pivotal to regimes of capitalist accumulation. Drawing on the concept of social reproduction and its application by feminist scholars since the 1960s, this chapter explores the intersection of work and mothering while tending to the simultaneously shifting and persistent ideological and material conditions that accompany the work of those who mother. To do this, the chapter focuses on two key issues that shape, for many, the labour of contemporary motherhood. The first is the transition away from welfare toward workfare. The second is the growing, global reliance on migrant care workers, and the bureaucratic regimes in place to ensure the availability of their labour. Bryan also suggests, though seemingly distinct, both of these examples correspond to the state’s diminished support of women’s (socially defined) reproductive labour in the wake of wide-scale economic transformation, corresponding to neoliberal structural adjustment, and the concurrent and accelerated commodification of that labour. In the next chapter, Jennifer Borda critiques narratives of “choice” in terms of work/life balance discussions in her chapter, “Chapter 27: The Lasting Impacts of the ‘Opt-Out’ Revolution: Disciplining Working Mothers.” As Borda reveals, the media debate regarding mothers “choosing” to leave waged labour deflects from the structural realities that inform such “choices” to opt out, such as implicit and explicit workplace gender bias, workplace inflexibility, and failures of public policy to support working parents and families. The third chapter of this section, “Chapter 28: Shifting Gender Norms and Childcare in Canada” by Brooke Richardson, illustrates how the widespread inaccessibility of childcare in Canada continues to act as an insurmountable barrier to progressively shifting gender roles beyond the traditional, mother-as-primary-caregiver model. Richardson also suggests the state must play a greater role to ensure all mothers have access to the structural supports needed – particularly access to regulated childcare services – for equitable participation in society. In her chapter, “Chapter 29: Poor and Working-Class Mothers,” Patrice Buzzanell discusses how the greater the prevalence of demographic risk factors (single mother, unmarried, heads



of household without viable or sometimes any employment and with low education) and the extent to which the societies in which they live dictate penalties for these risks, the greater the likelihood that these mothers will live in poverty. Additionally, due to neoliberal policy changes, Buzzanell argues the familial and social support structures along with institutional assistance that existed for previous generations have eroded; thus, making it difficult for mothers to access the resources they require.

Section seven: mothering, economics and globalization The current shift toward a globalized, neoliberal free-market driven world has had detrimental repercussions for mothers. Mothers are now expected to be both optimal economic agents in terms of garnering employment and being “productive” members of society, in addition to performing all of the unwaged labour of care and social reproduction. Despite emancipatory narratives of “choice”, within a globalized space of precarious labour with the lowest wages still reserved for “feminized” industries, mothers are bearing the burden of too much responsibility with no corresponding economic compensation. In the opening chapter of section seven, Melinda Vandenbeld Giles points out in “Chapter 30: Mothering, Economics and Globalization” how while neoliberal philosophy prioritizes the role of mothers and the institution of the family, it contradictorily recognizes only individual market actors. Mothers must be neoliberal self-optimizing economic agents in the “public” realm and maternalist self-sacrificing mothers in the “private” realm. Vandenbeld Giles also argues the more mothers become integrated within the market, the more do essentialist maternalist conceptualizations of mothering predominate. Despite mothers being the primary producers, consumers and reproducers of the neoliberal world, there has not been a corresponding economic acknowledgement of the centrality of mothers as essential to the neoliberal paradigm, resulting globally in a complete lack of support structures and economic compensation. In “Chapter 31: Mothering and the Economy,” Margunn Bjørnholt discusses the various ways in which motherhood is intertwined with the economy, as well as the ways in which mothering has been and still is rendered invisible and devalued in economic thinking, as well as presenting historical and contemporary efforts to value mothering as unpaid work. Despite the reliance of the formal economy on mothers’ productive work, Bjørnholt also argues mothering is excluded from systems of accounting and valuation, and it is often the cause of women’s exclusion or marginalization in the formal economy and the workplace. In the third chapter of section seven, Gabrielle Oliveira discusses the pivotal role migrating mothers have taken on globally as they fill in the gaps of care shortages in “Chapter 32: Transnational Motherhood: Conceptualizing Ideas of Care Here and There.” Even as there is growing literature on the feminization of migration and the central role of immigrant women’s labor in contemporary capitalist formations in industrialized countries, the role of mothers in migration is still overlooked. Oliveira also integrates a case-study of transnational mothers between Mexico and the United States, and concludes by advocating for greater understanding of how women who are migrants are negotiating the meanings of motherhood as they live transnational lives. Grace Adeniyi Ogunyankin then examines the multifaceted place of mothering within the “Africa Rising” narrative in her chapter, “Chapter 33: Mothering, Urbanization and Africa.” Adeniyi Ogunyankin points to mothers’ economic challenges in increasingly neoliberalizing African cities, illustrating how the contemporary struggles of mothers have been linked to colonial legacies that treated women as property. She additionally challenges empowermentfocused programs that emphasize women’s economic independence through micro-credit or


Lynn O’Brien Hallstein, Andrea O’Reilly, and Melinda Vandenbeld Giles

skills acquisition training without recognizing how preparing mothers for gendered informal labour in a precarious over-saturated economy might not always be a benefit.

Section eight: mothering, governance and politics The multiple ways in which mothers are governed – both explicitly through formal legal mechanisms and institutions and implicitly through societal regulation – inform, shape and constrain the realms of mothering possibility in everyday life. The following chapters reveal the diversity of mothering experiences within these governmental frameworks but also include the potential for hope in the political sphere in terms of advocating and ensuring that the voices of mothers are actively heard. In the opening chapter of section eight, “Chapter 34: Formal Governance of and by Mothers: Mothers, Public Policy, and Law,” Rebecca Jaremko Bromwich explores how discourses of motherhood and those persons who are identified as mothers are regulated through formal governmental mechanisms including regulations, guidelines, rules, and laws. Bromwich also considers ways in which those socially located as mothers participate in formal government, law, and regulation, as well as ways in which they are constrained, and empowered through formal regulation. Simone Bohn discusses the dialectical relationship between mothering and politics in her “Chapter 35: Mothering and Politics” chapter. Although political power constrains mothers by enforcing prevalent social normativity, Bohn argues mothers have contested these diverse forms of domination in multiple ways: becoming elected officials, entering the state and shaping public policy, seeking mother-friendly labor rights, challenging the sexual division of family labor, advocating in favor of the acceptance of different family structures, and especially by using motherhood as a springboard for matricentric social activism. The third chapter in this section, “Chapter 36: The Criminalization and Incarceration of Mothers in Canada and the United States” by Catherine Borshuk and Gordana Eljdupovic, points out how women of colour and poor mothers are disproportionately criminalized and incarcerated in Canada and the United States, in part due to public beliefs that hold Black and Indigenous mothers to a higher standard; to historical patterns of punitiveness toward people of colour; and to criminal justice practices of over-policing and differentially prosecuting members of poor communities. Pointing to the current propensity to invest in law and order policies and costly post-incarceration proceedings to determine the best interest of the child, the authors note the gaps in services that could fulfil pre-incarceration needs of mothers and families before criminalization occurs. The discussion of how mothers are regulated both formally and through mechanisms of selfsurveillance is continued in Michelle Hughes Miller’s chapter, “Chapter 37: The Governance of Mothers.” Hughes Miller argues state and institutional actors and cultural practices invoke ideological understandings of mothering. The outcome is that all mothers, but most particularly already marginalized mothers, are held accountable to unrealistic mothering expectations rooted in existing oppressive structures. Formal governance is performed through the state or state-affiliated agencies, such as child services, where officials use intensive mothering to assess mothers and their daily lives, punitively judging, restricting, and sometimes imprisoning those perceived as not adequately adhering to institutionalized expertise. Concurrently, intensive mothering messages permeate the media and social interactions, creating an ideological surveillance culture within which mothers are watched, evaluated, found wanting, and sometimes publicly shamed. Ultimately, mothers come to surveil themselves, seeking safety and/or respect as



docile mothering bodies. Finally, Hughes Miller suggests resistance to the governance of mothers exists, including challenges to institutional expertise, the hegemony of intensive mothering, and surveillance culture itself.

Section nine: mothering and activism Maternal activism is a process and/or political standpoint whereby a woman, mother, or a group, adopts the figure of or the standpoint of mother to make claims on behalf of their children to secure social justice. Additionally, mothers have leveraged the ethos of maternal identity to build grassroots movements and to speak against various forms of injustice. Interdisciplinary chapters in Mothering and Activism investigate the history of maternal activism, detail contemporary maternal activism and mothers who are activists, analyze controversies associated with maternal activism, explore the efficacy of maternal activism both in the past and for the future, and focus on the power of the collective of mothers converging for social justice. In the opening chapter, Sara Hayden discusses the power of maternal activism in “Chapter 38: The Politics of Motherhood,” while also acknowledging the potential issues related to essentialism. Hayden offers an overview of the use of maternal appeals by activists across time and place, drawing attention to causes for which such appeals have been widely used, including peace activism, labor activism, and environmental justice, ultimately arguing that maternity is a potentially powerful stance from which to effect change. In the second chapter, “Chapter 39: Mothering and Activism,” Reena Shadaan traces notable literature on maternal activism, but also calls for deeper engagement with Indigenous, Black and other racialized motherhood scholars, who have long challenged patriarchal motherhood as a basis from which to approach mothering. Based on the contributions of these and other scholars, Shadaan also suggests that it is crucial to consider interlocking systems of oppression and reproductive justice in our conceptualizations of maternal activism. In addition, Shadaan maintains that it is pertinent to deepen our analysis of the gendered implications of maternal activism, particularly as there is an absence of literature on non-binary mothering or parenting and fathering in the contexts of social movements. Catalina M. de Onís’ chapter, “Chapter 40: Reproductive Justice as Environmental Justice: Contexts, Coalitions, and Cautions,” examines the intersections of reproductive justice and environmental justice to consider the possibilities and pitfalls of approaching these social movements and discourses as always-already interrelated in relationship to motherhood. Both reproductive justice and environmental justice point to unique and overlapping histories and present interconnections, as well as the imperative of centering the experiences and perspectives of women of color, Indigenous peoples, and low-income communities to challenge the corporations, politicians, ideologies, and material conditions that make life unlivable for billions of people on Earth. From these struggles for alternative ways of knowing and being, the chapter considers radical coalitional possibilities for uprooting false “solutions” that function to further alienate, erase, and threaten the lives of entire communities. The final chapter of section nine and the book, “Chapter 41: Motherhood and the Struggle for Reproductive Justice,” by Natalie Fixmer-Oraiz, provides an overview of the history of reproductive justice, its central tenets and principles, and the defining challenges and horizons of possibility for the early twenty-first century. As a critical framework and organizing strategy, reproductive justice, Fixmer-Oraiz, argues, illuminates structures that shape myriad and distinct experiences of pregnancy and parenting and challenges the reproductive rights movement to take a broader, more intersectional view of its aims and scope.


Lynn O’Brien Hallstein, Andrea O’Reilly, and Melinda Vandenbeld Giles

Conclusion The breadth and knowledge gained from motherhood research provides an overt acknowledgement of all that mothers do. Revealing the multiple, diverse and complex ways in which mothers have, and continue to be, actively involved in claiming their voices and identities for themselves and their children is crucial to centralizing the positionality of mothers in our current globalized world. What this Companion has done is to embrace fully the diverse aspects of mothering experience as determined and influenced by class, race, sexuality, ability, geography and other identifiers. We have revealed the extent to which patriarchal definitions of motherhood and governing structures have and do present obstructions to mothering. However, we have also revealed the multiple ways in which mothers are actively resisting these forms of patriarchal governance and neoliberal oppression by claiming their space and demanding a public voice. As an edited volume, we can only hope to strengthen and add to the global conversation regarding motherhood research, and ensure the voices and experiences of mothers continue to be brought to the forefront in pushing for both ideological and material change.

Note 1 Some key texts in motherhood research to date are: Chavkin, Wendy and Jane Maree Maher. The Globalization of Motherhood: Deconstructions and Reconstructions of Biology and Care. Routledge, 2010. Print; Crittenden, Ann. The Price of Motherhood: Why the Most Important Job the World is Still the Least Valued. Henry Holt and Company, 2001. Print; de Marneffe, Daphne. Maternal Desire: On Children, Love, and the Inner Life. Little, Brown and Company, 2004; Donner, Henrike. Domestic Goddesses: Maternity, Globalization and Middle-Class Identity in Contemporary India. Ashgate Publishing, 2008. Print; Douglas, Susan J and Michaels, Meredith. The Mommy Myth: The Idealization of Motherhood and how it has Undermined Women. Free Press, 2004, Print; Ehrenreich, Barbara and Arlie Hochschild, editors. Global Woman: Nannies, Maids and Sex Workers in the New Economy. Henry Holt and Company, 2002. Print; Friedman, May. Mommyblogs and the Changing Face of Motherhood. U of Toronto P, 2013. Print; Giles, Melinda Vandenbeld, editor. Mothering in the Age of Neoliberalism. Demeter Press, 2014; Green, Fiona. “Empowered Mothering.” Encyclopedia of Motherhood Volume One, edited by Andrea O’Reilly. 2010, pp. 347–8. Print; Hays, Sharon. The Cultural Contradictions of Motherhood. Yale UP, 1996. Print; Ginsburg, Faye and Rayna Rapp. Conceiving the New World Order: The Global Politics of Reproduction. Eds. U of California P, 1995. 78–102. Print; Jordan, Brigitte. Birth in Four Cultures: A Cross-Cultural Investigation of Childbirth in Yucatan, Holland, Sweden and the United States. Eden Press, 1978. Print; Kitzinger, Sheila. Ourselves as Mothers: The Universal Experience of Motherhood. Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, 1995 (1992). Print; O’Brien Hallstein, D. Lynn and Andrea O’Reilly, editors. Contemporary Motherhood in a Post- Second Wave Context: Challenges, Strategies, and Possibilities. Demeter Press, 2012, Print; O’Reilly, Andrea, editor. Mother Outlaws: Theories and Practices of Empowered Mothering. Women’s Press, 2004. Print; Podnieks, Elizabeth, editor. Mediated Moms: Mothers in Popular Culture, edited by Elizabeth Podnieks. McGill-Queen’s UP, 2012, Print; Rich, Adrienne. Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution. 2nd ed., W.W. Norton, 1986. Print; Ruddick, Sara. Maternal Thinking: Toward a Politics of Peace. Beacon Press, 1989. Print; Villalobos, Ana. Motherload: Making it All Better in Insecure Times. U of California P, 2014. Print; Walks, Michelle and Naomi McPherson. An Anthropology of Mothering. Demeter Press, 2011. Print; Williams, Joan. Unbending Gender: Why Family and Work Conflict and What To Do About It. Oxford UP, 2000. Print.

Works cited Collins, Patricia Hill. Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness and the Politics of Empowerment. Routledge, 1991. Print. Green, Fiona, J. “Feminist Mothers: Successfully Negotiating the Tensions Between Motherhood and Mothering.” Mother Outlaws: Theories and Practices of Empowered Mothering, edited by Andrea O’Reilly, Women’s Press, 2004, pp. 31–42. Print.


Introduction O’Reilly, Andrea. Mother Outlaws: Theories and Practices of Empowered Mothering. Toronto: Women’s Press, 2004. Print. Rich, Adrienne. Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution. 2nd ed., W.W. Norton, 1986. Print. Ruddick, Sara. Maternal Thinking: Toward a Politics of Peace. Boston: Beacon Press, 1989. Print.



Maternal theory

1 MATERNAL THEORY Patriarchal motherhood and empowered mothering Andrea O’Reilly

Adrienne Rich opened her classic work Of Woman Born with the claim that “we know more about the air we breathe, the seas we travel, than about the nature and meaning of motherhood” (11). In the forty plus years since the publication of Woman Born, motherhood has become a robust topic of scholarly inquiry. Indeed, today it would be unthinkable to cite Rich’s quote on the dearth of maternal scholarship. A cursory review of motherhood research reveals that hundreds of scholarly monographs, anthologies, and journal issues have been published on every imaginable motherhood theme. The Journal of the Motherhood Initiative and Demeter Press alone have examined motherhood topics in relation to a diverse array of subjects, including the following: sexuality, peace, religion, public policy, literature, work, popular culture, health, ethnicity, environment, militarism, young mothers, feminism, mothers and sons, mothers and daughters, queer mothers, Muslim mothering, Indigenous mothers, incarcerated mothers, third-wave mothering, and mothering and domestic violence. In 2006, I coined the term “motherhood studies” to acknowledge and demarcate this new scholarship on motherhood as a legitimate and autonomous discipline – one grounded in and sustained by a distinct tradition of maternal theory. The aim of this chapter is to introduce this field of maternal theory. Maternal theory, drawing upon Adrienne Rich’s distinction between motherhood and mothering (discussed later), is principally organized by two standpoints: motherhood as institution and ideology, and mothering as experience and identity. The background section of the chapter examines motherhood as institution and ideology and introduces three central theoretical concepts of motherhood studies, ones that have informed our understanding of patriarchal motherhood and shaped the way motherhood researchers do motherhood studies. They include the theoretical frameworks of motherhood versus mothering and that of maternal thinking and practice, as well as the expansive theoretical concept of intensive mothering. The challenges and possibilities section explores mothering as experience to consider how patriarchal motherhood is resisted and redefined through empowered maternal practices and identities. The chapter concludes with directions for future research.


Andrea O’Reilly

Background and contexts: theoretical concepts to understand patriarchal motherhood Mothering versus motherhood Adrienne Rich’s Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution, first published in 1976, is recognized as the first and arguably the most important book on motherhood. The book – a wide-ranging, far-reaching meditation on the meaning and experience of motherhood that draws from the disciplines of anthropology, feminist theory, psychology, literature, as well as narrates Rich’s personal reflections on her experiences of mothering – has had a broad and enduring impact on feminist thought on motherhood. In Of Women Born, Rich distinguishes between two meanings of motherhood, one superimposed on the other: the potential relationship of any woman to her powers of reproduction and to children; and the institution – which aims at ensuring that that potential – and all women – shall remain under male control. (7) “This book,” Rich writes, “is not an attack on the family or on mothering except as defined and restricted under patriarchy” (8). The term “motherhood” refers to the patriarchal institution of motherhood, which is male-defined and controlled and is deeply oppressive to women, whereas the word “mothering” refers to women’s experiences of mothering and is female-defined and centred and potentially empowering to women. The reality of patriarchal motherhood, thus, must be distinguished from the possibility or potentiality of empowered mothering. In other words, whereas motherhood operates as a patriarchal institution to constrain, regulate, and dominate women and their mothering, mothers’ own experiences of mothering can, nonetheless, be a site of empowerment. “For most of what we know as the ‘mainstream’ of recorded history,” Rich writes, “motherhood as institution has ghettoized and degraded female potentialities” (33). However, as Rich argues, and her book seeks to demonstrate, this meaning of motherhood is neither natural nor inevitable. Rather motherhood, in Rich’s words, “has a history, it has an ideology” (33). Motherhood is, thus, primarily not a natural or biological function; rather, it is specifically and fundamentally a cultural practice that is continuously redesigned in response to changing economic and societal factors. As a cultural construction, its meaning varies with time and place; there is no essential or universal experience of motherhood. Patriarchal motherhood is neither natural nor inevitable. And since the patriarchal institution is socially constructed, it can be challenged and changed. The oppressive and the empowering dimensions of maternity, as well as the complex relationship between the two, first identified by Rich in Of Woman Born, have been the focus of feminist research on motherhood over the last four decades. Scholars of motherhood have long recognized that Rich’s distinction between mothering and motherhood was what enabled feminists to realize that motherhood is not naturally, necessarily, or inevitably oppressive, which is a view held by some second-wave feminists. Rather, if freed from the institutional shackles of motherhood, mothering could be experienced as a site of empowerment and social change. However, there is no discussion of empowered mothering or how its potentiality may be realized in Rich’s book. The notable exception is the brief reference Rich makes to her summer holiday in Vermont when her husband was away and she and her sons lived “as conspirators, outlaws from the institution of motherhood” (195). Despite this absence, most scholars agree that although mothering may not be described or theorized in Of Woman Born, in distinguishing 20

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mothering from motherhood and in identifying the potential empowerment of motherhood, the text interrupts the patriarchal narrative of motherhood and clears the space for the articulation of counter-narratives of mothering, which enables mothers to envision and enact an empowered mode of mothering. And for many scholars, this is the true legacy of Rich’s work. Importantly, in the preface to the 1986 edition, Rich revises the claim she made in the first edition “that in the mainstream of recorded history, motherhood as institution has ghettoized and degraded female potentialities” to argue that women-centered experiences of mothering and acts of mother power can be found throughout history if we look at cultures other than the dominant Western ones. Rich writes: “Relying on ready-to-hand Greek mythology, I was led to generalize that ‘the cathexis between mother and daughter’ was endangered always and everywhere. A consideration of American Indian, African and Afro-American myth and philosophy might have suggested other patterns” (xxv). In the 1986 preface, she corrects the cultural blind spot of the 1976 edition to consider, albeit briefly, hitherto marginalized and neglected traditions of mothering, in particular, that of African American mothering, wherein mothering is a site of power.

Maternal thinking and practice As Adrienne Rich theorized the institution of patriarchal motherhood, the focus of Sara Ruddick’s work is on the experience of mothering, what Ruddick terms maternal practice. Ruddick’s concept of maternal practice and thinking – divested of biology, nature, instinct, and sentiment – foregrounds what all mothers know: motherwork is inherently an intellectual activity. In Maternal Thinking: Toward a Politics of Peace, published in 1989, Ruddick elaborates: Like a scientist writing up her experiment, a critic poring over a text, or a historian assessing documents, a mother caring for her children engages in a discipline. She asks certain questions – those relevant to her aims – rather than others; she accepts certain criteria for the truth, adequacy, and relevance of proposed answers; and she cares about the findings she makes and can act on. The discipline of maternal thought, like other disciplines, establishes criteria for determining failure and success, sets priorities, and identifies virtues that the discipline requires. Like any other work, mothering is prey to characteristic temptations that it must identify. To describe the capacities, judgments, metaphysical attitudes, and values of maternal thought presumes not maternal achievement, but a conception of achievement. (24) When mothers set out to fulfill the demands of motherwork – what Ruddick defines as protection, nurturance, and training – they are engaged in maternal practice. This engagement, in turn, gives rise to a specific discipline of thought – a cluster of attitudes, beliefs, and values – which Ruddick calls “maternal thinking.” Maternal thinking, as Ruddick explains, refers to the “intellectual capacities [the mother] develops, the judgments she makes, the metaphysical attitudes she assumes, and the values she affirms in and through maternal practice” (24). In her examination of maternal thought and practice and their accompanying tasks and concepts of scrutinizing, cheerfulness, holding, welcoming of change, concrete thinking, maternal inauthenticity, and attentive love, among others, Ruddick was the first scholar to examine the experience of mothering, as opposed to the institution of motherhood, and develop a theoretical framework and vocabulary for this analysis. In defining mothering as a practice, Ruddick has enabled future scholars to analyze the experience 21

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or practice of mothering as distinct from the identity of the mother. In other words, mothering may be performed by anyone who commits themselves to the demands of maternal practice. As well, this perspective has allowed scholars to study the actual experiences of mothering as apart from, albeit affected by, the institution of motherhood. The word “mother,” as Mielle Chandler writes, “[needs to be] understood as a verb; as something one does, a practice” (531). For Ruddick, as Sarah LaChance Adams notes, “it is the practice of mothering that makes one a mother, not a biological or social imperative [and] [t]herefore, the title of ‘mother’ is not strictly limited to biological mothers, or even women” (727). Ruddick’s insight marks a radical rethinking and reframing of the meaning of motherhood in maternal scholarship, as her repositioning of the word “mother” from a noun to a verb degenders motherwork. More specifically, divesting care of biology, Ruddick has enabled scholars to destabilize patriarchal motherhood by dislodging the gender essentialism that grounds and structures it. Ruddick argues that maternal practice is characterized by three demands: preservation, growth, and social acceptance. “To be a mother,” continues Ruddick, “is to be committed to meeting these demands by works of preservative love, nurturance, and training” (17).“Preserving the lives of children,” Ruddick writes,“is the central constitutive, invariant aim of maternal practice: the commitment to achieving that aim is the constitutive maternal act” (19). “The demand to preserve a child’s life is quickly supplemented,” Ruddick continues, “by the second demand, to nurture its emotional and intellectual growth” (19). Ruddick explains: To foster growth . . . is to sponsor or nurture a child’s unfolding, expanding material spirit. Children demand this nurturance because their development is complex, gradual, and subject to distinctive kinds of distortion or inhibition. . . . Children’s emotional, cognitive, sexual, and social development is sufficiently complex to demand nurturance; this demand is an aspect of maternal work . . . and it structures maternal thinking. (83) The third demand of maternal practice is training and social acceptability of children: [The demand] is made not by children’s needs but by the social groups of which a mother is a member. Social groups require that mothers shape their children’s growth in “acceptable” ways. What counts as acceptable varies enormously within and among groups and cultures. The demand for acceptability, however, does not vary, nor does there seem to be much dissent from the belief that children cannot “naturally” develop in socially correct ways but must be “trained.” I use the neutral, though somewhat harsh, term “training” to underline a mother’s active aims to make her children “acceptable.” Her training strategies may be persuasive, manipulative, educative, abusive, seductive, or respectful and are typically a mix of most of these. (21) “In any mother’s day,” as Ruddick notes, “the demands of preservation, growth and acceptability are intertwined.” Yet a reflective mother, she continues, “can separately identify each demand, partly because they are often in conflict” (23). Moreover, the rival claims of maternal practice become further pronounced when they involve the third demand of training. For most mothers, Ruddick writes, “the work of training is confusing and fraught with self-doubt” (104). It is in the context of this discussion that Ruddick introduces the central and pivotal concept of inauthentic mothering: “Out of maternal powerlessness and in response to a society whose values 22

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it does not determine, maternal thinking has often and largely opted for inauthenticity and the ‘good’ of others” (103). She elaborates: By inauthenticity I designate a double willingness – first a willingness to travailer pour l’armee [to work for the army] to accept the uses to which others put one’s children; and second, a willingness to remain blind to the implications for those uses for the actual lives of women and children. Maternal thought embodies inauthenticity by taking on the values of the dominant culture. (103) Maternal inauthenticity, Ruddick explains further, becomes expressed as a “repudiation of one’s own perceptions and values” and results in mothers “relinquishing authority to others and losing confidence in their own values and in their perception of their children’s needs” (111–12). In 2009, I published, in celebration of the twentieth anniversary of Ruddick’s book, the edited volume Maternal Thinking: Philosophy, Politics and Peace. The book opens with a conversation between Sarah Ruddick and myself and concludes with these words by Ruddick: So we are not as good as we should be, not as good as we could be. We will try to extend our grasp of “other” mother’s lives. And perhaps when we do, we will find that some mothers, acting together and deliberately on behalf of all their children, can weaken just a little the forces of violence that are aimed against us and the forces of destruction that are aimed by us. (36) Indeed, Ruddick’s concept of maternal thinking has enabled mothers “to work together” and has made possible the articulation of maternal voices now heard in maternal theory and in the larger field of motherhood studies.

Intensive mothering Building on Rich’s insight that motherhood is a cultural construction, I argue that normative motherhood discourses are rewritten in response to, and as a result of, significant cultural and economic change. Numerous works detail how the modern image of the “full-time stay-athome mother” – isolated in the private sphere and financially dependent on her husband – came about as result of industrialization. At the end of World War II, the discourse of the “happy homemaker” made “the stay-at-home-mom-and-apple pie” mode of mothering the normal and natural motherhood experience. The view that stay-at-home motherhood is what constitutes good motherhood emerged only in the postwar period to effect a social reorganization and, more particularly, to redesign feminine gender behaviour and roles. During World War II in North America, there was an unprecedented increase in women’s employment to include white, middle-class mothers who had previously not been engaged in full-time employment. Thus, in the war period, mothers were encouraged to work and were celebrated for doing so, particularly in the propaganda films and literature. With the end of the war and the return of the soldiers, women were forced give up their wartime employment. This was orchestrated and facilitated by an ideological redesign of what constitutes good motherhood. Sacrificial motherhood thus emerged as the dominant view of good mothering in the postwar period, or approximately seventy years ago. Sacrificial motherhood is characterized by three central themes. The first defines mothering as natural to women and essential to their being, 23

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conveyed in the belief, as Pamela Courtenay Hall notes, that “women are naturally mothers, they are born with a built-in set of capacities, dispositions, and desires to nurture children . . . [and that this] engagement of love and instinct is utterly distant from the world of paid work” (60). Second, the mother is to be the central caregiver of her biological children. And third, children require full-time mothering, or in the instance where the mother must work outside the home, the children must always come before the job. Sharon Hays argues that intensive mothering emerged in the postwar period. I contend in contrast that even though the origins of intensive mothering may be traced back to this time, intensive mothering, in its fully developed form, developed in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Hays argues that intensive mothering is characterized by three themes: (1) “the mother is the central caregiver”; (2) “mothering is regarded as more important than paid employment”; and (3) “mothering requires lavishing copious amounts of time, energy, and material resources on the child” (8). I would suggest that whereas the first two characterize mothering from postwar to present day, only mothering of the last thirty years can be characterized by the third theme – namely, children require copious amounts of time, energy, and material resources. The postwar discourse of good motherhood demanded that mothers be at home full-time with their children; however, such a demand did not require the intensive mothering expected of mothers today. I see the postwar discourse of motherhood – what I term “custodial motherhood” or the “flower-pot” approach – covering the period between 1946 to the late 1980s, and understand it as different from the intensive mothering that emerged in the early 1990s. Although intensive mothering emerges from custodial mothering, I emphasize that it is a distinct motherhood discourse specific to its historical period. Normative motherhood in the postwar era required full-time mothering, but the emphasis was on the physical proximity of mother and child (i.e., the mother was to be at home with the children) and not on the mother needing to be continuously attuned to the psychological, emotional, or cognitive needs of her children as mandated by intensive mothering. Intensive mothering, as Hays explains, “tells us that children are innocent and priceless, that their rearing should be carried out primarily by individual mothers and that it should be centered on children’s needs, with methods that are informed by experts, labor intensive, and costly” (21). Intensive mothering dictates that: (1) children can only be properly cared for by the biological mother; (2) this mothering must be provided 24/7; (3) the mother must always put children’s needs before her own; (4) mothers must turn to the experts for instruction; (5) the mother must be fully satisfied, fulfilled, completed, and composed in motherhood; and finally (6) mothers must lavish excessive amounts of time, energy, and money in the rearing of their children. Today, intensive mothering demands more than mere physical proximity of the mother and child: contemporary mothers are expected to spend, to use the discourse of the experts, “quality time” with their children. Today mothers though they have fewer children and more labour-saving devices – from microwaves to take-out food – spend more time, energy, and money on their children than their mothers did in the 1960s. Indeed as Bonnie Fox has remarked: Expectations about the work needed to raise a child successfully have escalated at a dizzy rate; the bar is now sky high. Aside from the weighty prescriptions about the nutrition essential to babies’ and children’s physical health, and the sensitivity required for their emotional health, warnings about the need for intellectual stimulation necessary for developmental progress are directed at mothers. (237) And the majority of mothers today, unlike sixty years ago, practice intensive mothering while engaged in full-time employment. 24

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Motherhood theorists offer various explanations to account for the emergence of intensive mothering over the last thirty years. One explanation for the emergence of intensive mothering in the late 1980s is the changing demographics of motherhood. Today, for the majority of middle-class women, motherhood is embarked upon only after a career is established and when the woman is in her thirties. For these mothers, the hurriedness of intensive mothering is a continuation of their busy lives as professional women. Often these professional, highly educated women, who are unfamiliar and perhaps uncomfortable with the everyday, devalued, invisible work of mothering and domesticity, fill up their days with public activities that can be documented as productive and visible work. With fewer children, and more labour-saving devices and household help, child-rearing – or more accurately the enrichment and amusement of one beloved child – becomes the focus of the mother’s time and attention, as opposed to cooking and cleaning as it was the 1950s and 1960s. And when these professional women return to their careers, intensive mothering as practiced in the evenings and weekends is the way a working mother, consciously or otherwise, compensates for her time away from her children; it bespeaks the ambivalence and guilt contemporary working mothers may feel about working and enjoying the work that they do. As well, intensive mothering’s emphasis on enrichment – toys, books, games, activities, programs, camps, holidays, theatre, and so forth for children – has emerged in response to mothers earning an income of their own and having a say on how household money is spent. Mothers, more so than fathers, are the consumers of items children need and want; so as a mother’s earnings and economic independence increases, more money is spent on children. As well, mothers today are having fewer children, which makes intensive mothering possible – they can devote all their time and attention to one or two beloved children. Now children must also turn to their mothers, rather than siblings or neighbours, for companionship. Finally, some argue that just as custodial mothering emerged in the postwar period in response to new psychological theories that stressed the need for mother-child attachment, intensive mothering in our time has arisen in response to new scientific research that emphasizes the importance of the first five years of life in the intellectual, behavioural, emotional, and social development of the child. Whatever the economic or social explanation may be, the ideology of intensive mothering measures good mothering in accordance with the amount of time, money, and energy a mother spends on child-rearing. Raising one child today, as my mother frequently remarks, demands more time, energy, and money than the raising of four in the postwar period. Indeed, the demands made on mothers today are unparalleled in history. In her article “Motherhood as a Class Act: The Many Ways in Which ‘Intensive Mothering’ is Entangled with Social Class,” Bonnie Fox argues that intensive mothering requires, signifies, and reproduces middle-class status. From her interviews with forty couples (nine working class and thirty-one middle class), Fox finds that “middle class women are more likely to have the material and personal resources necessary to give themselves over completely to mothering; [thus, middle-class women] are more likely to develop intensive mothering practices” (251). These resources include not only the obvious one of money – being free from economic pressures and financial worries – but also those of efficacy and time. Given the nature of intensive mothering, middle-class circumstances and resources – in particular, financial security, time and efficacy – seem to be, Fox concludes “the prerequisites for its accomplishment” (243). One mother interviewed by Fox remarks: “Having a woman at home full time is the new marker of being middle class” (256). However, although intensive mothering may signify class privilege, it is, as Fox emphasizes, acutely gendered: “as being home with a baby and doing intensive mothering may detract from women’s class status given how much more recognition paid work is regularly shown, it may bolster men’s class status” (257). I argue further that different from the postwar era when having a stay-at-home wife marked the achievement of 25

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middle-class status, today middle-class status is signified not only by a stay-at-home mother but one who engages in intensive mothering. In this way, intensive mothering is specifically a marker of middle-class status. Fox also considers how mothering practices reproduce social class. She writes that “it is possible that intensive mothering reproduces social class, in that babies cared for in this manner are somehow better prepared for success later in life” (256). However, Fox concludes that “the theoretical and empirical grounds on which to build such a case are not at all obvious” (256). Although I agree with Fox that it is impossible to prove that intensive mothering reproduces social class, I argue that what is at issue here is that middle-class parents believe that intensive mothering does reproduce class status and privilege. Parents are committed to intensive mothering precisely because they believe, to quote again from Hays, that “by lavishing copious amounts of time, energy, and material resources on the child” their children will “succeed” in life and achieve, or perhaps more accurately inherit, middle-class status (8). In her book Parenting Out of Control: Anxious Parents in Uncertain Times, Margaret K. Nelson argues that the parenting styles of what she refers to as the “professional middle class” parents with those from the “middle” to “working” classes are quite distinct. Parenting among the professional middle classes includes the following: A lengthy perspective on a child’s dependency, a commitment to creating “passionate” people, personalized and negotiated guidance in the activities of daily life, respectful responsiveness to children’s individualized needs and desires, a belief in the boundless potential, ambitious goals for achievement and an intensive engagement with children. (7) By way of contrast, Nelson notes that “the working class and middle class parents are more concerned with skills that will ensure self-sufficiency, and there are clear rules of authority within the family” (8). Why do professional middle-class parents engage in this style of parenting? This mode of child-rearing – alternatively called intensive mothering or “helicopter parenting” or in Nelson’s words “parenting out of control” – is due to, according to the author, “anxieties about the children’s future, from nostalgia for the way they imagine families used to live, and from assessment of dangers to children in the world today” (174). Speaking specifically on parent’s anxiety about their children’s future, Nelson comments: Anxious to secure their children’s competitive advantage in a world marked by increasing anxiety about college acceptance and increasing inequality (and perhaps shrinking options for elite status), professional middle class parents seize opportunities for educational success and enroll even their very young children in a dazzling array of “extracurricular” activities. They assume that their children are, if not perfectible, blessed with boundless potential. In response they nurture children to become the best they can possibly be; they also provide them with the “best” social, cultural and economic capital. (8) Of interest here, particularly in relation to Fox’s argument on the relationship between social reproduction and social class, is Nelson’s argument that professional middle-class parents engage in intensive mothering to preserve class privilege so as to ensure, in Nelson’s words, “secure status reproduction” (76). Indeed, when mothers engage in intensive mothering, they are, as Hays explains, grooming their children for their future class position by providing them with the appropriate cultural capital and demonstrating their own class status relative to mothers 26

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who cannot afford such luxuries or do not recognize them as an essential element of good childrearing. (159) They are engaging in what Melissa A. Milkie and Catherine H. Warner term “status safeguarding” (66). Thus, the issue is not that the intensive mothering reproduces social status and class but that anxious professional middle-class parents in uncertain times practice intensive mothering in the belief that it will. Nelson attributes parental anxiety about children’s future among the professional middle class to several social and economic factors, and all of them centre on giving children a competitive advantage and providing them with social and economic capital. Though not named as such by Nelson, professional middle-class anxiety about their children’s future and, in particular, their concern with capital and advantage, I argue, is the result of the specific political and economic context of our times – namely, the ideology of neoliberalism. Susan Braedley and Meg Luxton in their article “Competing Philosophies: Neoliberalism and Challenges of Everyday Life” argue that neoliberalism has negatively affected women in three ways. Melinda Vandenbeld Giles in her introduction to Mothering in the Age of Neoliberalism discusses these themes as follows: 1) Women’s work is so poorly remunerated that women are the majority of poor people in the world and this is only made worse by neo-liberal policies. 2) While neo-liberalism identifies women only as economic actors, the work of mothering must still be performed and is in fact integral to the reproduction of future neoliberal workers. However, due to the neo-liberal commitment of reducing state expenditures such as paid maternity leave and child care, mothers are left with no support systems. 3) Despite the emancipatory potential within the “feminization of society,” neoliberalism remains an inherently male paradigm in terms of who controls the capital assets. (6) Neoliberalism, as Braedley and Luxton write, “allows space for women who are willing or able to be like men, who present themselves as men do and who are able to compete as men do” (15). Focusing on intensive mothering, rather than mothers and motherhood more generally as do these authors, I argue that the rise of intensive mothering in the 1990s grows out of the emergence of neoliberalism in the same decade, as does O’Brien Hallstein (Bikini-Ready Moms). Once again, the meaning and practice of normative motherhood is rewritten as a result of and in response to significant cultural and economic change. With privatization and deregulation, many of the services once provided by government – schooling, education, health, culture, arts, recreation, health, fitness, and carework – have been downloaded to mothers. As well, with neoliberalism’s emphasis on individual responsibility, mothers today are not only responsible for this downloaded work, but they are also responsible for how their children fare under neoliberalism. If children do not succeed, the blame rests solely with the mother, as it was her responsibility to ensure that they could and should. The forces of neoliberalism and intensive mothering have created the perfect storm for twenty-first-century motherhood, as mothers today must do far more work with far less resources. Indeed, neoliberalism has created the “anxious parents in uncertain times” as theorized by Nelson, which is the subtitle of her book, and has produced the practice of intensive mothering, which seeks to alleviate this anxiety and uncertainty through the social reproduction of class privilege and status, as discussed by Fox. And again, these changes in the ideological and material conditions of mothering are due to the larger economic and social transformations brought about by the rise of neoliberalism in the 1990s. 27

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Today’s intensive mothering is also, as was custodial mothering in the postwar era, an ideological construction that functions as a backlash discourse, and like all backlash discourses, it functions to regulate women or more specifically in this instance, mothers. Drawing on Naomi Wolf ’s theory of the “Beauty Myth,” I argue that the current discourse of intensive mothering has emerged in response to women’s increased social and economic independence, which includes the following: their increased labour participation, their entry into traditionally male areas of work, the rise in female-initiated divorces, the growth in female-headed households, and improved educational opportunities for women that took place in the 1970s and early 1980s. It seems that just as women were making inroads and feeling confident, a new discourse of motherhood emerged that made two things inevitable: that women would forever feel inadequate as mothers and that work and motherhood would be forever seen as in conflict and incompatible. I believe that the guilt and shame women experience in failing to live up to what is in fact an impossible ideal is neither accidental nor inconsequential; rather, it is deliberately manufactured and monitored. Just as the self-hate produced by the beauty myth undercuts and undermines women’s sense of achievement in education or a career, the current discourse of intensive mothering gives rise to self-doubt or, more specifically, a guilt that immobilizes women and robs them of their confidence as both workers and mothers. Given that no one can achieve intensive mothering, all mothers see themselves as failures. This is how the discourse works psychologically to regulate (i.e., paralyze) mothers through guilt and shame. And, some mothers, believing that perfect motherhood could be achieved if they “just quit work,” leave paid employment. This is how the discourse regulates on the level of the social and the economic. Thus, intensive mothering, I argue, emerges as the normative ideology and practice of motherhood in the 1990s, both in response to changing demographics (discussed earlier), the rise of neoliberalism, and as a backlash to the advancement of women of the earlier decades, which O’Brien Hallstein’s (Bikini-Ready Moms) work also suggests. The discourse of intensive mothering is oppressive not because children have needs, but because we, as a culture, dictate that only the biological mother is capable of fulfilling them, that children’s needs must always come before those of the mother, and that children’s needs must be responded to around the clock and with extensive time, money, and energy. Petra Bueskens argues that “infancy and early childhood are periods of high emotional and physical dependency and, moreover this is not a pure invention of patriarchal science” (81). However, as Petra Bueskens continues, “The problem is not the fact of this requirement but rather that meeting this need has come to rest exclusively, and in isolation, on the shoulders of biological mothers” (81). Although sacrificial motherhood, and in particular intensive mothering, requires the denial of the mother’s own selfhood in positioning the children’s needs as always before her own, there are other ways to mother that allow mothers both their selfhood and power. This is the subject of the following section on empowered mothering.

Challenges and possibilities: resisting and redefining patriarchal motherhood through empowered mothering In Of Woman Born, Adrienne Rich, when discussing a vacation without her husband one summer, describes herself and her sons as “conspirators, outlaws from the institution of motherhood” (195). She writes: I remember one summer, living in a friend’s house in Vermont. My husband was working abroad for several weeks and my three sons – nine, seven, and five years old – and I dwelt for most of that time by ourselves. Without a male adult in the house, without 28

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any reason for schedules, naps, regular mealtimes, or early bedtimes so the two parents could talk, we fell into what I felt to be a delicious and sinful rhythm. . . . [W]e lived like castaways on some island of mothers and children. At night they fell asleep without murmur and I stayed up reading and writing as I had when a student, till the early morning hours. I remember thinking: This is what living with children could be – without school hours, fixed routines, naps, the conflict of being both mother and wife with no room for being simply, myself. Driving home once after midnight from a late drive-in movie . . . with three sleeping children in the back of the car, I felt wide awake, elated; we had broken together all the rules of bedtime, the night rules, rules I myself thought I had to observe in the city or become a “bad mother.” We were conspirators, outlaws from the institution of motherhood; I felt enormously in charge of my life. (194–95) However, upon Rich’s return to the city, the institution, in her words, “closed down on us again, and my own mistrust of myself as a ‘good mother’ returned, along with my resentment of the archetype” (195). Rich’s reflections on being an outlaw from the institution of motherhood and the references she makes to being a “good” and “bad” mother are drawn from the key distinction between motherhood and mothering discussed earlier in this chapter. In patriarchal culture, women who mother in the institution of motherhood are regarded as “good” mothers, whereas women who mother outside or against the institution of motherhood are viewed as “bad” mothers. In contrast, Rich argues that mothers must be “bad” mothers or, more precisely, “mother outlaws” to become empowered. This section, building upon Rich’s concept of “mother outlaws” examines how mothers may resist and redefine patriarchal motherhood to achieve empowered mothering to acquire empowerment for themselves and their children. In Of Woman Born, Rich writes,“We do not think of the power stolen from us and the power withheld from us in the name of the institution of motherhood” (275). The aim of empowered mothering is to reclaim that power for mothers and to imagine and implement a mode of mothering that mitigates the many ways that patriarchal motherhood, both discursively and materially, regulates and restrains mothers and their mothering. However, empowered mothering, or what may be termed “mothering against motherhood,” has yet to be fully defined, documented, or dramatized in feminist scholarship on motherhood. Rather, empowered mothering is understood for what it is not – namely patriarchal motherhood. Indeed, as Fiona Joy Green notes, what is still missing from discussions on motherhood is “Rich’s monumental contention that, even when restrained by patriarchy, motherhood can be a site of empowerment and political activism” (31). Rich uses the word “courageous” to define a nonpatriarchal practice of mothering, whereas Baba Copper calls such a practice “radical mothering.” Susan Douglas and Meredith Michaels use the word “rebellious” to describe outlaw mothering, and “hip” is Ariel Gore’s term for transgressive mothering. In my work, I use the term “empowered mothering” to signify maternal practices that resist and refuse patriarchal motherhood to create a mode of mothering that is empowering to women. Or to use Rich’s terminology, an empowered and empowering maternal practice marks a movement from motherhood to mothering and makes possible a mothering against motherhood. Interest in and concern for the empowerment of mothers, both in the home and in the larger society, has been a central concern of feminist research and activism worldwide over the last thirty plus years. Feminist scholars contend that motherhood, as it is currently perceived and practiced in patriarchal societies, is disempowering if not oppressive for a multitude 29

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of reasons – namely, the societal devaluation of motherwork, the endless tasks of privatized mothering, the current incompatibility of waged work and motherwork, and the impossible standards of idealized motherhood. Empowered mothering is essential for maternal well-being, as it enables women to mother comfortably, competently, and confidently. More specifically, empowered mothering enables mothers to more effectively balance motherhood with paid employment. Feminist scholars likewise emphasize that empowered mothers are more effective mothers for children, that such mothers are healthier women and more productive workers, and that empowered mothering is beneficial for families and society at large.

Empowered mothering for maternal empowerment Over the last decade, I have sought to develop a theory of empowered mothering that considers how mothers from various cultural positions resist patriarchal motherhood to achieve an identity and experience of maternal empowerment. In the first instance, I argue that empowered mothering functions as an oppositional discourse of motherhood; more specifically, it signifies a theory and practice of mothering that challenges the dominant discourse of motherhood and transforms the various ways that the lived experience of patriarchal motherhood is limiting or oppressive to women. For my work on empowered mothering, I use Wanda Thomas Bernard and Candace Bernard’s definition of empowerment, which refers to “naming, analyzing and challenging oppression” (46). Furthermore, for them, empowerment “occurs through the development of critical consciousness” and is concerned with “gaining control, exercising choices, and in engaging in collective social action” (46). Most pointedly, the overarching aim of empowered mothering, I argue, is to confer to mothers the agency, authority, authenticity, autonomy, and advocacy-activism that are denied to them in patriarchal motherhood. “Maternal agency,” as Lynn O’Brien Hallstein explains in her encyclopedia entry on the topic “draws on the idea of agency – the ability to influence one’s life, to have a power to control one’s life – and explores how women have agency via mothering” (698). A theory of maternal agency focuses on, as O’Brien Hallstein continues, “mothering practices that facilitate women’s authority and power and is revealed in mothers’ efforts to challenge and act against aspects of institutionalized motherhood that constrain and limit women’s lives and power as mothers” (698). “Authenticity,” as explained in Elizabeth Butterfield’s encyclopedia entry, “is an ethical term that denotes being true to oneself, as in making decisions that are consistent with one’s own beliefs and values [whereas] inauthenticity is generally understood to be an abdication of one’s own authority and a loss of integrity.” In the context of empowered mothering, maternal authenticity draws on Ruddick’s concept of the “conscientious mother” and my model of the “authentic feminist mother” (Matricentric Feminism) and refers to “independence of mind and the courage to stand up to dominant values” and to “being truthful about motherhood and remaining true to oneself in motherhood” (Butterfield 701; see also O’Reilly, Rocking the Cradle). Similarly, maternal authority and maternal autonomy refer to confidence and conviction in oneself, holding power in the household, and the ability to define and determine one’s life and practices of mothering, which means the refusal to, in Ruddick’s words, “relinquish or repudiate one’s own perceptions and values” (Ruddick 112; see also O’Reilly, Rocking the Cradle). Finally, the topic of maternal advocacy-activism foregrounds the political and social dimensions of motherwork, whether such is expressed in anti-sexist child-rearing or maternal activism. As empowered mothering enacts agency, authority, autonomy, authenticity, and advocacy-activism, it also challenges normative understandings of motherhood, family, child-rearing, and activism. Empowered mothering counters the normative discourse of motherhood as limited to middleclass, married, stay-at-home mothers to include a multitude of maternal identities, such as 30

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noncustodial, poor, single, young, old, and employed mothers, and a variety of motherhood practices, such as the practices of “othermothering” found in African American culture (see Chapter 6: Mothering while Black) and the co-mothering of queer households (see Chapter 4: Queering and querying motherhood). Likewise, as the normative family is restricted to a patriarchal nuclear structure wherein the parents are married, the children are biologically related to both parents, the mother is the nurturer, and the father is the provider, the family formations of empowered mothers are many and varied: single, blended, step, matrifocal, same sex, and so forth (see Chapter 6: Mothering while Black and Chapter 8: Indigenous mothers). Furthermore, whereas patriarchal motherhood characterizes child-rearing as a private, nonpolitical undertaking, empowered mothering redefines motherwork as a socially engaged enterprise and a site of power wherein mothers can affect social change, both in the home through feminist childrearing and outside the home through maternal activism (see Chapter 2: Feminist mothering, Chapter 6: Mothering while Black, Chapter 8: Indigenous mothers, and Chapter 39: Mothering and activism). The attributes of agency, authority, authenticity, autonomy, and advocacy-activism, as well as the practices of othermothering, co-mothering, “alternative” maternal identities and family formations, anti-sexist child-rearing, and maternal activism enable mothers to challenge and change patriarchal motherhood from various cultural positions.

Empowered mothering for the benefit of children Empowered mothering makes motherhood more rewarding, fulfilling, and satisfying for women by affirming maternal agency, authority, autonomy, authenticity, and activism, and by opening up new maternal practices and identities. Such mothering allows a woman selfhood outside of motherhood and affords her power within motherhood. Although it is evident that empowered mothering is better for mothers, it must also be noted that such mothering is also better for children. Mothers who are content with and fulfilled by their lives make better mothers, just as children raised by depressed mothers are at risk. I want to suggest that empowered mothers are more effective mothers. Anyone who has been in a plane knows the routine if oxygen masks are required: put on your mask and then assist children with theirs. This instruction initially seems to defy common sense – namely, that children should be the ones helped first. However, the instruction recognizes that parents must be masked first because only then are they able to provide real and continued assistance to the child: unmasked, they run the risk of becoming disoriented, ill, or unconscious because of lack of oxygen and would be of no use to the child. I see this instruction as an appropriate metaphor for the practice of empowered mothering, since mothers, when empowered, are able to better care for and protect their children. In her book A Potent Spell: Mother Love and the Power of Fear, Janna Malamud Smith references the myth of Demeter and Persephone to illustrate this theme that children are better served by empowered mothers. Demeter, Smith argues, “is able to save her daughter because she is a powerful goddess who can make winter permanent and destroy humankind” (59). “Demeter,” she continues, “possesses the very qualities that Mothers so often have lacked – adequate resources and strength to protect their children, particularly daughters” (59). Therefore, contrary to patriarchal wisdom, what a child needs most in the world, Smith argues, “is a free and happy mother” (167). Smith explains: What a child needs most is a free mother, one who feels that she is in fact living her life, and has adequate food, sleep, wages, education, safety, opportunity, institutional support, health care, child care, and loving relationships. “Adequate” means enough to allow her to participate in the world – and in mothering. . . . A child needs a mother 31

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who has resources to enable her to make real choices, but also to create a feeling of adequate control – a state of mind that encourages a sense of agency, thus a good basis of maternal well-being, and a good foundation on which to stand while raising a child. Surely, child care prospers in this soil as well as, if not better than in any other. What is more, such a mother can imagine a life of possibility and hope, and can so offer this perspective to a child. [Finally] a child needs a mother who lives and works within a context that respects her labor, and that realistically supports it without rationalizing oppression in the name of safety, or substituting idealization or sentimentality for resources. (240) Ann Crittenden, who is cited by Smith, elaborates further: “Studies conducted on five continents have found that children are distinctly better off when the mother possesses enough income and authority in the family to make investing in children a priority” (120). “The emergence of women as independent economic actors,” Crittenden continues,“is not depriving children of vital support; it is giving them more powerful defenders [and] [d]epriving mothers of an income and influence of their own is harmful to children and a recipe for economic backwardness” (130). To return to the story of Demeter: “It is only because Demeter has autonomy and independent resources,” as Smith explains, “that she can protect Persephone” (241). Conversely, “when a culture devalues and enslaves the mother, she can [not] be like Demeter and protect her daughter” (Smith 244). Therefore, and as Smith concludes: “If we are really interested in improving the lot of children, our best method would be laws and policy that supports mothers and mothering” (187). It is, indeed, remarkable, as Smith notes, that “no society has ever voluntarily turned its laws and riches toward liberating mothers” (168). The free mother valued by Smith and recognized as essential for the well-being of children, however, will not be found in the patriarchal institution of motherhood or in the practice of intensive mothering. Patriarchal motherhood robs women of their selfhood and power, and intensive mothering – in its emphasis on excessive time, attention, and energy – makes it difficult, nay impossible, for mothers to be autonomous and independent. Empowered, or to use Smith’s term “free,” mothering, thus, only becomes possible in and through the destruction of patriarchal motherhood. Such mothers can better protect and defend their children as Smith observes. As well, empowered mothers can make real and lasting changes in society through social-political activism and in the way that they raise their children. I believe that patriarchy resists empowered mothering precisely because it understands its real power to bring about a true and enduring cultural revolution. This is not to say that non-normative mothering is always rewarding or empowering; rather, it is to emphasize that non-normative mothers – who, by choice or circumstance, cannot be the “good” mothers of patriarchal motherhood – must imagine and implement nonpatriarchal mothering practices that, in their very otherness, open up to new possibilities for mothering. Dawn M. Lavell-Harvard and Jeanette Corbiere Lavell conclude the introduction to their book “Until Our Hearts are on the Ground”: Aboriginal Mothering, Oppression, Resistance and Rebirth with these words: We, as Aboriginals, have always been different, we have always existed on the margins of the dominant patriarchal culture, and as mothers we have operated outside of, if not in actual opposition to, their definition of acceptability [and] [w]e are to use the words of Adrienne Rich, the original mother outlaw. (6) 32

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I would suggest that these words are equally applicable to all non-normative mothers; in operating outside, if not in actual opposition to, normative motherhood, these mothers in their very unacceptability show us more empowering ways to mother and be mothered.

Directions for future research Amy Middleton in her article “Mothering Under Duress: Examining the Inclusiveness of Feminist Theory” argues that the concept of empowered mothering is problematic because it limits empowered mothering to, in her words, “educated, middle to upper class women with access to financial and human resources” (74). She writes: These criteria and the way in which they are realized in these women’s lives are extremely difficult, and in some cases impossible, for women who do not have access to recourse such as substantial finances and good childcare and/or women who are in other situations of duress such as being in an abusive relationship, having a mental illness or being addicted to drugs or alcohol. (74) In response, I argue that the concepts agency, authority, autonomy, authenticity, and advocacyactivism are not to be read as restricted to economic and educational resources. Rather, these terms are to be read in the context of a resistance to patriarchal motherhood. The concept of “authenticity,” for example, refers to the refusal to wear, what Susan Maushart terms, the “mask of motherhood” and to be truthful and true to oneself in motherhood. Similarly, “authority” refers to confidence and conviction in oneself as a mother, and, in this instance, means the refusal to, in Sara Ruddick words, “relinquish authority and repudiate one’s own perceptions and values” (112). As well, “agency” means not power but, in Rich’s words “to refuse to be a victim and then go on from there” (246), and “advocacy-activism” refers to any and all forms of formal and informal resistance to patriarchy. Research on marginalized mothers shows a wide and diverse range of empowered mothering strategies and practices including other-­community mothering, queering motherhood, collectivism, matrifocality, homeplace, radical motherhood, gender-fluid parenting, feminist mothering to name but a few (see Chapter 4: Queering and querying motherhood, Chapter 5: Disabled mothers, Chapter 6: Mothering while Black, Chapter 8: Indigenous mothers, and Chapter 20: Abused women’s mothering experiences). Empowered mothering is thus practiced by marginalized women as it is by women of privilege. In fact, I would argue that the agency, authority, autonomy, authority, and activism-advocacy of empowered mothering are more evident in the maternal practices and theories of mothers who are abused, poor, queer, young, or racialized. Indeed, what I have discovered in my many years of teaching and researching is that nonnormative mothers – whether they are defined and categorized as such by age, race, sexuality, or biology – can never be the “good” mothers of normative motherhood, so they must rely on and develop nonpatriarchal practices of mothering to raise their children. Whether they be shared parenting, co-mothering, communal othermothering, fictive kin, extended families, or maternal activism, such practices challenge and change the various ways that patriarchal motherhood causes mothering to be limiting or oppressive to women. Having said this, more research is needed to understand how the cultural location of the mother determines how patriarchal motherhood may be resisted and empowered mothering attained. African American motherhood, for example, suggests that the discourse of intensive mothering is less operative in African American culture; thus, black mothers are less restrained 33

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by this ideology (Hill Collins; hooks; O’Reilly). However, while for some black women the Afrocentric customs such as othermothering, matrifocal households, and prevalence of female paid employment may make motherwork less arduous, because these same practices are seen as contrary to the patriarchal definition of “good” motherhood, they effectively cause black mothers to be viewed as “bad” mothers in need of surveillance. Thus, the challenge for black mothers may not be to find less oppressive ways to mother, having already achieved such through the aforementioned cultural practices, but to resist the demonization and regulation of their empowered mothering by the larger culture. For young mothers the issue may be the isolation of patriarchal motherhood, while for queer mothers gender-fluid parenting may be the focus, and for immigrant mothers, maternal activism perhaps. The point is that the oppression of patriarchal motherhood is not the same for all mothers nor is mothers’ resistance to it. Thus, a more nuanced understanding of how patriarchal motherhood may be resisted is needed so that mothers from across cultural difference can achieve the agency, authority, autonomy, authenticity, and advocacy/activism of empowered mothering to parent with satisfaction, confidence, and efficacy.

Further reading Collins, Patricia Hill. Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness and the Politics of Empowerment. Routledge, 1991. Hays, Sharon. Intensive Mothering: The Cultural Contradictions of Motherhood. Yale UP, 1996. O’Reilly, Andrea. Rocking the Cradle: Thoughts on Motherhood, Feminism, and the Possibility of Empowered Mothering. Demeter Press, 2006. Rich, Adrienne. Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution. 2nd ed., W.W. Norton, 1986. Ruddick, Sara. Maternal Thinking: Toward a Politics of Peace. Beacon Press, 1989.

Conclusion The aim of this chapter was to introduce three central theoretical concepts of patriarchal motherhood to understand how this institution, materially and discursively, oppresses mothers and to consider how a theoretical model of empowered mothering may function as a counter-narrative to resist and redefine patriarchal motherhood so as to empower mothers and benefit their children. In detailing the context of patriarchal motherhood and the possibilities of empowered mothering, as well as in signaling new directions for research, this chapter on maternal theory seeks to enrich, expand, and sustain the new discipline of motherhood studies so as to achieve a more just world for mothers and their families.

Works cited Bernard, Wanda Thomas, and Candace Bernard. “Passing the Torch: A Mother and Daughter Reflect on Their Experiences across Generations.” Canadian Women’s Studies Journal/Cahier de la femme, vol. 18, nos. 2–3, Summer–Fall 1998, pp. 46–50. Braedley, Susan, and Meg Luxton. “Competing Philosophies: Neoliberalism and Challenges of Everyday Life.” Neoliberalism and Everyday Life, edited by Susan Braedley and Meg Luxton, McGill-Queens University Press, 2010, pp. 3–21. Bueskens, Petra. “The Impossibility of ‘Natural Parenting’ for Modern Mothers: On Social Structure and the Formation of Habit.” Journal of the Association for Research on Mothering, vol. 3, no. 1, 2001, pp. 75–86. Butterfield, Elizabeth. “Maternal Authenticity.” Encyclopedia of Motherhood, edited by Andrea O’Reilly, Sage Press, 2010, pp. 700–701. Chandler, Mielle. “Emancipated Subjectivities and the Subjugation of Motherhood Practices.” Redefining Motherhood: Changing Patterns and Identities, edited by Sharon Abbey and Andrea O’Reilly, Second Story Press, 1998, pp. 270–86.


Maternal theory Collins, Patricia Hill. Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness and the Politics of Empowerment. Routledge, 1991. Copper, Baba. “The Radical Potential in Lesbian Mothering of Daughters.” Politics of the Heart: A Lesbian Parenting Anthology, edited by Sandra Pollack and Jeanne Vaughn, Irebrand Books, 1987, pp. 186–93. Douglas, Susan J., and Meredith Michaels. The Mommy Myth: The Idealization of Motherhood and How It Has Undermined Women. Free Press, 2004. Fox, Bonnie. “Motherhood as a Class Act: The Many Ways in Which ‘Intensive Mothering’ Is Entangled With Social Class.” Social Reproduction: Feminist Political Economy Challenges Neo-Liberalism, edited by Kate Bezanson and Meg Luxton, McGill-Queens UP, 2006, pp. 231–62. Gore, Ariel, and Bee Lavender, editors. Breeder: Real Life Stories From the New Generation of Mothers. Seal Press, 2001. Green, Fiona, J. “Feminist Mothers: Successfully Negotiating the Tensions Between Motherhood and Mothering.” Mother Outlaws: Theories and Practices of Empowered Mothering, edited by Andrea O’Reilly, Women’s Press, 2004, pp. 31–42. Hall, Pamela Courtney. “Mothering Mythology in the Late Twentieth Century: Science, Gender Lore, and Celebratory Narrative.” Canadian Woman Studies, vol. 18, nos. 1–2, 1998, pp. 59–63. Hays, Sharon. Intensive Mothering: The Cultural Contradictions of Motherhood. Yale UP, 1996. hooks, bell. Yearning: Race, Gender, and Cultural Politics. South End, 1990. LaChance, Sarah Adam. “Maternal Thinking.” The Encyclopedia of Motherhood, edited by Andrea O’Reilly, Sage Press, 2010, pp. 726–27. Lavell-Harvard, Dawn Memee, and Jeanette Corbiere Lavell, editors. Until Our Hearts are on the Ground: Aboriginal Mothering, Oppression, Resistance and Rebirth. Demeter Press, 2006. Maushart, Susan. The Mask of Motherhood: How Becoming a Mother Changes Everything and Why We Pretend It Doesn’t. Penguin Books, 2000. Middleton, Amy. “Mothering under Duress: Examining the Inclusiveness of Feminist Theory of Inquiry.” Journal of the Association for Research on Mothering, vol. 8, nos. 1–2, 2006, pp. 72–82. Milkie, Melissa A., and Catherine H. Warner. “Status Safeguarding: Mothers’ Work to Secure Children’s Place in the Social Hierarchy.” Intensive Mothering: The Cultural Contradictions of Modern Motherhood, edited by Linda Rose Ennis, Demeter Press, 2014, pp. 66–85. Nelson, Margaret K. Parenting out of Control: Anxious Parents in Uncertain Time. New York University Press, 2010. O’Brien Hallstein, D. Lynn.“Maternal Agency.” Encyclopedia of Motherhood, edited by Andrea O’Reilly, Sage Press, 2010, pp. 697–99. ———. Bikini-Ready Moms: Celebrity Profiles, Motherhood, and the Body. State University of New York Press, 2015. O’Reilly, Andrea. Toni Morrison and Motherhood: A Politics of the Heart. SUNY Press, 2004. ———. Rocking the Cradle: Thoughts on Motherhood, Feminism, and the Possibility of Empowered Mothering. Demeter Press, 2006. ———, editor. Maternal Thinking: Philosophy, Politics, Practice. Demeter Press, 2009. ———. Matricentric Feminism: Theory, Activism, and Practice. Demeter Press, 2016. O’Reilly, Andrea, and Sara Ruddick. “A Conversation about Maternal Thinking.” Maternal Thinking: Philosophy, Politics and Practice, edited by Andrea O’Reilly, Demeter Press, 2009, pp. 14–38. Rich, Adrienne. Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution. 2nd ed., W. W. Norton, 1986. Ruddick, Sara. Maternal Thinking: Toward a Politics of Peace. Beacon Press, 1989. Smith, Janna Malamud. A Potent Spell: Mother Love and the Power of Fear. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2003. Vandenbeld Giles, Melinda. “Introduction: An Alternative Mother-Centered Economic Paradigm.” Mothering in the Age of Neo-Liberalism, edited by Melinda Vandenbeld Giles, Demeter Press, 2014, pp. 1–30. Wolf, Naomi. Misconceptions: Truth, Lies, and the Unexpected on the Journey to Motherhood. Anchor Books, 2003.



Feminist mothering entails the distinct approach of combining one’s feminism with one’s parenting and is essential to the daily lives of many families and communities. This feminist maternal practice is a political act whereby mothers trouble and challenge the effects of patriarchal power structures, particularly around motherhood. As an area of study, feminist mothering is fundamental to understanding, as well as theorizing, the lived experiences of mothers, mothering, and motherhood. It is also a significant element of motherhood studies, maternal theory, and feminist theory, as feminist mothering has the potential to redefine motherhood and to undermine and transform patriarchal culture at large (O’Reilly, “Introduction,” Feminist Mothering 20). This chapter begins by providing an historical overview of feminist mothering, including how feminist mothering has been defined, developed, and understood over time. An exploration of central theories and themes that distinguish and characterize feminist mothering within the scholarly literature is followed by an examination of the debate regarding the difference between feminist mothering and empowered mothering. The chapter then presents the current contributions of contemporary critical theories of intersectionality, maternal thinking, and transfeminism associated with theorizing feminist mothering as an area of study, before concluding by providing recommendations for future research.

Historical perspectives While feminists have been aware and critical of motherhood over time – as presented in the other chapters in this volume addressing feminism and motherhood – scholarship specifically theorizing feminist mothering is a relatively recent development. Research purposely exploring feminist mothering practices began in the 1990s with the publication of Feminist Mothers (1990), Daughters of Feminists (1993), and Mother Journey’s: Feminists Write About Mothering (1994). The early 2000s saw two collections, From Motherhood to Mothering: The Legacy of Adrienne Rich’s Of Mother Born (2004) and Mother Outlaws: Theories and Practices of Empowered Mothering (2004), edited by Anglo-Canadian maternal scholar Andrea O’Reilly, along with a two journals, off our backs and Journal of the Association for Research on Mothering, which each dedicated a special issue to feminist mothering in 2006. It is only within the past decade that scholarship specifically focusing on the practices of feminist mothering has enabled the development and advancement of a theory of feminist mothering. Attention to this project began in 2008, with the edited collection 36

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Feminist Mothering, edited by Andrea O’Reilly, and the anthology Mothering and Feminism in the Third Wave, edited by American maternal scholar Amber Kinser. Two sole authored books, Feminist Mothering in Theory and Practice, 1985–1995: A Study in Transformative Politics (2009) and Practicing Feminist Mothering (2011), by Anglo-Canadian maternal scholar Fiona Joy Green, along with Motherhood and Feminism (2010), by Amber Kinser, and the anthology Feminist Parenting (2016), edited by Comerford et al., further investigate the practice of feminist mothering and contribute to developing a theory of feminist mothering. In the early 1970s, a key historical shift occurred in feminist thinking about motherhood, which started the process of defining and articulating the practice and a theory of feminist mothering. The Future of Motherhood, written by American sociologist and feminist theorist Jessie Bernard in 1974, was the first publication to consider motherhood as a social institution rather than a natural fact. Instead of viewing motherhood as a normal extension of femininity or considering mothering to be a form of collusion with patriarchy, as some feminists at the time posited, Bernard advanced the critical view of motherhood as a socially constructed role taught to and learned by women through female gender socialization and within cultural imperatives such as family, religion, and education. In 1976, American radical feminist, essayist, and poet, Adrienne Rich, further developed this feminist analysis of motherhood in her prodigious and highly influential book, Of Woman Born: Motherhood as “Institution” and “Experience.” Here, Rich made the astute distinction between the patriarchal institution of motherhood and women’s experiences of mothering. Motherhood entails mothering – the interpersonal relations and work involved in raising children generally taken up by women – and the prescribed ideals of mothering, which are often experienced as oppressive because they are constituted through the support of other social institutions, such as the gendered economy, religion, business, medicine, education, law, and the media. These narrowly established and institutionalized patriarchal rules and expectations attempt to dictate familial and child-rearing roles, responsibilities, and relationships among women, children, and men (Green, Practicing Feminist Mothering 67–68). In 1990, 14 years after Rich’s Of Woman Born, Finnish sociologist, feminist researcher, and educator Tuula Gordon interviewed feminist mothers who both acknowledged their understanding of this distinction and demonstrated to Gordon their interest and ability to “develop critical orientations towards societal structures and cultures, stereotypical expectations and myths of motherhood” (149–50). This discernment of understanding motherhood as institution and experience not only explained, and was critical of, the institution of motherhood but also offered a further momentous insight: the potential empowerment of mothering for mothers. By attributing agency to mothers and value to their motherwork, the formulation of female-defined and women-centred experiences of mothering emphasized, for the first time, maternal power and agency within motherhood (O’Reilly, “Between the Baby and the Bathwater” 326). This perspective created an interest in and the space to explore the wide range of women’s experiences of child-rearing within the institution of motherhood, their emotional responses to the work of mothering, and their relationships with their children. By “interrupting and deconstructing the patriarchal narrative of motherhood, Rich destabilized the hold this discourse has on the meaning and practice of mothering, in particular woman-centred and feminist meanings and experiences of mothering” (O’Reilly, “Introduction,” From Motherhood to Mothering 10). It also identified the potential for empowerment in mothering and made possible later feminist work on analyzing mothering as a site of power and resistance for women mothering (Green, “Feminist Mothers” 31; O’Reilly, “Introduction,” From Motherhood to Mothering 10). Rich’s crucial distinction between motherhood as institution and mothering as experience made way for a paradigm shift to understanding feminist mothering 37

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as both political and a way to mother against motherhood (Green, “Developing a Feminist Motherline,” Feminist Mothering in Theory and Practice, and Practicing Feminist Mothering; O’Reilly, “Mothering against Motherhood”). Unlike previous feminist theorizing about motherhood, which often viewed mothers as dupes or victims of patriarchy, feminist mothering allows for the agency and autonomy of mothers within the patriarchal institution of motherhood. More recently, feminist mothering has expanded beyond the experiences of women to include the question of transgender folks and cismen practicing feminist mothering.1 By examining how feminist mothers comprehend, trouble, and consciously dispute the institution of motherhood, they create and model parenting practices based upon their knowledge, meanings of, and lived experiences of feminist mothering.

Central theories/themes within feminist mothering While feminist mothering is as unique as those who practice it, three prevailing themes can be identified: (1) understanding, troubling, and opposing the institution of motherhood; (2) viewing feminist mothering as an empowered and political act; and (3) practicing matroreform – claiming motherhood power by instituting new mothering rules and practices – by forming alternative nonpatriarchal family structures that empower mothers and children; teaching children about patriarchal society; fostering respectful, equitable, and non-hierarchical parent/child relationships; and engaging in anti-sexist parenting and gender socialization of children.

Understanding, troubling, and opposing the institution of motherhood According to Rich, “institutionalized motherhood demands of women maternal ‘instinct’ rather than intelligence, selflessness rather than self-realization, relation to others rather than creation of self ” (274–75). In her monumental book The Cultural Contradictions of Motherhood (1996), American sociologist and feminist Sharon Hays argues that motherhood incorporates “an ideology of intensive mothering” that believes mothers, not fathers, should spend an enormous amount of time, physical and emotional energy, and money raising children. An ideology of intensive mothering values a woman’s love and self-sacrifice for her children over any other interest or responsibility she may have. As such, it perpetuates a “double shift” of domestic and paid labour for working women and the assumption that men are incompetent at parenting and, thus, superior in the professional world. Maternal scholar Andrea O’Reilly expands Hays’s ideology of intensive mothering by adding interrelated elements to describe current expectations of “sacrificial motherhood.” Not only is the biological mother the only one who can properly care for children and provide mothering 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, she must always put her children’s needs first, turn to experts for advice and instruction, and feel fully fulfilled by and composed in motherhood. Mothers have no power from which to mother within sacrificial motherhood, yet they have full responsibility for their children and regard child-rearing as a personal and private undertaking with no political import (Mother Outlaws 14). While feminist mothering understands the institution of motherhood to be pervasive, it also believes it is not ironclad. Mothers experience motherhood and mothering in various ways depending upon their ability, gender identity, and sexual orientation, as well as their race, cultural heritage and practices, socioeconomic class, education, and religious or philosophical beliefs (Green, Practicing Feminist Mothering 71). Some mothers may be more aware than others of the imposed restrictions and be more or less vulnerable – according to the intersection of their social locations with their personal identities and individual capacities – to the various 38

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punishments inflicted upon mothers for not staying within the bounds of the prescribed ideology of motherhood (Green, Practicing Feminist Mothering 71).

Viewing feminist mothering as an empowered and political act Just as feminist mothering is concerned with uncovering and challenging the oppressive patriarchal institution of motherhood, including the ideologies of intensive and sacrificial mothering, it is equally involved in formulating and articulating a counter discourse of mothering that redefines mothering as a feminist enterprise (O’Reilly, “Mothering against Motherhood” 160). While mothering is considered to be private and apolitical within the dominant patriarchal paradigm, feminist mothering is understood to be political and to have cultural significance (Green, Practicing Feminist Mothering). Feminist mothering both operationalizes and counters the ideology of motherhood. By foregrounding the political-social dimension of feminist motherwork, feminist mothering redefines mothering as a conscious and politically engaged endeavour with the purpose of effecting positive cultural and political change through feminist modes of mothering (Green, “Feminist Mothers,” “Developing a Feminist Motherline,” Feminist Mothering in Theory and Practice, and Practicing Feminist Mothering; O’Reilly, “Introduction,” Feminist Mothering 11). Feminist mothering practices, then, can potentially affect social change by interrupting, defying, and functioning as a counter-narrative, model, and practice to traditional expectations of patriarchal motherhood (Green, “Feminist Mothers” 31; O’Reilly, “Between the Baby and the Bathwater” 326). By imagining and implementing a view of mothering that is empowering to mothers and children, mothering can be a site of empowerment and political activism that has the ability to disrupt and subvert patriarchal notions of motherhood and ways of mothering (O’Reilly, “Mothering against Motherhood” 160).

Matroreform Feminist mothering engages in matroreform, defined by Indo-Canadian psychologist Gina Wong-Wylie, as “an act, desire, and process of claiming motherhood power, [which] is a progressive movement to mothering that attempts to institute new mothering rules and practices” (142). “Matroreform,” Wong-Wylie explains further, “is a cognitive, affective, behavioural, and spiritual reformation of mothering from within . . . [that includes] the removal and elimination of obstacles to self-determination and self agency [sic]” (142). By consciously disputing the institution of motherhood, feminist mothering creates and models parenting practices based upon a feminist mother’s own knowledge, meanings, and experiences of mothering. While there are certainly many ways in which feminist mothering challenges, troubles, and counters the institution of motherhood and engages matroreform, four common practices are clear: (1) creating alternative nonpatriarchal family formations; (2) teaching children how to think critically about the world; (3) creating respectful, nonhierarchal parent/child relationships; and (4) engaging in anti-sexist parenting and gender socialization practices. One way in which feminist mothering engages in matroreform is to shatter the common family structure idealized within motherhood by parenting in family types other than the heterosexual/heterosexist nuclear family unit that people are expected to reproduce. Feminist family formations are varied. For instance, feminist mothers may consciously choose to parent alone, in couples or partnerships with other women, mothers, or adults, with trans partners or trans parents, or within heterosexual partnerships that do not replicate the gender roles proscribed within the nuclear family (Green, “Feminist Mothers” and “Re-Conceptualising Motherhood”; Green and Friedman; Green and Pelletier). Others may construct dual-earning, communal, 39

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extended, blended, community-based, step, multigenerational, or multifocal families that contest and transform the meaning of family (O’Reilly, “Introduction,” Feminist Mothering). Another strategy of matroreform within feminist mothering is to intentionally educate children about how the world is structured in patriarchal and other oppressive ways (Green, Feminist Mothering in Theory and Practice and Practicing Feminist Mothering; Mack-Canty and Wright). Children are purposely taught how to identify and be critical of the ways in which society is organized to benefit or privilege some over others. This may include and not be limited to: patriarchal structures that value males over females; racist and white supremacist systems that foster discrimination and oppression against people of colour, Indigenous, First Nations, Metis, nonwhite folks, refugees, and immigrants; heterosexist, homophobic, and transphobic attitudes and arrangements that marginalize and oppress people who identify as queer, gay, twospirit,2 non-cisgender,3 and trans; and techniques and systems that discriminate against people with disabilities. Feminist mothering helps children recognize interpersonal and systemic power dynamics and the ways in which people can hold positions of privilege and also be in oppressed positions (Green, Practicing Feminist Mothering; Mack-Canty and Wright). Through their feminist upbringing, children become equipped to identify, understand, be critical of, and challenge discriminatory attitudes and behaviours based on heterosexism, homo/ transphobia, racism, classism, ableism, and other forms of oppression (Green, Practicing Feminist Mothering; Ott). According to research conducted by American feminist scholars Colleen MackCanty and Sue Wright, children within these families have a broader understanding of hierarchical arrangements and connection to other oppressions, are more able to assume their right to reasonably question existing power arrangements within society, and are less likely to seek gender equity at the expense of other racial, hetero/sexist, or class-based injustices. Feminist mothering takes seriously the power dynamics among people and brings that analysis and perspective into the home. Understanding and critiquing the interconnection of identity, of interlocking systems of power, privilege, and oppression are also applied to the ways in which feminist mothers socialize their children in relation to their own parent/child relationships, to their family dynamic and structures, and to their children’s identities. Valuing equity and fairness related to gender, sexuality, race, and ability often translates into the ways in which feminist mothers relate to and participate in their relationships with their children (Green, Feminist Mothering in Theory and Practice and Practicing Feminist Mothering). Feminist mothers are conscious and critical of their own power as adults within their relationship with their children and work to articulate and acknowledge that power differential to their children in ways that trouble and challenge the power difference and hierarchy. Developing and engaging in the practice of relating to children in conscious ways that foster trusting and more equitable parent/child relationships often includes some form of inclusive decision-making among adults and children within the family (Mack-Canty and Wright 156). Open dialogues about the power dynamic, as well as critical discussion of times when power has been misused by mothers to dominate or unfairly treat their children, are also strategies used to counter the imbalance (Green, Practicing Feminist Mothering). These respectful interpersonal practices empower both children and adults to speak their minds, to work through troubling situations and discussions, and to foster the development of children’s autonomy and self-governance (Epstein, “Mothers and Sons”; Green, “Developing a Feminist Motherline” and Practicing Feminist Mothering; Ott). Sharing authority, decision-making, and responsibility is both a shift away from and a challenge to dominant models of parenting built on individualized and adult authoritarian relationships (Ott 146). Teaching children how to be critical of discriminatory ideas and practices in the world according to people’s identities is not only an external-focused practice. Feminist mothering 40

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also necessitates anti-sexist child-rearing practices that challenge and counter patriarchal practices of gender socialization (Green, “Re-Conceptualising Motherhood,” Feminist Mothering in Theory and Practice and Practicing Feminist Mothering; O’Reilly, “Mothering against Motherhood” and “Between the Baby and the Bathwater”; Ott; Rich). Anti-sexist child-rearing is a longstanding core principle and practice of feminist mothering that has developed over time. For instance, there is considerable literature addressing ways to raise children who are aware of and reject sexist attitudes and expectations (Carmichael; Epstein, “Mothers and Sons”; O’Reilly, “Introduction,” Feminist Mothering). And the importance of raising empowered daughters and relational sons to counter traditional sexist and binary gender socialization is well documented (Enders; Glickman; Griffin and Broadfoot; Green, Feminist Mothering in Theory and Practice and Practicing Feminist Mothering; Green and Friedman; Green and Pelletier; Hirsh; Ott; O’Reilly, Feminist Mothering). More recent feminist mothering focuses on understanding, troubling, and challenging binary gender categories, as well as being open to and supporting varied expressions of gender fluidity in children, family members, friends, and others in society (Green and Freidman; Green and Pelletier). Resisting socially prescribed expectations and patterns of socializing children’s gender, then, is another example of the ways in which maternal activism takes shape within feminist mothering, empowering mothers and children alike (Green, Feminist Mothering in Theory and Practice and Practicing Feminist Mothering; O’Reilly, Feminist Mothering 11).

Central issue – differences between empowered and feminist mothering A central issue within scholarship on feminist maternal practice is understanding the differences between feminist mothering and empowered mothering. While examples and the articulation of empowered mothering can be found in popular literature, fiction and poetry, in parenting books and articles, as well as in online blogs, the same cannot be said of feminist mothering. Additionally, although feminist mothering certainly entails empowered mothering, the reverse is not so; empowered mothering does not always include feminist maternal practice. The following articulates the difference between the two.

Empowered mothering Anglo-Canadian feminist maternal theorist, Andrea O’Reilly began using the term “empowered mothering” in the early 2000s to refer to the theory and practice of mothering that recognizes that women, children, and society at large, benefit when women “live their lives as mothers from a position of agency, authority, authenticity, and autonomy” (“Introduction,” Feminist Mothering 6–7). Empowered mothering, whether consciously enacted or not, directly confronts and counteracts the demands of patriarchal motherhood by presenting alternative approaches to mothering that are designed to empower, rather than oppress, women, mothers, children, and others. Many mothers, feminist and not, understand that traditional or patriarchal motherhood is unnatural and harmful to mothers and children, and are inspired to parent in their own femaledefined and woman-centred vision of mothering. Being aware of the impossible standards of motherhood perfection means empowered mothers often resist its ideals that foster real isolation and exhaustion, and seek less judgment and more personal and social support (Green, “Feminist Motherline”; O’Reilly, “Introduction,” Feminist Mothering 2). They choose not to employ the restrictive and harmful intensive or sacrificial mothering ideals. Engaging in maternal autonomy, sharing the work of parenting with others, feeling less or no guilt about not spending inordinate 41

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amounts of time with children, and not taking sole responsibility for how children behave and develop (physically, emotionally, psychologically, and intellectually) are all positive effects of challenging expectations of normative motherhood (Horwitz; O’Reilly,“Introduction,” Feminist Mothering 6). Empowered mothers do not always put the needs of children before their own or see mothering as their sole identity or as a source of self-fulfillment. They find selfhood both inside and outside their mothering – often through friendships, paid and voluntary work, relationships, sports, hobbies, and other non-parenting or family-related activities (O’Reilly, “Introduction,” Feminist Mothering 7). Authentic, trans/lesbian/queer, radical, and gynocentric mothering are other examples of how empowered mothers are inspired to parent in their own female-defined and womancentred vision of mothering. They, and other mothers, choose not to replicate restrictive and damaging nuclear family forms by electing to parent alone, in partnerships, or in arrangements with others, be they queer, straight, trans, cisgender, romantic, or platonic. Empowered mothers parent in family forms that differ from, and thus counter, normalized patriarchal family structures. By interrupting, destabilizing, and modifying these socially sanctioned elements of the patriarchal script of motherhood, empowered mothering weakens the authority that normative patriarchal discourse claims on the meaning and practice of mothering. Parenting by African American mothers that is practiced through othermothering and ­community-based mothering, where women accept responsibility for children not their own is another example of empowered mothering. African American political theorist and sociologist Patricia Hill Collins describes how Black and other racial ethnic mothers often decisively and courageously parent against the institution of motherhood, particularly when they “foster a meaningful racial identity in children within a society that denigrates people of color” (“Shifting the Centre” 57). As the backbone of communities, empowered othermothers often engage in what Collins names “mothering the mind,” which entails moving toward the mutuality of a shared sisterhood that unites them as community othermothers who are able, at times, to create new types of family and community in often hostile political and economic situations (Othermother). By emphasizing their own agency, authority, authenticity, and autonomy as mothers, empowered mothers redefine motherhood through varied transformative practices. Empowered mothering is alive in nonpatriarchal family models; in community and othermothering; and in non-authoritative, anti-discriminatory, and anti-racist ways of parenting. As maternal activists, empowered mothers are mindful and deliberate in their approaches to mothering that counter those of mainstream society; they consciously redefine and actively engage in motherwork through which cultural, social, and political change can be made possible.

Feminist mothering Feminist mothering and feminist mothers, on the other hand, regard motherhood as a site of power wherein mothers can affect political social change through maternal activism both within and outside the home and family. Simply put, feminist mothers see their parenting practice as no different from or apart from other parts of their lives; their feminism informs and influences everything they do (Green, Feminist Mothering in Theory and Practice and Practicing Feminist Mothering). Therefore, mothering, too, is shaped and informed, in both theory and practice, by their feminism. Feminist mothers believe feminist mothering is a political act, which is “an essential strategy for contributing to positive political social change” (Green, “Developing a Feminist Motherline” 11) and has “cultural significance and political purpose” (O’Reilly, “Introduction,” Feminist Mothering 7). 42

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The distinction between empowered mothering and feminist mothering, then, is feminist mothers identify as feminist and bring their feminist theory and practice to their everyday motherwork of parenting. Unlike empowered mothering, a feminist theory and subsequent practices of feminist mothering are constituted and constructed to interrupt and negate the master narrative and ideology of patriarchal motherhood by providing an oppositional feminist discourse to motherhood that also exemplifies mothering practices against motherhood (O’Reilly, “Introduction,” Feminist Mothering 4–5). Feminist mothering entails modeling feminist ways of mothering for children and others, which may include strategies used by empowered mothering, as well as, for example, challenging public school systems when they reproduce hetero/sexism, queer/homo/transphobia or other forms of sex/gender/sexual discrimination in their pedagogical and administrative practices (Green, “Feminist Mothering”). Other strategies may include revealing these types of negative biases, attitudes, beliefs, and discriminatory practices in the social and legal systems regarding lesbian, co-mother, queer, and trans rights to custody, access, and child support (Green, “Feminist Mothering”). Unlike empowered mothering, feminist mothering gives conscious and continual attention to disrupting the concept and practice of patriarchal motherhood by socializing children within the family, and beyond, in efforts to recognize and dispute current patriarchal systems of power. Feminist mothers actively resist traditional patterns of gender acculturation in their parenting and willfully encourage their children to develop who they are without necessarily adhering to sex/gender stereotypes. They believe raising the next generation of citizens to be consciously aware of patriarchal and other cultural and social systems and forms of discrimination and oppression through mothering is both their responsibility as mothers and essential to feminism and political change.

Challenges within feminist mothering As feminist mothering practices become more prominent and research into the strategies, realities, and experiences of feminist mothering become more evident, the scope of feminist mothering is also expanding. In response to developments that attend to the complexity, plasticity, and fluidity of sex, gender, and sexuality within feminism and feminist mothering, questions regarding who and what is included in the exploration and practice of feminist mothering, as well as who may be considered feminist mothers, are raised. The theory of intersectionality, which has contributed significantly to feminist theory and feminist mothering continues to be helpful in this contemplation and ongoing discussion. Sara Ruddick’s theory of maternal thinking, particularly as it applies to queering mothering, and transfeminist theories also provide important contributions to magnifying both the theory and particular practices of feminist mothering today and in the future.

Intersectionality Fundamental to the exploration of feminist mothering is understanding the theory of intersectionality, first articulated in 1989 by black legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw. Prominent African American feminist and social theorist Patricia Hill Collins explains that cultural patterns of oppression are interrelated, bound together, and influenced by intersectional systems of society, including race, gender, class, ability, and ethnicity. Collins elucidates the concept further, stating, “regardless of the particular intersections involved, structural, disciplinary, hegemonic, and interpersonal domains of power reappear across quite different forms of oppression” (Black Feminist Thought 11–12). 43

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The importance of intersectionality and centring self-defined standpoints of racialized mothers have been vital to feminist maternal scholarship and to expanding knowledge about the realities of feminist mothering. A quick scan of Demeter Press publications over recent years offers the following examples: Indigenous Experiences of Pregnancy and Birth (2017); Listening to the Beat of Our Drum: Indigenous Parenting in a Contemporary Society (2017); Anansesem: Telling Stories and Storytelling African Maternal Pedagogies (2015); Mothers, Mothering and Motherhood Across Cultural Differences (2014); and Mothers of the Nations: Indigenous Mothering as Global Resistance, Reclaiming, and Recovery (2014).4 In a 2015 article, “Why Intersectionality Can’t Wait,” Crenshaw further expounds the theory of intersectionality, observing, “originally articulated on behalf of black women, the term brought to light the invisibility of many constituents within groups that claim them as members, but often fail to represent them.” Collins, too, argues that placing the voices and experiences of racialized mothers, along with those of other marginalized mothers, at the centre of analysis requires “invoking a different epistemology” to express “self-defined standpoints of mothering and motherhood” (“Shifting the Centre” 60). Collins posits: Varying placement within systems of privilege, whether race, class, sexuality, or age, generates divergent experiences with motherhood; therefore, examination of motherhood and mother-as-subject from multiple perspectives should uncover rich textures of difference. Shifting the center to accommodate this diversity promises to reconceptualize motherhood and point us toward feminist theorizing that embraces difference as an essential part of commonality. (73) African American sociologist Shirley A. Hill argues that it has become more challenging for African American women to practice othermothering or community mothering by organizing child-rearing collectively and sharing resources because the “it takes a village to raise a child” philosophy is now more symbolic than substantive due to structural forces such as class diversity that challenge traditional patterns of mothering (“African American Mothers” 117). Invoking the theory of intersectionality, Hill argues that changes in gender, class, and race position are in a state of transition due to “evolving political and economic forces and greater class polarization among black people” in the United States (117). Being cognizant of and committed to investigating and understanding intersectionality beyond the experiences of women of colour, as articulated in Collins’s call for “mother-assubject from multiple perspectives,” feminist mothering attempts to uncover the rich textures of difference in diverse feminist mothering experiences and practices. For instance, it recognizes the significance of intersectionality in the lives of mothers, acknowledging mothers who are immigrants, single, racialized, disabled, lesbian, queer, trans, living on social assistance or welfare – and who are located in often overlapping, but not mutually exclusive, categories – are frequently subjects of deviancy discourses of mothering, and of its ill effects. (Green, “Re-Conceptualising Motherhood” 200) Furthermore, feminist mothering identifies the need to bring those intersectional experiences of mothering to the centre to further understand them, as well as to benefit from the contributions they have to make to feminist mothering, in both practice and theory.


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The recent edited collection Bad Mothers: Regulations, Representations and Resistance, for instance, adds to an understanding of intersectionality and feminist mothering through its interrogation of how the constructed “dangerous mother” continues to trouble major institutional areas such as law, governance, economy, and child protection services in ways that reveal why our society remains invested in marginalizing mothers instead of seriously addressing the numerous, interconnecting obstacles they face in raising children. (74)

Maternal thinking and queering motherhood Another example of how feminist mothering is dedicated to and informed by intersectionality is in its exploration and inclusion of the experiences and maternal practices of male, queer, and trans parents. A seemingly unlikely theory that continues to be useful in this endeavor is that of “maternal thinking,” originated in 1989 by American feminist philosopher Sara Ruddick. The central requirement for maternal thinking is a commitment to caring for children that engages in a practice of meeting the three fundamental demands of (1) preserving their lives, (2) nurturing their developmental growth, and (3) teaching them appropriate social norms allowing them to be socially accepted. By stating that maternal thinking is available and applicable to any individual who “takes upon the work of mothering as a central part of his or her life” (Ruddick 40), Ruddick clearly articulates “maternal thinking has little to do with biology or gender” (Avery 138). To be a mother, then, only requires one “to be committed to meeting these demands by works of preservative love, nurturance, and training” (Ruddick 17). Thus, Ruddick “queered motherhood” long ago by theorizing the gender flexibility of maternal thinking that takes place in the work of mothering, and which continues to inform an understanding of who mothers are and what mothering entails. Margaret Gibson, editor of Queering Motherhood: Narrative and Theoretical Perspectives, explains “queering makes the things we otherwise take for granted suddenly unpredictable, uncooperative, and unexpected” and also “brings the political and the social into a self-conscious connection with the intimate” (1).5 “Queering motherhood,” Gibson explicates, works to “destabilize existing social relations, institutions, and discourses,” (2) and therefore starts “where any of the central gendered, sexual, relational, political and/or symbolic components of ‘expected’ motherhood are challenged” (6). This includes within feminist mothering. Privileging the voices and perspectives of queer-identified parents in a world where cisnormative and heteronormative6 traditions exist, helps to expand our notions of the possible . . . create connections between individuals across time . . . allow us to see how our existing sociocultural scaffolding is constructed . . . (and) point to the gaps and weakened joints that merit our attention as we build and dismantle identities and relations in the everyday. (Gibson 5) Gibson specifically addresses the power of the institution of motherhood in its ability to dismiss or displace “any alternative versions of motherhood” (6, italics in original), arguing feminist maternal scholarship, and hence, feminist mothering, need to do more to “fundamentally challenge heteronormative and cisnormative assumptions” (10).


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Feminist mothering is responding to this call and need. The experiences, theorizing, and empowered praxis of those engaged in feminist and anti-sexist child-rearing practices of feminist mothering who are men, queer, and trans are growing. Their experiences and theoretical discussion regarding their mothering practices are found in recent collections, such as: Essential Breakthroughs: Conversations about Men, Mothering and Motherhood (Green and Pelletier); Chasing Rainbows: Exploring Gender Fluid Parenting Practices (Green and Friedman); Mothering Queerly, Queering Motherhood: Resisting Monomaternalism in Adoptive, Lesbian, Blended, and Polygamous Families (Park); and Who’s Your Daddy?: And Other Writings on Queer Parenting (Epstein, Who’s Your Daddy?). As a result, feminist mothering theories and practices are enriched and broadened by growing knowledge about the ways in which the complexities of intersectionality, maternal thinking, and queer mothering are experienced and inform the everyday lives of feminist families.

Transfeminism Transfeminist theory and activists also contribute to expanding knowledge about and practices of feminist mothering. Emi Koyama, feminist, multi-issue social justice activist, and author of the 2001 The Transfeminist Manifesto advances “Transfeminism embodies feminist coalition politics in which women from different backgrounds (including, trans and non-trans) stand up for each other, because if we do not stand for each other, nobody will” (1). Furthermore, “transfeminism holds that nobody shall be coerced into or out of personal decisions regarding her or his identity or expression in order to be a ‘real’ woman or a ‘real’ man” (2). Sensitive to the fact that “feminists are challenged to rethink their idea of whom they represent and what they stand for” when those who have been previously silenced speak out, Koyama advises this important process, which may lead to the painful realization of the personal biases and internalized oppressions of feminists, “eventually benefits the movement by widening our perspectives and constituency” (1). In declaring “the time has come for trans women to openly take part in the feminist revolution, further expanding the scope of the movement,” Koyama pushes feminist mothering to also be open to and learn from transfeminist theory and mothering experiences (1). As a result of integrating the theories of intersectionality, maternal thinking, and transfeminism, which trouble and contest gender essentialism in mothering identities and childcare practices, feminisms and feminist mothers are becoming more conscious of the ways in which mothers’ lives today are more complex and diverse than ever before. Intersectionality, maternal thinking, and transfeminisms assist in the project of disrupting the gender essentialism presupposed by patriarchal discourses of mothering and contest gender-essentialized norms of motherhood so central to the theory and practice of feminist mothering. Motherhood studies, maternal scholarship, and maternal practices, along with the influence of these and the theory of intersectionality, have also become more varied, inclusive, and empowered because of their influence.

Recommendations for future research directions Moving forward, the theory and motherwork of feminist mothering must continue to develop, learn from, and contribute to lessons of intersectionality, maternal thinking, and transfeminism. Central to this endeavour is disrupting the dualistic and binary social structures that divide people into categories of either/or related to gender, sex, and mothering. Including the perspectives of men and masculinities within this project will also continue to facilitate the disruption of


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gender-essentialist beliefs about mothering and care norms, as articulated by Euro-Canadian maternal scholars Gary Lee Pelletier and Fiona Joy Green (2). While limited feminist research has focused on the marginalization of mothers living in poverty, with disabilities, in war and conflict zones, and in refugee situations, further research is needed to investigate and understand the application of feminism and feminist mothering practices within these difficult contexts. The wisdom of Patricia Hill Collins that “shifting the center to accommodate diversity promises to conceptualise motherhood and point us toward feminist theorizing that embraces difference as an essential part of commonality” needs to be adhered to if feminist mothering is going to continue to be meaningful and encapsulate the experiences of the diverse and varied ways of feminist mothering (“Shifting the Centre” 73). Feminist mothering will also be served well if it is attentive and responsive to the sage observation of Shirley A. Hill regarding the effects of the “evolving political and economic forces” of the current time that are forcing “greater class polarization among black people” (“African American Mothers” 117). What does this changing socioeconomic-political climate mean for mothers and feminist mothering, locally as well as globally? How are marginalized mothers responding to and resisting these changing social conditions? The long overdue reconciliation that is taking place in Canada regarding its historical and current colonization of indigenous peoples also needs to be investigated in relation to feminist mothering. All of these areas, as well as unforeseen future developments within feminism and mothering need further exploration to understand the complexities and realities of feminist mothering, as well as what they have to offer the larger feminist agenda for meaningful positive social change.

Further reading Berg Scherer, Rachel. “Feminist Parenting Column.” Rebellious Magazine, category/columns/feminist-parenting/. Accessed 10 Jan. 2019. Berry, Liz. The Republic of Motherhood. Penguin Books, 2018. Byvelds, Christie, and Heather Jackson, editors. Motherhood and Social Exclusion. Demeter Press, 2019. Gumbs, Alexis Pauline, et al., editors. Revolutionary Mothering: Love on the Front Lines. Between the Lines, 2016. Johnson, Jennifer, and Krista Johnson, editors. Maternal Geographies: Mothering In and Out of Place. Demeter Press, 2019. Llopis, Maria. Subversive Motherhood: Orgasmic Birth, Gender Queer Parenting, Papas, Trans Parenting, Gynepunk, Etc. Amazon Digital Services LLC, 2018. Nelson, Maggie. The Argonauts. Text Publishing Company, 2016. Prushinskaya, Anna. A Woman Is a Woman Until She Is a Mother. MG Press, 2017. Verseghy, Judy, and Sam Abel. Heavy Burdens: Stories of Motherhood and Fatness. Demeter Press, 2018.

Conclusion Thanks to MIRCI’s biannual Journal of the Motherhood Initiative and various books by Demeter Press and by other feminist publishers, there is a greater appreciation for and understanding of the ways in which feminist mothering is understood and practiced. For instance, the ways in which the institution of motherhood continues to oppress mothers who are cisgender, transgender, agender, or identify differently are coming more clearly into view. While feminist mothering is difficult and perplexing, it is also empowering for those engaged in the feminist maternal practice of raising children. Furthermore, research into feminist mothering provides insight into the multiple ways in which mothers’ lives today continue to be complex and complicated within the patriarchal institution of motherhood.


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Notes 1 “Transgender” denotes or relates to “a person whose sense of personal identity and gender does not correspond with their birth sex” (Oxford English Dictionary). “Cismen” denotes or relates to a person whose sense of their personal identity as a man corresponds with their male birth sex. 2 “Two-spirit” broadly references Aboriginal peoples in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community and “refers to a person who embodies both a masculine and feminine spirit.” “Two-spirit” is also “used by some Aboriginal peoples to describe their gender, sexual and spiritual identity” (The Canadian Encyclopedia). 3 “Cisgender” denotes or relates “to a person whose self-identity conforms with the gender that corresponds to their biological sex; not transgender” (Cisgender, Oxford English Dictionary). 4 Demeter Press is an independent feminist press committed to publishing peer-reviewed scholarly work, fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction on mothering, reproduction, sexuality, and family. It is partnered with the Motherhood Initiative for Research and Community Involvement (MIRCI), which is a scholarly and activist organization on mothering-motherhood, developed from the former Association for Research on Mothering at York University (1998–2010). MIRCI also houses the Journal of the Motherhood Initiative (formerly The Journal of the Association for Research on Mothering). 5 “ ‘Queer’ is used as the most general catch-all available for people who have sexual or gender identities and relationships that fall outside the heteronormative and cisnormative categories” (Gibson 17). 6 “Cisnormative describes beliefs and systems that presume identities and relationships to be the ‘norm’ ” and “ ‘Heteronormative’ describes beliefs and systems that presume heterosexual identities and relationships to be the ‘norm’ ” (Gibson 17).

Works cited Anderson, Kim, and Dawn Memee Lavell-Harvard, editors. Mothers of the Nations: Indigenous Mothering as Global Resistance, Reclaiming, and Recovery. Demeter Press, 2014. Avery, Dwayne. “TV’s New Dads: Sensitive Fatherhood and the Return of Hegemonic Masculinity.” Essential Breakthroughs: Conversations with Men about Mothers, Mothering and Motherhood, edited by Fiona Joy Green and Gary Lee Pelletier, Demeter Press, 2015, pp. 129–47. Bernard, Jessie. The Future of Motherhood. Dial Press, 1974. Bourassa, Carrie, et al., editors. Listening to the Beat of Our Drum: Indigenous Parenting in a Contemporary Society. Demeter Press, 2017. The Canadian Encyclopedia. “Two-Spirit,” Accessed 26 Nov. 2017. Carmichael, Carrie. Non-Sexist Childraising. Beacon Press, 1977. Collins, Patricia Hill. “Shifting the Centre: Race, Class and Feminist Theorizing about Motherhood.” Representations of Motherhood, edited by Donna Bassin et al., Yale UP, 1994, pp. 56–74. ———. Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness and the Politics of Empowerment. 2nd ed., Routledge, 2000. Comerford, Lynn, et al., editors. Feminist Parenting. Demeter Press, 2016. Crenshaw, Kimberlé. “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory, and Antiracist Politics.” University of Chicago Legal Forum, 1989, pp. 139–67. ———. “Why Intersectionality Can’t Wait.” Washington Post, 2015, Accessed 10 Oct. 2016. Enders, L. “Feminism and Mothering of Son.” Feminism & Psychology, vol. 6, no. 1, 1996, pp. 127–29. Epstein, Rachel, editor. Who’s Your Daddy? And Other Writings on Queer Parenting. Sumach Press, 2009. Epstein, Sarah. Mothers and Sons: Feminist Maternal Practice in Boys. 2013. Deakin University, PhD dissertation. “Feminism and Motherhood.” off our backs: a women’s news journal, vol. 36, no. 1, 2006. Gibson, Margaret, editor. Queering Motherhood: Narrative and Theoretical Perspectives. Demeter Press, 2014. Glickman, Rose L. Daughters of Feminists: Young Women with Feminist Mothers Talk about Their Lives. New York UP, 1993. Gordon, Tuula. Feminist Mothers. New York UP, 1990. Green, Fiona J. “Feminist Mothers: Successfully Negotiating the Tensions between Motherhood as ‘Institution’ and ‘Experience.’ ” Mother Outlaws: Theories and practices of Empowered Mothering, edited by Andrea O’Reilly, Women’s Press, 2004, pp. 31–42.


Feminist mothering ———. “Developing a Feminist Motherline: Reflections on a Decade of Feminist Parenting.” Journal of the Association for Research on Mothering, vol. 8, no. 1–2, 2006, pp. 7–20. ———. “Feminist Motherline: Embodied Knowledge/s of Feminist Mothering.” Feminist Mothering, edited by Andrea O’Reilly, State U of New York Press, 2008, pp. 161–76. ———. Feminist Mothering in Theory and Practice, 1985–1995: A Study in Transformative Politics. U of Michigan; Edwin Mellen Press, 2009. ———. “Feminist Mothering.” Encyclopedia of Motherhood, edited by Andrea O’Reilly, SAGE Publications, Inc., 2010, pp. 401–03. ———. Practicing Feminist Mothering. Arbiter Ring Publishers, 2011. ———. “Re-Conceptualising Motherhood: Reaching Back to Move Forward.” Journal of Family Studies, vol. 21, no. 3, 2015, pp. 196–207, scroll=top&needAccess=true&journalCode=rjfs20. Accessed 22 Mar. 2018. Green, Fiona J., and May Friedman, editors. Chasing Rainbows: Exploring Gender Fluid Parenting Practices. Demeter Press, 2013. Green, Fiona J., and Gary Lee Pelletier, editors. Essential Breakthroughs: Conversations with Men about Mothers, Mothering and Motherhood. Demeter Press, 2015. Griffin, C., and K. J. Broadfoot, “Outlaw Mothers Raising Gentle-men: Choosing to Disrupt Hegemonic Tensions between Masculinity and Feminism.” Contemplating Maternity in an Era of Choice: Explorations into Discourses of Reproduction, edited by Susan Hayden and Lynn O’Brien Hallstein, Lexington Books, 2010, pp. 313–32. Hays, Sharon. The Cultural Contradictions of Motherhood. Yale UP, 1996. Hill, Shirley A. “African American Mothers.” Feminist Mothering, edited by Andrea O’Reilly, State U of New York Press, 2008, pp. 107–21. Hirsch, Marianne. The Mother/Daughter Plot: Narrative, Psychoanalysis, Feminism. Indiana UP, 1989. Horwitz, Erika. “Resistance as a Site of Empowerment: The Journey Away from Maternal Sacrifice.” Mother Outlaws: Theories and Practices of Empowered Mothering, edited by Andrea O’Reilly, Women’s Press, 2004, pp. 43–58. Kinser, Amber E., editor. Mothering and Feminism in the Third Wave. Demeter Press, 2008. ———. Motherhood and Feminism. Seal Press, 2010. Koyama, Eve. The Transfeminist Manifesto, last edited 26 July 2001, tfmanifesto.pdf. Accessed 20 Jun. 2014. Mack-Canty, Colleen, and Sue Marie Wright. “Feminist Family Values: Parenting in Third Wave Feminism and Empowering All Family Members.” Feminist Mothering, edited by Andrea O’Reilly, State U of New York Press, 2008, pp. 143–59. Miller, Michelle Hughes, and Tamar Hager, editors. Bad Mothers: Regulations, Representations and Resistance. Demeter Press, 2017. “Mothering and Feminism.” Journal of the Association for Research on Mothering, vol. 8, no. 1, 2006, p. 2. Neufeld, Hannah Tait, and Jaime Cidro, editors. Indigenous Experiences of Pregnancy and Birth. Demeter Press, 2017. O’Reilly, Andrea, editor. From Motherhood to Mothering: The Legacy of Adrienne Rich’s of Mother Born. SUNY Press, 2004. ———. “Introduction.” From Motherhood to Mothering: The Legacy of Adrienne Rich’s of Mother Born, edited by Andrea O’Reilly, SUNY Press, 2004, pp. 1–16. ———. “Mothering against Motherhood.” From Motherhood to Mothering: The Legacy of Adrienne Rich’s of Mother Born, edited by Andrea O’Reilly, SUNY Press, 2004, pp. 159–74. ———, editor. Mother Outlaws: Theories and Practices of Empowered Mothering. Women’s Press, 2004. ———. “Between the Baby and the Bathwater: Some Thoughts on a Mother-Centred Theory and Practice of Feminist Mothering.” Journal of Research on Mothering, vol. 8, nos. 1–2, 2006, pp. 323–30. ———, editor. Feminist Mothering. SUNY Press, 2008. ———. “Introduction.” Feminist Mothering, edited by Andrea O’Reilly, State U of New York Press, 2008, pp. 1–22. ———, editor. Mothers, Mothering and Motherhood across Cultural Differences. Demeter Press, 2014. Onuora, Adwoa Ntozake, editor. Anansesem: Telling Stories and Storytelling African Maternal Pedagogies. Demeter Press, 2015. Othermother. Accessed 9 Oct. 2016. Ott, Kate M. “Feminist Mothering of Sons: Ethical Practices for Everyone.” Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion, vol. 27, no. 2, 2011, pp. 143–47. Indiana UP.


Fiona Joy Green The Oxford English Dictionary. “Cisgender,” Accessed 10 Oct. 2016. The Oxford English Dictionary.“Transgender,” Accessed 26 Nov. 2017. Park, Shelley, P. Mothering Queerly, Queerly Motherhood: Resisting Monomaternalism in Adoptive, Lesbian, Blended, and Polygamous Families. State U of New York Press, 2013. Pelletier, Gary Lee, and Fiona Joy Green. “Introduction.” Essential Breakthroughs: Conversations with Men about Mothers, Mothering and Motherhood, edited by Fiona Joy Green and Gary Lee Pelletier, Demeter Press, 2015, pp. 1–13. Ready, Maureen T., et al., editors. Mother Journey’s: Feminists Write about Mothering. Spinsters Ink, 1994. Rich, Adrienne. Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution. 1976. Virago, 1986. Ruddick, Sara. Maternal Thinking: Toward a Politics of Peace. 1989. Beacon Press, 1995. Wong-Wylie, Gina. “Images and Echoes in Matroreform: A Cultural Feminist Perspective.” Journal of the Association for Research on Mothering, vol. 8, no. 1, 2006, pp. 135–46.


3 MATRICENTRIC FEMINISM A feminism for mothers Andrea O’Reilly

In A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf writes “a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction” (1). For me, this quote serves to situate and frame what has been a passionate concern of mine over the past three plus decades as I have sought to do feminism as a mother and do mothering as a feminist: namely, mothers need a feminism of their own. When I use the term “mothers,” I refer to individuals who engage in motherwork or, as Sara Ruddick theorized, maternal practice. Such a term is not limited to biological mothers but to anyone who does the work of mothering as a central part of her or his life. The aim of this chapter is to introduce this specific mode of feminism – what I have called “matricentric feminism” – consider the context and challenges of a mother-centred feminist theory and politic and to suggest directions for future research.

Background and context The chapter works from one particular assumption: mothering matters, and it is central to the lives of women who are mothers. In saying this, I am not suggesting that mothering is all that matters or that it matters the most; I am suggesting that any understanding of mothers’ lives is incomplete without a consideration of how becoming and being a mother shape a woman’s sense of self and how she sees and lives in the world. Indeed, as Eva Feder Kitty emphasizes, “most women care for their dependents at some point, and for many women, this occupies the better part of their lives” (qtd. in Stephens 141). As a motherhood scholar, a director of a research centre on motherhood, an editor of a motherhood journal, and a publisher of a press on motherhood, I have talked to more mothers and read more motherhood scholarship than most, and I can say with confidence that for women who are mothers, mothering is a significant, if not a defining dimension of their lives, and that, arguably, maternity matters more than gender. I do not seek to substantiate these claims but rather take them as my starting point. Mothers need a feminism that puts motherhood at its centre. Motherhood, it could be said, is the unfinished business of feminism. For example, a cursory review of recent scholarship on mothers and paid employment reveals that although women have made significant gains over the last three decades, mothers have not. Mothers in the paid labour force find themselves “mommy tracked,” making sixty cents for every dollar earned by full-time fathers in the United States, for example (Williams 2). Indeed, today the pay gap 51

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between mothers and nonmothers under thirty-five years is larger than the wage gap between young men and women (Crittenden 94). And although the “glass ceiling” and the “sticky floor” are still found in the workplace, most scholars argue that it is the “maternal wall” that impedes and hinders most women’s progress in the workplace today. As Ann Crittenden writes, “Many childless women under the age of thirty-five believe that all the feminist battles have been won.” But as Crittenden continues, “once a woman has a baby, the egalitarian office party is over” (88). A matricentric feminism seeks to make motherhood the business of feminism by positioning mothers’ needs and concerns as the starting point for a theory and politic on and for women’s empowerment. This repositioning is not to suggest that a matricentric feminism should replace traditional feminist thought; rather, it is to emphasize that the category of mother is distinct from the category of woman and that many of the problems mothers face – social, economic, political, cultural, psychological, and so forth – are specific to women’s role and identity as mothers. Indeed, mothers are oppressed under patriarchy as women and as mothers. Consequently, mothers need a matricentric mode of feminism organized from and for their particular identity and work as mothers. Indeed, a mother-centred feminism is needed because mothers – arguably more so than women in general – remain disempowered despite forty years of feminism. My work does not rationalize or defend the need for a mother-centred feminism, as it takes it as a given. Instead, this chapter endeavours to describe and discuss this mode of mother-focused feminism – what I have termed “matricentric feminism” – which has emerged as a result of and in response to women’s specific identities and work as mothers. I use the term “matricentric” to define and describe a mother-centred mode of feminism. Feminist literary critic Elaine Showalter uses the term “gynocentric” to signify a woman-centred perspective; similarly, I use matricentric to convey a mother-centred perspective. The choice to use the word “matricentric” over “maternal” and to use the term “matricentric feminism” instead of “maternal feminism” is done to distinguish a mother-focused feminism from the theory and politic of maternalism. Writer Judith Stadtman Tucker argues that maternalism “conforms to the dominant ideology of motherhood and emphasizes the importance of maternal well-being to the health and safety of children.” “Maternalism,” she continues, “overlaps with what has been called ‘difference feminism’ – particularly the idea that women are ‘naturally’ or intuitively more empathic, less exploitive, and more closely attuned to relational ambience than men” (2). Likewise, Rachel V. Kutz-Flamenbaum, writing in the Encyclopedia of Motherhood, says: maternalism, like paternalism, is an ideology and philosophy. It asserts that “mother knows best” and that women, as a group, maintain a set of ideas, beliefs or experiences that reflect their motherly knowledge and motherly strengths. Maternalism suggests that women are (and should be) the moral conscience of humanity and asserts women’s legitimate investment in political affairs through this emphasis. (2: 712) Patrice DiQuinzio further elaborates that “maternalist politics refers to political activism and political movements that invoke motherhood as the basis of women’s agency” (“The Politics of the Mothers’ Movement in the United States” 58). A matricentric perspective must not to be confused with a maternalist one. Although some perspectives in matricentric feminism may be considered maternalist, they are largely limited to the activism of certain motherhood organizations. Moreover, matricentric feminism understands motherhood to be socially and historically constructed and positions mothering more as a practice than an identity. As well, central to matricentric feminist theory is a critique of the maternalist stance that positions maternity as basic to and the basis of female identity; as well, 52

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matricentric feminism challenges the assumption that maternity is natural to women (i.e., all women naturally know how to mother) and that the work of mothering is driven by instinct rather than intelligence and developed by habit rather than skill. Although matricentric feminism does hold a mother-centred perspective, it does not advance a maternalist argument or agenda. Thus, matricentric feminism marks the crucial difference between a focus on mothers from a politic of maternalism. When discussing matricentric feminism, I draw on the concept of a matrifocal narrative, particularly as it has been developed in maternal literary theory. In her introduction to The Mother/ Daughter Plot, Marianne Hirsch queries why in Sophocles’s Oedipus Rex, the voice of Jocasta, Oedipus’ mother, is missing, and she connects this narrative silence to a larger literary lacuna: In asking where the story of Jocasta is in the story of Oedipus, I am asking not only where the stories of women are in men’s plots, but where the stories of mothers are in the plots of sons and daughters. (4) She concludes that “clearly, to know Jocasta’s maternal story . . . we would have to begin with the mother” (5). Drawing on Hirsh, Brenda O. Daly and Maureen T. Reddy emphasize in Narrating Maternity that even of the limited number of fictional or theoretical texts that do “begin with the mother in her own right, from her own perspective . . . [they] seldom hold fast to a maternal perspective; further when texts do maintain this perspective, readers and critics tend to suppress the centrality of mothering” (2–3). Daly and Reddy have coined the term “daughter-centricity” to describe the perspective wherein “we learn less about what it is like to mother than about what it is like to be mothered, even when the author has had both experiences” (2). Within the last three decades, as motherhood studies has emerged as a distinct and established academic discipline, this daughter-centricity has been countered and corrected in both fiction and theory. Indeed, a central aim of motherhood studies is to articulate and theorize “the voice of the mother” – that is, to analyze becoming and being a mother from the perspective and subjectivity of mothers themselves. Adrienne Rich concludes Of Woman Born with these words: “The words are being spoken now, are being written down, the taboos are being broken, the masks of motherhood are cracking through” (239). Whether such “unmasking” (Maushart) is conveyed by way of a sociological study of mothers or in a popular motherhood memoir, feminist writers and scholars endeavour to unmask motherhood by documenting the lived reality of mothering. In so doing, they counter the daughter-centricity, described by Daly and Reddy, to create and compose what I term a “matrifocal narrative.” My use of the term “matrifocal” is drawn from Miriam Johnson’s discussion of matrifocality in Strong Mothers, Weak Wives. Matrifocal societies, she writes, tend to have greater gender equality because of the power of a maternal paradigm. In these societies, regardless of the particular type of kinship system, women play roles of cultural and social significance and define themselves less as wives than as mothers. . . . Matrifocality however, does not refer to domestic maternal dominance so much as it does to the relative cultural prestige of the image of the mother, a role that is culturally elaborated and valued. Mothers are also structurally central in that the mother as a status “has some degree of control over the kin unit’s economic resources and is critically involved in kin-related decision making processes.” It is not the absence of males (males may be quite present) but the centrality of women as mothers and sisters that makes a society matrifocal. (226) 53

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A matrifocal narrative, borrowing from Johnson’s terminology, is one in which a mother plays a role of cultural and social significance and in which motherhood is thematically elaborated and valued, and is structurally central to the plot. In other words – and to draw on the work of Hirsh, Daly, and Reddy – matrifocal narratives “begin with the mother in her own right, from her own perspective,” and they “hold fast to a maternal perspective”; in addition, a matrifocal reading attends to and accentuates the maternal thematic in any given text. Maternal writing, as Emily Jeremiah has noted, “entails a publicizing of maternal experience, and it subverts the traditional notion of mother as an instinctual, purely corporeal being. It is thus to be understood as a key tool in the redefinition of maternity in which feminists are engaged” (231). “It is impossible,” writes Patrice DiQuinzio, “for feminist theory to avoid the issue of motherhood, and it is impossible for feminist theory to resolve it” (Impossibility of Motherhood xx). However, I suggest that a matrifocal perspective in unmasking motherhood and redefining maternity allows for these encounters and explorations. As matricentric feminism is matrifocal in its focus, it is multi- and interdisciplinary in its perspective. Matricentric feminist theory draws from many academic disciplines – including anthropology, history, literary studies, sociology, philosophy, psychology, sexuality studies, and women’s studies – as well as from the established schools of academic feminism. Indeed, far from being an island onto its own, matricentric feminism is informed by traditional schools of academic feminism and its most prominent theorists: womanist and African American feminism (bell hooks and Patricia Hill Collins); liberal feminism (Ann Crittenden); psychoanalytic feminism (Nancy Chodorow and Jessica Benjamin); queer-lesbian feminism (Baba Copper); cultural-difference feminism (Adrienne Rich and Mielle Chandler); socialist feminism (Mary O’Brien); and thirdwave feminism (Ariel Gore). As an example, matricentric feminism is informed by the African American feminist commitment to the epistemological importance of lived experience, while also being informed by third-wave feminism’s commitment to intersectional analyses. I am frequently asked what matricentric feminism is. As a new and emergent feminism, it is difficult to define matricentric feminism other than to say that it is explicitly matrifocal in its perspective and emphasis – it begins with the mother and takes seriously the work of mothering – and that it is multidisciplinary and multi-theoretical in its perspective. I gesture towards a possible definition by listing what I see as the central and governing principles and aims of matricentric feminism: • •

• •

asserts that the topic of mothers, mothering, and motherhood is deserving of serious and sustained scholarly inquiry; regards mothering as work that is important and valuable to society but emphasizes that the essential task of mothering is not, and should not be, the sole responsibility and duty of mothers; contests, challenges, and counters the patriarchal oppressive institution of motherhood and seeks to imagine and implement a maternal identity and practice that is empowering to mothers; seeks to correct the child centredness that defines much of the scholarship and activism on motherhood and seeks to develop research and activism from the experience and the perspective of mothers; commits to social change and social justice, and regards mothering as a socially engaged enterprise and a site of power, wherein mothers can and do create social change through child-rearing and activism; understands mothering and motherhood to be culturally determined and variable, and is committed to exploring the diversity of maternal experience across race, class, culture, ethnicity, sexuality, ability, age, and geographical location; and 54

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endeavours to establish maternal theory and motherhood studies as autonomous, independent, and legitimate scholarly disciplines.

This list is only partial and provisional. It is my hope that future scholarship will lead to a more substantive and robust definition of this new feminist field of matricentric feminism to create a feminism, in the words of feminist writer and activist Marilyn Waring, for which mothers and mothering count.

Controversies and challenges Matricentric feminism, however, has yet to be incorporated into the field of academic feminism. In making this claim, I am not saying no feminist scholarship on motherhood exists, but rather that matricentric feminism remains peripheral to academic feminism. Over the last two plus decades as a motherhood researcher and publisher, I have heard countless stories from motherhood scholars about how their work has been ignored, dismissed, invalidated, or trivialized by academic feminists: how the women’s studies conferences they attend have few, if any papers, on motherhood; how motherhood is seldom a topic of discussion in women’s studies classrooms and rarely included in academic feminist textbooks; and how articles on motherhood or reviews of motherhood books are all but absent in the leading women’s studies journals. My 2016 study of the place of motherhood over the past ten years in contexts such as National Women’s Studies Association conference panels, as well as in top feminist journals such as Signs, Frontiers, Women’s Studies Quarterly, Feminist Studies, and Gender and Society, and in gender and women’s studies textbooks and syllabi confirmed this antidotal evidence, finding that only 1 percent to less than 3 percent of the content is devoted to the topic of motherhood (Matricentric Feminism). Given that 80 percent of women become mothers in their lifetime, there is an evident disconnect between the minimal representation of motherhood in academic feminism and the actual lives of most women. A demand for a theory and practice based on a specific identity of women is hardly an innovative or radical claim. Over the last forty plus years, many groups of women have argued that mainstream feminism – largely understood to be liberal feminism – has not adequately represented their perspectives or needs. Women of colour, for example, have advocated that feminism address the intersectionality of their oppression as racialized women, a feminism now known as womanism; women from the Global South have called for the development of a theory of global feminism; and queer, lesbian, bi, and trans women have supported growth of queer feminist theory and activism. Likewise, the development of third-wave feminism in the 1990s grew out of young women’s sense of alienation from the aims of second-wave feminism. When such women demanded a feminist theory of their own, the larger feminist movement acknowledged, albeit often reluctantly, that such women had been excluded from the larger canon of feminist thought. Feminist theory was subsequently revised to include these different positions and perspectives within feminism. Most introduction to women’s studies textbooks or courses now include chapters or units on socialist feminism, global feminism, queer feminism, third-wave feminism, and womanism, and these perspectives and topics are well represented at women’s studies conferences and in women’s studies journals. However, as mothers began to call for a feminism for and about mothers over the last decade or so – what I have defined as matricentric feminism – and to ask for its inclusion in academic feminism, their calls were not met with the same respect or recognition. More often than not, their claims were dismissed, trivialized, disparaged, and ridiculed: Why would mothers need such a mother-centred feminist perspective? The question implies that mothers do not have 55

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needs or concerns separate from their larger identity as women. It troubles me deeply that feminists are able to understand the intersectionality of gendered oppression when it comes to race, class, sexuality, and geographical location but not so for maternity. But I would argue – and I suspect most mothers would agree – that maternity needs to be likewise understood in terms of intersectional theory. The category of mother is distinct from the category of woman: many of the problems mothers face – social, economic, political, cultural, and psychological – are specific to their work and identity as mothers. Mothers, in other words, do not live simply as women but as mother women, just as black females do not live simply as women but as racialized women. Moreover, mothers’ oppression and resistance under patriarchy are shaped by their maternal identity, just as black women’s oppression and resistance are shaped by their racialized identity. Thus, mothers need a feminism of their own – one that positions mothers’ concerns as the starting point for a theory and politic of empowerment. For me, this seems self-evident. Why then is maternity not understood to be a subject position and, hence, not theorized as with other subject positions in terms of the intersectionality of gendered oppression and resistance? Why do we not recognize mothers’ specific perspectives as we do for other women, whether they are queer, working class, racialized, and so forth? Why do mothers and mothering not count or matter? In my 2016 book Matricentric Feminism: Theory, Activism, and Practice, I consider various reasons for what I term the disavowal of motherhood in academic feminism. Here I share two of these considerations: the confusion of mothering with motherhood and the conflation of maternalism, and hence gender essentialism, with matricentric feminism. Samira Kawash in her review article on motherhood argues that “the marginalization of motherhood in feminist thought over the last 15 years was a political rejection of maternalist politics constructed as a backlash to feminism and the result of dramatic upheavals in feminist theory” (971). Indeed, Kawash argues that “by the late 1990s difference feminism had been eclipsed and was no longer a serious topic of discussion in feminist graduate programs or in the academic feminist press.” “The deconstruction of ‘woman’ and the post structuralist accounts of gender and power,” she continues, “left motherhood to the side, an embarrassing theoretical relic of an earlier naïve view of the essentialist woman, and her shadow, the essential mother” (971). Building on Kawash’s argument, I argue that it is more precisely a misreading of maternity and maternalism in matricentric feminism that has resulted in the disavowal of motherhood in and by academic feminism.

Confusing mothering with motherhood It is my view that the disavowal of motherhood in academic feminism is the result of a larger and pervasive feminist discomfort with all things maternal and more specifically as a result of confusing the institution of motherhood with the experience of mothering. Much of secondwave feminism – in particular that of liberal and radical-libertarian feminism – views motherhood as a significant, if not the determining, cause of women’s oppression under patriarchy. As Rosemarie Putnam Tong notes in her second edition of Feminist Thought, Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique, a central liberal feminist text,“advised women to become like men” (31). The now-infamous quote from The Feminine Mystique – “the problem that has no name” – quickly became a trope for the dissatisfaction supposedly felt by stay-at-home mothers. Friedan states that “in lieu of more meaningful goals, these women spend too much time cleaning their already tidy homes, improving their already attractive appearances, and indulging their already spoiled children” (69–70). Moreover, Friedan argues that “contemporary women needed to find meaningful work in the full-time, public workforce” (22). Along the same lines, radical-libertarian feminist Shulamith Firestone claims that “the material basis for the sexual/political ideology 56

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of female submission and male domination was rooted in the reproductive roles of men and women” (qtd. in Tong 52). Elsewhere, Firestone writes: No matter how much educational, legal, and political equality women achieve and no matter how many women enter public industry, nothing fundamental will change for women as long as natural reproduction remains the rule and artificial or assisted reproduction the exception. Natural reproduction is neither in women’s best interests nor in those of the children so reproduced. The joy of giving birth – invoked so frequently in this society – is a patriarchal myth. In fact, pregnancy is barbaric, and natural childbirth is at best necessary and tolerable and at worst like shirting a pumpkin. (92) For Friedan and Firestone, motherhood is a patriarchal institution that causes women’s oppression, and, thus, for them, the feminist solution is to disavow and denounce motherhood. However, as motherhood scholars and mothers alike have rightly argued, such reasoning is deeply flawed in its failure to take into account the important difference between the institution of motherhood and women’s experiences of mothering. In Of Woman Born, Adrienne Rich distinguishes between two meanings of motherhood, one superimposed on the other: “the potential relationship of any woman to her powers of reproduction and to children”; and “the institution – which aims at ensuring that that potential – and all women – shall remain under male control” (13). The term “motherhood” refers to the patriarchal institution of motherhood, which is male-defined and controlled and is deeply oppressive to women, whereas the word “mothering” refers to women’s experiences of mothering and is female-defined and potentially empowering to women. The reality of patriarchal motherhood, thus, must be distinguished from the possibility or potentiality of feminist mothering. To critique the institution of motherhood, therefore, is “not an attack on the family or on mothering except as defined and restricted under patriarchy” (Rich 14). In other words, whereas motherhood as an institution is a maledefined site of oppression, women’s own experiences of mothering can be a source of power. It has long been recognized among scholars of motherhood that Rich’s distinction between mothering and motherhood was what enabled feminists to recognize that motherhood is not naturally, necessarily, or inevitably oppressive. Rather, mothering, freed from motherhood, could be experienced as a site of empowerment and a location of social change if, to use Rich’s words, women became “outlaws from the institution of motherhood.” However, in much of academic feminism, this crucial difference between the institution and the experience is not recognized or understood. As a result, mothering becomes confused with motherhood, and maternity is regarded solely and exclusively as a patriarchal entity.

Conflating matricentric feminism with maternalism and gender essentialism A matricentric perspective is often confused with a maternalist one. Matricentric feminism, as already discussed, understands motherhood to be socially and historically constructed and positions mothering more as a practice than an identity. Central to matricentric feminism is a critique of the maternalist stance that positions maternity as basic to and the basis of female identity; it challenges the assumption that maternity is natural to women – all women naturally know how to mother – and that the work of mothering is driven by instinct rather than intelligence and developed by habit rather than skill. Although matricentric feminism does hold a matrifocal perspective and insists that mothering does matter, it does not advance a maternalist argument or agenda. 57

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However, matricentric feminism, in its focus on a gendered experience that of mothering (and the related ones of pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding), does force us to address the thorny issue of gender difference. Feminist theory, with the notable exception of difference-­ cultural feminism, positions gender difference as central to, if not the cause of, women’s oppression. Liberal feminists advocate what has been called “sameness feminism,” wherein women become more like men; radical-libertarian feminists promote androgyny; and post-structuralist feminists seek to destabilize and deconstruct gender difference all together. Indeed, as Niamh Moore notes, “challenging biological determinism and other essentialisms has been a crucial policy strategy for feminists” (qtd. in Stephens 141). Thus, because feminists are uncomfortable with anything that underscores gender difference and suggests essentialism (i.e., men are naturally this way, and women are naturally this way), motherhood becomes problematic, as it more than anything else is what marks gender difference: only biological females can biologically become mothers. And because gender difference is seen as structuring and maintaining male dominance, many feminists seek to downplay and disavow anything that marks this difference – the main one, of course, being motherhood. For many feminists, to call attention to women’s specific gendered subjectivity as a mother is to subscribe to an essentialist viewpoint: acknowledging and affirming what is seen as marking and maintaining gender difference and, hence, the oppression of women. Indeed, as Julie Stephens writes in Confronting Postmaternal Thinking: “the primary focus of the second-wave feminist movement has been one long struggle against essentialism, whether this be biological, cultural or ideological. This makes any discussion linking women and care, or mothering and nurture, particularly troubling” (10). Consequently, as Stephens goes on to argue, “any activism done in the name of the maternal will be unsettling, particularly for those who perceive feminism as primarily a struggle against essentialism” (141). I agree that gender is constructed – sex does not equal gender or as Simone de Beauvoir said “one is not born a woman but made one” – and thus, people cannot define themselves or limit their lives to that which is socially constructed by gender. However, I likewise believe that feminists should not disavow motherhood to facilitate this destabilizing of gender. I believe it is possible to simultaneously argue that gender is constructed and that motherhood matters and that maternity is integral to a mother women’s sense of self and her experience of the world. In my view, the apprehension over gender difference is the elephant in the room of academic feminism; it has shut down necessary and needed conversations about important – and yes gendered – biological dimensions of women’s lives: menstruation, pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding, and mothering. Mothers can no longer talk about their reproductive identities and experiences without being called essentialist. But maternal scholars do not reduce women’s sense of self to motherhood, nor do they say that this is what makes her a woman or that motherhood is more important than other variables that constitute self. They say only that motherhood matters and that it is central and integral to understanding the lives of women as mothers. Thus, mothers need a feminism, in both theory and practice, for and about their identities and experiences as mothers.

Direction for future research Motherhood studies as an area of scholarship, Kawash writes, “is on precarious grounds: ignored by mainstream academic feminism, fragmented and discontinuous in the academic margins” (986). In making this argument, Kawash uses as her example York University’s refusal to provide institutional funding for The Association for Research on Mothering (ARM) and the resulting closure of the association in 2010. Kawash writes that “the fact that neither the university system nor the institution of academic feminism appears willing to support a scholarly community 58

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and research program that explicitly foregrounds mothering is discouraging” (986). However, as Kawash goes on to argue, “but the fact is, even before York pulled the plug, the established academic community completely ignored the work of ARM. Neither O’Reilly’s work nor the Demeter volumes were reviewed in any significant feminist journals, and JARM had few institutional subscribers” (986). Thus, “while motherhood has been an energizing topic in the past decade,” Kawash argues, “there has been little of boundary-crossing movement between academic and popular discussion, and the movement between feminist studies and motherhood studies has been only in one direction” (986). But as Kawash, concludes: Feminist theorists, scholars, and writers, as well as feminist mother activists, have a lot to say to each other, and a lot to learn from each other, about motherhood. Motherhood studies needs the perspectives and commitments of feminism as well as the institutional resources that feminism and women’s studies have accumulated over the past four decades. At the same time, feminism cannot possibly hope to remain relevant without acknowledging motherhood in all its contradictions and complexities. (986–87) Indeed, in the words of maternal theorist Patrice DiQuinzio “to the extent that mothering in all its diverse forms, remains an important aspect of women’s lives and that decisions about whether, when, and how to mother continues to face almost all women, feminism cannot claim to give an adequate account of women’s lives and to represent women’s needs and interests if it ignores the issue of mothering” (“Mothering and Feminism” 545).

Further reading Kawash, Samira. “New Directions in Motherhood Studies.” Signs, vol. 36, no. 4, 2011, pp. 969–1003. “Matricentric Feminism.” Journal of the Motherhood Initiative, vol. 10, no. 1, Spring/Summer 2019. O’Reilly, Andrea. Matricentric Feminism: Theory, Activism, and Practice. Demeter Press, 2016.

Conclusion In this chapter, I have introduced matricentric feminism, discussed the disavowal of motherhood in academic feminism, and suggested possible explanations for its exclusion. However, despite the disavowal of motherhood in academic feminism, we do have a feminist theory and movement of our own. But matricentric feminism must be more than acknowledged as a legitimate, viable, independent school of feminist thought; it must be integrated into mainstream academic feminism. But how do we accomplish this? We need more women doing motherhood scholarship and more mother professors in academe. We demand that matricentric feminism have a chapter of it is own as do other schools of feminism theory – queer, global, womanist, third wave – in our feminist theory readers, that introduction to women’s studies courses and textbooks include sections on motherhood, that women’s journals and conferences include more papers on motherhood, and that more books on motherhood are reviewed. We must continuously challenge the conflation of mothering with motherhood within academic feminism as well as counter the association of matricentric feminism with gender essentialism. And decisively and urgently, we must interrupt the received narrative of academic feminism, in particular, its normalization of the genderless and autonomous subject, in order to foreground the centrality of women’s reproductive identities and lives and the importance of care in our larger culture. Indeed, as Ann Marie Slaughter comments, “The bottom-line message is that we 59

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are never going to get gender equality between men and women unless we value the work of care as much as we value paid work. That’s the unfinished business” (qtd. in McCarthy). Finally, and most important, we must demand that matricentric feminists be recognized and respected as the feminists that they are and that their feminism, that of matricentric feminism, have a room of its own in the larger home of academic feminism.

Works cited Crittenden, Ann. The Price of Motherhood: Why the Most Important Job the World Is Still the Least Valued. Henry Holt and Company, 2001. Daly, Brenda O., and Maureen T. Reddy, editors. Narrating Mothers: Theorizing Maternal Subjectivities. U of Tennessee Press, 1991. DiQuinizio, Patrice. The Impossibility of Motherhood: Feminism, Individualism and the Problem of Mothering. Routledge, 1999. ———. “The Politics of the Mothers Movement in the United States: Possibilities and Pitfalls.” Journal of the Association for Research on Mothering, vol. 8, nos. 1–2, 2006, pp. 55–71. ———. “Mothering and Feminism: Essential Mothering and the Dilemma of Difference.” Maternal Theory, edited by Andrea O’Reilly, Demeter Press, 2007, pp. 542–55. Firestone, Shulamith. The Dialectic of Sex. Bantam Books, 1970. Friedan, Betty. The Feminine Mystique. 1963. Dell, 1974. Hirsch, Marianne. The Mother/Daughter Plot: Narrative, Psychoanalysis, Feminism. Indiana UP, 1989. Jeremiah, Emily. “Troublesome Practices: Mothering, Literature, and Ethics.” Mother Matters: Motherhood as Discourse and Practice, edited by Andrea O’Reilly, Demeter Press, 2004, pp. 231–41. Johnson, Miriam. Strong Mothers, Weak Wives: The Search for Gender Equality. U of California Press, 1988. Kawash, Samira. “New Directions in Motherhood Studies.” Signs, vol. 36, no. 4, 2011, pp. 969–1003. Kutz-Flamenbaum, Rachel V. “Maternalism.” Encyclopedia of Motherhood, edited by Andrea O’Reilly, Sage Press, 2010, pp. 712–16. Maushart, Susan. The Mask of Motherhood: How Becoming a Mother Changes Everything and Why We Pretend It Doesn’t. Penguin Books, 2000. McCarthy, Ellen. “Why Neither Men nor Women Can ‘Have It All.’ ” The Toronto Star, Toronto Star Newspapers, Ltd, 30 Aug. 2016, Accessed 11 Sept. 2016. O’Reilly, Andrea. Matricentric Feminism: Theory, Activism, and Practice. Demeter Press, 2016. Rich, Adrienne. Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution. 2nd ed., W. W. Norton, 1986. Ruddick, Sara. Maternal Thinking: Toward a Politics of Peace. Beacon Press, 1989. Showalter, Elaine. “Toward a Feminist Poetics.” The New Feminist Criticism: Essays on Women, Literature and Theory, edited by Elaine Showalter, Pantheon Books, 1986, pp. 125–43. Stephens, Julie. Confronting Postmaternal Thinking: Feminism, Memory, and Care. Columbia UP, 2011. Tong, Rosemarie. Feminist Thought: A More Comprehensive Introduction. 4th ed., Westview Press, 2014. Tucker, Judith Stadtman. “Motherhood and its Discontents: The Political and Ideological Grounding of the 21st Century Mothers’ Movement.” “Motherhood and Feminism” Conference, Association for Research on Mothering, Toronto, Ontario, 2004. Waring, Marilyn. If Women Counted: A New Feminist Economics. Harper & Row, 1988. Williams, Joan. Unbending Gender: Why Family and Work Conflict and What to Do about It. Oxford UP, 2000. Woolf, Virginia. A Room of One’s Own. Oxford, 1929.



Mothering through difference Hearing the voices of marginalized mothers


Introduction Cultural, legal, political, and scholarly attention to queer mothering is critically important for both practical and theoretical reasons. Motherhood has frequently been idealized as a feminine embodiment of moral purity. Mothers with queer sexual desires and practices – for example, lesbians, swingers, BDSM practitioners, and sex workers – directly challenge that ideal by challenging the Madonna/whore dichotomy. Mothers with queer gender identities further trouble cultural ideals of motherhood by troubling the father/mother dichotomy itself. Thus, queer mothers provide a valuable vantage point from which to interrogate harmful constructions of mothers as self-sacrificing asexual women who practice heterosexual monogamy as a matter of reproductive duty. At the same time, queer mothers and those who mother queerly are frequently stigmatized as morally unfit to raise children. This chapter discusses both the perspectives embodied and challenges faced by mothers who are queer including lesbian mothers, butch mothers, trans mothers, intersex mothers, the mothers of queer children, mothers in non-normative families, and others. I conclude with reflections on how the marriage equality movement and advances in reproductive technologies may advance the parental rights and opportunities of some queer mothers at the expense of others.

Background and context Historical overview The term “queer” is used by Western activists and scholars to signify a variety of forms of resistance to normative models of sex, gender, and sexuality. Sometimes it functions as shorthand for lesbian, gay, and bisexual. At other times, it demarcates new forms of sexual radicalism from oldstyle lesbians and gays. It may signify those whose gender identities are non-binary. Often, it is used as an umbrella term covering a variety of non-normative sexual and gender identities. Or it may refer to a political coalition of diverse groups who are stigmatized by their sexual practices or gender performances. Queer theorists use the term to highlight incoherencies in the supposedly stable and causal relations between sex, gender, and sexual desire.


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In 1990, Teresa de Lauretis coined the phrase queer theory to propose a project with three aims: (1) to resist heteronormativity (using heterosexuality as the benchmark for all sexual practices and identities); (2) to attend to gender differences (sometimes flattened by the presumed homogeneity of lesbian and gay studies); and (3) to heed the ways in which race shapes sexual subjectivities. Queer theory developed in parallel with queer activism in the late twentieth century. In the 1980s and 1990s, ACT UP, Queer Nation, and other activists critiqued representations of HIV/AIDS as a gay disease, addressed heterosexist governmental policies, developed safer-sex education programs for diverse populations, and shifted thinking about sexuality from questions of identity to sexual practices. Queer activist groups such as the Lesbian Avengers and the Sylvia Rivera project also influenced queer scholarship by their critiques of lesbian and gay identity politics as inadequately attentive to gender and race. Also emerging in the late twentieth century – sometimes working in concert with radical queer activists and sometimes in tension with them – were a variety of political organizations based in advocacy by and for the families and friends of lesbians and gays. Started in 1972 by the mother of a gay son and later featured on Queer as Folk, Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) resisted anti-gay crusades, distributed information to schools and faith communities, developed safe school programs, and lobbied for legislation protecting lesbians and gays from discrimination and hate crimes. In 1979, Gay and Lesbian Parents Coalition International (GLPCI) was formed to support homo-parental families; children of those families subsequently formed Children of Lesbians and Gays Everywhere (COLAGE) to provide peer support, research, media, advocacy, and activist training for children of same-sex parents. As trans visibility in the queer community grew, through the work of Transgender Nation and other trans advocacy organizations, family support organizations such as PFLAG and COLAGE expanded their mission to support transgender persons and their families. In the early twenty-first century, political advocacy for trans persons and other sexual and gender minorities, including queer people of color, was often overshadowed by efforts to obtain same-sex civil unions and marriage rights in North America and Europe. For some, the legalization of same-sex marriage, along with increased gay and lesbian access to family-making through decreased restrictions on adoption and fertility treatments, has been heralded as a success of queer activism. For others, the increasing normalization of lesbian and gay families (often referred to as homonormativity) exemplifies an assimilationist politics at odds with imagining and supporting queer (non-normative) ways of being and living.

Central theories/themes Four areas of emphasis define the scholarship on queer mothering to date: scholarship focused on mothers who are queer, scholarship focused on mothering queer children, scholarship focused on mothering queerly, and scholarship focused on motherhood as queer. These are discussed below in order of their historical emergence.

Mothers who are queer A dominant theme in the literature on queer mothering concerns the ways in which those who identify as queer negotiate their identity as mothers. The specific issues that may require negotiation differ depending on whether a mother’s queerness is linked to a non-normative sexual identity and/or a non-normative gender identity.


Queering and querying motherhood SEXUALLY QUEER MOTHERS

Moral panics frequently surround sexual behaviors deviating from vanilla heterosexual intercourse within the context of monogamous marriage between same generation partners. Even when “freely chosen and avidly sought,” queer sex is often stigmatized – most often by an appeal to protecting children (Rubin 159; Edelman). Thus, those deviating from conventional norms of sexuality – including “countless lesbians, gay men, prostitutes, swingers, sex workers, and ‘promiscuous’ women” have had their children removed from their care by the state (Rubin 159; Wyland; Clinton et al.). In response to the loss of maternal rights faced by many women who came out as lesbian during the sexual revolution, organizations such as the Lesbian Rights Project and the Lesbian Mother’s National Defense Fund focused in the 1970s on providing financial and legal support to lesbian mothers in child custody cases (Clinton et al.; Rivers). With the advent of orientation blind standards for child custody, lesbian identity was no longer an explicit cause for loss of custody in the United States, Canada, and most western European nations. However, same-sex orientation continues to explicitly threaten a mother’s custody in nations where sodomy remains illegal and may still implicitly disadvantage women seeking custody in Western nations (Pearson). Moreover, in the West and elsewhere, sex workers, those who engage in online sexual activity, and others deemed sexually deviant continue to be stigmatized as morally unfit to parent, resulting in loss of child custody in cases of arrest, divorce, or other circumstances that make their sexuality public (O’Hara; Krueger et al.). Closely tied to custody battles over “a child’s best interests,” considerable psychological and sociological research has focused on the effects of parental sexual orientation and proclivities on children (see, e.g., Stacey and Biblarz; Biblarz and Stacey; Pearson). In addition to complicating custody cases, the stigmatization of sexual queers may threaten a woman’s ability to become a mother (Chasnoff et al.). Those who are sexually queer may face complex navigations through domestic or international adoption systems that favor placing children with middle-class, Christian, married, heterosexual couples (Brettschneider) or, for those choosing pregnancy, complex negotiations with health care systems where skepticism about ­single-mothering, lesbian mothering, and other forms of non-normative mothering persists (Dahl). Becoming a queer mother may also involve negotiations with birth families, sperm donors, or others wishing to remain connected to a child. Kinship must also be negotiated by (sexual and domestic) partners biologically unrelated to the children whom they co-parent. Cultural norms privileging biological mothers as the “real” mothers make themselves evident as non-biological mothers encounter doctors, teachers, and others who may question their ability to make decisions on a child’s behalf (Park). Even the language by which to represent co-mothers is fraught; descriptors such as “non-biological mother” or “co-parent” may sound “cold” or “bureaucratic,” rather than intimate (Moraga; Dahl). Cultural assumptions privileging bio-familial connections can and have influenced judicial decisions in contested custody cases after the dissolution of lesbian relationships. At the same time, negotiations of kinship by parents who identify as sexually queer have challenged legal and cultural definitions of family as heteronormative; by modeling a “conscious feminist kinship,” lesbian mother families have played an especially important role in “undoing” gender (Sullivan; Goldberg). GENDER QUEER MOTHERS

While the courts, media, activists, and scholars paid significant attention to homo-parental families during the latter part of the twentieth century, the twenty-first century has seen an increased


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focus on parents who are gender queer. Butch, trans, and intersex parents both challenge and are challenged by the discourse of “motherhood.” Butch parents (lesbians who perform masculinity) queer the ways in which sex and gender binaries are presumed to align to create motherhood as a “natural” identity for those who are female (Fraiman). Insofar as pregnancy is associated with “a cult of uber-femininity,” motherhood may threaten the foundations of a butch gender identity; yet, such identity challenges may engender a “creative do-it-yourself sensibility” that produce new understandings of maternity (Summers). Child-rearing by butch/femme couples may also generate new understandings of fatherhood and destabilize heteropatriarchal family ideals: “[t]he butch dad and the femme mom raise the possibility of authority without patriarchy” and “gender polarity without compulsory heterosexuality,” educating children in “the arbitrariness of all gender roles” (Halberstam, Gaga Feminism 58). Trans parents (parents who do not identify as the sex or gender they were assigned at birth) also confuse gendered expectations of parenting. Some trans individuals physically transition from male to female (MTF) or female to male (FTM) via top and bottom surgeries and hormone regimes; others may remove or add breasts while leaving their genitalia unaltered or change their visible genitalia while leaving their internal reproductive organs intact. Some who identify as transgender may leave their physical bodies largely unaltered (due to preference, lack of funds, or other circumstance). Trans mother typically refers to a person with children who identifies as female but was assigned a masculine gender at birth; trans father typically refers to someone with children who identifies as male but was assigned a feminine gender at birth. Some trans parents may resist the gender binaries encoded in “father” and “mother” and create other names for themselves as genderqueer parents. When a person changes their pubic gender identity after a parental identity (as mother or father) has been previously established, this change will require negotiation within one’s circles of intimacy, including with one’s children and partner as well as with more extended family and communities (Hines; Boylan). The complexities of such negotiations for fathers who transition to mothers have been brought to public attention through streaming series such as Transparent and Orange is the New Black. While transwomen have captured the public imagination as they become mothers to the children whom they previously fathered, transmen – such as Thomas Beattie who created a media sensation in 2008 – have captured public attention in their role as birthgiving fathers (Beattie). Transmen who give birth may face social and psychological challenges when conflicts arise between their embodiment (e.g., as a breastfeeding parent) and male gender identity (MacDonald). Medical challenges are also likely; despite the hypervisibility of some transmen’s pregnancies, trans pregnancies are largely invisible, resulting in little research on or skilled medical attention to the specific reproductive needs of transmen (Hoffkling et al.). Because intersex persons have relatively uncommon combinations of hormones, chromosomes, and anatomy, intersex pregnancies also require specific medical expertise which is often lacking. Medical complications with pregnancy are exacerbated for those who have been subjected to genital surgeries and other treatments during infancy and childhood and for which there may not be an honest and complete medical history. Practices of infant genital surgery have been challenged by intersex people but have been slow to change in the Western world, where gender ambiguity is not well tolerated (Costello). Intersex parents further confound gendered expectations about mothering. As individuals who do not – and often do not desire to – fit Western gender binaries, they destabilize both essentialist notions of mothering (as determined by one’s sex) and notions of mothering as a binary gender choice. 66

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Mothering children who are queer In his queer theoretical polemic against the politics of “reproductive futurism,” Edelman argues that “queerness names the side of those not ‘fighting for the children’ ” (3). Edelman’s critique of heteronormativity is aimed at “the Child” as a symbol of innocence to be protected by an often violent social and political order aimed at replicating itself. If we shift our focus away from the symbolic Child and towards specific children, we find a form of queerness committed to fighting for children. These are the PFLAG mothers and others who, regardless of their own sexual or gender identities, have aligned themselves with queerness as advocates for LGBTQI+ minors and young adults. Not all mothers of queer children have queer sensibilities. Indeed, some may abuse, neglect, mistreat, misunderstand, and/or reject their queer children. However, all queer children need adults who will care for and about them. The queerness of children rubs off on both the mothers who accept, embrace, and advocate for LGBTQI+ children and those who shun them. In both Western and non-Western contexts, women’s “experiences of raising gender and sexually nonconforming children are integrally shaped by the conditions of gender and family inequality in their own lives,” including disproportionate responsibility for “child outcomes” (Brainer 921). In heteropatriarchal cultures, mother-blaming is ubiquitous. Thus, a child’s queerness – if viewed as a flaw – will result in a “secondary stigma” on their mother ( Johnson and Benson; Peukert). The stigmatization of mothers who raise sexually and gender non-conforming children is especially strong in cases where mothers themselves identify as queer (Kuvlanka). Queer spawn, as the children of queer parents have come to name themselves, will often (not always) be queer or queer-friendly, thus exemplifying the fears of social conservatives that queerness is contagious and will be transmitted from parent to child (Epstein-Fine and Zook). When one is shamed as a “bad” mother, one may strive for re-inclusion in the group (“good” mothers) that has shunned you; alternatively, one may embrace one’s shunned status as a political identity bonding oneself to other mothers who align themselves with queer values and advocate for queer lives. In this sense, a queer mother is one who refuses heteropatriarchal constructions of “good” mothering, a mother who refuses to be ashamed of her child’s sexual or gender deviance and who, thus, “comes out” as deviant herself. Some queer theorists have suggested that all children are queer (deviant, strange). To follow this strand of queer theory is to contemplate a world in which all mothers might become queer by simply following their children’s lead. Children experience time differently than adults, follow different conversational logics, and are less susceptible to shame and guilt (until disciplined for their anarchism), notes Halberstam, arguing that children could teach adults a thing or two (Gaga Feminism). Stockton describes children as “growing sideways” rather than growing “up” in a linear trajectory toward adult size and maturity including work, marriage, reproduction, and the loss of childishness (4). Perhaps, such failures to grow up might be celebrated (Queer Art of Failure). A mother who did this would be queer indeed.

Mothering queerly In addition to denoting people with marginalized sexual orientations and gender identities, “queer” is used to designate ways of doing things that disrupt sexual norms and gendered expectations. As attention to advocacy for queer children illustrates, queer mothering is not just about a mother’s identity (who one is) but is also about a mother’s practices (what one does). As Gibson argues, “queering” may be “understood to extend beyond individual identity and toward a consideration of how relationships, communities, genders, and sexualities 67

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might proceed otherwise” (6). Thus, queering motherhood starts anywhere “central gendered, sexual, relational, political, and/or symbolic components of ‘expected’ motherhood are challenged” (6). There are a wide variety of ways in which mothers have challenged the expectations of motherhood by “proceeding otherwise,” i.e., by mothering queerly (Gibson; Park). Teen pregnancy, chosen single motherhood, the delayed child-bearing of women prioritizing careers, lesbian and gay family making, and a booming reproductive technology industry have produced reproductive choices and patterns differing radically from traditional expectations. Such forms of mothering disrupt the normative “time of reproduction” as “ruled by a biological clock for women and by strict bourgeois rules of respectability and scheduling for married couples” (Halberstam, Queer Time and Place 5). In-vitro fertilization, egg donation, surrogacy, and other medical interventions into reproduction have queered procreation by dividing gestational, genetic, and social motherhood and by facilitating a greater range of choices about whether, when, with whom, and how one will reproduce (Mamo). Fifty years ago, Firestone argued that artificial reproduction was key to women’s liberation from male privilege, the tyranny of the biological family with its gendered divisions of labor, and the sex distinction itself. Glimmers of Firestone’s hoped-for “era of polymorphous perversity,” reveal themselves in Tea’s description of a pregnancy involving a “drag queen-sweetheart-volunteer sperm donor,” the implantation of a trans partner’s fertilized eggs into her uterus, a second-trimester porn addiction, a doula resembling a PFLAG mother, and a morphine high during a C-section (Tea). Just as one might procreate queerly, one might “do family” queerly. In donor-extended families, for example, mothers may “recognize members of the sperm donor’s family (when he is known) as their family. . . . Lesbian-coparent families whose children share a donor with theirs” are another example of queering family forms (Sullivan 15; see also Andreassen). Like donorextended families, families extended by adoption, divorce and remarriage, and polyamory queer motherhood. So too does polygamy, as featured prominently on US television shows such as Sisterwives. Like lesbian-headed households, such families may include multiple mothers, thereby requiring co-operative caregiving, the extension of trust to other mothers, and non-possessive mother-child intimacies. Many of these queer ways of doing family also reveal motherhood as a relationship exceeding biology and law. When families of origin become families of choice, motherhood cannot always be claimed as a genetic connection or a legally recognized custodial relationship; one’s relationship with a child must be creatively constructed on alternative grounds (Park). Families constructed in non-traditional ways also illustrate the “strange temporalities, imaginative life schedules, and eccentric economic practices,” most often associated with queer subcultures (Halberstam, Queer Time and Place 1; Jones). Adoptive mothers, for example, may “wait” for indefinite periods of time for a child to arrive; divorced mothers schedule their lives and inhabit their homes differently during custodial and non-custodial time; mothers in divorced, blended, and poly families are creative with spaces, schedules, and finances as complex family configurations expand, contract, or transform. Among the life practices needed by members of queer subcultures is a set of queer survival skills. Mothering queerly thus involves teaching children the skills needed to negotiate the nonqueer world. In non-monogamous families, for example, children need to learn how to come out and when and where it is safe to do so. In addition to learning to pass, children manage their friends’ knowledge of parents’ sexual practices through bordering (protected, strategic disclosures) and polluting (resistance, noncompliance) (Pallotta-Chiarolli; Sheff ).


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Mothering as queer A recent account of maternity suggests provocatively that pregnancy is inherently queer. “Queer pregnancy,” as described by Nelson in The Argonauts, is not the same as “pregnant queers” (although Nelson identifies as queer), nor does it simply connote a queer means of becoming pregnant (although Nelson’s conception is technologically mediated). Nelson focuses on pregnancy itself as a bodily phenomenon experienced as “strange,” “wild,” and “transformative,” noting it “profoundly alters one’s ‘normal’ state and occasions a radical intimacy with – and radical alienation from – one’s body” (14). Nelson’s account of pregnancy bears similarities to Young’s account of pregnant embodiment as a state in which the dichotomy between self and other, self and world, breaks down. However, while Young uses her phenomenological observations of pregnancy to develop a feminist philosophical account of embodiment, Nelson uses her observations to challenge queer theory’s identification of queerness with non-procreative sex. Drawing on Fraiman’s analysis of “queer pregnancy” and “sodomitical maternity,” to illuminate the violent intimacy of both anal sex and procreation, Nelson uses her experiences of pregnancy to challenge “the tired binary that places femininity, reproduction, and normativity on one side and masculinity, sexuality, and queer resistance on the other” (Fraiman 146, qtd. in Nelson 75). Interweaving a narrative of her artificial insemination with her partner’s narrative of testosterone injections and breast removal surgery, likening the flooding of breast milk to orgasm, and juxtaposing the sequence of birth (her son’s) with a sequence of death (her mother-in-law’s), Nelson reveals maternity to be quite queer. In so doing, she transforms our understandings of what it means to be queer as well as what it means to be a mother.

Central issues Central issues in the scholarship on queer mothering are both practical and theoretical. Practical issues include a series of issues concerned with how to ensure the rights and well-being of mothers and/or children who identify as queer. Theoretical issues center on whether we can understand mothering as a queer practice and, if so, how.

Practical issues Practical concerns include securing legal protections for queer mothers. This includes protecting the custody rights of mothers who are sexually queer and securing legal reforms allowing second-parent adoptions in lesbian, gay, and other queer households. These goals highlight the need for non-discriminatory practices in public agencies. Insofar as child custody decisions rely on a “best interests of the child” standard, social workers, teachers, and others entrusted with ensuring child welfare need to be alert to social biases that continue to link queerness to moral depravity that threatens children’s well-being. Reducing these cultural biases is, in turn, linked to issues of cultural representation (Reed). Queer folk who are represented fairly in the media are more likely to be treated justly by social and legal institutions. Gender queer mothers, like sexually queer mothers, face cultural, social, and legal biases. Mothers who are trans or intersex also have practical concerns related to inadequate health care. From conception through delivery and breastfeeding, medical norms of maternity are premised on a biologically standardized women’s body. Thus, doctors, nurses, and other health care practitioners will frequently be unprepared to provide quality care for mothers whose diversity is physiological as well cultural.


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The mothers of queer children may also need to navigate heteronormative, transphobic court systems, health care systems, and social welfare agencies in advocating for their children. However, the literature on mothering queer children has also emphasized biases in schools and concerns about bullying (Travers; Barkin; “Seth’s Legacy”). Straight mothers of queer children may seek advice from queer mothers on queer parenting discussion lists. Social media has become an important tool for learning how to navigate discriminatory systems and build community among those marginalized by those systems. At the same time, it has become a primary site for the bullying of queer youth.

Theoretical issues Theoretical discussions of queer motherhood focus largely on the tension inherent in combining “queer” and “mother.” As a field that studies sexual identities and practices, queer theory focuses on non-normative (i.e., non-procreative) forms of sexuality; as a field that studies gender identities and practices, queer theory challenges the very gender binaries that seem to be presupposed by terms such as “mother” and “father.” Early queer theorists suggested that “in a culture dominated by talk of ‘family values,’ the outlook [was] grim for any hope that child-rearing institutions of home and state could become less oppressive” and urged queers to resist both repro-narrativity (the idea that lives accrue meaning when contextualized by “a narrative of generational succession”) and repro-sexuality (the notion that a self finds “its proper temporality and fulfillment in generational transmission”) (Warner 7–9). Critiques of “breeders” as the antithesis of queer have continued into the twentyfirst century as resistance to “reproductive futurism” (Edelman). This dominant strand of queer theory comports well with a radical strand of feminism that viewed women’s oppression as rooted in the heteropatriarchal institutions of marriage and the procreative family (Firestone). However, it stands in potential tension with another strand of feminism that celebrates the nurturing work of mothers and others and that views motherhood as empowering. A feminism rooted in a maternalist politics seems, on the face of it, more normative than queer. The apparent paradox of queer mothering reveals the difficulties in (re)claiming “mother” from its traditional, heteropatriarchal moorings while also (re)claiming “queer” from its bondage to a specific type of (male) gay politics. Descriptors such as “queer mother” require ongoing attentiveness to “at what expense and for what purposes the terms are used and through what relations of power such terms have been wrought” if it is to name a shared identity grounding a democratic politics (Butler, “Critically Queer” 20). To be inclusive, the phrase “queer mother” must have a denotation broader than “lesbian mother.” Queer mothers may include gay drag queens, pregnant transmen, femme strippers, straight swingers, and many others. The practical issues facing this diverse array of queer mothers both overlap and diverge.

Controversies and challenges Two key areas of controversy related to queer mothering center on the role of the state in securing queer kinship and the role of third-world women in producing children for first-world queers.

Marriage equality and critiques of homonormativity As efforts to secure same-sex marriage rights in North America and elsewhere intensified, many queer theorists and activists questioned the wisdom of inviting the state into queer lives (see, 70

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e.g., Butler, Undoing Gender). Worries included: whether the pursuit of marriage rights would decrease the viability of other kinship arrangements, whether the focus on gay marriage and child-rearing impoverished queer imagination and desire, and whether seeking state approval of same-sex relationships might foreground “good” queers (those willing to assimilate to dominant norms) at the expense of further stigmatizing queer others. Duggan coined the term “homonormativity” to refer to the politics of respectability ushered in by (largely middle-class, white) gays and lesbians seeking state recognition of their relationships, “a politics that does not contest dominant heteronormative assumptions and institutions, but upholds and sustains them, while promising the possibility of a demobilized gay constituency and a privatized, depoliticized gay culture anchored in domesticity and consumption” (50). Homonormativity rewards lesbians and gays who mimic heteronormative standards. These standards include heterosexual parenting scripts (e.g., gay male “soccer moms” and lesbian “June Cleavers”) and norms of sexual respectability (e.g., limiting sexuality to the privacy of one’s home) (Berkowitz; Mann; Franke). Gays and lesbians who replicate heterosexual parenting scripts make themselves intelligible at the expense of self-alienation and further marginalize those who refuse scripted roles. Gays and lesbians who uphold norms of sexual privacy procure their moral fitness as good citizens and good parents at the expense of those for whom domesticated sex is either undesirable or impossible. Sex workers and mothers who are non-monogamous, for example, have not had their sexual liberties or parental protections expanded by the normalization of lesbian and gay marriage. The risk of arrest and loss of child custody for sexual minorities other than cohabitating or married couples is increased when they lack economic, racial, able-bodied and/or other privileges that mark them as productive, morally upstanding citizens. Forms of national belonging afforded lesbians and gays willing to assimilate to heteronormative forms of life (marriage, children, a home, a car, a pet, family vacations, wills, insurance, etc.) come at a cost – both for those who aspire to this form of citizenship and for those who are cast out as less than ideal citizens. These costs have revealed themselves in recent Pride celebrations. Once a “Gay Freedom March,” intended to create a public space for sexual and gender dissidents subject to arrest, the Pride parade now prominently features police officers next to lesbian moms pushing children in strollers. In 2016, Black Lives Matter protesters temporarily shut down Pride parades in Canada and the United States, demanding the removal of police from the celebration. Such protests remind Pride organizers that the state continues to stigmatize, criminalize, and destroy black and brown queer lives, even as it is celebrated for granting rights to lesbians and gays with white middle-class privilege.

Third-world women reproducing for first-world queers Some queer theorists have argued that the economic, cultural, and political empowerment of a privileged class of lesbians and gays in the United States, Canada, and northern Europe not only excludes those without racial privilege but also depends on their domestic, affective, and reproductive labor (Eng). The rhetoric of “chosen family” as used by (white, middle-class) gay and lesbian adoptive couples has been critiqued by diasporic queers and feminists of color for its erasure of the reproductive labor of birthmothers that makes such choices possible as well as for its commodification of the (often female) children those women have borne. Transracial and transnational adoption has a long and controversial history in the Global North that includes the treatment of black women and children as white property during chattel slavery, the forcible removal of Indigenous children from their tribes, the foster care placements of children from poor white families and families of color who fail to meet white middle-class norms of “good” homes, and 71

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the adoption of children from countries decimated by imperialist wars and economic policies. Placed in the context of such historical, economic, and political legacies, adoption by same-sex couples – although celebrated on shows such as Modern Family – seems complicit with white supremacy, colonialism, and imperialism (Park). Similar controversies surround techniques of assisted reproduction. Many homonormative families are created through technologies such as in vitro fertilization, artificial insemination, and gestational surrogacy. While middle-class white women (single and married, lesbian and straight) avail themselves of the services of sperm banks and fertility clinics, poor women, including many women in the Global South, are more likely to provide than consume reproductive services. Indeed, marketized reproduction depends on economic inequalities among women. For example, since egg harvesting is a painful procedure accompanied by health risks, the fertility industry depends on some women having financial needs significant enough to induce them to undergo the procedure. Similar considerations pertain to surrogacy. Feminist attention to the inequities involved in surrogacy arrangements was initiated by the 1988 “Baby M” case in the United States, where an uneducated white woman hired as a surrogate by a white professional couple wanted to keep her baby. Feminists were divided over this case, with some arguing that surrogacy exploited poor and less educated women and others arguing that surrogacy contracts respected the right of women to make personal decisions about their bodily autonomy. Some feminists also argued on behalf of surrogacy as extending reproductive rights to infertile women, single women, and lesbian and gay couples. Renewed attention to surrogacy in the twenty-first century has centered on surrogacy contracts between gay men and gestational surrogates. US law has continued to uphold the parental rights of contracting parents over those of surrogates who wish to retain custody (A.G.R. v. D.R.H. & S.H.). Because of the custodial complications of using a known surrogate, many gay men (and other infertile couples) from affluent nations are outsourcing reproductive labor to women in nations where poverty motivates women to enter surrogacy contracts. Theorists have emphasized the emotional costs of surrogacy (and other practices of global care chains extending from the Global South to the Global North) both to mothers and to the children who are commodified and exploited (Hochschild; Davies; Eng). Critiques and analyses of transnational surrogacy often focus on India where reproductive tourism has become a primary industry. Vast differences in wealth, coupled with racial/ethnic differences and legacies of colonialism, have led to pointed critiques of the exploitation of Indian surrogates by an industry that literally makes money from women’s flesh (Klein) and deploys an “orientalist gaze” to groom consumers from the Global North (DasGupta and DasGupta 74–76). Despite the troublesome colonial echoes of transnational surrogacy arrangements, some feminists view gestational surrogacy as paid labor, arguing against the Western romanticization of reproductive labor (as a labor of love) and for accepting its status – like sex work – as labor deserving of financial remuneration ( Jacobson). Lesbian mothers and other women accessing fertility services more frequently use sperm banks than surrogates. Those who do use sperm banks (rather than sperm from a known donor) to conceive, typically do so for two reasons: to prevent donor claims to fatherhood and to ensure they conceive with “healthy sperm.” The desire for healthy sperm (like the desire for healthy ova and genetic testing in ART pregnancies) bespeaks the desire for a child that lives up to cultural ideals of perfection (Kaposy). “Health” easily functions as a euphemism here for ableist norms; frequently, it is also racially coded. Denmark’s status as the “sperm capital of the world,” for example, is attributable both to laws permitting donor anonymity and industry flexibility and to its reputation for careful screening for genetic “defects.” It also “doesn’t hurt,” suggests one journalist, “that so many of the Danish donors are tall, fit, athletic young men,” describing a typical donor as “blond-haired and blue-eyed, with a square jaw and wide smile that makes him 72

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look like a young Matt Damon” (Manzoor). Discourses of race and eugenics continue to frame technologically assisted reproductive practices (Russell; Mamo).

Directions for future research A good starting place for learning about queer kinship is Weston’s Families We Choose. Two excellent collections of work featuring diverse experiential and theoretical accounts of queer mothering are Epstein’s Who’s Your Daddy? and Gibson’s Queering Motherhood. One of the limitations of studies of queer mothers is their focus on (mostly white, middleclass) mothers in the Global North. This limitation arises, in part, from the fact that the term “queer” originated in a US context and its signification doesn’t transfer easily across cultural contexts with disparate sexual and gender norms. Considering this, greater dialogue between post-structuralist accounts of sexuality and gender (emerging largely from humanities disciplines) and more material, culturally contextualized, accounts of women’s reproductive and caretaking work (emerging largely from the social sciences) would be fruitful. Fortunately, this dialogue has begun in critical kinship studies, a relatively new field that draws together the knowledge and conceptual frameworks of anthropology and cultural studies with queer and decolonial analyses of kinship (Franklin and McKinnon). Recent work in critical kinship studies relevant to thinking about queer mothering can be found in Carsten’s After Kinship, Kroløkke et al.’s Critical Kinship Studies, and Riggs and Peel’s Critical Kinship Studies: An Introduction to the Field. In revisiting kinship studies from a critical vantage point informed by queer theory, critical race theory, and transnational economies, critical kinship studies has addressed issues of inequality in family making, shifting the focus of queer motherhood studies from the “lived experiences of lesbian, bi, and queer women as they negotiate kinship at the intersection of reproduction, technology, and politics” (Luce) to the lived experiences of the women and children whose labor makes that negotiated kinship possible (Hofmann and Moreno). Queer mother scholars and activists in the Global North who find it difficult to shift their focus away from their own marginalization towards their potential complicity with neocolonial systems of globalization will benefit from moving documentaries and creative works such as Haimowitz and Sinha’s Made in India, Borshay Liem’s First Person Plural, and Moffatt’s Night Cries.

Further reading Epstein, Rachel, editor. Who’s Your Daddy?: And Other Writings on Queer Parenting. Sumach Press, 2009. Gibson, Margaret F., editor. Queering Motherhood: Narrative and Theoretical Perspectives. Demeter Press, 2014. Kroløkke, Charlotte Lene Myong, et al., editors. Critical Kinship Studies. Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, 2015. Mamo, Laura. Queering Reproduction: Achieving Pregnancy in the Age of Technoscience. Duke UP Books, 2007. Nelson, Maggie. The Argonauts. Graywolf Press, 2016. Park, Shelley M. Mothering Queerly, Queering Motherhood: Resisting Monomaternalism in Adoptive, Lesbian, Blended, and Polygamous Families. SUNY Press, 2013. Weston, Kath. Families We Choose: Lesbians, Gays, Kinship. Columbia UP, 1997.

Conclusion Queer mother scholars and activists both query (question) and queer (transform) motherhood as constructed in heteronormative, heteropatriarchal regimes characterized by practices of gender binarism. At the core of this critical transformation of motherhood is its denaturalization. 73

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For queer mothers and those who mother queerly, there is no “natural” way of having sex, no “natural” way of becoming a mother, and no “natural” body that a mother has. Sex, nature, and motherhood are delinked in several different ways by those who identify as sexually and gender queer: through the creation of families by means other than (hetero) sexuality, through co-parenting relationships that are not (hetero)sexual, through insisting on their status as “fit” mothers despite sexual desires that exceed the boundaries of heterosexual monogamy, through inverted lines of inheritance wherein queer children breed queer mothers, through challenging the presumed temporalities of mothering and the spaces in which it takes place, and by revealing that the capacity for gestation and nurturing is not limited to those who identify or present unambiguously as women. These and other forms of queering motherhood – if not re-domesticated by the assimilationist pull of homonormativity – have far-reaching consequences that extend to all children and all mothers. The uncoupling of parenthood from nature challenges, for example, the assumption that children are the biological property of their parents, destined and obligated to replicate the lineage they have been given. The denaturalizing of the maternal body further reveals that conceptions of mothering as “women’s work” are conceptually and empirically flawed at their core. And attention to the wide diversity of sexual practices in which mothers engage (or refuse to engage) helps discredit the Madonna/whore dichotomy that continues to frame cultural and legal understandings of maternal fitness. Critical interrogations of the good mother/bad mother dichotomy are important not only for self-identified queers but also for those whose fitness as mothers has been questioned due to the sexual politics of race, class, and ability. In these and other ways, queer forms of mothering have the potential to radicalize practices and theories of motherhood. Whether that radical potential will be actualized remains to be seen.

Works cited Andreassen, Rikke. Mediated Kinship: Gender, Race, and Sexuality in Donor Families. Routledge, 2018. Barkin, Janna. He’s Always Been My Son: A Mother’s Story about Raising Her Transgender Son. Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2017. Beatie, Thomas. Labor of Love: The Story of One Man’s Extraordinary Pregnancy. Seal Press, 2009. Berkowitz, Dana. “Maternal Instincts, Biological Clocks, and Soccer Moms: Gay Men’s Parenting and Family Narratives.” Symbolic Interaction, vol. 34, no. 4, Sept. 2011, pp. 514–35. Biblarz, Timothy, and Judith Stacey. “How Does the Gender of Parents Matter?” Journal of Marriage and Family, no. 1, 2010, pp. 3–22. Borshay Liem, Deann. First Person Plural. New Day Films, 2013. Boylan, Jennifer Finney, and Anna Quindlen. Stuck in the Middle with You: A Memoir of Parenting in Three Genders. Broadway Books, 2014. Brainer, Amy, “Mothering Gender and Sexually Nonconforming Children in Taiwan.” Journal of Family Issues, vol. 38, no. 7, May 2017, pp. 921–47. Brettschneider, Marla. The Family Flamboyant: Race Politics, Queer Families, Jewish Lives. SUNY Press, 2006. Butler, Judith. “Critically Queer.” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian & Gay Studies, vol. 1, no. 2, Nov. 1993, pp. 17–33. ———. Undoing Gender. Routledge, 2004. Carsten, Janet. After Kinship. Cambridge UP, 2010. Chasnoff, Debra, et al. Choosing Children. Frameline, 1984. Clinton, Kate, et al. Mom’s Apple Pie the Heart of the Lesbian Mothers’ Custody Movement. Frameline, 2006. Costello, Cary Gabriel. “Not a ‘Medical Miracle’: Intersex Reproduction and the Medical Enforcement of Binary Sex and Gender.” Queering Motherhood: Narrative and Theoretical Perspectives, edited by Margaret F. Gibson, Demeter Press, 2014. Dahl, Bente. Queer Challenges in Maternity Care. A Qualitative Study about Lesbian Couples’ Experiences. University of Bergen, 2015.


Queering and querying motherhood DasGupta, Sayantani, and Shamita Das Dasgupta, editors. Globalization and Transnational Surrogacy in India: Outsourcing Life. Lexington Books, 2014. Davies, Miranda, editor. Babies for Sale?: Transnational Surrogacy, Human Rights and the Politics of Reproduction. Zed Books, 2017. De Lauretis, Teresa. “Queer Theory. Lesbian and Gay Sexualities: An Introduction.” Differences, vol. 3, no. 2, 1991, pp. iii–xviii. Duggan, Lisa. The Twilight of Equality?: Neoliberalism, Cultural Politics, and the Attack on Democracy. Beacon Press, 2004. Edelman, Lee. No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive. Duke UP, 2004. Eng, David L. The Feeling of Kinship: Queer Liberalism and the Racialization of Intimacy. Duke UP, 2010. Epstein, Rachel, editor. Who’s Your Daddy?: And Other Writings on Queer Parenting. Sumach Press, 2009. Epstein-Fine, Sadie, and Makeda Zook, editors. Spawning Generations. Demeter Press, 2018. Firestone, Shulamith. The Dialectic of Sex: The Case for Feminist Revolution. Morrow, 1970. Fraiman, Susan. Cool Men and the Second Sex. Columbia UP, 2003. Franke, Katherine M. “The Domesticated Liberty of Lawrence v. Texas.” Columbia Law Review, no. 5, 2004, pp. 1399–426. Franklin, Sarah, and Susan McKinnon. Relative Values: Reconfiguring Kinship Studies. Duke UP, 2001. Gibson, Margaret F., editor. Queering Motherhood: Narrative and Theoretical Perspectives. Demeter Press, 2014. Goldberg, Abbie E. Lesbian and Gay Parents and Their Children: Research on the Family Life Cycle. American Psychological Association, 2010. Haimowitz, Rebecca, and Vaishali Sinha. Made in India: A Film about Surrogacy. PBS, 2010. Halberstam, J. Gaga Feminism: Sex, Gender, and the End of Normal. Beacon Press, 2013. ———. The Queer Art of Failure. Duke UP Books, 2011. ———. In a Queer Time and Place: Transgender Bodies, Subcultural Lives. New York UP, 2005. Hines, Sally. “Intimate Transitions: Transgender Practices of Partnering and Parenting.” Sociology, no. 2, 2006, pp. 353–71. Hochschild, Arlie Russell. So How’s the Family? And Other Essays. U of California Press, 2013. Hoffkling, Alexis, et al. “From Erasure to Opportunity: A Qualitative Study of the Experiences of Transgender Men around Pregnancy and Recommendations for Providers.” BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth, vol. 17, Supp. 2, 2017, pp. 1–14. Hofmann, Susanne, and Adi Moreno, editors. Intimate Economies: Bodies, Emotions, and Sexualities on the Global Market. Palgrave Macmillan, 2017. Jacobson, Heather. Labor of Love: Gestational Surrogacy and the Work of Making Babies. Rutgers UP, 2016. Johnson, Susan L., and Kristen E. Benson. “ ‘It’s Always the Mother’s Fault’: Secondary Stigma of Mothering a Transgender Child.” Journal of GLBT Family Studies, vol. 10, nos. 1–2, Jan. 2014, pp. 124–44. Jones, Stacy Holman. “Waiting for Queer.” International Review of Qualitative Research, vol. 10, no. 3, Jan. 2017, pp. 256–62. Kaposy, Chris. “Neoliberal Perfectionism.” Boston Review, vol. 43, no. 3, Nov. 2018, pp. 43–47. Klein, Renate. Surrogacy: A Human Rights Violation. Spinifex Press, 2017. Kroløkke, Charlotte Lene Myong, et al., editors. Critical Kinship Studies. Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, 2015. Krueger, Richard B., et al. “The Impact of Internet Pornography Use and Cybersexual Behavior on Child Custody and Visitation.” Journal of Child Custody, vol. 10, no. 1, Jan. 2013, 68–98. Kuvalanka, Katherine A., et al. “The Experiences of Sexual Minority Mothers with Trans* Children.” Family Relations, vol. 67, no. 1, Feb. 2018, 70–87. Luce, Jacquelyne. Beyond Expectation: Lesbian/Bi/Queer Women and Assisted Conception. U of Toronto Press, 2010. MacDonald, Trevor. Where’s the Mother? Stories from a Transgender Dad. Trans Canada Press, 2016. Mamo, Laura. Queering Reproduction: Achieving Pregnancy in the Age of Technoscience. Duke UP Books, 2007. Manzoor, Sarfraz. “Come Inside: The World’s Biggest Sperm Bank.” The Guardian, 2 Nov. 2012. Moffatt, Tracey. Night Cries: A Rural Tragedy. 1989. Moraga, Cherrie. Waiting in the Wings: Portrait of a Queer Motherhood. Firebrand Books, 1998. Nelson, Maggie. The Argonauts. Graywolf Press, 2016. O’Hara, Mary Emily. “Sex Workers Want to Talk to You about Parenting.” The Daily Dot, 14 Aug. 2015. Pallotta-Chiarolli, Maria. Border Sexualities, Border Families in Schools. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2010.


Shelley M. Park Park, Shelley M. Mothering Queerly, Queering Motherhood: Resisting Monomaternalism in Adoptive, Lesbian, Blended, and Polygamous Families. SUNY Press, 2013. Pearson, Kim H. “Sexuality in Child Custody Decisions.” Family Court Review, vol. 50, no. 2, Apr. 2012, pp. 280–88. Peukert, Janet. “Constrained Agency: British Heterosexual Mothers of Homosexual Sons.” Mothers Who Deliver: Feminist Interventions in Public and Interpersonal Discourse, edited by Jocelyn Fenton Stitt and Pegeen Reichert Powell, SUNY Press, 2010, pp. 191–214. Reed, Elizabeth. “Lesbian, Bisexual and Queer Motherhood: Crafting Radical Narratives and Representing Social Change through Cultural Representations.” Women, vol. 29, no. 1, Mar. 2018, pp. 39–58. Riggs, Damien W., and Elizabeth Peel. Critical Kinship Studies: An Introduction to the Field. Palgrave Macmillan, 2016. Rivers, Daniel Winunwe. Radical Relations: Lesbian Mothers, Gay Fathers, and Their Children in the United States since World War II. U of North Carolina Press, 2013. Rubin, Gayle. “Thinking Sex: Notes for a Radical Theory of the Politics of Sexuality.” Pleasure and Danger, edited by Carole Vance, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1984, 267–321. Russell, Camisha A. The Assisted Reproduction of Race. Indiana UP, 2018. “SETH’S LEGACY: Tehachapi Teen’s Suicide Launches National, Local Anti-bullying Fights.” Bakersfield Californian [Bakersfield, CA], 5 Feb. 2012. Sheff, Elisabeth. The Polyamorists Next Door: Inside Multiple-Partner Relationships and Families. Rowman & Littlefield, 2015. Stacey, Judith, and Timothy J. Biblarz. “(How) Does the Sexual Orientation of Parents Matter?” American Sociological Review, vol. 66, no. 2, 2001, pp. 159–83. Stockton, Kathryn Bond. The Queer Child, or Growing Sideways in the Twentieth Century. Duke UP, 2009. Sullivan, Maureen. The Family of Woman: Lesbian Mothers, Their Children, and the Undoing of Gender. U of California Press, 2004. Summers, A. K. Pregnant Butch: Nine Long Months Spent in Drag. Soft Skull Press, 2014. Tea, Michelle. “Getting Pregnant with Michelle Tea: I Had a Baby.” Human Parts, 12 Feb. 2015, https:// Travers, Ann. The Trans Generation: How Trans Kids (and Their Parents) Are Creating a Gender Revolution. New York UP, 2018. Warner, Michael. “Introduction: Fear of a Queer Planet.” Social Text, no. 29, 1991, pp. 3–17. Weston, Kath. Families We Choose: Lesbians, Gays, Kinship. Columbia UP, 1997. Wyland, Francie. Motherhood, Lesbianism and Child Custody. Falling Wall Press, 1977. Young, Iris Marion. Throwing Like a Girl: And Other Essays in Feminist Philosophy and Social Theory. Indiana UP, 1990.


5 DISABLED MOTHERS Gloria Filax and Dena Taylor

Introduction Mothers with disabilities cover a wide range of being in this world: they may have a physical condition such as muscular dystrophy or blindness, a psychiatric disorder such as being bipolar or depressed, or an intellectual impairment. Their disability may be hidden or visible, and they may be ill or not. They may be birthmothers, stepmothers, co-mothers, or adoptive mothers. This chapter covers who is disabled, the various theoretical models (individual/medical, social, and cultural models) and how these shape disability, the disabling of the disabled, what we can learn from disabled mothers, the challenges facing mothers with disabilities, how/if disabled mothering offers insights to feminist practices of mothering, and what the future may hold.

Background and context Disability theorist Rosemarie Garland Thomson observes that a presumed correspondence between disability and femaleness has persisted throughout the history of Western thought since Aristotle declared “the female is . . . a deformed male” (20). The Aristotelian notion that equates the nondisabled body with the male and the disabled body with the female has contributed to both sexism and ableism. Thomson notes that “many parallels exist between the social meanings attributed to female bodies and those assigned to disabled bodies” (19). Female bodies and disabled bodies are both assumed to be feeble bodies that “must therefore have a feeble mind” (Stone 10). Furthermore, disabled bodies are feminized by the culture and therefore considered to be dependent (Lewiecki-Wilson and Cellio 4). The association of the female body with disability has meant that “the figure of the mother is over-determined and vexed for both feminism and disability studies” (Lewiecki-Wilson and Cellio 3). In a social world where the able-bodied are constructed as the social norm, the disability is made invisible and often unspeakable. Those who cannot conceal impairments are shunned because they cannot help drawing attention to their bodily “imperfections” or hide their disability (Stone 11). Girls and women are also expected to stay in the background. Yet, it is not possible to conceal the physical evidence of later stage pregnancy and the presence of babies and children mean that mothers are highly visible. For disabled mothers concealing 77

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mothering is not an option and hence often their disability is exposed as well. Having a visible disability makes these mothers vulnerable to increased social surveillance and scrutiny with the concomitant moralizing about the capacity and quality of their mothering. In her book on mothering, Of Woman Born, Adrienne Rich provides a distressing account of the institution of motherhood for Western women, an institution which is almost impossible for most women to achieve, including those who conform to social norms. While Rich did not write about disability and mothering directly, her description of motherhood as a “painful, incomprehensible, and ambiguous ground” poignantly applies to disabled mothers (15). Rich wrote about the difficulty of mothering in relation to the harshness of social norms that govern the institution of motherhood. For disabled mothers, these social norms can be even more constraining. Many disabled mothers have taken on the hydra-headed beast of social norms that make up the intersection of gender and disability in contemporary, Western cultures and resist these social norms; sometimes they submit to them, often they just disappear and as often they are disappeared only to reappear as an object of another’s imagining.

Who is disabled? The question of who is to be counted among the disabled is a recurring theme in discussions of disability. Who is disabled and the meaning of disability are much different when disability is regarded as a problem to be solved rather than as a condition that has been produced by social organizations, or when it is understood as an embodied revelation from which, among other things, it is possible to critique the imperative of normalcy. Answers to the question of “who is disabled?” influence social policy, self-identity, and possibilities to affect change. These have profound effects on people’s lives. While it is useful in some circumstances to distinguish people with disabilities who are ill from those who are disabled but not ill, it is also true that many people who have physical impairments have health problems and many chronically ill people are disabled by their illnesses. Those who are ill present a challenge to the disability movement (Wolfe 253). For example, many disability movement activists reject the impulse to prevent and cure disability, while those who are ill will often look for cures and an end to their suffering. Wolfe wants the disability movement to rethink the scope of its concerns so that it does not leave ill people on the “wrong” side of those who are or are not worthy to benefit from its efforts. As Linton indicates, to count as disabled might be as simple as “you are disabled if you say you are” (225) as long as it is recognized that disability “is mostly a social distinction . . . a marginalized status” with this status assigned by a majority culture (Gill 44). The notion that disability labels should be reserved for the healthy disabled, or at least that they should not be extended to chronically ill people, suggests that there may be a hierarchy of what counts as a disability. Beresford suggests that some illnesses or afflictions are not easily countenanced within disability activism or disability communities for fear of their association with mental illness (167). This suggests that there is a “hierarchy of impairments” that affects how people with and without disabilities regard “impairment groups” (Deal 898). Often, defining what counts as disability falls to those who are in institutional or professional positions. Definitions are often narrow so that fewer people are entitled to benefits. Yet, public recognition of disability may be refused by some who are impaired or disabled by the culture in order to avoid social stigma. In contrast, the Deaf community regards itself as a distinct linguistic and cultural community that is only disabled by hearing people’s inability to communicate in sign language. High functioning autistic individuals who identify as Autistic regard themselves as a distinct cultural community as well.


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Titchkosky suggests another way of understanding disability. She represents disability as a social space that is constituted from disability identity, relations to the disabled body that occur between people, and the ways disability identity and intersubjective relations to the disabled body are interpreted (48). She argues that neither disability nor non-disability can be understood merely by their objectified physicality. Instead both disability and non-disability must be understood as the lived experiences of people in relation to each other. Since the relationships of disability are further impacted by other axes of difference such as gender, ethnicity, class, geographical home, and mothering, the relationships of disability are complex. Central to identification as disabled is what terms to utilize when communicating about disability. Some writers prefer “people with disabilities” to underline that disablement is not the defining characteristic of a person. Others, including Titchkosky, refer to “disabled people” to emphasize disablement as a social process, and therefore a sociopolitical matter, that prevents certain people from access to resources and goods available to others (48). Those who follow the social model of disability argue that the phrase “people with disabilities” reflects a medical approach to disability (Shakespeare 268) and weakens the idea of disabled people as an oppressed group in society (267). Titchkosky argues that the term “people with disabilities” implies that disability is not part of what it is to be a person, not quite part of personhood, thus not quite part of the self, and leaves disability as a problem (24). The phrase “disabled person” points to disability as a form of interrelatedness that shifts focus away from the individual to what Frank describes as the relational way in which bodies are inscribed by culture, how the body projects itself into social space, and the boundary of these reciprocal social relations (209). And yet, “disability is not a thing, an essence, a fixed identity, or a single kind of experience, even though language often leads us to talk about it that way” (Lewiecki-Wilson and Cellio 3). Whether one identifies as a disabled mother or mother with a disability, there is a need for language that can refer to group or individual identity in order to mobilize ethical claims regarding legal rights. Reference to “the disabled” is fraught with a tension between not wanting to reduce differences between people to a singular notion while wanting to take advantage of benefits that might accrue to being identified as a single political entity. “Nice words such as ‘physically challenged’ and ‘special people’ . . . are often used by agencies [to] control the lives of people with disabilities” (Linton 223).

Critical issues The problem of normalizing discourse: disabling the disabled Disability draws the attention of fields that seek to cure, fix, repair, or deny its existence. Disability is a difference that exists only to be undone. (Snyder and Mitchell 190, italics in the original)

Prior to the nineteenth century, there was no concept of normal and abnormal nor was there a concept of the disabled in relation to a standard (Davis 4). Davis describes how the field of statistics signified normal to mean what is typical or most common and, as a consequence, divided populations into standard and nonstandard subpopulations. As Davis indicates, “the idea of the norm pushes . . . variation of the body through a stricter template guiding the way the body should be” (9). The emergence of a notion of normalcy, says Davis, creates the “problem” of the disabled person (10).


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Titchkosky notes that the most authoritative representations of disability come from medical, therapeutic, and rehabilitative researchers and practitioners, pathologists, and genetic researchers (135). Medical approaches to disability regard impairment as sickness or deformity that can and must be altered or cured through medical intervention. Similarly, a rehabilitative approach regards disability as an abnormality or a deficiency that can be altered by professionals. Social science research for the most part has taken for granted the approach that disability is a problem, while regarding disability as deviance that can be altered through expert intervention. One of the effects of the problem approach to disability, argues Titchkosky, is that it teaches people who are not disabled that their discomfort in the company of those with disabilities can be attributed to the people with disabilities and that it is not related to interpretation and interaction (141). Normalcy, according to Goffman, is a position from which one recognizes who is stigmatized (5). Stigmatization is a process emanating from what Goffman refers to as reactions by “the normals” to that which is perceived to be undesirable (13). As Titchkosky indicates, not only do normals have no differences that are undesirable, it is normal for them to notice those with undesired differences (142). She notes that disability is an occasion that consolidates normality through recognition of a problem – the problem of disability subsumes all of a person’s other attributes (144). Approaches that deal with disability as a problem inform health, education, and social science practices where disability is reduced to the condition of having a body that is a problem that can be cured, improved, or otherwise altered (Titchkosky, see ch. 5). Snyder and Mitchell argue that as long as disabled bodies are regarded as objects of an inexhaustible research, disabled bodies will be “fodder for any number of invasive approaches” (187). This includes not only the interventions of medicine and therapy but also social science research that expends the “time, liberty, and energies” of people with disabilities “without concern or adequate citation” (193). Disciplines such as special education, physical therapy, occupational therapy, communication disorders, nursing, medicine, and adapted physical education and kinesiology often treat disability as insufficiency in need of change or normalization. This leads to an intolerance of difference that in turn leads to organized attempts to remove human differences through cures, rehabilitation, therapies, mainstreaming (or institutionalization if mainstreaming doesn’t work), and even abortion (Lewiecki-Wilson) or eugenics (Snyder and Mitchell). Eugenics through abortion of fetuses who have various and unwanted genetic conditions echoes the practice of aborting female fetuses in times and places where girl children are less valued. Scrutiny of egg donors to ensure “healthy, accomplished, and attractive” donors echoes earlier American and other Western preoccupations with “racial betterment” discourses about fitness that has made possible the elimination of disability or any other unwanted characteristic (Cellio 19) and holds the possibility of eliminating these differences even earlier. What does normalization mean for disabled women when gender expectations are that women are to reproduce and that motherhood and mothering are a necessary and natural outcome for a happy life? Saxton’s research reveals that early “proponents of eugenics portrayed disabled women in particular as unfit for procreation and as incompetent mothers” (122). As Barile writes, “according to the cultural and socially constructed beliefs I was brought up with, it is non-disabled women’s responsibility to reproduce, and I, as a woman with disabilities could not, and should not, reproduce” (225). Compulsory sterilization of the unfit has an intimate, sorry history for disabled people (Snyder and Mitchell 186). While sterilization may be uncommon in the Western world in the twenty-first century, there is still a widespread assumption that disabled women have no right to reproduce and/or that there are risks to the health and survival of the foetus and the disabled 80

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mother (Thomas 504). When disabled women consider pregnancy or having children, a discourse of risk tempers their experience because [Medical discourse] . . . at its core [has] the belief that if there is a risk of abnormality, or the risk of worsening an already abnormal bodily condition, then steps must be taken to avoid it; genetic counseling outlining the “risks,” or the option/recommendation of a termination. (Thomas 504) For many of Thomas’s research participants, there was a sense that passing on or causing impairment in a child was unfair and irresponsible (505). Even if impairment is not the result of “bad genes,” disabled women are thought to be “contagious” because they are “unhealthy” and therefore questionable in terms of their ability to birth a “healthy” child. The offer to disabled women of genetic counseling and genetic testing serves a eugenics impulse to disappear “abnormal conditions” through abortion. Wilson writes that genetic research has cast the body as a genetic text, with disability a “flawed edition of that text” (53). Hubbard asserts that we would not tolerate tests to identify other stigmatized characteristics, for example, skin color. Children of disabled mothers are often thought to be abnormal or deviant themselves because of close proximity with their disabled parent. Mairs writes about the guilt she experienced as a disabled mother in which she worried that her children were not growing up with a “normal” mother (qtd. in Titchkosky 212). Filax’s experience is that “poor” behavior of a child, especially school-age children exposed to the hidden curriculum of middle-class values, is often blamed on a mother who is different from the social norms of “good” motherhood.

Disabled mothers as cultural critique: learning from disabled mothers Historically, disabled people have been objects of study but not purveyors of the knowledge base of disability (Snyder and Mitchell 198). The formulation of a cultural model allows us to theorize a political act of renaming that designates disability as a site of resistance and a source of cultural agency previously suppressed – at least to the extent that groups can successfully rewrite their own definition in view of a damaging material and linguistic heritage (Snyder and Mitchell 10). Is it possible to think differently about disabled mothers even as disabled mothers navigate a dominant gender discourse about the inferiority of the female body and a model of disability that focuses on disability as a problem? How can we move beyond the “fantasy” of the good mother/bad mother binary to reveal and revel in the in-betweenness of disabled mothering (Lewiecki-Wilson and Cellio 8)? The idea of oppression is central to the social model of disability and effectively shifts medical and individualizing discourse of intervention and cure to a discourse of citizenship and politics (Hughes and Paterson 325). However, the social model also “proposes an untenable separation between body and culture, impairment and disability” (326) that concedes the body and impairment to the domain of medicine. Disabled people do not experience impairment and disability separately. Rather, disability is experienced from the perspective of impaired bodies that have histories and cultural meanings, including cultural meanings about mothering and being a mother. Oppression is social, and it is embodied as hurtful. Likewise, impairment is embodied, and this embodiment structures interpersonal relationships including those of disabled mothers. As Snyder and Mitchell indicate, impairment is “both human variation encountering environmental obstacles and mediated difference that lends groups identity and phenomenological 81

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perspective . . . environment and bodily variation . . . inevitably impinge upon one another” (6–7). For example, the therapeutic beliefs about disability affect disabled women’s experiences, including the internalization of what it means to be a mother and mothering, and the psychic toll of “repetitiously attempting to perform activities beyond one’s ability” (8). The norms and expectations of culture favour nondisabled people including nondisabled mothers. Coming to an understanding of this is a source of embodied revelation for disabled people (Snyder and Mitchell 10). The sociality of impairment is often experienced by disabled people as stigma, prejudice, surveillance, and anxiety, or in the case of resistance strategies, as pride. As Titchkosky shows, the sociality of impairment exposes background expectancies – rules, procedures, and norms – used by people as they engage in ordinary life. She argues that inability to engage rules, procedures, and norms often relegates disability to embodied mistakes, but experiences with these background expectancies can also distinguish disability “as a place from which the culturally constituted boundaries between the expected and the unexpected, the visible and the invisible, and the doing and the non-doing of things, can be considered” (17–18). Disability can become “a way of being in the world from which we can learn” (28). For Lewiecki-Wilson and Cellio: New forms of knowledge and values emerge from the constraints and tensions of actual embodied situationality. Disabled bodies [including those of disabled mothers] can be emergent forces of important values and actions. (15) When it is recognized that disability experience can teach us something about culture, the need to remedy disability physically or structurally is less interesting than how disability experience illuminates the workings of the dominant culture. Snyder and Mitchell describe this as cultural diagnosis: disability functions not as an identification of abnormality but as a way to diagnose culture (12). Disability serves as a critique of the dominant culture and as a “productive locus for identification” (12). In the cultural model of disability, disability is a site of resistance and a source of cultural agency previously suppressed as it teaches us about alterity as a third space between normalcy and marginalization in which “words, lives, and bodies are combined in unexpected and extraordinary ways” (Titchkosky 220).

Challenges As discussed earlier in this chapter, the issues of who is disabled and how disability is defined are important, contentious, and have far-reaching effects. Even whether to name someone a “mother with a disability” or a “disabled mother” is debatable. The strongest challenge to disabled mothers is from normalizing and naturalizing discourse that assumes mothers are able-­bodied and within an idealized, traditional, heterosexual, and often nuclear family; women outside of this norm are unfit mother material. The first line of defense against disabled women becoming mothers takes place as surveillance. The dense discursive cultural world is packed with the bodies of able-bodied, healthy women as mothers who are the privileged maternal subjects/objects of recorded history and contemporary cultural practices. This discourse renders disabled women as doubtful, deviant prospects for motherhood, and surveillance works to internalize this doubt and denial into the psyche of disabled girls and women. This psychic panopticon or self-surveillance makes even considering the possibility of becoming a mother a fraught and negative consideration as disabled women who desire children are thought of as selfish or unrealistic (Cassiman 291). 82

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If/when a disabled woman decides to become a parent, one of the first challenges faced is that of pregnancy: Can the doctor’s office accommodate her? Will the pregnancy exacerbate her disability? If she wants it, will she have access to artificial reproductive technologies? How will she handle questions from others regarding the advisability of her having a baby? And even: will her doctors suggest terminating the pregnancy? In the early 1900s, when the eugenics movement was particularly influential, several states in the United States passed laws allowing the involuntary sterilization of people with mental and physical disabilities, resulting in the forced sterilization of 60,000 Americans. Similar laws were passed in Canada, for example, in 1928 The Sexual Sterilization Act was passed into law in the province of Alberta legislature to authorize the sterilization of those deemed to have undesirable traits (R. Wilson). Fortunately, by the 1970s, most of these laws had been abolished. However, there are still a few states where people with disabilities can be sterilized involuntarily (Preston). Fears of disabled mothers over losing custody of their children are omnipresent, says Canadian writer Vicky D’Aoust (292). In the first US study of disabled parents, conducted by the National Center for Parents with Disabilities in Berkeley, California, in 1997, it was found that 15 percent reported attempts to have their children taken away from them (Preston). Another study, done in 2012 by the National Council on Disability (NCD), found that the percentage of parents with intellectual disabilities who have their children taken away from them is as high as 40 percent to 80 percent (Reeves). Indeed, the two groups of disabled parents who are particularly vulnerable to discrimination, lack of appropriate services, and loss of their children are those with intellectual disabilities and psychiatric disabilities. In fact, it has been argued by some that parents with intellectual disabilities are often held to a higher standard of parenting than nondisabled parents (Preston). Disabled mothers are under the normalizing gaze and found wanting through the stigmatizing of disabling discourses including those of poverty, race, and other subject positions (Cassiman 294). The Berkeley study also found that disabled parents faced barriers to adoption, and they often lacked sufficient support with childcare, obtaining adaptive parenting equipment, transporting their children, and accessing information, as well as facing attitudinal barriers (Preston). Lack of accessible information and adequate support is a major challenge to disabled mothers. Some mothers may have to separate from their children during times of medical treatments and hospitalizations, making support from others even more necessary. As many feminist scholars note, discourses of the privatized care by the solitary and heroic mother are contrary to the interconnectedness of all human relations. Mothering is an exercise in interdependence for most mothers. One simply cannot mother without someone to mother. Often disabled mothers require different or more kinds of support for their mothering and more connections and interdependent relations may be necessary. For disabled mothers, mothering is an exercise in interdependence and vulnerability (Bost 165). When the caregiving of mothering is viewed as a reciprocal action, caring becomes interconnectedness and dependence as interdependence becomes an asset (Bost 167). This spins a counter-narrative to the isolation and loneliness of privatized, atomized notions of motherhood.

Possibilities The various models of disability – disability as a problem, disability as socially produced, and disability as cultural diagnosis – articulate with the norms of mothering to inform the lives of disabled mothers for better and at times for worse. Yet, there is more to disability than what theory or “experts” have to say about the disabled. In the words of Titchkosky, disability “is lived and performed in the midst of others, within exclusionary and oppressive environments, 83

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that adds to or acts upon mainstream life and ‘normal’ identity” (204). The lives of disabled mothers exceed the confines of the categories assigned through normalizing discourse. Significantly, the voices of disabled mothers offer us subjugated forms of knowledge that reveal resistance and agency as well as oppression. Disabled mothers have much to teach us – if we are open to such teachings. In the process of recently editing an anthology on disabled mothers for Demeter Press (Filax and Taylor), we became aware of many of the struggles, challenges, and opportunities faced by this group of mothers, as well as the innovations they devised and in-your-face situations they encountered. Before even becoming mothers, some disabled women struggle to imagine themselves as mothers in a world that, as one woman wrote, is “not particularly excited” to witness such an event. Society needs to create space for disabled mothers, to conceive of mothering differently, and to embrace the diversity of mothers. Consider, for example, what gifts a disabled mother could give to a child. “Who better to teach a child to plan, strategize, brainstorm and problemsolve than someone with a disability? . . . Who better to teach equality, and what it truly means in real time, than a parent with a disability?” asks a disabled woman planning to adopt. Another woman, disabled with a mental illness, says, “If and when disability is seen as an example of human variation, of human diversity, then a more inclusive view of mothering and a more humane definition of motherhood may emerge.” As proof that a parent’s disability may facilitate and enhance the parenting task, a study on diapering by parents with physical disabilities found that as long as appropriate adaptive equipment was available, parents who took longer to diaper their children spent additional time interacting with them and developing a positive parent-child relationship (Preston). Simply by being themselves, some disabled mothers challenge Western society’s construction of ideal motherhood and childhood. Consider, too, a woman who is not only a mother and disabled but also poor, nonwhite, lesbian, or all of the above. Each of these subject positions challenges normalizing discourses and combining any of these with disability and mothering straddles a borderland of hybrid subjectivity that provides a powerful counter-discourse to narratives of motherhood that dishonour, devalue, and disrespect difference. Adequate community resources, family support, and flexibility are helpful for any mother, including, of course, mothers with disabilities. If given a voice and if this voice is heeded, disabled mothers could provide insights and recommendations to other disabled parents, to health care providers, the judicial system, and also to manufacturers of assistive technology. As mentioned earlier, oppressive legal practices and issues regarding custody of children have been ongoing problems for disabled mothers. However, research being done by the National Center for Parents with Disabilities is showing that efforts to keep or regain custody are more prevalent with the increasing influence of disability studies programs in colleges and universities and Article 23 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Ella Callow, the Legal Program Director of the National Center for Parents with Disabilities, also stresses the importance of the disability community acknowledging the ongoing subjection of disabled mothers by the legal system and ensuring that disabled mothers are supported in their efforts to fight the system (Callow). The disability community has, in fact, been increasingly active in demanding changes to legislation to support and protect the rights of parents with disabilities in the United States (Preston). And in Australia, where disabled women have long faced the removal of their children, Women with Disabilities Australia (WWDA) is actively working to reverse the “stolen children” phenomenon as well as other injustices inflicted upon mothers with disabilities (Frohmader et al.). 84

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The American Psychological Association’s Guidelines for Assessment of and Intervention with Persons with Disabilities recommends several ways to ensure the rights of disabled parents, including training those in the legal system to be culturally competent in their work with the disabled. It also recommends improving the collaboration between government agencies that work with people with disabilities (Reeves). The children of disabled mothers are often believed to be overworked or in some way disadvantaged, but this notion is being disproved. In a study of young adult children raised by disabled parents in the United States (Preston), the results show that few of these children are overburdened or deprived. When they are, it is because of lack of support or other risk factors in the household. One young woman who was raised by a mother with multiple sclerosis says her mother’s presence “serves as a potent reminder to slow down, to be still, to be present, to observe, to reflect, to cultivate humility, compassion, gratitude. To be with her is to feel a sense of clarity about what really matters” (Blankenship 346). Disabled mothers and mothering becomes empowered and feminist when resistance “entails making different choices about how one wants to practice mothering” (Gordon, qtd. in O’Reilly 17). Disabled mothers do practice mothering differently but not necessarily by choice. When disabled mothers are reflexive, self-aware, and able to make informed choices, they practice mothering against able-bodied and self-sacrificing motherhood: they are mothering against the institution of patriarchal motherhood (O’Reilly 12).

Directions for future research Theory and research on disability and disabled mothers are important to understanding how disabled mothers are both subject of and subject to dominant ideas about gender roles, motherhood, mothering, and disability. Theory and research can offer ways to inform, think, and understand experiences of disabled mothers in order to disrupt myths about mothers and disability that are disabling. There are many ways of mothering and many kinds of mothers. Much of the research that has been done on parents with disabilities has been “limited and flawed,” according to Preston, largely because it has not had the input of disabled parents themselves. Now, besides pointing out these flaws, disabled parents and their families are calling for “nonpathologizing research that is more specific in its investigations” (Preston). It is becoming more common that researchers from the disability community are demanding the use of a ­disability-culture perspective. That is, says Preston,“recognizing disability as a socially constructed concept, distinguishing difference from pathology, and identifying variables that promote resilience. This view shifts the emphasis from impairment to the stigma, prejudice, discrimination, marginalization, and disempowerment imposed on individuals with disabilities” (Preston). The importance of cultural diversity in the development of policies, research and services for parents with disabilities and their families has been stressed by the International Division of the Task Force on Parents with Disabilities, as outlined by the US Task Force. The Task Force named three critical areas of concern for, and need for research on, disabled parents everywhere: poverty, illiteracy, and basic health care – for without these fundamental rights, disabled parents worldwide cannot sustain lives for themselves and their families (Preston). Erin Andrews, co-chair of the American Psychological Association’s Committee on Disability Issues, says more data needs to be collected on the prevalence, experiences, needs, and barriers faced by disabled parents. In a briefing to the US Congress in April 2013, she said a recent survey found, for example, that women with wheelchairs were the least likely to be accommodated by gynecologists. She also said some of the challenges she faces as a mother with a disability are finding day care and the difficulty of using her gynecologist’s examination table. 85

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Andrews also emphasized the need for culturally competent trained health care providers in addressing the reproductive needs of disabled women, the examination of discrimination in the adoption process and the removal of children from disabled mothers, as well as more funding for research (Reeves).

Further reading Cassiman, Shawn A. “Mothering, Disability, and Poverty: Straddling Borders, Shifting Boundaries, and Everyday Resistance.” Disability and Mothering: Liminal Spaces of Embodied Knowledge, edited by Cynthia Lewiecki-Wilson and Jen Cellio, Syracuse Press, 2011, pp. 289–301. Cellio, Jen. “ ‘Healthy, Accomplished, and Attractive’: Visual Representations of ‘Fitness’ in Egg Donors.” Disability and Mothering: Liminal Spaces of Embodied Knowledge, edited by Cynthia Lewiecki-Wilson and Jen Cellio, Syracuse Press, 2011, pp. 19–33. Davis, Lennard J. “Constructing Normalcy.” The Disability Studies Reader, edited by Lennard J. Davis, 3rd ed., Routledge, 2010, pp. 3–19. Filax, Gloria, and Dena Taylor, editors. Disabled Mothers. Demeter Press, 2014. Lewiecki-Wilson, Cynthia, and Jen Cellio.“Introduction.” Disability and Mothering: Liminal Spaces of Embodied Knowledge, edited by Cynthia Lewiecki-Wilson and Jen Cellio, Syracuse UP, 2011, pp. 1–18. Titchkosky, Tanya. Disability, Self, and Society. U of Toronto Press, 2006. ———. The Question of Access: Disability, Space, Meaning. U of Toronto Press, 2011. Wolfe, P. “Private Tragedy in Social Context? Reflections on Disability, Illness and Suffering.” Disability and Society, vol. 17, no. 3, 2002, pp. 255–67.

Conclusion What disabled mothers need, like most mothers, is support, nurturance, and care. Institutionalized motherhood demands that most mothers in Western societies will mother in isolation. Asking for help is often taken as a flaw in a culture that privatizes, isolates, and individualizes all mothering as solitary work. For disabled mothers when “help” comes it is often “ ‘help’ that is not helpful” (Thomas 513). In the 1997 study done by the National Center for Parents with Disabilities in Berkeley, it was found that 54 percent of the parents surveyed said assistance was often not available when needed; 46 percent said it was unreliable; 38 percent said it interfered with the parent’s role, and 35 percent said the personal assistants did not know how to care for children (Preston). Disabled mothers do exist, and they challenge the idea that they are not “good enough” mothers and good enough at mothering (Thomas 510). Not only do they exist, but they can be expected to increase in numbers as more disabled women broaden their options with changing societal attitudes, increased civil rights, and new adaptive technologies. And despite all the obstacles they face, “the vast majority of parents with diverse disabilities continue to provide nurturing and secure environments for their children” (Preston). The experiences of disabled mothers make clear that “the problem of disability” is produced by social barriers that exclude them as disabled mothers (Thomas 508; Shakespeare 266). In December 2006, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The Convention is the first legally binding instrument with full protection of the rights of disabled people. Article 23 of the Convention specifically addresses the rights of parents with disabilities: Discrimination relating to marriage, family and personal relations shall be eliminated. Persons with disabilities shall have the equal opportunity to experience parenthood, to marry and to found a family, to decide on the number and spacing of children, to have access to reproductive and family planning education and means, and to enjoy equal 86

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rights and responsibilities regarding guardianship, wardship, trusteeship and adoption of children. (Preston) We hope that the ideas in this chapter will help to further spread the attitude – to all of society, including health care workers, the court system, and governments – that disabled women can proudly claim the role of mother, and in fact have much to offer the world.

Works cited Barile, Maria. “New Reproductive Technology: My Personal and Political Dichotomy.” Living the Edges: A Disabled Women’s Reader, edited by Diane Driedger, Inanna Publications and Education Inc., 2006, pp. 171–85. Blankenship, Gina. “Learning How to Swim: Finding Meaning in Disability from a Daughter’s Perspective.” Disabled Mothers, edited by Gloria Filax and Dena Taylor, Demeter Press, 2014, pp. 339–48. Bost, Suzanne. “Vulnerable Subjects: Motherhood and Disability in Nancy Mairs and Cherrie Moraga.” Disability and Mothering: Liminal Spaces of Embodied Knowledge, edited by Cynthia Lewiecki-Wilson and Jen Cellio, Syracuse Press, 2011, pp. 164–78. Callow, Ella.“Disabled Mothers: Misadventures in the American Courts.” Disabled Mothers, edited by Gloria Filax and Dena Taylor, Demeter Press, 2014, pp. 277–94. Cassiman, Shawn A. “Mothering, Disability, and Poverty: Straddling Borders, Shifting Boundaries, and Everyday Resistance.” Disability and Mothering: Liminal Spaces of Embodied Knowledge, edited by Cynthia Lewiecki-Wilson and Jen Cellio, Syracuse Press, 2011, pp. 289–301. Cellio, Jen. “ ‘Healthy, Accomplished, and Attractive’: Visual Representations of ‘Fitness’ in Egg Donors.” Disability and Mothering: Liminal Spaces of Embodied Knowledge, edited by Cynthia Lewiecki-Wilson and Jen Cellio, Syracuse Press, 2011, pp. 19–33. Coleman Brown, Lerita M. “Stigma: An Enigma Demystified.” The Disability Studies Reader, edited by Lennard J. Davis, 3rd ed., Routledge, 2010, pp. 179–92. D’Aoust, Vicky. “Non-existent & Struggling for Identity.” Lesbian Parenting: Living with Pride & Prejudice, edited by Katherine Arnup, Gynergy Books, 1995, pp. 276–96. Davis, Lennard J. “Constructing Normalcy.” The Disability Studies Reader, edited by. Lennard J. Davis, 3rd ed., Routledge, 2010, pp. 3–19. Deal, M. “Disabled People’s Attitudes toward Other Impairment Groups: A Hierarchy of Impairments.” Disability and Society, vol. 18, no. 7, 2003, pp. 897–910. Filax, Gloria, and Dena Taylor, editors. Disabled Mothers. Demeter Press, 2014. Frank, Arthur. “From Disappearance to Hyperappearance: Sliding Boundaries of Illness and Bodies.” The Body and Psychology, edited by Henderickus J. Stam, Sage Publications, 1998, pp. 205–32. Frohmader, Carolyn, et al. “Unruly Mothers or Unruly Practices? Disabled Mothers Surviving Oppressive State Practices in Australia.” Disabled Mothers, edited by Gloria Filax and Dena Taylor, Demeter Press, 2014, pp. 295–314. Hubbard, Ruth.“Abortion and Disability: Who Should and Should Not Inhabit the World?” The Disability Studies Reader, edited by Lennard J. Davis, 3rd ed., Routledge, 2010, pp. 107–19. Hughes, Bill, and Kevin Paterson. “The Social Model of Disability and the Disappearing Body: Towards a Sociology of Impairment.” Disability and Society, vol. 12, no. 3, 1997, pp. 325–40. Lewiecki-Wilson, Cynthia, and Jen Cellio.“Introduction.” Disability and Mothering: Liminal Spaces of Embodied Knowledge, edited by Cynthia Lewiecki-Wilson and Jen Cellio, Syracuse UP, 2011, pp. 1–18. Linton, Simi. “Reassigning Meaning.” The Disability Studies Reader, edited by Lennard J. Davis, 3rd ed., Routledge, 2010, pp. 223–36. Miller, Toby. The Well-Tempered Self: Citizenship, Culture and the Postmodern Subject. The Johns Hopkins UP, 1993. O’Reilly, Andrea. “Foreword: Rocking the Cradle to Change the World.” Rocking the Cradle: Thoughts on Motherhood, Feminism and the Possibility of Empowered Motherhood, edited by Andrea O’Reilly, Demeter Press, 2006, pp. 7–31. Preston, Paul. “Parents with Disabilities.” International Encyclopedia of Rehabilitation, edited by J. H. Stone, and M. Blouin, 18 Sept. 2013,


Gloria Filax and Dena Taylor Preston, Paul, and Jean Jacob. “Disabled Mothers: Perspectives of Their Young Adult Children.” Disabled Mothers, edited by Gloria Filax and Dena Taylor, Demeter Press, 2014, pp. 317–38. Reeves, Stefanie. “Protecting the Rights of Parents with Disabilities.” American Psychological Association, vol. 44, no. 7, July/Aug. 2013, 19 Sept. 2013, Rich, Adrienne. Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution. 10th Anniversary Edition. W. W. Norton & Company, 1986. Ruddick, Sara. Preface: “Good Questions . . . I’ll Be Writing on This.” Rocking the Cradle: Thoughts on Motherhood, Feminism and the Possibility of Empowered Motherhood, edited by Andrea O’Reilly, Demeter Press, 2006, pp. 1–6. Saxton, Marsha. “Disability Rights and Selective Abortion.” The Disability Studies Reader, edited by Lennard J. Davis, 3rd ed., Routledge, 2010, pp. 120–32. Shakespeare, Tom. “The Social Model of Disability.” The Disability Studies Reader, edited by Lennard J. Davis, 3rd ed., Routledge, 2010, pp. 266–73. Snyder, Sharon L., and David T. Mitchell. Cultural Locations of Disability. U of Chicago Press, 2006. Thomas, Carol. “The Baby and the Bath Water: Disabled Women and Motherhood in Social Context.” Maternal Theory: Essential Readings, edited by Andrea O’Reilly, Demeter Press, 2007, pp. 500–519. Thomson, Rosemarie Garland. Extraordinary Bodies: Figuring Physical Disability in American Culture and Literature. Columbia UP, 1997. Titchkosky, Tanya. The Question of Access: Disability, Space, Meaning. Toronto: U of Toronto Press, 2011. ———. Disability, Self, and Society. U of Toronto Press, 2006. Wilson, James. “Disability and the Human Genome.” The Disability Studies Reader, edited by Lennard J. Davis, 3rd ed., Routledge, 2010, pp. 52–62. Wilson, Rob. Alberta Laws: Key Terms, 1 May 2014, 81f550e0599bef000002. Accessed 29 Mar. 2019. Wolfe, P.“Private Tragedy in Social Context? Reflections on Disability, Illness and Suffering.” Disability and Society, vol. 17, no. 3, 2002, pp. 255–67.


6 MOTHERING WHILE BLACK Strengths and vulnerabilities in a sociopolitical racial context of structural inequality Marva L. Lewis and Karen T. Craddock

Introduction A complex, intersecting array of individual and toxic sociopolitical factors impact the everyday lives of Black women in their role as mother. In the classic poem by Langston Hughes, “Mother to Son,” she proclaims, “Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair. . . . For I’se still goin’ honey, / I’se still climbin.” It speaks of the historic roots of passionate determination and creative resilience of Black mothers. These simple words highlight the need for a warrior-like strength to persevere in the face of a sociopolitical system that was designed to destroy her spirit. Later in the poem, when this mother instructs her son, “don’t you turn back,” her maternal command becomes transformed into instructions for living in defiance of a harsh system of structural racism. In this chapter, we explore selected aspects of the broad landscape of these themes that include race-based stressors for Black mothers. The chapter first provides a short overview of the several overarching themes of mothering and multiple social indexes of physical and mental health and well-being, shaped within a lived framework of structural racism. These structural themes include racial disparities and disproportionality based on explicit marginalization, stereotypes and implicit bias – all unresolved legacies of the historical trauma of African enslavement in the Americas. We argue that the use of a deficit lens applied to Black mothers’ parenting behaviors typically leads to biased conclusions as harsh discipline and “no-nonsense” child-rearing practices. For example, the long-standing schema of a “strong Black woman” (Abrams et al.) often obscures the gentle and more vulnerable side of Black mothering. The portrayal of Black women as strong and resilient minimizes the mental health needs of Black mothers and their need for emotional, physical or monetary support. The feminist weathering hypothesis (Geronimus) highlights the intergenerational biological impact on Black women of racism-based stress. We present a racialized rubric to examine a compilation of social and psychological issues specific to Black mothers. This rubric provides a framework for a deeper understanding of intersecting race-based domains of structural racism, such as segregated and inadequate housing, economic inequality and health inequities, or disparities in the educational or child welfare systems. This systematic approach to understand the cumulative impact of various domains of structural racism highlights the neglected psychosocial needs of Black mothers. 89

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A strengths perspective is used to briefly examine the practices of racial socialization through protective nurturing and adaptive parenting practices leading to resilience in young children targeted for everyday risk of discrimination, prejudice and structural racism. The chapter concludes with a discussion that builds on the poignant theme illustrated in the poem that introduces this c­ hapter – that is the remarkable and creative resilience of Black mothers to nurture and support the next generation of children and still experience joy. We end with recommendations for future research.

Background and context Key definitions The term ‘Black’ refers to the racial group membership of Black mothers. This term was created for purposes of sociopolitical categorization based on the physical characteristics of skin tones and hair type that define the phenotype. This term is often used interchangeably with the term ‘African American’ which refers to the cultural group membership or the subjective identification of an individual as their ethnic identity. More recently the term ‘Black’ is increasingly embraced by group members as an inclusive and honoring moniker to encompass all people of African descent around the globe and across the Diaspora. This marks a necessary shift in our current socio-political climate. Structural racism – a legacy of historical trauma – maintains a social hierarchy that privileges a dominant group and maintains oppression of another group. The dominant group holds positions of power and acts as an arbiter of resources for s­ urvival – economics, housing and education (Zuberi). Historical trauma is the historical experience of chronic and oppressive trauma and violence of a targeted group within a society: This type of group trauma has occurred around the world in numerous cultures and ethnic groups since recorded history (Yellow Horse Brave Heart). Examples of historical trauma include the genocide of Native Americans and First Nation people and forced removal of their children and separation from families to boarding schools designed to strip them of their Native identity. For Black mothering, the defining historical traumatic event began with the centuries of the institution of chattel slavery where enslaved Africans were forced through harsh physical methods and psychological terrorism to provide free labor that fueled the American economy (Collins). The psychological impact of people experiencing historical trauma is the “cumulative emotional and psychological wounding over the life span and across generations” (Yellow Horse Brave Heart, 7). The medical model of interpreting behaviors as symptoms and signs of psychopathology defines the concept of deficit. The simple use of demographic data that only describe characteristics of primarily Western, educated and high economic populations are often generalized for a scientific understanding of all human behavior. This sampling strategy inadvertently supports a deficit lens to interpret the behavior of groups who do not fit these demographically skewed criteria. Perceptions of Black mothering were shaped through this deficit lens. Thus, what might be interpreted by outsiders as harsh discipline, “no-nonsense” child-rearing practices of Black mothers in a context of unremitting community violence might be seen as necessary protective parenting practices to ensure the survival of their children (Lewis). Evidence from research on racial socialization by Black mothers link these protective parenting practices to positive socialemotional outcomes for Black children (Dunbar et al.; Nichols and McCoy).

Historical perspectives The historical discourse on Black mothers and Black women has been anchored in a deficit lens of dysfunction (Collins; Craddock; Harris-Perry). Research focused on the lives of low-income 90

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Black women in urban environments and the subsequent patchwork of social policies, typically focuses on factors influencing Black mothering such as single parenting status, the challenging context of parenting in poverty and experiences of domestic and community violence (Boyd-Franklin). Yet, the modern sociopolitical legacies of the historical trauma of centuries of enslavement continue to shape the modern realities of Black mothers across income categories in the United States of America (Frazier; Jones and Shorter-Gooden). From the date of Black women’s capture in their homeland of Africa, through their harrowing journey in the bowels of slave ships across the mid-Atlantic passage to the United States, their descendants have been relegated to the lowest strata of a racialized social system. As enslaved Africans in the Americas, generations of Black mothers created a variety of survival mechanisms and passed their life lessons of challenge to their children (Lewis et al.). After the abolition of slavery, the psychological terrorism of the Jim Crow South emerged as a new challenge to the newly freed Black mothers. Legal scholar Michelle Alexander’s seminal work on the prison industrial complex associated with the mass incarceration of Black men, underscored the modern-day need for constant vigilance by Black mothers and continuation of socialization practices with children tied to life or death need for obedience in children. The structural process of racist policies leading to the disproportionate imprisonment and post-prison release practices that force African American men into the caste-like category of “ex-felon” strips them of their right to vote as full citizens of their society and denies them adequate affordable housing and dignity of a living wage employment. Witnessing these daily events of diminishment and emasculation of Black men may lead to a type of overprotection of boys and “toughening up” of girls in Black mothers’ child-rearing practices (Lewis, “The Intergenerational Transmission”).

A deficit lens defining Black mothers In the late 1960s, Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan published a brief governmental report titled, “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action” (1964). With the laudable intent to focus needed governmental support for Black families throughout the urban neighborhoods across the nation, this report instead vilified Black women as the center of the “tangle of pathology” of Black families. Legacies of what is often called the “Moynihan Report” led to the labeling of Black women as “welfare queens” and as the cause of Black male unemployment (Dow; Cammett). This deficit portrayal of Black mothers led to official governmental sanctioned practices at welfare offices and local department of social work practices of “surprise visits” to mothers receiving welfare with required inspections of bedrooms searching for evidence of the presence of males, as evidenced by house shoes under the beds or shaving supplies in medicine cabinets in the bathrooms (Collins). In a comprehensive critique of social science research, an interdisciplinary team of Canadian economic and psychologist scientists identified what they deemed the inherent direct and implicit bias of Western scientific inquiry. After conducting a meta-analysis of methods used in psychological research, Henrich, Heine, and Norenzayan (2010) concluded that it was a misnomer to create psychological theories and generalize findings from samples of children and people from an unrepresentative minority of research participants. They argued that widely reported research policies driving treatment, policies and funding applied to all families were conducted on samples drawn entirely from mostly white, Western, educated, industrialized, rich and democratic (W.E.I.R.D.) societies. These findings are used to create what constitutes “normal” or “abnormal” behavior. These biased standards are then thoughtlessly applied to people of color, ethnic or religious minorities, sexual orientation and social classes. When minority behaviors are viewed through a W.E.I.R.D. prism, a deficit interpretation of their behaviors that don’t 91

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match the standard of the original samples is more likely to be made by social scientists. This failure to examine the validity or even report the simple limitation of the demographics and characteristics of samples used to build theories and research, categorizes entire diverse cultural groups of people into a deficit or abnormal, pathological category. When Black mothering is held to this W.E.I.R.D. prism, Black mothers’ behaviors and child-rearing practices are seen as pathological lending scientific support to the conclusion made by Moynihan’s analysis of Black families. To refute this damning portrayal of Black families in the Moynihan Report, sociologist Robert Hill wrote The Strengths of Black Families (1972) based on an analysis of the same census data. Hill identified multiple core strengths of Black families over the centuries of trauma and psychological terrorism that were adaptations critical for their survival in hostile environments of chattel slavery. These strengths were strong kinship bonds, strong work orientation, adaptability of family roles, extended family, religious orientation and high achievement orientation. These strengths were not necessarily different from those used by European American immigrant families facing challenging circumstances attempting to survive in an often-unwelcoming American landscape. What Hill highlighted was the need to move the narrative from a deficit trope presenting Black families as hopeless “tangles of pathology” to humanizing Black families as brilliantly surviving and thriving people in challenging circumstances.

Intersectional diversity within Black motherhood/parents concept A recent study involving contemporary Black families in the United States focused on a diverse sample of Black married couples and explored their perspectives on parenting values. The study found that differences among Black parents occurred along lines of social identity, gender, SES and whether the parents were immigrants or US born (Cross-Barnet and McDonald). Further inquiry and explorations of Black motherhood must move in a direction that examines withingroup demographics to better inform our understanding about and related practices with Black mothers. Thus, issues of mothering defined through a W.E.I.R.D. deficit lens minimizes the creative resilience displayed by Black mothers to survive in a racially stratified society. We argue that vestiges of these strengths can be found emerging through what we identify as protective adaptive and nurturing for resilience mothering practices (Craddock, “Pushing Back with Our Souls Intact”; Lewis, “The Intergenerational Transmission”; Narcisse).

Critical issues and topics The issues currently facing Black mothers include modern-day challenges presented through authority-based violence, social media and growing disparities associated with income inequality. The traditional strengths of Black families originally identified by Robert Hill have seen them through any number of difficult circumstances. Yet, with the new chronic challenges, the strong Black extended family support system is overextended and stretched to capacity. One can only imagine the amount of grief, loss and mourning that Black mothers may be silently experiencing with this myriad of chronic trauma and race-based stress. As a result, a racialized lens highlighting various biopsychosocial outcomes with roots in structural racism must be used to focus attention on the neglected psychosocial needs of Black mothers. This racialized rubric includes specific domains directly linked to structural racism (such as health disparities, gendered-based racism and incarceration rates) and the correlated challenges for Black communities specifically on women and mothers. Within communities of 92

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color around the world, the issue of Colorism – the acceptance or rejection of people based on skin color and hair type – remains part of the complexities of parent-child relationships. This specific dynamic in Black mother-daughter relationships remains an unrecognized dynamic with origins in the historical traumas of slavery and colonialism (Harris-Perry; Lewis, “Getting the Parts Straight”; Lewis et al.). Finally, a racialized rubric provides a basis for future research at the individual, community and societal level. Research is needed to understand the impact of different domains of structural racism in the form of community health, loss of life and economic impact. This racial rubric ends with the most important outcome for our discussion of this paper, the neglected psychosocial impact on Black mothers.

“Everything but the kitchen sink”: a racialized rubric of structural racism and biopsychosocial outcomes for Black mothers In their 2016 national study of the impact of discrimination and violence, the American Psychological Association found that over 50% of African American respondents reported experiences of discrimination, prejudice and racial hate crimes. They reported a clear link between discrimination and stress. Table 6.1 presents a racialized rubric to examine how some of the different domains’ of structural racism impact the well-being of Black mothers. The various domains that can be traced to structural racism include health disparities in physical and mental health, experiences of racism based on gender, such as the recent research demonstrating racial bias as the basis for the high rate of Black male toddlers’ expulsion from day care centers (Gilliam and Shabar). The familiar domains of structural racism touch many aspects of Black family life, including the public educational systems, food deserts, economics based on employment practices and the glaring disparities in the incarceration rate of Black males and increasingly Black females. Each of these domains is then linked to race-based challenges faced by Black women in general and Black mothers in particular. Examples are given of the impact of different domains of structural racism on the larger society and economy. Finally, the rubric outlines the neglected psychosocial needs of Black mothers based on the external racial social challenges they face. Black mothers face continual losses, chronic stresses and all the other factors that complicate the optimal functioning of parent-child relationships must take a psychological as well as a physical toll on Black primary caregivers.

Weathering Weathering is another critical issue. The biological toll of exposure to centuries of the multiple assaults of racism and misogyny has only recently been addressed by social scientists (Geronimus). There have been consistent public health findings of racial differences in health indicators significant to women of chronic morbidity and excess mortality. In the early 1990s, Geronimus developed the “weathering” hypothesis to describe Black women’s resilience coping response to the cumulative impact of exposure and adaptation to everyday economic adversity and racismbased stress. The weathering hypothesis proposes that, at the physiological level, chronic and persistent stress can have a significant effect on health. Geronimus et al. later found evidence of this weathering response to the generational racial stress of being a Black woman in America at the biological level. They found a pattern of aging at the cellular level significantly different for Black women in comparison to white women. Based on an analysis of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey data collected with adults aged 18–64 significant racial differences in allostatic load – the measure of stress hormone – scores. Blacks had higher scores 93

Education -Standardized test disparities -Overdiagnosis of ADHD and prescription of Ritalin

Mental Health Multigenerational transmission of standards of beauty based on skin color, hair texture, body size and facial features Gender-Based Racism Daycare expulsion of Black male toddlers

Health Disparities Physical Access to health care

Dimensions of Structural Racism

-Stress; anger -Lack of trust

-Helplessness -Disempowered -Invisibilized and ignored

-Reduced workforce for entrylevel jobs -Pipeline to prison phenomena

-Corporatization of education with charter school movement -“Turn style” educators: Reliance on inexperienced Teach-forAmerica -Loss of diverse talent for STEM to address climate change

Mass firing of experienced public school teachers, the traditional core of the Black middle-class

- With no child care; missed Income -Loss of job -Racial socialization of girls for intersectional bias -Overwhelmed grandmother caregivers -Need parenting support for education of special needs children -Disempowered parents - Invisibilized and ignored in governance of education of children -Parents viewed as “troublemakers”

Childhood memories and emotions of acceptance or rejection by caregivers and partners

Messages and reinforcement by larger social media of European standards of beauty

Intergenerational transmission of Colorism – valuing of lighter skin, “good” hair or discriminating against darker skin tones and curly hair and rejection by some in the Black community

Need to provide additional financial support to struggling family members

- Complicated grief and loss -Medical misdiagnosis; underdiagnosis -Long-term physical separation from premature infants placed in NICU

-Uninsured burial costs -High costs of Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) hospital care -Overuse of hospital emergency room care

-Ignored Birth trauma -Race-based stress during pregnancy -Premature births -Infant Mortality -Inability to do health-promoting breastfeeding due to work schedule

-High rates of maternal death in childbirth -Fibroid tumors across social class -Obesity -Diabetes -Heart Attacks -Internalized oppression -Within group tensions based on privileges of light-skinned “Talented Tenth”

Neglected Psychosocial Needs of Black Mothers


Impact on the Larger Society and Economy


Challenges in the Black Community

Table 6.1 Dimensions of Structural Racism and Psychosocial Impact on Black Mothers

- Limited economic mobility for overeducated, overexperienced middle class

-Need to work multiple minimum wage jobs with no long-term benefits -Reduced marriageable partners

Economic Income Inequality Food deserts

Prison Industrial Complex -Police shootings -Exposure to community violence

-Need to work multiple jobs -Absence from home and supervision of children -No time or energy to participate in civic discourse -Reduced access to health sources of nutrition for family Policies, practices community -Shackled female inmates during economies tied to local prison childbirth industry -Increasing rate of imprisoned mothers; reduced opportunity for attachment and bonding -Forced single-parent family structure -Lack of social support due to overextended family networks -Protective racial socialization for boys’ survival

-Less able to compete on global basis - Unregulated viral social with biased content Neighborhoods with no readily available food sources in urban areas and rural areas

-Desexualized -Lack of sexual partners

-Stress; internalized oppression; doubt; stereotype threat -Isolated middle-class women; need to “code switch” and “shift” between Black and white social settings

Marva L. Lewis and Karen T. Craddock

than whites at all ages and across socioeconomic groups, Black women had the highest and second highest allostatic load than Black men or whites. The researchers concluded that repeated exposure and adaptation are significant factors in biological indicators of Blacks’ early health deterioration and are the weathering effects of living in a race-conscious society.

Strong Black woman Research supporting and expanding existing ideologies of the Strong Black Woman schema revealed consistency among a range of Black women of varying socioeconomic, education and family make-ups and is another critical issue. The study confirmed a complex conceptualization of the Strong Black Woman schema that embodies both perseverance and strength that propels themselves and community forward, but it also comes at a cost to Black women’s well-being. Additional markers of this archetype uncovered in the research included the centrality of religion/spirituality, self-definition/ethnic pride and matriarchal leadership (Abrams et al.). These findings align with the Black motherhood research exploring psychological resistance to marginalization and profile types wherein optimal strategies of resistance included cognitively defining oneself through a culturally aware lens, incorporating faith practices and centering their mothering in liberation-oriented beliefs and practices (Craddock, “Pushing Back with Our Souls Intact”).

Challenges to Black mothers Wealth and fame are not a protection for Black mothers in the age of modern racism and presents yet another critical issue. The experience of Black women’s birth trauma being ignored by medical health care staff is vividly illustrated in the recent experience of international tennis star, Serena Williams. Well aware of her medical history that put her at risk for post delivery of her pregnancy, she immediately contacted her physician alerting them when she had concerns about her pregnancy. The medical staff initially discounted her worries as simply “new mother anxiety.” She had to vehemently insist with medical staff that she was in postpartum distress and she should be hospitalized. These examples illustrate the racial disparities stemming from structural racism in the health care system (Anderson et al.).

Black motherhood and loss concept Davis speaks to the normalization of horrific loss among Black mothers over time by a myriad of ways – children sold during enslavement, lost to abduction, infant mortality and state-­ sanctioned violence. Most striking is the underscoring of how the normalization of Black mother loss is in it a most perverse form of violence. Davis points out that it is not only the actual loss Black mothers face but the constant threat of loss that wreaks its own terror among Black mothers. While this, by and large, has focused on Black sons, Black females have become increasingly vulnerable to the threats of institutional, emotional and physical violence, which includes a growing trend of school suspensions and expulsions along with physical attacks, sex trafficking and murder (Davis; Gilliam & Shahar 2006). While it is imperative to name and address these issues of loss as central to the Black mothering experience, the emphasis placed here is on “radical Black mothering” that resists efforts to erase Black children from the societal consciousness and elevate the creative and persevering ways that Black mothers transform terror-informed sorrow into survival. The future directions of Black mothering studies must


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hold both accounts firmly and yet focus more attention on the legacies of love and maternal activism that continue to protect and sustain.

Strengths of Black mothering Another critical issue, often not acknowledged, is the invisible and unrecognized strengths displayed by Black mothers over the generations, especially in their central role in achieving desegregation in school systems (Devlin). An example of the fortitude and strategic planning exhibited by Black mothers was the desegregation of schools across the United States. After the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, across the United States Black mothers played a leadership role in achieving the hard-fought goal of having the children educated in newly desegregated schools. They fought to enroll their children in the well-resourced schools located primarily in all-white neighborhoods. In urban cities from Chicago, New York, Detroit and Boston, these mothers met the vitriolic resistance of entrenched White parents who fought just as hard to preserve the status quo of segregated schools. The mothers of the famous group of high school students known as the “Little Rock Nine” worked with their local organizations of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) to develop legal strategies to fight the false hurdles posed by the angry white parents who resisted an end to segregated school systems. The actions illustrate the steps needed by all Black mothers to raise their children to not only survive but also be functional and successful in an unwelcoming racially stratified society. These steps illustrate the intentionality, facing immediate violence, retaliation by unsympathetic employers and unknown invisible insults and aggression ranging from being spit on to threats of bombs exploding in their homes (Devlin).

Creative Black mothering: “othermothering” Another unrecognized role of Black women as mothers is termed “othermothers.” Scholar Patricia Hill Collins identified a distinct group of African American women who provided important parenting roles to children in their communities. She identified them as othermothers. These women may not be related legally or biologically to neighborhood children but willing carry out important nurturing and child-rearing duties. Othermothers may provide a safe haven after school until a child’s parents return home from work or lend a listening ear when no one else seems to understand. She may simply be there to give a hug to a child without being asked. No expectations are attached to this role. She might be a formally designated godparent, aunt or uncle where role expectations are prescribed by the culture. In contrast, an othermother defines her role as nurturer and social activist and willingly steps into the lives of one or many children. When asked, a child may not immediately identify this person as having fulfilled a maternal role. But the emotional memory of having been warmly nurtured and the experience of being unconditionally accepted will bubble up to conscious memory with little prodding. The othermother never challenges the authority of biological parents and families. She is just there for the child. Some may be more active than others, but they assume the role willingly and consistently. They know who “their children” are and acknowledge their role and responsibilities with pleasure and pride. These othermother icons sustained the isolated working and middle-class Black women, toiling as “hidden figures” in a racialized society (Craddock, “Mothering and Mentoring”).


Marva L. Lewis and Karen T. Craddock

Current contributions and research For the past half century, racial socialization – how Black parents and caregivers carefully prepare their children to negotiate the everyday challenges of living in a racially stratified society – has been examined by social scientists (McAdoo; Dunbar et al.; Peters). Researchers have studied strategies used by Black mothers to cope with the pragmatic realities of their lives including their single-parent status (McAdoo). The findings from a more recent study identified how Black mothers with little education navigated the challenges of launching the next generation of daughters into higher income positions that they may have only seen on television (Narcisse 2013). This group of Black mothers found ways to provide emotional and instrumental support to their daughters to enhance their self-confidence and resilience in a racially stratified society not always welcoming to young Black women. Similarly, research exploring the psychological strategies used by young Black mothers to combat marginalization revealed unique patterns of resistance that incorporated cognitive, behavioral and emotional coping and outcomes (Craddock, “Pushing Back with Our Souls Intact”). While variations in resistance strategies were revealed an underlying desire and effort focused on how they could resist and remain resilient so their children would experience a full and satisfying life.

Recommendations for future directions The task of rearing African American children in the face of economic, psychological and physical adversity remains the challenge of Black mothers. Recent studies of racial socialization are beginning to document the successful emotional as well as racial socialization processes used by Black parents to ensure the survival of their children (Dunbar et al.). In a racialized context, children’s emotional socialization – practices that help children to understand and regulate their emotions – overlap the successful racial socialization to help them cope with racial discrimination. Lewis (“The Intergenerational Transmission”) notes the protective parenting responses to historical trauma includes such behaviors as the daily hair-combing task as a rich opportunity for mothers to talk, touch and listen to their young daughters. Implications for Black parenting in a racialized context requires acknowledging the pain of social exclusion that Black children and parents experience on a regular basis. Growing explorations in relational neuroscience offer links to groundbreaking brain science that confirms we experience actual pain in our brains when being marginalized, and an emerging model to counter these effects is being developed (Craddock, “It’s Not in Our Head”). More community-based supports and interventions must build on the strengths of cultural practices, while addressing the vulnerability of the continued practices that developed in a trauma-based environment. Black women have “weathered” the slings and arrows of structural racism and the inherent disparities and inequities that manifest in health care, everyday marginalization and microaggressions, patriarchy, homophobia and misogyny. The explosion of research in the area of neurobiological and epigenetics of generational trauma that include carrying the experiences of loss and grief within our very DNA can begin to help us understand the impact of centuries of racism-based stress on Black mothers. More research is needed to address the question of what the implications are for current health and public health research and inquiry on Black maternal mortality and morbidity. We must consider and honor the complexities of Black mothering when children are exploring, expanding and sometimes rejecting commonly held (and often widely accepted) notions of Blackness both in and out of the Black community. Or, similarly, we must also consider when children are pushing against narrow definitions of gender identity or national identity and 98

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needs of Lesbian Black mothering (Mezey; Everet et al.). Wanda Pillow challenges social science theorists who heretofore have boxed these discussions of Black youth identity questioning into stages of racial consciousness leaving little room for the breadth of identity exploration and reimagining that is active among Black children and youth along many lines. Black mothering in this context must deftly include and pivot between openness for children to define themselves and guidance in a world that is trying to box them in. These mothers must navigate society at large with biases attached to their child’s Blackness and assumed heterosexual status, as well as cope with the rigidity that can come from within the Black community around racial, ethnic and sexual identity norms. We challenge our social science researchers, service providers, students, social work and mental health and medical practitioners and policymakers to use this racialized rubric to not only evaluate, including the formulation of research questions and program evaluation tools, but also use this as a regular and systematic means to courageously examine organizational policies and clinical practices, assessment and interventions for structural racism. Up-to-date and relevant data can then be used to examine the status of specific issues impacting Black mothers within individual settings, organizations or communities.

Closing section: sustaining joy We are a people. A people do not throw their geniuses away. And if they are thrown away, it is our duty as artists and as witnesses for the future to collect them again for the sake of our children, and, if necessary, bone by bone. Alice Walker, In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens: Prose

“Bone by bone . . . it is in the very marrow of Black mothering that strength and vulnerability reside side by side. Bone at once implies a dichotomous connection of fragility and sturdiness. It carefully links the body together and holds it upright at the same time. It is generative in its tissue, yet can weaken in density through the wear and tear of time. It is hidden from view, but necessary to exist” (Craddock, “Maternal Wellness”). In the introduction, the poem by Langston Hughes reflects one Black mother passing down the memories of her story of survival to her son determined both to preserve her lived history as well as to celebrate a commitment to life. It is this perseverance that has been long reflected in the research and literature that underscores the interplay between resistance and resilience so often amplified in the lives of Black mothers across time and topic. The upshot is one that elevates joy over pain. To close, we refer to the sustaining emotion of joy that goes beyond a simple feeling of happiness. The joy of Black mothering refers to an ascended emotional space that offers an extensive bandwidth capable of holding the vastness of embedded sociopolitical stressors while breaking free of the strongholds with elevated power and purpose (Craddock, “Pushing Back with Our Souls Intact”). This joy, created in a crucible of oppression, represents an intergenerational inheritance of creativity, pride and mothering power. It was necessary to withstand the historical trauma of slavery, an institution designed to crush the psychological spirit of generations of mothers forced to witness the violence of subjugation of their families and beloved children. This sustaining joy remains a necessity to deal with racial disparities in multiple health indexes and community violence targeting their sons and daughters. Despite the pressures and depictions of Black motherhood, the binding fiber between these false polarities we also know, joy. 99

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Further reading Abdullah, Melina. “Womanist Mothering: Loving and Raising the Revolution.” Western Journal of Black Studies, vol. 36, no. 1, Spring 2012, pp. 57–67. Craddock, Karen T. “Pushing Back with Our Souls Intact: Young Black Mothers’ Psychological Resistance to Marginalization.” Black Motherhood(s): Contours, Contexts and Considerations, edited by K.T. Craddock, Demeter Press, 2015, pp. 36–68. JSTOR, ———. “It’s Not in Our Head . . . And Yet Pain Is in Our Brain: Why Racialized Exclusion Hurts and How We Can Remain Resilient.” EmbraceRace Blog, 19 Jan. 2019. Cross-Barnet, Caitlin, and Katrina McDonald. “It’s All about the Children: An Intersectional Perspective on Parenting Values among Black Married Couples in the United States.” Societies, vol. 5, no. 4, 2015, pp. 855–71. Roberts, Dorothy E. “Prison, Foster Care, and the Systemic Punishment of Black Mothers.” UCLA Law Review, vol. 59, 2012, p. 1474; U of Penn Law School, Public Law Research Paper No. 12–45. SSRN. Rousseau, Nicole. “Social Rhetoric and the Construction of Black Motherhood.” Journal of Black Studies, vol. 44, no. 5, Jul. 2013, pp. 451–71. doi: 10.1177/0021934713488786. Taylor,T.“Re-examining Cultural Contradictions: Mothering Ideology and the Intersections of Class,Gender, and Race.” Sociology Compass, vol. 5, no. 10, 2011, pp. 898–907. doi: 10.1111/j.1751–9020.2011.00415.x.

Resources American Psychological Association. Mental Health in the African American Community. APA. www.cpp. edu/~healthcounseling/Documents/africanamer-final-1-15-09.pdf, 2009. Abrams, Jasmine A., et al. “Carrying the World with the Grace of a Lady and the Grit of a Warrior: Deepening Our Understanding of the ‘Strong Black Woman’ Schema.” Psychology of Women Quarterly, vol. 38, no. 4, Dec. 2014, pp. 503–18. doi: 10.1177/0361684314541418. Association of Black Psychologists. Therapist Resource Directory. Phone: (301) 449–3082. www.abpsi. org/find-psychologists/. This resource will assist one in finding African American Psychologists within their local community. Blakey, J.M., and S.H. Schnavia. “Trauma and Substance Abuse among Child Welfare Involved African American Mothers: A Case Study.” Journal of Public Child Welfare, vol. 7, no. 2, 2013, pp. 194–216. doi: 10,1080/155–48732.2013.779623. Mendenhall, R., et al.“Chicago African American Mothers’ Power of Resistance: Designing Spaces of Hope in Global Contexts.” The Power of Resistance (Advances in Education in Diverse Communities, Vol. 12), Emerald Publishing Limited, 2017, pp. 409–28. Davis, O.I. “A Visitation from the Foremothers: Black Women’s Healing through ‘a Performance of Care’ from African Diaspora to the American Academy.” Women’s Studies in Communication, vol. 31, no. 2, 2008, pp. 175–85. Elliott, Sinikka, et al. “Low-Income, Black Single Mothers Negotiate Intensive Mothering.” Journal of Family Issues, vol. 36, no. 3, 2015, pp. 351–70. First published online 27 May 2013. http://journals.sagepub. com/doi/abs/10.1177/0192513X13490279. King, Toni C., and S.A. Ferguson. Black Womanist Leadership: Tracing the Motherline. State University of New York Press, 2011. Print. oi=fnd&pg=PR3&dq=Black+mothering&ots=UFcGoZdHn7&sig=egsV7Qjvt_LIuMjXd2UIxHo6 3ZM#v=onepage&q=Black%20mothering&f=falseMental Health America. Phone: (800) 969–6642. This resource works nationally and locally to raise awareness about mental health and mental health services, particularly for people of color, by providing research, statistics and general information. This resource also assists one in locating where they can locate mental health screenings as well as local professions services. “Stress and Health Disparities.” American Psychological Association. resources/stress.aspx. Accessed 18 Jul. 2017.

Works cited Alexander, M. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Color-Blindness. The New Press, 2010. Anderson, K.O., et al. “Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Pain: Causes and Consequences of Unequal Care.” Journal of Pain, vol. 10, no. 12, 2009, pp. 1187–204.


Mothering while Black Ashing, K.T., et al. “Attending to Children’s Wellbeing after Witnessing Race-Based Violence.” Journal of American Medical Association, Pediatrics, vol. 171, no. 6, 2017, pp. 511–519. doi: 10:1001/ jamapediatrics2017.0137 Boyd-Franklin, N. Black Families in Therapy: A Multi-systems Approach. Guilford Press, 1989. Brave Heart, M.Y.H. “Wakiksuyapi: Carrying the Historical Trauma of the Lakota.” Disaster and Traumatic Stress Research and Intervention, edited by M. J. Zakour, Winter/Spring, Tulane University, School of Social Work, 2000, vol. 21–22, pp. 245–266. Cammett, A. “Welfare Queens Redux: Criminalizing Black Mothers in the Age of Neoliberalism.” Cal. Interdisciplinary Law Journal, vol. 25, 2016, pp. 363–93. Collins, P.H. Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment. Unwin Hyman, 1990. Craddock, Karen T. “Mothering and Mentoring: Exploring Relational Dynamics among Black Women in the Academy.” Journal of the Motherhood Initiative for Research & Community Involvement, vol. 4, no. 1, Spring 2013, pp. 53–66. 14p. ———. “Pushing Back with Our Souls Intact: Young Black Mothers’ Resistance to Marginalization.” Black Motherhood(s): Contours, Contexts and Considerations, edited by K.T. Craddock, Demeter Press, 2015, pp. 36–70. ———. Maternal Wellness: A Conversation with Our Brothers and Sisters – Re-imagining Healthcare Forum. The Wellness Collaborative Inc., Boston. Workshop, remarks, 2019. Davis, D. “ ‘The Bone Collectors’ Comments for Sorrow as Artifact: Black Radical Mothering in Times of Terror.” Transform Anthropology, vol. 24, no. 1, 2016, pp. 8–16. doi: 10.1111/traa.12056. Devlin, R. A Girl Stands at the Door: The Generation of Young Women Who Desegregated American Schools. Basic Books, 2018. Dow, Dawn Marie. “Negotiating ‘The Welfare Queen’ and ‘The Strong Black Woman’: African American Middle-Class Mothers’ Work and Family Perspectives.” Sociological Perspectives, vol. 58, no. 1, Mar. 2015, pp. 36–55. doi: 10.1177/0731121414556546. Dunbar, A.S., et al. “An Integrative Conceptual Model of Parental Racial/Ethnic and Emotion Socialization and Links to Children’s Social-Emotional Development among African American Families.” Child Development Perspectives, vol. 11, no. 1, 2017, pp. 16–22. doi: 10.1111/cdep.12218. Edelman, M.W. Families in Peril: An Agenda for Social Change. Harvard UP, 1987. Everet alt, Joyce E., et al. “A Qualitative Study of the Black Mother-Daughter Relationship: Lessons Learned about Self-Esteem, Coping, and Resilience.” Journal of Black Studies, vol. 47, no. 4, 2016, pp. 334–50. Frazier, G. “Birthing Black Motherhood: A Short History of How Race Shapes Childbirth.” Black Motherhood(s): Contours, Contexts and Considerations, edited by K.T. Craddock, Demeter Press, 2015, pp. 147–64. Geronimus, A.T. “The Weathering Hypothesis and the Health of African-American Women and Infants: Evidence and Speculations.” Ethnic Disease, vol. 2, no. 3, 1992, pp. 2017–21. Geronimus, A.T., et al. “ ‘Weathering’ and Age Patterns of Allostatic Load Scores among Blacks and Whites in the United States.” American Journal of Public Health, vol. 96, no. 5, 2006, pp. 826–33. doi: 10:2105/ AJPH.2004.060749. Gilliam, W.S., and Shahar, G. Preschool and child care expulsion and suspension. Infants & Young Children, vol 19, no. 3, 2006, pp. 228–45. Harris-Perry, Melissa V. Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America. Yale UP, 2011. Henrich, J., Heine, S., & Norenzayan, A. The weirdest people in the world? Behavioral and Brain Sciences, vol. 33, 2011, 61–135. Hill, Robert B. The Strengths of Black Families. University Press of America, Inc., 1972. Hughes, Langston. The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, 1902–1967. Knopf: Distributed by Random House, 1994. Jones, C., and K. Shorter-Gooden. Shifting: The Double Lives of Black Women in America. Harper Collins, 2003. Lewis, M.L. “Getting the Parts Straight: The Psychology of Hair Combing Interaction between AfricanAmerican Mothers and Daughters.” Black Motherhood(s): Contours, Contexts and Considerations, edited by K.T. Craddock, Demeter Press, 2015, pp. 204–20. ———. “For African-American Families, a Daily Task to Combat Negative Stereotypes about Hair.” The Conversation, 9 Feb. 2016.


Marva L. Lewis and Karen T. Craddock ———. “The Intergenerational Transmission of Protective Parent Responses to Historical Trauma.” The Impact of Prejudice: Youth through Adolescence, edited by H.E. Fitzgerald et al., vol. II, Chapter 3. Springer Publishers, 2019, pp. 43–66. Lewis, M.L., et al. “Colorism, a Legacy of Historical Trauma in Parent-Child Relationships: Clinical, Research, & Personal Perspectives.” Zero to Three Journal, vol. 34, no. 2, 2013, pp. 11–23. McAdoo, H.P. Black Families, edited by H.P. McAdoo, Sage, 1981. Mezey, N. “The Privilege of Coming Out: Race, Class, and Lesbians’ Mothering Decisions.” Race, Gender, Sexuality, & Social Class: Dimensions of Inequality and Identity, edited by S.J. Ferguson, 2nd ed., Sage, 2016, pp. 314–22. Moynihan, D.P. The Negro Family: The Case for National Action. Office of Policy Planning and Research. United States Department of Labor, 1964. Narcisse, D.A. “Pride and Joy: African American Mothers’ Influences on their Professional Daughters’ Success.” Race, Gender & Class, vol. 20, no. 1, 2013, pp. 156–76. Nichols, T., and R. McCoy. “Black Mothers’ Messages of Pride to their Adolescent Daughters.” Black Motherhood(s): Contours, Contexts and Considerations, edited by K.T. Craddock, Demeter Press, 2015, pp. 185–203. Parmer, T., et al. “Physical Attractiveness as a Process of Internalized Oppression and Multigenerational Transmission in African American Families.” The Family Journal: Counseling and Therapy for Couples and Families, vol. 12, no. 3, 2004, pp. 230–42. Peters, M.F. “Parenting in Black Families with Young Children: A Historical Perspective.” Black Families, edited by H.F. McAdoo, Sage, 1981, pp. 211–24. Pillow, Wanda S. “Mothering a Black Son Who Dreams of Another Country.” Cultural Studies Critical Methodologies, vol. 15, no. 4, Aug. 2015, pp. 316–21. doi: 10.1177/1532708615578424. Zuberi, T. “Racial Domination and the Evolution of Racial Classification.” Race, Gender, Sexuality, & Social Class: Dimensions of Inequality and Identity, edited by S.J. Ferguson, 2nd ed., Sage, 2016, pp. 60–72.


7 WELFARE MOTHERS IN THE UNITED STATES Brianna Turgeon and Kaitlyn Root

Introduction In this chapter, we discuss mothers on welfare in the United States. Like all mothers, women on welfare are subject to scrutiny surrounding their mothering practices. They face similar challenges to women of other class backgrounds in terms of managing work and family (Hays 65). Mothers on welfare are unique, however, in their marked lack of resources as well as the stigma they encounter for relying on government assistance. Specifically, welfare mothers’ lives are shaped by a policy that is informed by myths and stereotypes (Rousseau 138). The controversial history of welfare has made it incredibly political and subsequently mothers on welfare are politicized for relying on public assistance to survive. Collectively, the lack of resources, stigma, and political nature of welfare make it important to better understand the experiences of mothers on welfare. By examining the context and experiences of these women, we can come to a greater understanding of their lives, and reform policies in a way that better meets their needs. We start out with a description of welfare policies, which is important since welfare primarily provides assistance to mothers (85% of welfare recipients are women; 70% come from single-headed households; Office of Family Assistance 6). In this chapter, we further explore the background and context of welfare policies, controlling images often applied to mothers on welfare, the mothering expectations they face, acts of resistance from welfare mothers, and how our changing political and social landscape might guide future research.

Background and context Historical overview: mother’s pensions, AFDC, and TANF Social welfare in the United States began in the early twentieth century with the creation of “mother’s pension” programs to address high rates of poverty (Neubeck and Cazenave 41). Yet, these policies actively excluded mothers of color, focusing on the needs of poor, white mothers (Gilens 18; Neubeck and Cazenave 45). Under New Deal policies, mothers’ pensions evolved into Aid to Dependent Children (ADC) in 1935 (Neubeck and Cazenave 46). Although there were no changes to the policy itself, in 1962 ADC became Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) to place greater emphasis on a two-parent family structure (Blank and 103

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Blum 31). ADC/AFDC was mostly used by white people from its inception until the civil rights movement (Neubeck and Cazenave 54). From the 1940s to the 1950s, there was a gradual increase in families of color on the welfare rolls (Neubeck and Cazenave 64). The rise of Black families on welfare corresponded to a decline in public opinion on welfare and efforts to abolish AFDC (Gilens 106–07; Neubeck and Cazenave 64). Because of lower public opinion regarding welfare receipt, it became a hot political issue in the 1990s – resulting in election platforms built around welfare policy (Neubeck and Cazenave 227). In 1996, President Clinton and a predominantly Republican Congress reformed welfare, passing the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA). PRWORA ended AFDC and created Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) (Gilens 183; Handler 230). This 1996 welfare reform intended to transform welfare from an “entitlement” program to one that focuses on wage labor and transitions to work (Handler 230–31; Iversen 139; Quadagno and Street 53). The major changes to cash assistance during the transition from AFDC to TANF include the creation of work requirements, time limits, and family caps (Handler 230–231; Hays 34–35). The work requirements mandate that clients log a certain number of hours per week at a place of employment or a worksite selected by the program in order to receive benefits (Handler 231). When clients fail to reach these requirements, states are required to reduce their funding through “sanctions” (Handler 233). The time limit on benefit receipt for the cash assistance program that TANF created is a five-year federal time limit, at which point individuals are no longer eligible for benefits. Finally, TANF implemented family caps for cash assistance. Family caps involve denying families an increase in assistance for any additional children they may have after they begin receiving benefits (Neubeck and Cazenave 159). In 2005, Congress reauthorized TANF and made policy changes that were proposed under the Bush administration (Allard 323). Notably for mothers on welfare, the reauthorization included funding programs that encourage marriage and two-parent families (Allard 324). While caseloads have declined since the passage of TANF in 1996, this is primarily because of more stringent requirements for benefit receipt, the work requirements, and diversion to other sources of benefits (Epstein 16; Handler 232–35).

Central themes Controlling images: the welfare queen and the matriarch Welfare policies have historically been racialized, with policymakers generally ignoring the needs of mothers of color (Neubeck and Cazenave 41). Controlling images of black women have been instrumental in shaping ideas about welfare recipients since individuals experiencing poverty have predominately been portrayed as African American (Gilens 102). Controlling images are representations of a group that assert ideological control over them (Collins 71–84). Two racialized images that are relevant to welfare stigma are “the matriarch” and “the welfare queen” (Collins 78–81). The matriarch image is tied to single-headed black households, poverty, “bad” mothering via spending too much time outside of the home, emasculation of male partners, and failure for a woman to submit to her husband within the familial gender hierarchy (Collins 77). The image of the matriarch blames black women for poverty and the outcomes of black children in a way that ignores structural racial inequalities (Collins 78). In the 1960s, the Moynihan Report further associated poverty with black families by presenting black families as “suffering a sickness that is primarily attributed to the failings of Black women as wives and mothers” (Rousseau 51). 104

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In the 1970s and 1980s, the “welfare queen” image emerged as a conniving and lavish mother of color who profits off the welfare system (Collins 80; Neubeck and Cazenave 30; Rousseau 52; Soss et al. 33; Zucchino 65). The welfare mother image is tied to images of “breeder women” during slavery, a desire to control the reproduction of a group that leeches money from state funds, opposition to national values, “bad” mothering (like the matriarch), and laziness (Collins 80; Rousseau 138–39). Attributing these characteristics to black mothers is one of the ways that policymakers have constructed black women as unfit mothers who are undeserving of welfare benefits (Neubeck and Cazenave 30; Rousseau 138–39). Constructions of the welfare mother blame black mothers for the continuation of poverty (Collins 81). Foster (168) finds that this image of the welfare queen is influential to public opinion about welfare in general and that Americans struggle to support a program that they think benefits this caricature. Overall, controlling images rely on stereotypes of welfare recipients as black mothers who are dishonest, immoral, sexually promiscuous, exploitative, irresponsible, lazy, and responsible for many social problems (e.g., violent crime, the decline of families) (Neubeck and Cazenave 30; Rousseau 138–39).

Controlling images and colorblind ideology Policymakers and physicians have historically used propaganda relying heavily on negative stereotypes of poor women and women of color to create a panic around their reproduction (Flavin 16; Rousseau 7). Since the late nineteenth century, involuntary sterilizations have been performed on many nonwhite and poor women and framed as a means to help them achieve financial security (Flavin 16; Rousseau 96). While these very real consequences illustrate the power of controlling images of black women, recent welfare reforms have often claimed racial neutrality by targeting poverty and not outwardly using race-based language (Neubeck and Cazenave 9, 221). Yet, scholars have noted how welfare is racialized in a subtle way that is indicative of colorblind ideology (Bonilla-Silva 46–47; Omi and Winant 256). Colorblind ideology holds that we live in a post-racial society and that race no longer has any implications on the outcomes of people’s lives (Bonilla-Silva 42; Omi and Winant 263). Colorblind ideology legitimates individualism and meritocracy by assuming that people have an equal opportunity to succeed and thus that people of color are to blame for their outcomes (Gallagher 25). The rise of colorblind ideology has meant that people use race and racism in more covert ways that are not often identified as racist (Bonilla-Silva 42; Mallinson and Brewster 800; Van Dijk 91). Yet, there are real indicators that racism is still influential to welfare policies (Neubeck and Cazenave 215–42; Soss et al. 12–13; Rousseau 138). For example, under TANF, states that have large black populations have systematically implemented harsher rules. This has occurred largely due to state discretion in forming programs under TANF, resulting in racial biases structured into the programs. Monnat (680) argues that “individuals who administer welfare policies do not have to be explicitly biased; even unbiased caseworkers who carry out the policies of welfare reform contribute to racial inequality within the system.” While the stereotypical image of welfare recipients draws on the image of the welfare queen, the average welfare recipient is really a white woman in her mid-thirties with an average of 1.9 children working a minimum wage job and using welfare as a supplement (Handler 231). Many welfare recipients have had difficulty finding and keeping jobs but use welfare for only a few years (Handler 231). Those who are on welfare longer often have difficult barriers that keep them unemployed, including not completing high school and experiencing mental health issues (Handler 232). Further, some research finds that the focus on day-to-day survival makes transitioning off of welfare difficult and often costly for single mothers to achieve (Edin and Lein 264; Zucchino 14). 105

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Controversies or challenges in relation to the topic Emphasizing work over mothering The rise of neoliberalism in the United States has made focus on work more important than ever (Soss et al. 20–21). Neoliberalism involves promoting individualism and participation in the labor market (Soss et al. 20–21; Wiggan 385). The government also plays a role in upholding neoliberal labor market values (Soss et al. 20–21). Through a neoliberal lens, people are poor because they do not invest enough effort in labor market endeavors. The emphasis on getting the poor to work disproportionately affects single mothers who are working to cobble together enough resources to survive (Soss et al. 33; Office of Family Assistance 3). This puts a lot of pressure on mothers who are poor to work outside of the home (Chavkin 477). In addition to being required to work to receive welfare benefits, recipients face pressure to find “real jobs” (Edin and Lein 263). However, paid work may be difficult to find (especially in rural areas), and getting a job may cost welfare recipients other benefits (e.g., health insurance, food stamps, etc.) (Edin and Lein 254). While mothers in all economic positions struggle to manage the balance between work and family life, there are specific expectations placed on mothers on welfare (Hays 63–67). These expectations are reflected in the establishment of PRWORA (described earlier), which introduced strict work requirements for recipients of cash assistance (Handler 232). Grounded in neoliberal ideology, these work requirements were intended to emphasize hard work over dependence on state aid (Gross et al. 14; Handler 230). Beyond the tenets of the policy itself, the workers implementing PRWORA often encourage mothers to prioritize work and discourage them from focusing too extensively on their identities as mothers (Taylor et al. 27; Turgeon 128). The pressure to work outside of the home, combined with the requirements of welfare programs, affects the mothering practices available to mothers on welfare (Gross et al. 14–15; Taylor 903–05; Turgeon 128). Middle-class ideals of motherhood center on “intensive mothering” (Hays 72–75), a mothering ideology that requires a large amount of self-sacrifice in terms of time and resources from mothers (Arendell 14). Even when mothers experiencing poverty share family values consistent with the child-centered logic of intensive mothering, their lack of resources is a barrier to realizing these practices (Hays 73). The high demands of welfare programs in terms of work requirements and extensive documentation further interfere with mothers’ ability to practice intensive mothering (Gross et al. 14). Poor mothers however are told that participation in the work force is the only path to good mothering (Chavkin 477; Kennelly 183; Taylor 901). Work, both to provide for their children and to set an example for them, is emphasized as the only route out of poverty (Bloch and Taylor 3; Kennelly 183; Turgeon 133; Taylor 902). Poor mothers who don’t work are viewed as parasitic, irresponsible, and feeding into the “cycle of poverty” (Chavkin 478; Turgeon 129).

Cobbling together resources Poor, working mothers experience the combined stress of handling child care and household needs while working low-wage jobs that do not always allow them to make ends meet (Weigt 345). Since many women on welfare are single mothers (Office of Family Assistance 6), there is often not another parent or partner around to provide income and share responsibilities. Poor mothers must often seek out additional resources beyond cash assistance to get their family through the month (Cook 521–24; Edin and Lein 254; Nelson 70; Stack 93; Zucchino 14). 106

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Social support in the form of child care, shared transportation and help with food or housing are common ways that mothers draw on their social networks to make ends meet (Cook 521–24; Edin and Lein 258–62; Nelson 80; Stack 43; Weigt 347; Zucchino 17). Frequent exchange with members of social networks also makes it more common for child care responsibilities to be shared by women other than a child’s biological mother (Collins 180; Stack 62). Monetary help is sometimes harder to find within these social networks however (Cook 524; Stack 105). Generational poverty might mean that asking immediate family for help with bills or rent is not a viable option (Cook 508; Stack 106). For those who have someone financially better off to ask for help, this favor is often saved for what feels like a particularly dire situation (Nelson 91; Stack 106). Alternate sources of income might include work outside of the official labor market and assistance from charity or religious organizations (Gilliom 73–75). Scholars who study the process of mothers assembling resources to survive focus on these women’s agency in making choices and navigating trade-offs (Nelson 67; Stack 24; Zucchino 14). Mothers on welfare and poor mothers in general must be strategic with how they cobble together resources (Nelson 38–41; Zucchino 14). Choices about where to receive resources from often involve considerations of reciprocity and independence (Nelson 63; Stack 32). One of the main reasons that mothers choose not to participate in welfare programs is because they perceive the program’s invasiveness and requirements as a threat to their independence (Nelson 97). Yet, for other mothers, welfare may offer independence from demands of other members of their social network (Nelson 101). Cobbling together resources is another form of “work” that mothers experiencing poverty engage in that takes considerable time and effort and is often rendered invisible (Nelson 44; Zucchino 14).

Resistance from mothers on welfare While receiving welfare, individuals are subject to surveillance and scrutiny that they would not otherwise encounter (Soss et al. 24–28). Yet, mothers on welfare still engage in acts of resistance that undermine both this state surveillance as well as structural inequality more broadly. Here, we provide two examples of ways in which mothers on welfare use their agency to resist. In the first example, Gilliom (73–78) found that women on welfare resisted state surveillance by supplementing their incomes in ways that would not affect their welfare receipt. Side jobs such as babysitting, cleaning houses, or doing hair were all ways that women made a little extra money on the side, despite this activity often being restricted or altogether banned under state regulations. By not reporting this added income to state welfare agencies, women could resist the regulations they are held to by welfare agencies, while at the same time bringing extra income to their families. While this behavior is no different from what middle-class and wealthy families do to avoid additional taxation, their position as welfare recipients places them at greater risk if they are found to be gaming the system (Gilliom 78). Second, McCormack (374) found that various forms of “everyday resistance” were common among mothers. Most women in this study distanced themselves from the controlling image of the “welfare mother.” By doing this, they emphasized the difference between their parenting skills and work ethic, as compared to those of the stereotypical welfare mother. Some women understood poverty as a structural and intergenerational issue and seemed aware of the lack of well-paying jobs available to women on welfare. They denied the notion of being dependent on welfare, as some felt that welfare gave them a certain amount of independence that they would not otherwise have (see also Nelson 103). These women also noted that were it not for them receiving welfare, employees in welfare agencies would not even have a job to do. Further, some women even questioned the middle-class notion of success altogether and especially as 107

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a measure of moral worth. Some pointed out that those people they knew who were working consistently were still not well-off and others invoked religious doctrine which emphasizes good deeds over financial success. These strategies of distancing themselves from the stereotypical image of a welfare mother allow women to resist the stigma placed on welfare recipients.

Directions for future research In our current political climate, rhetoric surrounding welfare, immigration, and “big government” has steered the conversation towards the question of who should receive welfare benefits. Welfare policies have often been shaped by public perception of the poor, which has historically been guided by the controlling images described earlier. There has long been a distinction between the “deserving” poor (e.g., those experiencing short-term unemployment) and the “undeserving” poor (e.g., single mothers of color), and public opinion guides who falls into each category. As such, we suggest that future research should examine how stereotypes about the poor, and mothers on welfare specifically, continue to shape the political landscape. Rhetoric around immigration was another central topic of the 2016 presidential election. A common misconception surrounding immigration and welfare is that undocumented immigrants are eligible to receive welfare benefits. Similarly, some people believe that immigrants who come to this country and have children are doing so only in order to receive welfare benefits from the US government. These populations – Latinx immigrants, both documented and undocumented – almost certainly would fall into the category of “undeserving” poor in the opinion of many Americans. Knowing this, future studies of welfare might explore the relationship between public opinion about immigration and welfare. As a country that is rapidly moving towards a majority minority population, what might this mean for public opinion of welfare recipients and the development of future welfare policies? Since studying the lives of mothers on welfare involves a complex intersection of inequality, policy, and ideology, we have a variety of readings that we recommend for further information. For readings that focus on the everyday experiences of mothers on welfare, see Hays’s Flat Broke with Children or Edin and Kefalas’s Promises I Can Keep. Additional readings that focus on ideology and controlling images that affect mothers on welfare include Rousseau’s Black Woman’s Burden, a variety of works by Patricia Hill Collins (e.g., Black Feminist Thought), and work by Soss, Fording, and Schram (e.g., Disciplining the Poor). Neubeck and Cazenave’s Welfare Racism provides a thorough overarching account of the racialized history of welfare policies in America. Finally, for further readings specific to the work-family balance of mothers on welfare, see works by Arendell, Taylor and colleagues, and Gross and colleagues.

Conclusion While mothers on welfare face similar challenges to mothers in other class positions, their challenges are often exacerbated by their notable lack of resources and the demands of welfare policies (Hays 130). Controlling images have historically cast welfare mothers as undeserving of state resources and a drain on taxpayer dollars (Collins 77–81; Rousseau 138). These opinions continue to be salient and are heightened by the emphasis on labor market values that has accompanied the rise of neoliberalism. As such, mothers on welfare are primarily encouraged to prioritize work over mothering practices. Prioritizing work is even often reframed as something that is done in the name of providing for one’s children (Turgeon 132). While mothers on welfare are labeled as lazy, they often must engage in additional work to cobble together sufficient resources to supplement their welfare benefits (Edin and Lein 262; Nelson 74; Stack 108

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22; Zucchino 14). Despite the impact that structural inequality and government policy have on welfare mothers’ lives, these women often use their agency to draw on resources in a way that maximizes their independence and self-sufficiency (Nelson 95). Furthermore, these mothers engage in “everyday acts of resistance” that subvert some of the societal stereotypes and expectations placed upon them (McCormack 374–76).

Works cited Allard, Scott W. “The Changing Face of Welfare during the Bush Administration.” Journal of Federalism, vol. 37, no. 3, 2007, pp. 304–32. Arendell, Teresa. “Hegemonic Motherhood: Deviancy Discourses and Employed Mothers’ Accounts of Out-of-School Time Issues.” Center for Working Families Working Paper 9, 1999. Bonilla-Silva, Eduardo. “The Linguistics of Color Blind Racism: How to Talk Nasty about Blacks without Sounding ‘Racist’.” Critical Sociology, vol. 28, nos. 1–2, 2002, pp. 41–64. Blank, Susan W., and Barbara B. Blum. “A Brief History of Work Expectations for Welfare Mothers.” The Future of Children, vol. 7, no. 1, 1997, pp. 28–38. Bloch, Katrina, and Tiffany Taylor. “ ‘Welfare Queens’ and ‘Anchor Babies’: An Intersectional Analysis of Race, Gender, Class, Nationality and Motherhood.” Mothering in the Age of Neoliberalism, edited by Melinda Giles, Demeter Press, 2014, pp. 199–210. “Characteristics and Financial Circumstances of TANF Recipients, Fiscal Year 2015.” Office of Family Assistance, 18 Aug. 2016, Accessed 13 Sept. 2017. Chavkin, Wendy. “What’s a Mother to Do? Welfare, Work, and Family.” American Journal of Public Health, vol. 89, no. 4, 1999, pp. 477–79. Collins, Patricia Hill. Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment. Unwin Hyman, Inc., 1990. Cook, Kay. “Neoliberalism, Welfare Policy and Health: A Qualitative Meta-Synthesis of Single Parents’ Experience of the Transition from Welfare to Work.” Health, vol. 16, no. 5, 2012, pp. 507–30. Corcoran, Mary, et al. “How Welfare Reform is Affecting Women’s Work.” Annual Review of Sociology, vol. 26, 2000, pp. 241–69. Edin, Kathryn, and Maria Kefalas. Promises I Can Keep: Why Poor Women Put Motherhood Before Marriage. U of California Press, 2011. Edin, Kathryn, and Laura Lein. “Work, Welfare, and Single Mothers: Economic Survival Strategies.” American Sociological Review, vol. 62, no. 2, 1996, pp. 253–66. Epstein, William M. American Policy Making: Welfare as Ritual. Rowman & Littlefield, 2002. Flavin, Jeanne. Our Bodies, Our Crimes: The Policing of Women’s Reproduction in America. New York UP, 2009. Foster, Carly. “The Welfare Queen: Race, Gender, Class, and Public Opinion.” Race, Gender, and Class, vol. 15, nos. 3–4, 2008, pp. 162–79. Gallagher, Charles A. “Color-Blind Privilege: The Social and Political Functions of Erasing the Color Line in Post Race America.” Race, Gender & Class, vol. 10, no. 4, 2003, pp. 22–37. Gilens, Martin. Why Americans Hate Welfare: Race, Media and the Politics of Anti-Poverty Policy. U of Chicago Press, 1999. Gilliom, John. “Resisting Surveillance.” Social Text, vol. 23, no. 2, 2005, pp. 71–83. Gross, Christi, et al. “State Intervention in Intensive Mothering in the United States: Neoliberalism, New Paternalism, and Poor Mothers in Ohio.” Intensive Mothering: The Cultural Contradictions of Modern Motherhood, edited by Linda Ennis, Demeter Press, 2014, pp. 163–79. Handler, Joel F. “Social Citizenship and Workfare in the US and Western Europe: From Status to Contract.” Journal of European Social Policy, vol. 13, no. 3, 2003, pp. 229–43. Hays, Sharon. Flat Broke with Children: Women in the Age of Welfare Reform. Oxford UP, 2003. Iversen, Roberta. “TANF Policy Implementation: The Invisible Barrier.” Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare, vol. 27, no. 2, 2000, pp. 139–59. Kennelly, Ivy. “ ‘That Single Mother Element’: How White Employers Typify Black Women.” Gender & Society, vol. 13, no. 2, 1999, pp. 168–92. Mallinson, Christine, and Zachary W. Brewster. “ ‘Blacks and Bubbas’: Stereotypes, Ideology, and Categorization Processes in Restaurant Servers’ Discourses.” Discourse and Society, vol. 16, no. 6, 2005, pp. 787–807.


Brianna Turgeon and Kaitlyn Root McCormack, Karen. “Resisting the Welfare Mother: The Power of Welfare Discourse and the Tactics of Resistance.” Critical Sociology, vol. 30, 2004, pp. 355–83. Monnat, Shannon. “The Color of Welfare Sanctioning: Exploring the Individual and Contextual Roles of Race on TANF Case Closures and Benefit Reductions.” Sociological Quarterly, vol. 51, 2010, pp. 678–707. Nelson, Margaret K. The Social Economy of Single Motherhood: Raising Children in Rural America. Routledge, 2005. Neubeck, Kenneth J., and Noel A. Cazenave. Welfare Racism: Playing the Race Card against America’s Poor. Routledge, 2001. Omi, Michael, and Howard Winant. Racial Formation in the United States. 3rd ed., Routledge, 2015. Quadagno, Jill, and Debra Street. “Ideology and Public Policy: Antistatism in American Welfare State Transformation.” Journal of Policy History, vol. 17, no. 1, 2005, pp. 52–71. Rousseau, Nicole. Black Woman’s Burden: Commodifying Black Reproduction. Palgrave Macmillan, 2009. Soss, Joe, et al. Disciplining the Poor: Neoliberal Paternalism and the Persistent Power of Race. U of Chicago Press, 2011. Stack, Carol B. All Our Kin: Strategies for Survival in a Black Community. Harper & Row, 1974. Taylor, Tiffany. “Re-examining Cultural Contradictions: Mothering Ideology and the Intersections of Class, Gender, and Race.” Sociology Compass, vol. 5, no. 10, 2011, pp. 898–907. Taylor, Tiffany, et al. “What Work/Life Balance? Ohio Welfare-to-Work Program Managers’ Focus on Paid Work.” The Balancing Act: Intersections of Work-Life Balance in Communication across Identities, Genders, and Cultures, edited by Elizabeth Hatfield, Lexington Books, 2017, pp. 25–39. Turgeon, Brianna. “A Critical Discourse Analysis of Welfare-to-Work Program Managers’ Expectations and Evaluations of Their Clients’ Mothering.” Critical Sociology, 27 July 2016, 10.1177/0896920516654555. Van Dijk, Teun. “Discourse and the Denial of Racism.” Discourse & Society, vol. 3, 1992, pp. 87–118. Weigt, Jill. “Compromises to Carework: The Social Organization of Mothers’ Experiences in the LowWage Labor Market after Welfare Reform.” Social Problems, vol. 53, no. 3, 2006, pp. 332–51. Wiggan, Jay. “Telling Stories of 21st Century Welfare: The UK Coalition Government and the NeoLiberal Discourse of Worklessness and Dependency.” Critical Social Policy, vol. 32, no. 3, 2012, pp. 383–405. Zucchino, David. Myth of the Welfare Queen. Touchstone, 1997.


8 INDIGENOUS MOTHERING Birthing the nation from resistance to revolution Jennifer Brant

Introduction This chapter on Indigenous mothering begins by providing a brief synopsis of the colonial interference that has deeply affected Indigenous mothering practices, families, and communities in Canada. One cannot begin to understand Indigenous mothering without knowledge of this history and the associated intergenerational legacy. That being said, contemporary Indigenous mothering practices are rooted in a time before settler contact and within the Indigenous worldviews and maternal knowledges that have governed our traditions of bringing new life into the physical world since time immemorial. As a collective understanding of birthing the nation, Indigenous mothering moves us beyond resistance of oppression and colonial violence to revolutionary acts of cultural revitalization. This offers an opportunity to share the community work that reawakens the spirit of birth. Texts that highlight Indigenous maternal pedagogies are also shared to express future directions for empowered Indigenous motherhood that dismantles the patriarchal notions of what it means to mother and to be mothered and reveals Indigenous mothering itself as a revolutionary act. With the understanding that this chapter can only offer a reflection of the collective experiences of a group of people who are extremely diverse, I invite the reader to come to know a bit about the commonalities and diversities of those who partake in Indigenous mothering across the generations.

Background and context Within Indigenous worldviews, mothers are understood to be the very first teachers of their children, and, in fact, children are said to be learning as early as in the womb before they are born. Mohawk midwife Katsi Cook (1993) articulated that “women are the first environment” (par. 5). These first teachings, however, are understood to involve a community of support in preparation for new life. Thus, the role of fathering is also central to understandings of Indigenous birthing traditions. Tom Porter describes this practice as it is taught within the Iroquois tradition: When a father and mother are gonna have a child, the mother is pregnant, but the husband is also pregnant. There is no such thing as just the mother, the woman being 111

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pregnant. The father is also pregnant because it took two to make that baby. And it takes two to take on the responsibility of that child. (243) This sentiment is echoed by the Anishinaabe teachings as documented by Rebeka Tabobondung, who noted that the idea of “men being pregnant is a concept that cannot be contained within Western defined gender roles” (136). Thus, the traditional understandings of women’s and men’s roles in the birthing and parenting process as expressed in Indigenous worldviews must be understood as counter to ideologies of Western patriarchal gender binaries. Traditionally, there was a community of support that took on the task of raising the next generations from infancy, childhood, youth, and on to adulthood. This communal approach to Indigenous mothering was central to the matrilineal and egalitarian societies of what we refer to as Turtle Island. This particular model of mothering was very different and in fact conflicted with the traditions of European settlers whose worldview and ideologies of gender normativity thrust upon the shores of what has been described as “the new world.”

Historical overview: two worlds colliding “It is women who give birth both in the physical and spiritual sense to the social, political and cultural life of the community” (Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, cited in Anderson, “Giving Life to the People” 774). The aforementioned statement highlights the powerful role of Indigenous women and expresses the essence of a matriarchal worldview that holds women in high esteem. Indigenous teachings, stories, and cultural traditions remind us that Indigenous women held powerful roles in pre-contact societies. Indigenous women were honoured for their ability to give life to the community both in a physical and spiritual sense. Among the Haudenosaunee people, the women were, and continue to be, the backbone of matrilineal communities as Clan Mothers had the final authority in community matters. This matrilineal structure still governs Haudenosaunee communities today amid the multiple junctures of colonial interference. This powerful status of women conflicted with the patriarchal social structure that permeated the settler mindset. As Andrea Smith expressed, settler women were in awe of the power Indigenous women held in matriarchal societies. The demonization of Indigenous womanhood therefore served to protect and enforce the patriarchal family structure. Moreover, Indigenous women were seen as a threat to newcomer visions of patriarchal dominance and expansion (Smith). Indeed, Indigenous women were in the way of settlement on newly discovered lands often described as “terra nullius.” The following Cheyenne proverb is telling in consideration of the colonial mindset that fostered the conquest of what was considered new land: “A nation is not conquered until the hearts of its women are on the ground. Then it is done, no matter how brave its warriors or strong its weapons” (Lavell-Harvard and Corbiere Lavell vii). These oftenquoted words capture the disposition of a colonial agenda threatened by the ability of Indigenous women “to reproduce the next generation of people who can resist colonization” (Smith 78). The perceived threat of Indigenous women led to centuries of forceful assimilationist agendas that severely altered, in some cases completely eradicated, and arguably still target Indigenous women’s right to give birth and mother. Justified by deeply entrenched settler ideologies that deemed Indigenous women uncivilized and uncivilizing, legally sanctioned initiatives such as the Indian Act of 1876, the eugenics movement, the pass system, residential schools, and child welfare interventions directly impeded the birthing and parenting rights of Indigenous women. Associated with some of these interventions were aggressive missionary tactics to Christianize Indigenous families and save them from their savage ways. Indigenous mothering can only be 112

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understood within the context of the pervasive forms of colonial violence that have significantly influenced generations of Indigenous families and communities. As Elizabeth Rule expressed, “attacks on Indigenous motherhood functioned as a form of gendered violence in service of settler colonialism” (750). The Indian Act of 1876 was “designed to create a patriarchal family unit in First Nations societies that already had a variety of kinship systems, including many matrilineal and matrilocal ones” (Sangster 307). This act has been described as being “one of the most influential and intrusive acts of legislation in Canadian history” (Cull 147). It was part of an assimilation framework in which every aspect of life for Indigenous peoples was regulated as they were forced into a state of dependency. The Indian Act still exists in Canada today despite the inherent racism and sexism embedded in the Act. Below, I outline several policies that were sanctioned under the Indian Act in an attempt to “civilize” Indigenous women and control family structures and child-rearing practices. It is important to keep in mind that these civilizing and moralizing campaigns were inextricable to the convergence of a patriarchal worldview within a landscape deeply seeped in matrilineal understandings of kinship and governance. In Canada, residential schools operated from 1831 to 1996 by physically removing Indigenous children from their homes and placing them in boarding schools where they were subject to physical, sexual, emotional, and spiritual abuse. Some children went home for the summer, some were not able to return to their families for years, and others never returned. Overcrowding and rampant disease in the schools led to a high mortality rate at an alarming rate of up to 42 percent. My grandmother attended the Mohawk Institute, otherwise known as the Mush Hole in Brantford, Ontario. It was named the Mush Hole by survivors who described the poor quality of food that resembled mush. It was not uncommon for children in residential schools to be forced to eat rotten food. The Mush Hole was the first residential school to open in Canada in 1831 and was initially directed by the Anglican Church. In 1844, the Baggot Commission proposed the separation of Indigenous children from their families to achieve assimilation. The Mohawk Institute served as a model for the residential school system in Canada and ran for nearly 50 years prior to the federal government taking control as part of the larger residential school system. With amendments to the Indian Act of 1876, federal funding for the creation of residential schools was established and by 1896 there were 45 federally funded residential schools across Canada. Residential schools became the primary means, and the driving force to “kill the Indian in the child” (The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, 2015). Although Indian Agents and missionaries haunted Indigenous communities to round up children throughout the 1800s, residential schools did not become mandatory until 1920. The mindset that governed the residential school movement is described by many scholars as a policy of genocide and extermination. The 1920s, nearly 100 years after the Mush Hole opened, were reported to be a time that “laid the foundation for the mass removal of children” (Battiste 55). As Battiste noted, this movement left entire communities without children as a strategy to “root out and destroy Indigenous knowledge, languages, and relationships with the natural family” (56). As Battiste explained, the effects of the pervasive abuses that took place in these schools has resulted in the intergenerational trauma that permeates Indigenous families and communities. Understandings of intergenerational trauma must consider the devastating effects on entire communities that were left without children. Within many Indigenous communities, children are referred to as the heart of the nation. If we consider that from 1830 to 1996, the heart was literally ripped out of Indigenous communities, the severity of the disruption to healthy families and communities becomes clear. Residential schools were significant in the campaign to moralize Indigenous women whose mothering practices were deemed unfit and uncivilized. The residential school system entailed 113

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“training women for their exclusively domestic roles. Residential schools took on the job of providing a gendered education that would foster a male breadwinner family model. Boys were trained in trades and farming and girls were schooled in domestic science” (Anderson, “Giving Life to the People” 763). Moreover, these boys and girls were taught to be ashamed of the traditional family practices of their communities. Children left the residential schools without parenting skills and without the knowledge of their family traditions (Anderson, “Giving Life to the People”). While the residential school system was sanctioned to solve the “Indian problem,” it has actually created many of the problems that Indigenous communities face today, including the shift away from traditional family planning practices, and these problems, in turn, continue to be presented as justification for the stereotypes of Indigenous mothering practices as inferior. The threat of Indigenous women set in place other acts of colonial violence that were both gendered and sexualized. The image of Indigenous women as uncivilized and uncivilizing placed particular constraints on their movement off reserve. The pass system was justified by the notion that Indigenous women were “incongruous, corrupting, and demoralizing. Classified as prostitutes, [Indigenous] women were seen as particular threats to morality and health” (Carter 158). Thus, movement of Indigenous women off reserve was largely prohibited by the pass system of 1882–1935. If an Indigenous woman was found off the reserve without a pass she would be arrested and ordered back to the reserve. The moral regulation of Indigenous women and their segregation to reserves severely limited their access to resources. Carter advised that basic sanitary items such as soap and wash basins were not available to the women, and the lack of textiles and yarn made clothing scarce as well. Despite acknowledgement that Indigenous women had no means to acquire these basic needs “the tendency was to ascribe blame to the women rather than to draw attention to conditions that would injure the reputation of government administrators” (150). For many Indigenous women, the opportunity to become a mother was denied through the forced and legal sterilizations that took place during the eugenics movement in Canada. The eugenics movement allowed for the legal sterilization of women who were deemed unfit to mother according the Sexual Sterilization Act. This was particularly troubling for Indigenous women as it is estimated that 25–50 percent of Indigenous women were sterilized under this legislation (Anderson, A Recognition of Being; Carter). Although the Sexual Sterilization Legislation in Canada was repealed in 1973, coerced sterilization of Indigenous women continues today. In fact, a number of Indigenous women recently came forward prompting an external review in 2017 entitled Tubal Ligation in the Saskatoon Health Region: The Lived Experience of Aboriginal Women (Boyer and Bartlett). The deliberate attack on the right of Indigenous women to mother their own children continued during what is referred to as the “Sixties Scoop.” This involved the mass removal of children from Indigenous homes and into state care. Children were relocated away from their families and communities, and in most cases, siblings were separated. Many Indigenous children from Canada were adopted out to families in the United States, some were sent as far as New Zealand and Australia. Any records that identified their birth families or home communities were destroyed. Many of those children, now middle-aged adults, are trying to find out where they came from, unaware of their nation and home communities. This continues today with an alarming number of Indigenous children currently in state care, a reality now referred to as a millennium scoop. As Cindy Blackstock reported, the number of Indigenous children in state care is significantly higher than the number of children who attended residential schools. In fact, in the province of Manitoba alone, there are over 10,000 children in state care and nearly 90% of these children have been apprehended from Indigenous families. These attacks on Indigenous women’s right to physically give birth and care for their own children have 114

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severely altered Indigenous communities, most notably through parenting and family planning traditions.

Central theories/themes: Indigenous ideologies of motherhood For Indigenous women, empowered mothering is connected with the Indigenous ideologies of motherhood that informed our worldviews and ancient traditions of physically and spiritually bringing forth new life. These teachings varied from nation to nation but were largely rooted in understandings of the interconnectedness of all living things and showcase how cultural teachings related to mothering are embedded within the teachings that Mother Earth provides. Among the Haudenosaunee and the Anishnaabee people, strawberry teachings offer valuable lessons about family planning and rebirth within our communities. These strawberry teachings are presented in lifestage ceremonies such as the Berry Fast – a ceremony that honours the transition from girlhood to womanhood. Mohawk midwife Katsi Cook explained how the strawberry teachings are related to Indigenous teachings on family planning and sustaining life. In The Spirit of the Berry Speaks to us Still, Cook described the strawberry spirit: It is sacred food because we understand and fulfill our relationship to it as human beings. We remember its protective power in our linguistics and we still share the stories . . . of the berry spirit. The central theme of those stories always has to do with the power of love in healing and maintaining harmonious relations. One of our names for the wild strawberry is “heart-berry”, special among the berry people for its very essence: the way it smells, the way it looks, the way it tastes, the way it makes us feel when we eat it. Even the way it sends out red runners along the ground to reproduce itself inspires us to think of the regeneration of our own families. (61) This connects to not only the ways in which Mother Earth nurtures, sustains, and endlessly gives, but also to the very teachings that can be found in the life continuum of the strawberry plant. This sentiment of Indigenous ideologies of motherhood and the interconnectedness with all living things was also expressed in the recent and controversial #Sealfie campaign in which Inuk throat singer Tanya Tagaq defended seal-hunting practices and confronted settler environmentalism and the gendered violence that continues to attack Indigenous women today. Traditional seal hunting is understood within the values of reciprocity and balance within the natural environment (Rule). As Tagaq, who herself is a residential school survivor, explained, seal-­ hunting practices are critical to the well-being of Indigenous families in Canada’s most remote fly-in community. In 2014, she posted a photo of her daughter lying beside a dead seal. The photo was shared on Twitter as part of the #Sealfie movement to showcase the peacefulness of traditional seal hunting. Tagaq explained that she uses her platform as an international awardwinning artist to highlight the beauty of Indigenous cultures and raise awareness about the continued interference of settler colonialism. In response to settler environmentalism expressed in the anti-seal-hunting rhetoric, Tagaq’s Sealfie was intended to draw awareness to traditional teachings of a way of life that is rooted in understandings of the reciprocal relationships between all living things and the profound way in which thanks is given to the seal spirit: I took that picture long before the “Sealfie” movement at an Elder’s camp in the middle of nowhere. Some Elders were sitting around drinking tea in the summertime and it was very peaceful. A boat pulled up and it was their nephew who had caught a seal. 115

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They were so happy to be able to have the seal for the fur, for tanning, and to eat. You can weave the intestines together to make rope. Every single part of that beautiful animal is used. One of the traditions is to melt snow in your mouth and then put it into the seal’s mouth so their spirit isn’t thirsty in the afterlife. It is a deep respect. (cited in Freeman) The responses to Tagaq’s Sealfie, however, present a clear snapshot of the way in which racist notions of Indigenous cultures remain deeply embedded in settler colonialism and continue to manifest in gendered violence. Online harassment included comments suggesting that Tagaq is an unfit mother and violent images that photoshopped the original #Sealfie. In one image her daughter appears to be getting stabbed, in another Tagaq’s face is peeled off. Indeed as Rule articulated: Settler colonialism continues to wage attacks on Indigenous cultures and, in these efforts, specifically targets Indigenous women with accusations of unfit motherhood as a way to disrupt or halt the transmission of certain cultural ways from mother to child. (749) Rule further explained how historical attacks on Indigenous women are intentionally gendered and intricately connected to recent attacks on Indigenous motherhood and noted that the connection between historical and contemporary forms of gendered violence must be understood. Anderson advised that “Indigenous ideologies of motherhood are distinct from patriarchal western models of motherhood, and this means that strategies for empowered mothering are also distinct” (“Giving Life to the People” 775). Tagaq’s Sealfie, as an act of digital resistance (Rule), serves as a prominent example of an act of empowered mothering. Moreover, according to Lavell-Harvard and Corbiere Lavell (“Until Our Hearts Are on the Ground”), it is the very distinctiveness of Indigenous mothering that is empowering: The historical persistence of our cultural difference generation after generation (despite the best assimilative efforts of both Church and State) is a sign of our strength and our resistance. That we have historically, and continually, mothered in a way that is “different” from the dominant culture, is not only empowering for our women, but is potentially empowering for all women. (3) Extending this notion, Lina Sunseri pointed out that “an alternative to patriarchal mothering has always existed in Indigenous communities.” Sunseri explained, “empowered mothering recognizes that when mothers practice mothering from a position of agency rather than of passivity, of authority rather than of submission, and of autonomy rather than of dependency, all, mothers and children alike, become empowered” (57). Indeed as Lavell-Harvard and Corbiere Lavell (“Until Our Hearts Are on the Ground”) contend “the voices of our sisters, and their accounts of our longstanding resistance to the imposition of patriarchal motherhood and all it entails, can be a source of empowerment in the struggle for revolution (5–6). Anderson (“Giving Life to the People”) documented Indigenous ideologies of mothering as “strategies of resistance, reclamation, and recovery” (762) drawing attention to the resiliency of Indigenous women in their ability to hold on to and practice traditional customs despite colonial influences and the role that reclaiming those practices has in the healing and recovery of Indigenous families. The aforementioned work of Katsi Cook in advancing Indigenous midwifery 116

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and Tanya Tagaq’s commitment to traditional seal-hunting practices are deeply rooted in Indigenous community well-being and thus serve as strategies of resistance, reclamation, and recovery.

Controversies or challenges in relation to the topic Policing of Indigenous moms. The troubling responses to Tanya Tagaq’s Sealfie draw attention to the contemporary attacks on Indigenous motherhood. Indeed, as Rule wrote, “accusations of unfit Indigenous motherhood exist as contemporary iterations of the enduring, powerful ideologies that once fueled mid-nineteenth- and early twentieth-century residential schools, sterilizations, and adoption and foster care abuses” (741). Moreover, as Darlene Juschka articulated, “for Indigenous women reproductive rights include their ability to transmit their culture to their children” (37). Indigenous mothers continue to “live their lives under a state-controlled microscope and no one’s life or behaviours look acceptable under that type of unnatural and unjust scrutiny” (Cull 153). This type of policing must be understood as the continued legacy of residential schooling that “impacts on successive generations of mothers and their abilities to nurture” (Gosselin 199). These “current neo-colonial discourses [serve] as justification to mark Indigenous parents as neglectful and abusive as well as the removal of children from their home environments” (Gosselin 199). Evidently the same moralizing campaign that was designed to attack the very heart of Indigenous communities through the residential school system, the sixties scoop, forced and coerced sterilizations and pervasive gendered violence continues to threaten the most vulnerable of Canadian society – Indigenous mothers and their children. The vulnerability of Indigenous women and their children must be understood within the context of racialized and sexualized violence that persists in Canada today. Not only are Indigenous mother’s over-policed but they continue to be under-protected. This is reflected in the appalling rates of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada. Indigenous two-spirit/queer critiques. Another attack on Indigenous mothering and Indigenous maternal knowledges is the imposition of binary understandings of patriarchal models of motherhood. Juschka noted that “for colonization to be successful, it was necessary to dismantle the gender fluidity and equivalent gender relations among Indigenous peoples” (15). Rule explained that “the violent repercussions of naturalizing heteropatriarchy and heteropaternalism similarly manifest in attacks against the Indigenous lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual and Two-Spirit community” (743). Mothering within an Indigenous understanding is inclusive and speaks to the balance among the multiple genders. This is expressed in Elder Betty McKenna’s statement that “our warriors will come full circle so that mothering will once again not be separated by gender” (cited in Stonechild xi). Thus, a fulsome understanding of Indigenous ideologies of motherhood must take into account that decolonizing Indigenous mothering practices must resist essentialist notions of the very word “maternal” and reclaim the power of matriarchal worldviews. The emergence of critical scholarship such as Indigenous Two-Spirit/Queer Critiques “imagine[s] continued decolonial movements that centre resistance to heteropatriarchy and colonial gender regimes” (Driskill et al. 6) and creates a space to articulate the gender inclusivity of Indigenous maternal pedagogies.

Maternal evacuation “Georgina, a mother of Mi’kmaq heritage, is in the last stage of her pregnancy. Reluctantly, she is preparing to leave her home community of Port-aux-Basques, located on the southwestern tip of Newfoundland, to give birth in the only remaining maternity hospital in her health region, the Western Memorial Regional Hospital in Corner Brook, 220 kilometres away from her 117

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family and friends. Her chances of having a maternity doctor or midwife she knows attend her birth are slim to none, and there is a 30% chance that her baby will be delivered by Caesarean section” (Benoit). Maternal evacuation is another significant challenge faced by many Indigenous women in Canada who live in remote communities. For the women of these communities, what was once a celebrated community event is now experienced as a lonely, isolated event, away from home (Cidro et al.). Women have to travel long distances to deliver in urban settings, where they are likely to be far removed from the necessary support network that typically accompanies the birthing process. Rachel Olsen documented the current practices of maternal evacuation in relation to risk management by drawing attention to the negative effects of relocating for birth such as newborn complications, increased postpartum depression, and decreased breastfeeding rates. Olsen articulated that the risks associated with delivering away from biomedical technology do not account for the risks associated with isolation and travelling long distances to deliver. Moreover, Olsen contended that delivery in the hospital setting, according to the birth stories she encountered, highlight a lack of support to negotiate the birthing experience. The birth stories documented in the studies of Olsen and Cidro et al. demonstrate the interference of the biomedical and neoliberal patriarchal capitalist regimes that are contemporary iterations of colonial interference into the lives of Indigenous women. The birth stories also highlight the urgency of returning birth to Indigenous communities by supporting Indigenous midwifery practices and establishing health care centres in remote communities. This is both a need and a desire as expressed in the following section.

Bringing the spirit of birth back to our communities I try to keep alive the work that my grandmother did, she who delivered me in her big white iron bed at her farmhouse, and who learned what she knew from her mother. I’m third or maybe even fourth-generation midwife in my community. I’m delivering babies to children of babies my grandmother delivered, and so the continuity of that is very meaningful. (Katsi Cook, qtd. in Wessman and Harvey)

“The transition of a baby coming through the door of the spirit world and into the physical world is considered a ceremony for the mother and child, and for her community” (Tabobondung et al. 82) Reclaiming Indigenous midwifery practices is an act of revitalizing Indigenous birth knowledges. As these knowledges have largely been suppressed by the colonial acts noted earlier, Tabobondung expressed the need to “spend time recalling our pre-contact knowledges” (133). Her research focuses on reclaiming ancestral knowledge that has been passed down in the oral tradition and includes contemporary stories that express resilience against assimilationist efforts within the context of the shifting landscape of lived experiences. Other Indigenous scholars position the revitalization of Indigenous midwifery as an expression of sovereignty (Tabobondung et al.; Simpson). Indeed, as Simpson articulated, decolonizing Indigenous birth experiences is a revolutionary act; “by reclaiming pregnancy and birth, we are not only physically decolonizing ourselves but we are also providing a decolonized pathway into this world” (28). Efforts to reclaim Indigenous midwifery practices across Canada have been largely successful with growing support of the National Aboriginal Council of Midwives and the establishment of new Indigenous birthing centres across the country. However, as the stories of maternal 118

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evacuation reveal, there is significant need for support and funding to bring the spirit of birth back to Indigenous communities.

Directions for future research Tanya Tagaq’s experience upon defending the tradition of seal hunting practices must be understood within the context of a history of settler and gendered violence. “The interconnectedness of the attacks on Tagaq’s physical well-being, traditions, and motherhood speak to the larger colonialist effort to end the intergenerational reproduction of Indigenous culture, and attempts to do so through campaigns of violence against Indigenous women” (Rule). A common thread throughout Indigenous feminisms and studies on Indigenous motherhood is the pervasiveness of gendered colonial violence. As Rule articulated, a new conceptual framework for articulating this violence is necessary as it manifests in new attacks on Indigenous ideologies of motherhood as expressed by settler environmentalism within the context of antiseal-hunting rhetoric. Indigenous maternal pedagogies, presented in the texts that follow, offer a theorizing space for understanding the intricacies of settler and gendered violence and in doing so must consider the intersections of heteropatriarchy and colonial gender regimes.

Further reading Anderson, Kim. Life Stages and Native Women: Memory, Teachings and Story Medicine. U of Manitoba P, 2011. Bourassa, Carrie, et al. Listening to the Beat of Our Drum: Indigenous Parenting in Contemporary Society. Demeter Press, 2017. Brant, Jennifer. “From Historical Memories to Contemporary Visions: Honouring Indigenous Maternal Histories.” Journal of the Motherhood Initiative for Research and Community Involvement, vol. 5, no. 1, Mothers and History, 2014, pp. 35–52. Brant, Jennifer, and Kim Anderson. “In the Scholarly Way: Marking Generations of Inroads to Empowered Indigenous Mothering.” What Do Mothers Need? Motherhood Activists and Scholars Speak out on Maternal Empowerment for the 21st Century, edited by Andrea O’Reilly, Demeter Press, 2012, pp. 203–08. Lavell-Harvard, Dawn Memee, and Kim Anderson. Mothers of the Nations: Indigenous Mothering as Global Resistance, Reclaiming, and Recovery. Demeter Press, 2014. Lavell-Harvard, Dawn Memee, and Jeannette Corbiere Lavell. “Until Our Hearts Are on the Ground”: Aboriginal Mothering, Oppression, Resistance and Rebirth. Demeter Press, 2006. Neufeld, Hannah Tait, and Jaime Cidro. Indigenous Experiences of Pregnancy and Birth. Demeter Press, 2017. Olsen, Rachel. “Bodies of Water: Exploring Birth Place and Ceremony in Manitoba, Canada.” Pimatisiwin: A Journal of Aboriginal and Indigenous Community Health, vol. 10, no. 3, 2013, pp. 341–51.

Conclusion This chapter has documented years of colonial attacks on Indigenous women and mothers. These attacks, however, are no match for the power of Indigenous maternal epistemologies that have governed the many diverse nations across Turtle Island since time immemorial. These maternal teachings are expressed in different ways today as creative acts of resistance, reclamation, and renewal. While, Indigenous families continue to experience the multiple effects of intergenerational traumas, the powerful legacy of maternal knowledges has awakened to bring balance back to Indigenous communities. Neufeld and Cidro describe this as a sacred time for decolonized possibilities. Indigenous women, families, and communities experienced this through a collective synergy when midwives delivered an Indigenous child at the Standing Rock Reservation surrounded by water protectors gathered to support the spirit of birth on the frontlines. Not only is this a powerful example of a decolonized pathway into the physical 119

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world, it is a deeply profound act of Indigenous midwifery as an expression of sovereignty over Indigenous lands and bodies. As Neufeld and Cidro wrote, “a reclamation of the value of place and ceremony has been ignited within Indigenous women across the world as they repossess their rights to protect water, starting with the water inside them” (9). My understandings of empowered Indigenous motherhood are shaped by the contemporary revolution of reclaiming Indigenous epistemologies of birth knowledge, the richness and beauty of Indigenous cultures, the strength that is expressed in our resistance movements, and the ongoing work of reclaiming and preserving our cultural traditions; a powerful legacy I can pass on to my children. The collective synergy of efforts to reclaim Indigenous ideologies of mothering have left our youngest with a powerful legacy that will continue to be passed down to our future generations as we continue to birth our nations.

Works cited Anderson, Kim. A Recognition of Being: Reconstructing Native Womanhood. Sumach Press, 2000. ———. “Vital Signs: Reading Colonialism in Contemporary Adolescent Family Planning.” Strong Women Stories: Native Vision and Community Survival, edited by Kim Anderson and Bonita Lawrence, Sumach Press, 2003, pp. 173–90. ———. “Giving Life to the People: An Indigenous Ideology of Motherhood.” Maternal Theory: Essential Readings, edited by Andrea O’Reilly, Demeter Press, 2007, pp. 761–81. Battiste, Marie. Decolonizing Education: Nourishing the Learning Spirit. Purich, 2013. Benoit, Cecilia. “Modern Maternity Care in Canada.” The Vanier Institute of the Family, vol. 45, no. 4, 2015, pp. 3–6. Blackstock, Cindy. “First Nations Child and Family Services: Restoring Peace and Harmony in First Nations Communities.” Child Welfare: Connecting Research, Policy, and Practice, edited by K. Kufeldt and B. McKenzie, Wilfrid Laurier UP, 2003, pp. 331–42. Boyer, Yvonne, and Judith Bartlett. “External Review: Tubal Ligation in the Saskatoon Health Region: The Lived Experience of Aboriginal Women.” Saskatoon Health Region, 2017, https://www.saskatoon rience_of_Aboriginal_Women_BoyerandBartlett_July_22_2017.pdf. Carter, Sarah. “Categories and Terrains of Exclusion: Constructing the ‘Indian Woman’ in the Early Settlement Era in Western Canada.” In the Days of Our Grandmothers: A Reader in Aboriginal Women’s History in Canada, edited by Mary-Ellen Kelm and Lorna Townsend, U of Toronto P, 2008, pp. 146–69. Carvell, Marlene. Sweetgrass Basket. Dutton Children’s Books, 2005. Cidro, Jaime, et al. “Bored, Broke, and Alone: Experiences of Pregnant and Expectant First Nations Mothers Birthing in and out of the Community.” Indigenous Experiences of Pregnancy and Birth, edited by Hannah Tait Neufeld and Jamie Cidro, Demeter Press, 2017, pp. 73–90. Cook, Katsi. “Mothers the First Environment.” Women Healthsharing, vol. 13, no. 4, 1993, pp. 22–24. ———. “Spirit of the Berry Speaks to Us Still.” Native Americas, vol. 2, no. 2, 2004, pp. 60–61. Cull, Randi. “Aboriginal Mothering under the State’s Gaze.” “Until Our Hearts Are on the Ground”: Aboriginal Mothering, Oppression, Resistance and Rebirth, edited by D. Memee Lavell-Harvard and Jeannette Corbiere Lavell, Demeter Press, 2006, pp. 141–56. Driskill, Qwo-Li, et al. Sovereign Erotics: A Collection of Two-Spirit Literature. U of Arizona P, 2011. Freeman, John. “Breath of the Inuit: Tanya Tagaq Interviewed.” 2015, Gosselin, Cheryl. “They Let Their Kids Run Wild”: The Policing of Aboriginal Mothering in Quebec. “Until Our Hearts Are on the Ground”: Aboriginal Mothering, Oppression, Resistance and Rebirth, edited by D. Memee Lavell-Harvard and Jeannette Corbiere Lavell, Demeter Press, 2006, pp. 196–206. Juschka, Darlene. “Indigenous Women, Reproductive Justice, and Indigenous Feminisms: A Narrative.” Listening to the Beat of Our Drum: Indigenous Parenting in Contemporary Society, edited by Carrie Bourassa et al., Demeter Press, 2017, pp. 13–45. Lavell-Harvard, Dawn Memee, and Kim Anderson. Mothers of the Nations: Indigenous Mothering as Global Resistance, Reclaiming, and Recovery. Demeter Press, 2014.


Indigenous mothering Lavell-Harvard, Dawn Memee, and Jeannette Corbiere Lavell. “Until Our Hearts Are on the Ground”: Aboriginal Mothering, Oppression, Resistance and Rebirth. Demeter Press, 2006. ———. “What More Do You People Want? The Unique Needs of Aboriginal Mothers in a Modern Context.” What Do Mothers Need? Motherhood Activists and Scholars Speak out on Maternal Empowerment for the 21st Century, edited by Andrea O’Reilly, Demeter Press, 2012, pp. 107–22. Neufeld, Hannah Tait, and Jaime Cidro. Indigenous Experiences of Pregnancy and Birth. Demeter Press, 2017. Olsen, Rachel. “Bearing Witness: Rural Indigenous Women’s Experiences of Childbirth in an Urban Hospital.” Indigenous Experiences of Pregnancy and Birth, edited by Hannah Tait Neufeld and Jaime Cidro, Demeter Press, 2017, pp. 91–110. Porter, Tom. And Grandma Said . . . Iroquois Teachings as Passed Down Through the Oral Tradition. Author, 2008. Rule, Elizabeth. “Seals, Selfies, and the Settler State: Indigenous Motherhood and Gendered Violence in Canada.” American Quarterly, vol. 70, no. 4, 2018, pp. 741–54. Sangster, Joan. “Native Women, Sexuality, and the Law.” In the Days of Our Grandmothers: A Reader in Aboriginal Women’s History in Canada, edited by Mary-Ellen Kelm and Lorna Townsend, U of Toronto P, 2008, pp. 301–35. Simpson, Leanne. “Birthing an Indigenous Resurgence: Decolonizing Our Pregnancy and Birthing Ceremonies.” “Until Our Hearts Are on the Ground”: Aboriginal Mothering, Oppression, Resistance and Rebirth, edited by D. Memee Lavell-Harvard and Jeannette Corbiere Lavell, Demeter Press, 2006, pp. 25–33. Smith, Andrea. “Not an Indian Tradition: The Sexual Colonization of Native Peoples.” Hypatia, vol. 18, no. 2, 2003, pp. 70–85. Stonechild, Blair. “Foreword.” Listening to the Beat of Our Drum: Indigenous Parenting in Contemporary Society, edited by Carrie Bourassa et al., Demeter Press, 2017, pp. xi–xiii. Sunseri, Lina. “Sky Woman Lives On: Contemporary Examples of Mothering the Nation.” First Voices: An Aboriginal Women’s Reader, edited by Patricia Monture and Patricia McGuire, Inanna, 2009, pp. 54–62. Tabobondung, Rebeka. “Revitalizing Traditional Indigenous Birth Knowledge.” Indigenous Experiences of Pregnancy and Birth, edited by Hannah Tait Neufeld and Jamie Cidro, Demeter Press, 2017, pp. 129–43. Tabobondung, Rebeka, et al. “Indigenous Midwifery as an Expression of Sovereignty.” Mothers of the Nations: Indigenous Mothering as Global Resistance, Reclaiming, and Recovery, edited by D. Memee LavellHarvard and Kim Anderson, Demeter Press, 2014, pp. 71–87. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future, Summary of the Final Report, 2015. Wessman, J., and N. Harvey. An Interview with Katsi Cook. Talking Leaves, Spring, 2000.


9 VOLUNTARILY CHILDLESS WOMEN A look at Western society and the definition of motherhood Emilie Lewis Introduction Little scholarly attention has really been given to women who choose not to have children in Western, Christian society. Women or couples who prove infertile are pitied by society, while women who marry men and have children are upheld as the societal standard. This heteronormative framework has long been reinforced by Christian religion and upheld by legal definitions of marriage. The concept of relationships – and parents – consisting of one man and one woman is slowly beginning to shift, but the dominant framework in Western society remains that of heteronormative couples. But fertile women who choose not to become mothers are cast out as “others” who don’t fit into Western society’s understanding of what a woman is and should be. Society’s binary gender system and the essentialist view that all women want to be mothers is largely to blame for this understanding. As it stands today, voluntarily childless women upset Western, binary understandings of gender but, by broadening the definition of womanhood, these women can find their place in society and still be understood as complete women outside the realm of motherhood. This chapter will look at the historical and current development and implications of voluntarily childless women by exploring definitions, historical perspectives, critical issues, current contributions, recommendations for further discussions, and suggested further reading. This chapter refers only to Western society built predominantly by and colonized for Christians (i.e., western Europe, the United States, Canada, and Australia). This is to narrow the scope and focus of this chapter and is enforced by the authors cited within.

Background and context In this chapter, women are defined by the author as those with a womb and who identify with a more female gender embodiment, going along with the commonly accepted Western binary terms. The term “voluntarily childless women” is used to represent those who are fertile but choose not to have children. This term is used because of its stance as the most popular description of this group within current academic study. “Voluntarily childfree women” is also commonly used. 122

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Historical perspectives In Western history, all women are understood to be mothers. This idea is still the root of the view that motherhood is a woman’s main purpose in life. The prevalence of this idea comes from the use of essentialism of motherhood in Western history. Essentialism, the idea that within each person is an “essence” of gender, supports the idea that people are men or women as determined by something specifically “male” or “female” about their essence and function. The idea stems from the works of Plato in roughly 360 b.c.e. and has been upheld ever since, supported by Christianity and encouraged through the widespread movement of the religion across the Western world (Ann Taylor Allen). The essentialist viewpoint of women as mothers starts with the biblical story of Adam and Eve. Originating in the chapter of Genesis, Adam and Eve are the first humans, placed upon the earth by God. Although science has since proven otherwise, many people, Christian or not, still think of this story as the very beginning, the creation of Man and Woman. Thus begins Western society’s belief in a two-gender system. Because of the wide sect of the world that practiced Christianity, this viewpoint crossed from the edges of Western Europe to North America and beyond as colonization in the name of God spread, namely with the British. This binary allows for only two versions of humans: men and women. Those in the men category possess a penis and sperm and those in the Women category possess a vagina and a womb. It has long been thought that reproduction is the ultimate goal and only possibility for interaction between the two sexes, an idea that is strongly supported by the religious requirement stated in the chapter of Genesis to “be fruitful and multiply” in order to create more Christians and therefore control more of the world. Throughout recorded Western history, women have been equated with mothers. There has been such an inextricable link between the two that they are often identified as one and the same. A woman’s purpose in life was to find a husband and have children. She was expected to cook, clean, take care of her husband’s every need, and raise children while potentially facing death each time she brought the next one into the world. A woman was a mother just as a man was a citizen, property owner, and the real foundation of society. But women were only allowed to fulfill this duty of motherhood via marriage. To better control a woman and the exchange of property from one generation to the next, marriage was used as a means of ownership and possession. A man was the head of the household and his wife and children were subservient to him. His sons where his heirs, inheriting business and property, and the legitimacy of these heirs was determined by tight control of a woman passed from her father to her husband. She was to possess no knowledge of another man, though men were free to frequent local brothels or other establishments at their leisure. This patriarchal system was never questioned as it was believed to be natural – the way that God intended things to be. This very same God put certain leaders into power. The entirety of the British monarchy was based on the God-given right to the throne (whether that right be given via birth or a win in battle). This system was never questioned and, until Elizabeth I, no woman was accepted as heir to a major Western throne. It was, after all, Eve who caused the downfall of man. Not a thought was given to a woman’s choice in having children in these marriages. It was assumed that she wanted children and that it was her natural duty to provide them simply because it was her body that could do so. There was no access to guaranteed birth control other than abstinence, and that wasn’t an option for the majority of married women. Many women died in childbirth but were quickly replaced with another wife, another mother, all interchangeable so long as they continued to provide offspring, particularly more men (Allen). The rise of capitalism in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries provided yet another facet of the woman-as-mother argument. Now the incentive to provide heirs wasn’t just to continue 123

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the exchange of property from one generation to another, but it was one’s moral duty to provide workers for the state. In fact, “maternity, though still regarded as a moral duty, was also re-conceptualized as a productive activity that manufactured the most important commodity of all, citizens” (Allen 65–66). More workers and consumers were needed to keep the economy going; thus, women were told their job in society was to create more workers above anything else. Particular attention was also paid to which citizens were reproducing – which classes of people were offering up these new workers. As Michel Foucault suggests, people, particularly women, were controlled because of the functions of power of the state. The power of man over woman was reinforced in law, societal standards, and religion, and this power appeared through capitalism and the need for unified workers that were trainable and replaceable. Pseudo-science even argued for medical reasons why women were not equal to men – smaller brains, weaker muscles, and good old hysteria (Foucault). But at the turn of the twentieth century, a new movement in regards to motherhood arose – the feminist reclaiming of motherhood from Christianity. Although the concept of feminism is now irrevocably associated with a woman’s right to choose what happens to her body, feminists of a hundred years ago decided to reclaim motherhood as their platform (Allen). Feminists of the early 1900s through 1920s fought not only for their right to vote but also encouraged women to embrace that ultimate, essential duty of motherhood. It was a moral obligation – a way to influence the next generation and revel in all that it meant to be a woman. Motherhood was the ultimate step toward becoming a fully embodied woman, and it was therefore necessary in order to become one’s true self and a fully matured adult. The writings of Simone De Beauvoir in the 1950s were some of the first as a feminist response to motherhood that decoupled femininity and motherhood and referenced the “enforced maternity” of today’s society, discussing the seemingly unshakeable link between woman and mother (485). “From infancy,” De Beauvoir writes, “woman is told over and over that she is made for childbearing” (491). Even today this has been embedded within society, told to little girls as they are handed dolls and expected to begin their mothering skills. De Beauvoir points out that this view dooms women to a dependence on men, never mind allowing space for those who identify as homosexual, bisexual, or asexual. There is only heterosexuality in this world and all women are to become mothers. De Beauvoir succinctly points out that separating women from the idea of motherhood is the only way to break free of the label, to transcend society’s understanding of woman, but essentialism still stands in the way. There is an idea that all women possess some innate longing of motherhood, some “maternal desire” that she carries within her until she has babies and is ultimately fulfilled. This essentialist view of gender and its use against women is also poignantly articulated by Adrienne Rich in her 1976 work Of Woman Born. Commenting on De Beauvoir’s earlier work in order to clearly demonstrate how society has enforced these binary understandings, Rich cites the forced communion between mother and woman as the main point of control over women’s bodies. She says, “women are controlled by lashing us to our bodies,” and states that this control is in turn used to prove that, since all women have babies, all women must want babies (Rich 13). Rich believes the very root of patriarchy rests in this control and claims, “institutional motherhood revives and renews all other institutions” (45). In order for the power to be maintained and society to continue as always, women must be told that it is their duty and desire to have children, to create more humans to feed into the patriarchal structure and therefore that essentialism is being used to control women’s lives. Rich argues that part of this is done via the Catholic Church, which postures the idea that a soul resides in men and women are nothing more than the womb that houses that soul and brings it into the world. Rich also points out that any women who choose to have a say in their maternity 124

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are labeled as pathological and polarized against women who are mothers, creating a further divide within women as a whole, which only serves to enhance the power of the dominant, male group. In sum, “the absence of respect for women’s lives is written into the heart of male theological doctrine,” Rich says, “into the structure of the patriarchal family and into the very language of patriarchal ethics” (269–70). As Rich demonstrates, a strong stigma has always surrounded women who dare to seek agency in their own maternity. Only somewhat recently have any studies been done on maternity and a woman’s choice following the advent of birth control and the legalization of abortion in the 1960s and 1970s. Jean Veevers gave voluntarily childless women recognition in her 1973 study of their treatment and the motivations one might have for becoming a parent, rather than just the assumed lack of fertility. “Social scientists and laymen both make an implicit assumption that wanting and having children are necessary for development to full maturity” (Veevers 202). Veevers points out the stigma attached to women who choose not to have children – that they will never reach their full maturity – but also points out that there are no proven reasons for having children, saying it is not the natural position of all human beings to want to procreate. Looking at the stigma of voluntarily childfree women in the 1980s, Susan Bram demonstrates that these women are seen as pathological and out of their minds. “In the past psychologists have either ignored the childless or presumed them to be pathological” (Bram 195). Women who pushed back against the essentialist view of desire and motherhood were cast off as hysterical, yet again supporting the age-old pseudo-scientific idea that women are controlled by hormones and don’t know any better and must therefore be told what they want. However, the 1980s did offer some support for women who chose to actively lead childfree lives or put off motherhood in favor of other pursuits, such as their careers. Visibility for this path and increasing support of it by society starts to appear in Shealy and Shealy’s 1981 book on parenthood. The work is entirely based on the fact that choice is a vital part of parenthood and maternity. The book, titled To Parent or Not?, explores and explains the idea that having children is a life-changing choice, one that can be based on income, career goals, time, and whether one even likes spending time with children in the first place. They treat the choice as the normal, sane reaction to contemplating children rather than the non-choice it has for so long been. Ultimately there is a move, starting in the 1950s, to understand the reasons behind enforced motherhood rather than blindly accepting it. The feminist work of the 1920s – again, in Western society only – started the move toward women as individuals rather than a man’s property and more and more thought was put into what that individualism meant. Stigma still surrounds women who don’t fit into the mold of what women had for so long been forced into, but no clear understanding of how to solve that problem had yet arisen approaching the 1990s.

Central issues and debate Today we stand on a battlefield for feminist and civil liberties. There are a number of critical issues that still stand in the way of total equality, namely our understanding of the definition of womanhood and motherhood and the stigma attached to being the “wrong” kind of woman. What happens when women actively choose not to have children? There are many who would like to become mothers but can’t, due to their partner’s or their own bodies getting in the way. Adoption is a way for many to fulfill a maternal desire, as is a career in a field working with children, such as elementary education or pediatric medicine. But not all women want to have children. Not everyone feels a maternal instinct, wishes to carry a child in their womb and care for it. So what do we do with those women? How are they situated in a society that struggles to dissociate woman and mother? There is no term for a “nonfather,” but we have a plethora of 125

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terms for ‘barren’ women without a child of their own (Rich). In our two-gender society, what do we do with women who don’t wish to fulfill their “duty” as mothers? Unfortunately, the binary system is still in place in today’s Western society and becomes a point of concern as the idea that motherhood is womanhood and vice versa still remains the most basic definition of females. To be understood as a woman today, one still needs to be a mother. Now, as Planned Parenthood and other organizations provide healthcare and reproductive support to thousands of women around the United States and the world, motherhood and womanhood are still inextricably linked. In Western society, woman equals mother. There is no in between, no wiggle room. If you are a woman, you are expected to be a mother and desire children above your career or yourself. So what do we do with those non-mothers? How do we accept women who are physically capable of having children but decide not to into a society that can’t comprehend such a phenomenon? The long-term answer is: we get rid of the binary system, while the short-term answer is: we redefine what it means to be a woman.

Current contributions After the first wave of feminism in the twentieth century and the new understanding for the societal structures put into place to enforce motherhood for the centuries before, the 1990s and 2000s have brought more modern understandings and plans of action toward a more equal society for all. But the stigma of pathological and hysterical doesn’t just live in the past. As Stephanie Rich et al. prove through firsthand accounts, women today are still being treated just about the same as they were in the 1800s. These scholars discuss the preordained nature of motherhood in Western society, and they also spoke to various women who identify as voluntarily childless. The results focused more on society’s perceived ideas of these women rather than the women’s own experiences. “Being childless was not particularly personally significant in and of itself,” they said, “but rather, it became personally significant through the experience of being in a misunderstood . . . position” (Rich et al. 242). The women that they spoke to often brought up the fact that they had trouble explaining to their family and friends how they could be happy in their childfree life. The idea of motherhood is so embodied and the stigma of non-mothers as pathological and “wrong” remains so strong in our society that women have to explain how they could possibly function outside motherhood. Rich and her co-authors similarly point to the idea that part of the stigma lies in the idea of maturity. If women are only fully mature when they become mothers, how does society view women who live their adult lives without children? Poorly, is how. But it is here that we begin to see a shift. More recently, we have seen women actively claim their status as women, embodying the identity known to society as “woman,” but they are doing so without fulfilling the previously required role of motherhood. Here we start to see the subversion of gender arise. With so much stigma and judgment surrounding voluntarily childless women, there have been a number of ways suggested to combat this “pathological” idea and fight against the assumed desire of motherhood for all women. The choice of whether to become a mother or not is a primary point for liberation from gender roles. It is only with this liberation that we will finally be able to break away from essentialism and the idea that women = mothers. Creating a space for women to be recognized as complete, whole, mature human beings without being mothers will help to break down traditional men/women gender dichotomies. Maaret Wager, who identifies as a voluntarily childless woman, cites her agreement with Adrienne Rich (and therefore De Beauvoir) that separating the ideas of what is a mother and what is a woman is the best way to challenge gender binaries. She notes that, today, many women are defined by their maternity, which is the very first bit of information anyone 126

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wants to know about a woman. Whether married, single, in a relationship, all women are constantly hounded as to their maternal status. Wager clearly states that “every woman is a potential mother, biologically or socially, but it is not our only potential” (394). It is also important to move toward an idea of social acceptability for both mothers and non-mothers, where the social stigma no longer exists and no judgment is made as to a person’s womanhood as defined by her maternity. Wager’s focus on understanding motherhood as a potential act rather than a required act is a good place to start, but some scholars have suggested that the creation of new identities, of new means of separating womanhood and motherhood, might be the best way to move forward. One of these scholars, Mardy Ireland, suggests a creation of three identity classifications for women in relation to their maternal status. While Ireland fully supports a woman’s choice in maternity, she feels it is important to have an identity, a group to fall into and suggests using the term “Traditional” for women who wish to become mothers but physically can’t, “Transitional” for women who are ambivalent and unsure of motherhood, and “Transformative” for those who actively choose not to become mothers. Ireland sees most women falling into the “Transitional” category, which is probably true. Many women weigh the pros and cons of having children and spend more and more time deciding whether to become mothers or not. The positives to Ireland’s suggestion is that all three of these categories reshape the way women as a group are viewed. In a society so glued to a binary system, it seems logical to start by reshaping the understanding of binary categories before destroying them all together. But the negative of Ireland’s three categories is that it further segregates women. Those in the “Traditional” category are pitied and consoled by society while those in the “Transformative” category are still seen as insane and unnatural. Some women actually use essentialism in order to create categories among themselves. Peterson and Engwall’s 2013 qualitative study indicates that several childfree women identify as “other” to woman. This creation of a third gender of sorts is supported by essentialist arguments that these women don’t feel the desire of maternity; that “women” all crave motherhood, and those that don’t want motherhood are therefore not women but an “other.” This third gender is, for some, neither male nor female but a sort of nonbinary, transformative space without traditional binary roles. Others view the third gender as an offshoot of woman – a woman who does not fit into traditional, heteronormative expectations and who chooses not to have children. A creation of this third gender, of yet another separation in a society that needs fewer boundaries and divides, again, only pits women against women and one gender against another. Rather than having two groups of women – those with children and those without – it is important to allow all women to claim the space of “woman,” as much as that space actually exists. As demonstrated by Marian Faux, these separations are already built into Western European and North American society in the form of tax benefits where everyone is encouraged to spend within their means unless it comes to having children in which case the state offers tax cuts and encourages children (to feed the Capitalist machine). There are no tax benefits offered to couples without children, though the money saved by not having kids is something in and of itself (Faux). Rosemary Gillespie also looks at the number of reasons why people choose not to have children, including financial reasons, but she also cites that some mothers feel as though they give everything to their children, even their identities. In a society so fueled by the encouragement of motherhood as the ultimate means of self-fulfillment, it seems that the very identity of the mother isn’t all that important. This loss of identity often changes a mother’s life and can lead to anger and active dislike of those who aren’t mothers or those who don’t seem as effected, creating even more divides within a group already torn at from all angles. Ultimately the creation of a third gender, especially one that uses essentialism, or categories within an already existing idea of gender only prove to further support the connection between 127

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womanhood and motherhood. Claiming that one must feel an essential desire to have children or not further supports the idea that women should be mothers and that those who aren’t are unnatural. This also doesn’t allow for any sense of ambivalence or time spent on making the choice. Having a child isn’t something decided in a minute or two; Long periods of thought – over finances, timing, careers, etc. – are vital in making the choice, one that benefits both mother and child.

Future research directions It is important that we don’t further separate women from each other as they are already an oppressed group. Rather, we need to broaden our understanding of what womanhood means. Historically and currently womanhood means motherhood, but a move away from this singular understanding is necessary and long overdue. Rather than attempt this move via the creation of even more groups and identities, I suggest that we make room within the preexisting notion of womanhood – stretch the boundaries so that the idea of motherhood is no longer the only understanding of womanhood. We need to focus on working within the binary system (for now) to make room for all women, mothers or not. While the end goal should be to destroy the gender binary entirely, starting by reshaping our understanding of one part of that binary seems a logical start. Pushing at the boundaries of how gender and sex are defined softens them through questioning and reshaping rather than simply accepting. This softening allows a more malleable understanding while also offering inclusion for all.

Further reading Blumenfeld, Samuel. The Retreat from Motherhood. Arlington House, 1975. Butler, Judith. Gender Trouble. Routledge Press, 1990. De Marneffe, Daphne. Maternal Desire. Little, Brown and Company, 2004. Fuss, Diana. Essentially Speaking. Routledge, 1989. Grosz, Elizabeth. Volatile Bodies: Toward a Corporeal Feminism. Indiana UP, 1994. Riley, Denise. “Am I That Name?”: Feminism and the Category of “Women” in History. Macmillan, 1988. Witting, Monique. The Straight Mind. Beacon Press, 1992.

Conclusion Voluntarily childless women are the crux of breaking down gender roles and binary understanding as they claim the space of womanhood, while also claiming the space of non-mother. This dual claim disrupts the gender binary that exists today since that binary is built on the idea that all women are mothers and need to be mothers. Working within the system that has existed for so long and will continue to exist for the foreseeable future requires a slow shift, one that supports the dissolving of ignorance and the education of what it means to be a woman and citizen; but, it is a necessary step and one that is entirely possible. Rather than dividing, we need to unite. The biggest challenge to destroying this system of essentialism is the system itself. The twogender system of men and mothers is self-perpetuating and therefore nearly impossible to oppose. Of course, this system can’t be brought down overnight. The teachings of the church support women as mothers and, as many people build their idea of morality and how to live their lives on the teachings of the Christian church and other religious structures, this only bolsters the binaries of Western society. Removing a wedding vow of obedience and changing the idea that all parents must be married is one way to start chipping away at this barrier.


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For people whose understanding of gender is so ingrained as to be unconcious, the idea of women who actively choose not to become mothers is nearly unintelligible. Because of this, working within the binary system seems the best course of action. Using a system already known to everyone but slowly twisting that system to better support the separation of women and motherhood is the best way to face this challenge.

Works cited Allen, Ann Taylor. Feminism and Motherhood in Western Europe 1890–1970: The Maternal Dilemma. Palgrave Macmillan, 2005. Blumenfeld, Samuel L. The Retreat from Motherhood. Arlington House Publishers, 1975. Bram, Susan. “Voluntarily Childless Women: Traditional or Nontraditional?” Sex Roles, vol. 10, no. 3, 1984, pp. 195–206. De Beauvoir, Simone. The Second Sex. Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1952. Faux, Marian. Childless by Choice: Choosing Childlessness in the ’80’s. Anchor Press/Doubleday, 1984. Foucault, Michel. The History of Sexuality: Volume 1: An Introduction. Vintage Books, 1976. Gillespie, Rosemary. “Childfree and Feminine: Understanding the Gender Identity of Voluntarily Childless Women.” Gender and Society, vol. 17, no. 1, 2003, pp. 122–36. Ireland, Mardy S. Reconceiving Women: Separating Motherhood from Female Identity. Guildford Press, 1993. Peterson, Helen, and Kristina Engwall. “Silent Bodies: Childfree Women’s Gendered and Embodied Experiences.” European Journal of Women’s Studies, vol. 20, no. 4, 2013, pp. 376–89. Rich, Adrienne. Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution. W. W. Norton and Company Inc., 1976. Rich, Stephanie, et al. “ ‘Unnatural’, ‘Unwomanly’, ‘Unpredictable’ and ‘Undervalued’: The Significance of Being a Childless Woman in Australian Society.” Gender Issues, vol. 28, 2011, pp. 226–47. Shealy, C. Norman, and M.-C. Shealy. To Parent or Not? The Donning Company/Publishers, 1981. Veevers, Jean E. “Voluntary Childlessness: A Neglected Area of Family Study.” The Family Coordinator, vol. 10, no. 3, 1973, pp. 195–206. Wager, Maaret. “Childless by Choice? Ambivalence and the Female Identity.” Feminism and Psychology, vol. 10, no. 3, 2000, pp. 389–95.



Mothers, mothering, culture, and art

10 MEDIATED CELEBRITY MOTHERHOOD Representing the norms, values, and practices promoted by and through celebrity moms Lynn O’Brien Hallstein Beginning in the 1980s and exploding by the 1990s, celebrity journalism created an obsessive media focus on motherhood that, as Susan J. Douglas and Meredith Michaels first suggested in 2004, also promoted and encouraged a kind of intensive mothering they called the new momism. According to Douglas and Michaels, the new momism is a “set of ideals, norms, and practices, most frequently and powerfully represented in the media, that seem on the surface to celebrate motherhood, but which in reality promulgate standards of perfection that are beyond” most mothers’ reach (4–5). In their media coverage of celebrity moms, media developed, as Douglas and Michaels also first argued, the celebrity mom profile, which primarily worked to encourage guilt and failure in mothers because the profiles always showed celebrity moms juggling it all – work, family, and mothering – with ease and without difficulty. The hallmark of the profiles Douglas and Michaels first explored was to show celebrity moms glowing, happy, content, and with their children, often one-to-two years postpartum, while the moms extolled the virtues of motherhood and promoted, either implicitly or explicitly, a highly romanticized, demanding representation of the ideals, norms, and practices of “good motherhood,” which was also ensconced in the immense economic, race, heteronormative, and cisgender privilege that continues to undergird the lives of celebrity moms today. Contemporary scholars (Chae, “Am I”; Cunningham; McRobbie “Post-Feminism,” “Yummy Mummies”; Jermyn; O’Brien Hallstein; Villalobos) argue that the demands represented in celebrity motherhood generally and celebrity moms specifically continue today, albeit in new and even-more demanding ways, while also now integrating neoliberal, postfeminist sensibilities and an even-more demanding maternal body focus that continue to serve as backlash against feminist gains and keep mothers always failing and guilty. The aim of this chapter is to explore the norms, values, and practices promoted by and represented through mediated celebrity motherhood today. To do so, the background section of the chapter details Douglas and Michaels’s groundbreaking work on the rise of celebrity motherhood – motherhood represented by and through the celebrity moms featured in media. The critical issues and topics section explores how celebrity motherhood now incorporates a maternal-body focus and promotes an even-more demanding intensive mothering, both of which have changed the structure and focus of celebrity mom profiles, while this section also reviews more recent scholarship that explores how “real” mothers respond to celebrity moms 133

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and the growing importance of reality TV celebrity moms. Finally, the chapter ends with conclusions and ideas about future research.

Background and contexts: the rise of celebrity moms Academics began to study mediated motherhood in the early 2000s. Many of these scholars (Chae,“Am I”; Lagerwey; O’Brien Hallstein; Podnieks; Williams et al.) agree that Susan J. Douglas and Meredith Michael’s book, The Mommy Myth: The Idealization of Motherhood and How it Undermined Women was the landmark text in terms of analyzing the popular culture obsession with motherhood generally and the rise of celebrity moms specifically that first emerged in the 1980s and 1990s. Writing in 2016, for example, Jori Lagerwey argues, “the first critical articulation of the current cultural preoccupation with maternity may have come from Susan Douglas and Meredith Michaels’ a decade ago” (8). Moreover, Heather Hundley and Sara Hayden note that Douglas and Michaels’s first work explored “how various forms of media, including celebrity journalism, network newscasts, daytime television, and evening situation comedies and dramas, promote and extend the ‘new momism’ ” (3). While Douglas and Michaels’s larger project was focused on how various forms of media promoted the new momism, their specific focus on celebrity motherhood explored early, or what I now refer to as the first iteration of, celebrity mom profiles in the chapter “Attack of the Celebrity Moms.” In that chapter and elsewhere in the book, Douglas and Michaels argued that celebrity mom profiles primarily worked to encourage guilt and failure in mothers because the profiles always showed celebrity moms juggling it all – work, family, and mothering – with ease and without difficulty. Douglas and Michaels also argued that these profiles emerged when mothers became a marketing niche and with the rise of celebrity journalism. As they put it humorously, “Beginning in the 1980s, and exploding with a vengeance in the ’90s, celebrity journalism brought us a feature spread that spread like head lice through the women’s magazines, as well as the more recent celebrity and ‘lifestyle’ glossies: the celebrity mom profile” (16). The hallmark of these profiles was to show celebrity moms glowing, happy, content, and with their children, often one-to-two years postpartum, while the moms extolled the virtues of motherhood. Douglas and Michaels, in fact, report, and are worth quoting in length, that the celebrity mom: had to be photographed displaying a brood toothy grin, her child in her lap or lifted with outstretched arms above her head, an accessory who made her look especially good on her sofa or balcony. Celebrity mothers are invariably surrounded by pastels and suffused in white light; the rooms we often see them in feature white or pastel furniture. Often they are backlit or simply shot against a white backdrop for a nice halo effect. (113) Moreover, the profiles also conveyed a key message: celebrity mothers found motherhood the best and most important experience in their lives. Everything about the profile – from the titles, staging, and lighting – highlighted and reinforced the key ideas that celebrity moms loved motherhood, had found their “calling” once they became mothers, and were serene, calm, content, and able to “juggle it all” with ease, while also allowing the moms to show off and/or be pictured with their well-dressed and well-behaved child or children. Additionally, while looking and feeling fabulous were important in these first profiles, clearly, celebrity mom profiles primarily worked rhetorically – persuasively – to communicate clear messages and “arguments” about motherhood: that celebrity moms believe that being devoted, attentive mothers is not 134

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only the best kind of mothering, being a mother is the best and most important part of who they are now, regardless of any success that the celebrities might have had previously. In short, celebrity mom profiles worked to promote and persuade mothers to adhere to and enact a very specific ideology of “good mothering.” Indeed, Douglas and Michaels also argued that celebrity mom profiles are at the heart of the new momism, a term they coined to describe mediated intensive mothering. The new momism is the form of intensive mothering that emerged in the 1980s and continues to be in full force today, albeit in new and more intensive ways. Drawing on Sharon Hays’s work, Douglas and Michaels argued that this “good mothering” ideology rests on three core beliefs and values: “the insistence that no woman is truly complete or fulfilled unless she has kids, that women remain the best primary caretakers of children, and that to be a remotely decent mother, a woman has to devote her entire physical, psychological, emotional, and intellectual being, 24/7, to her children” (4). These three core principles also mean that the new momism requires mothers to develop professional-level skills, such as therapist, pediatrician, consumer products safety instructor, and teacher, in order to meet and treat the needs of children (Douglas and Michaels 6). In addition to creating impossible ideals of mothering, the new momism also defined women first and foremost in relation to their children and encouraged women to believe that mothering was the most important job for women, regardless of any success a woman might have had prior to motherhood. As such, Douglas and Michaels suggest that the new momism no longer makes women subservient to men; rather, “it is about subservience to children” (299, italics in the original). Thus, Douglas and Michaels concluded, “the celebrity mom profile was probably the most influential media form to sell the new momism, and where its key features were refined, reinforced and romanticized” (113). The final pillar of Douglas and Michaels’s argument was that the new momism is also a postfeminist ideology because it both acknowledges and integrates second wave feminist rhetoric and ideas while also denying any ongoing need for feminist action. Indeed, the post-secondwave-feminist and middle-class premise that contemporary women now have the choice to “do it all” is now entrenched in the new momism. Specifically, first young girls and then young women are taught that they live at a time when women can “have it all”: education, a career, and a family as long as they make good choices. As Douglas and Michaels put it, embedded in the new momism is the idea that women: have their own ambitions and money, raise kids on their own, or freely choose to stay at home with kids rather than being forced to. . . . Central to the new momism, in fact, is the feminist insistence that woman [sic] have choices, that they are active agents in control of their own destiny, that they have autonomy. (5) Situating their discussion of having it all in relation to postfeminism, Douglas and Michaels suggested that the new momism “has become the central, justifying ideology of what has come to be called ‘postfeminism’ ” (24). While they are disdainful of postfeminism, Douglas and Michaels also argued: “Postfeminism means that you can now work outside the home even in jobs previously restricted to men, go to graduate school, pump iron, and pump your own gas, as long as you remain fashion conscious, slim, nurturing, deferential to men, and become a doting selfless mother” (25). Douglas and Michaels thus conclude that the celebrity moms profiled, then, are postfeminist role models in that they are “women who had combined demanding careers with motherhood,” while being “highly successful professionals with often grueling hours who also excelled at intensive mothering” (118, italics in original). Consequently, from the beginning, the 135

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celebrity mom profiles that Douglas and Michaels first analyzed justified and reinforced privileged (at-least middle-class) cisgendered and heteronormative motherhood, the new momism, postfeminism, and grounded the general solution to “having it all” within mothers’ abilities to make good post-second-wave choices. Since the publication of Douglas and Michaels’s book, media have become even more fascinated by and obsessed with motherhood. Indeed, contemporary scholars (Bishop; Jermyn; Lagerway; McRobbie,“Yummy Mummies”; Nash,“Postmodern”; O’Brien Hallstein; Podnieks), for example, also suggest that fascination with celebrity moms has only increased, even taking on new “nuances” and foci of attention. Understanding the importance of celebrity moms in representing “good” motherhood also emerged as both popular culture and media became obsessed with all things related to motherhood. In fact, in Mediating Moms: Mothers in Popular Culture, editor Elizabeth Podnieks suggested in 2012 that popular culture had made a “maternal embrace” such that “we are so ‘mothered up,’ in fact, that we have created a whole new lexicon to define mothers in their various roles and identities within contemporary culture” (4). Moreover, writing in 2017, Jorie Lagerwey also suggests that American celebrity culture continues to be preoccupied or obsessed with motherhood and mothering in what she refers to as “mom or mommy culture, and its prominence in American popular culture in the early part of the twenty-first century” (3). Moreover, Deborah Jermyn argues: fascination with celebrity moms has continued since this time [2000], taking on new nuances as it has become focused, first, on new stars (cf. Victoria Beckham and Elizabeth Hurley); has been marked by an intense scrutiny of stars’ post-baby weight loss (cf. the cover story photograph montage of scantily-clad ‘Hot bodies after baby’ on the UK’s Now magazine, 29 October 2007); and has come to co-exist with, if not actually facilitate, the rise of the “yummy mummy”, a kind of linked demograph visible among aspirational “ordinary” women and not merely celebrities. (166) Finally, as Jiyoung Chae (“Interest in”) also contends, this media focus on motherhood is also part of contemporary celebrity culture and media coverage in New Zealand, Australia, and the United Kingdom (420).

Critical issues and topics As both scholarly and media attention to celebrity motherhood have continued to develop, five critical issues have emerged: the importance of the maternal body, the intensification of intensive mothering, both of which have changed the focus and structure of celebrity mom profiles, an interest in how “real” mothers do and do not respond to the messages represented by celebrity moms, and, finally, the growing importance of reality TV celebrity motherhood.

The maternal body A first critical scholarly focus is on how media have become obsessively focused on the maternal bodies of celebrities. Scholars (Bishop; Cunningham; Jermyn; McRobbie, “Yummy Mummies”; Nash, “Postmodern”), in fact, note the growing importance of the maternal body in mediated motherhood, especially the shift to slender pregnancy and quickly slender postpartum bodies of celebrity moms. Additionally, McRobbie suggests a link between the maternal body, body work, and the market, as do other body scholars (Dworkin and Wachs; Gimlin; Gremillion; Lee; Jette), 136

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and concludes that the new focus on the bodies of celebrity mothers is changing the nature of motherhood when she argued, “The tribe of yummy mummies – Sadie Frost, for example, or Davina McCall, or Victoria Beckham – also contributes to a redefinition of motherhood for the nation’s young women” (par. 2). Or, as Nash (“Postmodern”) argues by directly linking the pregnant maternal body to “good” motherhood, “in the UK, Australia, and North America, a ‘fit, risk-free, flexible, and responsible body’ is the mark of a ‘good’ mother” (169). The central focus on maternal bodies has even prompted a change in the obsessive media coverage from only featuring celebrity moms one-to-two years postpartum to a focus on the pregnancy “arc.” Indeed, as Williams et al. suggest: “Representations of celebrity motherhood begin with tabloids speculating over the celebrity ‘baby bumps,’ followed by a detailed progression of their pregnancies, and then critiques of their postpartum bodies” (1). Thus, the maternal body and its pregnancy arc via celebrity moms have become the central focus of media coverage of celebrity moms.

Intensified intensive mothering A second critical issue is the ways intensive mothering demands have also increased and become even more demanding, which has also changed the structure and focus of celebrity mom profiles. While there is no doubt that the new momism has always been a demanding approach to mothering, by the late-2000s, scholars and writers (Bianchi et al.; Coontz; Lee; Lovejoy and Stone; Nelson; Villalobos; Warner; Wolf ) began to argue that intensive mothering was intensifying and contemporary mothers were doing even more mothering rather than less, even though more and more American women were working. Indeed, Pamela Stone and Meg Lovejoy suggest that the contemporary reality is “that most college-educated mothers in the USA are working (Boushey 2008) and recent cohorts of college-educated mothers are more, not less, likely to be working than ever before (Percheski 2008)” (632). Drawing on Banchi et al., Ana Villalobos also argues, There is broad consensus that mothering has intensified during the last four or five decades. Although women’s paid work hours have increased during precisely the same decades, mothers paradoxically spend more time with their children now than they did in 1965. (6–7) Working mothers are also far more actively engaged with their children than full-time mothers were in previous generations (Bianchi et al.; Lee; Lovejoy and Stone; O’Reilly; Villalobos; Wolf ). Moreover, financially, families, especially mothers, are investing in and spending more than ever before on their children, while also being more emotionally absorbed by and in their relations with their children (Coontz; Rosenfeld and Wise). By 2007, the Pew Research Center reported: There is broad agreement among the public that it is harder to be a parent today – especially a mother – than it was in the 1970s or 1980s. Fully 70% of the public says it is more difficult to be a mother today than it was 20 or 30 years ago, while somewhat fewer (60%) say the same about being a father. (“Motherhood Today” par. 1) In short, even though both Douglas and Michaels and Hays argued that intensive mothering was labor-intensive, this more recent scholarship suggests that intensive mothering is continuing to 137

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be refined and developed such that it is even more demanding for mothers than it was when scholars first named and detailed intensive mothering. This intensification does not mean, however, that the three core principles of the new momism have changed. Rather, the core principles have only become more demanding and exacting for mothers and require mothers to devote even more time and energy to their mothering and children in order to be “good” mothers. What has changed, then, is that contemporary motherhood requires mothers to have and utilize yet more energy to meet the even-more demanding requirements of “good” mothering today. Equally important, celebrity motherhood continues to play a central role in promoting and reinforcing this intensified intensive mothering.

Celebrity mom profiles: a change in focus and structure A third critical issue, then, is the ways that celebrity mom profiles have developed a new focus and structure that reinforce both the newfound importance of the maternal body and the evenmore demanding intensive mothering. In Bikini-Ready Moms: Celebrity Profiles, Motherhood, and the Body, I argued that celebrity mom profiles had shifted, in fact, to a primary focus on celebrity moms’ slender-pregnant and bikini-ready postpartum maternal bodies. In other words, I argued that, by 2010, celebrity mom profiles had shifted from postpartum profiles of celebrity moms with their toddler children, where the celebrity mom gushed about the joys of motherhood, to profiles that focused on the celebrity mothers’ slender-pregnant and quickly slender postpartum bodies, where celebrity mothers rarely discussed the joys of motherhood and instead primarily detailed the diet, fitness, and body work they utilized to stay slender in pregnancy and to become quickly slender, even bikini-ready, postpartum. Moreover, this shift in focus also changed the structure of celebrity mom profiles such that the profiles integrated a two-step process: a first focus on the slender-pregnant body of celebrity moms and a second focus on the quickly slender postpartum body of celebrity moms.

Step one: celebrity moms and slender pregnancy In addition to incorporating neoliberal sensibilities and an obsessive focus on the maternal bodies of celebrities, I argued that celebrity mom profiles incorporated a cultural shift toward uncovering rather than covering celebrity pregnancy. Historically, celebrity women, as did non-celebrity women, hid or covered up their pregnancies and pregnant body. However, the first “real” pregnancy depicted in media was Lucille Ball’s 1952 actual pregnancy, which was written into the storyline of Ball’s fictional character, Lucy Ricardo, on her television sitcom I Love Lucy (CBS 1951–1957). As Lagerwey (Postfeminist Celebrity and Motherhood) argues, “After Ball/Ricardo’s 1952 maternity sitcom, scholars seem to agree that the next benchmark in the history of media pregnancies is Demi Moore’s August 1991 Vanity Fair Magazine cover” (28). As a matter of fact, scholars contend that the focus on celebrity pregnancy began with Demi Moore’s “naked” pregnant Vanity Fair Cover (Bedor and Tajima; Dworkin and Wachs; Gimlin; Gremillion; Lee; Jette; O’Brien Hallstein; Nash, “Shapes”). Meredith Nash (“Shapes”), for example, argues that the “fascination with celebrity mothers and pregnant beauty over the last two decades in the West has been frequently linked with the 1991 Vanity Fair cover photograph of US actress, Demi Moore” (19). In the cover photo, Moore, slender everywhere except her pregnant “belly,” is posed sideways and naked with her right arm across her breasts and her left arm cupping her pregnant belly. Moore was the first celebrity mom to pose this way; prior to this cover photo, in fact, most pregnant celebrities “hid” their pregnancy either by staying out of the media and/ or wearing billowing, non-form-fitting maternity clothes. Moore’s cover was so controversial, 138

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Vanity Fair had to wrap the issue in brown paper packaging à la Playboy magazine covers at the time. However, since the Moore cover, pregnant, celebrity bodies have been “uncovered” by various media forms, which now obsessively focus on the maternal body of pregnant celebrities. This focus has also led to celebrity mothers’ bodies as the ideal; indeed, research “documents how multiple media forms present celebrity mothers’ bodies as ideal types – in prenatal, pregnant, and postpartum stages” (Williams et al. 1). The ideal maternal body emulated by celebrity mothers is the slender-pregnant body, where the celebrity mother remains thin everywhere else but in the “bump” of pregnancy, as Moore first modeled and embodied. Moreover, the slender ideal embodied by pregnant celebrity moms is also now demanded of the postpartum maternal body. Indeed, celebrities mothers are also now expected to become quickly slender postpartum, which is expected to be “easy” to do given the demand to be pregnant only in the bump, while slender everywhere else. As a result, celebrity mothers are expected to be both sexy and slender throughout maternity – both during pregnancy and postpartum. Emma Bedor and Atsushi Tajima also note, The particular relevance in examining the development of this ideology [being both sexy and slender] are the prominence and widespread popularity of media narratives featuring the rapid weight loss of celebrity mothers. Their stories illustrate how every woman can reclaim her body from the effects of pregnancy, getting it back to what it used to be. (3) Coupled with these imperatives is the fact that very few other models of postpartum images exist. As Nash (“Shapes”) suggests, “Pictures of postpartum bodies in Western visual culture are largely confined to celebrities” (19). Finally, scholars (Dworkin and Wachs; McRobbie “PostFeminism”; Nash “Postmodern”; O’Brien Hallstein) all concur that the slender-pregnant and postpartum maternal body norms embodied by celebrity moms continue to be an even-more exacting postfeminist response. Indeed, as Nash (“Shapes”) concludes, the celebration of slender pregnant and postpartum bodies in visual culture has encouraged a problematic post-feminist view that regaining control of the body following childbirth is “empowering” and that it should be a primary goal for all mothers (see also Gow et al. 2012). (20) In Bikini-Ready Moms, then, I argued that the new celebrity mom profiles incorporated a new focus on slender-pregnant celebrity moms in step one. To illustrate this argument, I did a case study of the first pregnancies of Kate Middleton and Kim Kardashian who were both pregnant for the first time in 2012. In framing these future celebrity mothers in this way, then, the media focused on and “analyzed” each woman’s maternal body, style, and pregnancy as an ongoing battle about which future mother would be the best mom. As such, the slender-pregnant profiles of Middleton and Kardashian position Middleton as making all the right, disciplined, constrained, and contained choices, such that her slender pregnancy was just a “small bump in the road” in her “waif-like” maternal body and to her new identity as a future “good” intensive mother, an identity that she embraced fully. Whereas, from the beginning, media represented Kardashian as making all the wrong undisciplined, excessive choices, even still trying to “squeeze” into her unencumbered life. Pregnancy was an “excessively large and possibly insurmountable bump in the road” in her “whale-like” maternal body and to her new identity as a mother, an identity that 139

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she was unable to embrace fully. Thus, when combined, I argued that these profiles make the “case” for why, when given postfeminist neoliberal choices, the better, more “natural” and “best” future maternal position is represented and embodied via the contained, slender pregnancy that Middleton embodied so well.

Step two: postpartum profiles and the third shift of body work While step one focuses on maintaining a slender-pregnant body as a representation and embodiment of “good” future motherhood, in Bikini-Ready Moms, I also argued that step two of the new celebrity profiles focuses on celebrity moms becoming quickly slender, even bikini-ready, postpartum as the energizing solution for “having it all.” While in the analysis of the slenderpregnant maternal body, I argued that the right kind of slender-pregnant maternal body reveals the right kind of future mothering and the necessary “turn” to accepting, even embracing, an even-more intensive mothering, in the analysis of step two, I argued that the right kind of postpartum maternal body now reveals the right kind of post-second-wave crisis management for contemporary mothers. In this context, post-second-wave crisis management is when contemporary mothers realize that the gender gains they have enjoyed in the public sphere as childless (unencumbered) women are not matched in the private sphere once they become mothers, which means that mothers must “do it all” to “have it all”: be successful professionals in the public sphere and come home and have primary responsibility for child-rearing and care at home. The crisis then is the realization that, once they become mothers, a woman’s life is split between a public sphere that encourages women to believe they have gender equality with men, while the private sphere continues to reinforce “traditional” notions that caregiving and child-rearing are mothers’ responsibilities. As a result, the post-second-wave crisis emerges most fully in contemporary mothers’ attempts to “have it all” and “juggle it all.”

The solution to “juggling it all”: the third shift of body work I also argued, then, that today this means, in addition to encouraging mothers to make good choices, celebrity motherhood now also promotes and reinforces the idea that contemporary mothers are now responsible for a third shift of body work in addition to the second shift of family life; and, as a result, this demand is also a new, fourth principle of the new momism. Arlie Hochschild, in The Second Shift, was the first feminist scholar to argue that women’s second shift as primary caregivers of both children and the private sphere indicated a “stalled revolution” in (at least privileged) women’s lives as second wave feminist beneficiaries: women who benefited from and were taking advantage of access to educational and professional opportunities that emerged from 1970s feminisms. Indeed, Hochschild argued that, as women gained more and more access to educational and professional institutions, there was very little change in women’s roles as primary caregivers of children. Consequently, she argued, many American women had two shifts as second-wave beneficiaries: the first shift as workers and/or professionals and the second shift of household labor and childcare. In the mid- to late 2000s, sociologists (Dworkin and Wachs; Jette) were the first to argue that contemporary women are now expected to engage in a third shift of body work and management when pregnant as a vehicle to embody the new slender-pregnant and postpartum maternal body ideal. Jette, for example, in describing Dworkin and Wachs’s early work on fit pregnancy, argues, “Indeed, the authors point to the way in which the magazine positions new mothers as responsible for an additional third shift of body work in order to get rid of baby fat and regain their femininity” (337). 140

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Ironically, much of the third shift ideology, like the new momism, also integrates secondwave feminist rhetoric and ideas. In their work on fit pregnancy advice, for example, Dworkin and Wachs suggest that much of that advice “strategically draws on a feminist stance to help women ‘get their body back’ but paradoxically reinscribes women to the domestic and privatized realm of bodily and household maintenance to do so” (119). Drawing on this groundbreaking work, I argued the maternal body work and management promoted in postpartum profiles now train mothers to buy into a third shift of body work as the specific means to an end to manage and energize them as they enact the core principles of the new momism, while also enjoying their post-second-wave status in the public sphere. In short, in Bikini-Ready Moms, I contended the second step of the restructured celebrity mom profiles requires mothers to accept and embrace the new fourth principle of the new momism – a third shift of body work – as a nownecessary core requirement of “good” mothering, so that mothers can simultaneously meet the new ­slender-pregnant and bikini-ready postpartum maternal body demands and their first and second shift responsibilities with stress-free ease and contentment. This means that the contemporary “good mothering” ideology promoted and reinforced by the new, second iteration of celebrity mom profiles now rests on four core beliefs and values: the insistence that no woman is truly complete or fulfilled unless she has kids, that women remain the best primary caretakers of children, and that to be a remotely decent mother, a woman has to devote her entire physical, psychological, emotional, and intellectual being, 24/7, to her children, and a now-required third shift of body work as the energizing solution for both maternal body management and to juggle it all. As such, I also suggested that celebrity motherhood via the second iteration of profiles now suggests that slender-pregnant profiles begin to train and prepare mothers for good, future motherhood, while postpartum profiles continue that training by offering a third shift of body work that also denies women’s “encumberedness” and, as a result, denies and erases the difference in family responsibility and the reproductive body that maternity makes for mothers postpartum. Equally important, the new profiles also demand that mothers bounce back even more quickly and with even more energy to their unencumbered similarity with men to show that they can move in and out of reproduction without, as Cunningham first put it, any “ ‘visible’ aftermaths – a body which seems to regulate movement between the domestic sphere and the workplace with cellulite-free ease” (450). Consequently, I concluded that contemporary celebrity mom profiles now suggest that the right kind of maternal body now both represents and embodies the right kind of “good” contemporary motherhood and mother: a mother who enjoys second-wave feminist gains in the public sphere in terms of education and work, but not at the expense of either her obligations at home or to the tenets of the now-intensified new momism, while she also adheres to privatized solutions to any work-life struggles.

“Real” mothers’ responses Recently, a fourth critical issue for scholars (Chae “Interest in Celebrities”; Henderson et al.; Williams et al.) is how “real” women/mothers respond to celebrity motherhood and celebrity moms, specifically celebrity moms’ maternal body and the new momism they model. Williams et al., for example, explore “how noncelebrity mothers react to media featuring celebrity postpartum bodies” (1), specifically mothers’ self-image and relationship to men, within the Upper South of the United States, while Chae (“Interest In”) explores “how interest in celebrities’ post-baby bodies relates to body image disturbance after childbirth in South Korean Women” (419) and a second article (“Am I”) examines how South Korean women compare themselves to what Chae calls the celebrity mom discourse (norms of intensive mothering, child-rearing, and 141

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what counts as ideal motherhood). This scholarship reveals that real mothers are impacted by celebrity motherhood in a variety of ways and celebrity moms’ bodies specifically.

Mothers’ responses shaped by social class and education As a result of their in-depth interviews and after showing interviewees what they call celebrity mom body images (CMB), Williams et al. found that most of the mothers they interviewed evaluated themselves negatively, although the mothers interviewed did so differently depending on the mother’s social class and education. So, for example, most upper-class mothers, all of whom had at least a college degree, believed, they could achieve a fit body through hard work and overlooked the resources associated with their high incomes. In addition, most had some kind of plastic surgery, and most compared their bodies with women in their social circle rather than celebrities. (5) Because most of these women had the economic means to do so, they believed they could have postpartum success – meet the slender postpartum body ideals. As such,“these mothers were not highly critical of the images of celebrity postpartum bodies” and, instead, all the high-income mothers “said they compared themselves with women in their social circle in addition to celebrity mothers” (5–6). Williams et al. also note that many of these mothers had had plastic surgery postpartum, while also not acknowledging the role that their class privilege afforded them to engage in the body work necessary to become quickly slender and to have plastic surgery. Middle- and low-income mothers had different responses to CMBs than upper-income mothers. Indeed, middle-income mothers, who were educated and mostly career-oriented, “were both critical of and envious of celebrity mothers who had the time to work out and eat healthfully,” while also many of these women admitted wanting plastic surgery – breast augmentation or tummy tucks – to improve their postpartum bodies (6–7) – whereas all the low-income mothers interviewed, who were single mothers and full-time students, “attributed their inability to regain their pre-baby bodies to a lack of economic resources” (7). Low-income mothers, like the middle-income mothers, however, “were somewhat critical of CMB images, but at the same time, almost all lower-income respondents said they wanted these kinds of bodies for themselves” (7). Unlike the upper-income mothers, all of the low-income mothers were aware of the economic resources of celebrity mothers and were critical of the class privileges of celebrity mothers. However, “while critical of the class privilege of celebrity mothers, the low-income mothers in this sample also wanted these economic privileges for themselves” (8). Interestingly, even though there were different responses about contemporary maternal body demands based on the respondents’ social class and education, every mother interviewed believed the men in their lives expected a quick return to their prepregnancy body. As the authors note, “All 38 mothers believed that the men in their lives subscribed to what we began to call the ‘male myth’ – the assumption that women’s bodies spontaneously go back to their prepregnancy shape following the birth of a child” (8). Moreover, although in different ways, all of the women interviewed shared experiences of feeling like their bodies “were inadequate in the face of the CMB narratives” (10), while also feeling like CMBs had negative effects on men. Because they believed CMBs negatively impacted men, these women also believed that men evaluated postpartum bodies unfavorably that did not look like celebrity mothers’ postpartum bodies. While Chae (“Interest in”) explored South Korean mothers’ responses to celebrities’ post-baby bodies, Chae also found that the South Korean mothers’ responses to the study 142

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questionnaires also confirmed the effect of media representations of postpartum celebrities as the beauty standard for the mothers. Moreover, Chae ascertained that the South Korean mothers’ responses indicate “that social comparison results in body dissatisfaction” and a drive for thinness postpartum (427). Moreover, the findings of the study were also “consistent with contemporary motherhood which requires perfection in mothering” (430). In a second study also with South Korean mothers’ responses to a questionnaire survey, Chae (“Am I”) explored how South Korean mothers compared and evaluated themselves in relation to the celebrity mom discourse. According to Chae, “the most interesting finding of the present study was the association between exposure to celebrity moms and intensive mothering ideology/SCO [social comparison orientation], only among employed mothers” (518). In other words, employed South Korean mothers were more likely to compare themselves to others than non-employed mothers in relation to intensive mothering demands, which further confirms Douglas and Michaels’s original argument that “celebrity moms have become the role model for employed mothers, and this study empirically demonstrated their argument” (518). Moreover, Chae found that “exposure to celebrity moms was associated with competitiveness regardless of mothers’ working status” (518). Thus, Chae’s study found that exposure to celebrity moms was associated with competitiveness or valuing success in motherhood, which reconfirms Douglas and Michaels’s original argument that motherhood is now such a competition among women that motherhood is best thought of as the new female Olympics (6).

Reality TV celebrity motherhood Finally, scholars ( Jones and Weber; Lagerwey) have also begun to study “reality celebrity motherhood.” In this work, reality celebrity mothers are mothers on reality TV who use their children to become celebrities or are reality TV mothers who use their children to develop and cultivate their own celebrity brand. Across the different types of reality TV shows, reality TV celebrity mothers are especially vilified. As Jones and Weber report: While reality TV serves up many female models of excess – from “biggest loser” to hoarders, plastic surgery junkies to bridezillas – it saves a special invective for mothers whose desires for fame drive them to “prostitute” themselves and their children to the voracious appetites of fame. (12) Also exploring the larger relationship between media and maternal embodiment that is “activated through eruptions around the grotesque body, particularly the monstrosity assigned to the reality celebrity mother,” Jones and Weber, also propose that “Mothers who actively work for celebrity thus signal a form of unhealthy, even pathological, narcissism and a coding of identity that works against imperatives for both humility and authenticity” (12). After engaging in a case study of reality TV mothers Farrah Abraham, Kate Gosselin, and Kris Jenner, they also suggest that using one’s children to secure celebrity is “depicted as a gender crime so extreme that the grotesque reality celebrity mother must be punished through every discursive weapon in the arsenal of the politics of representation” (13). Thus, Jones and Webber conclude that the vilification of reality TV celebrity moms work as a gendered vehicle to “tame” and discipline all ambitious, successful, and difficult women/mothers. Another area of research focuses on reality TV celebrity motherhood and celebrity brand moms. In her work, Lagerwey situates her analysis of celebrity and motherhood via a larger focus on what she calls brand moms: celebrity mothers like Gwyneth Paltrow and Jessica Alba whose 143

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primary locus of identity is her children and maternal status who spread their self-brands across media platforms to create and maintain their wealth, fame, and longevity. In doing so, Lagerwey examines how celebrity moms play “versions of themselves on reality television, social media, gossip sites, and self-branded retail outlets [to] negotiate the complex demands of postfeminism and the current fashion for heroic, labor-intensive parenting” (i). Analyzing Paltrow, TLC’s religious moms, and Bravo’s star franchise The Real Housewives, Lagerwey’s work also continues to reveal the importance of and focus on celebrity moms’ maternal bodies. As she puts it: “Because twenty-first century popular culture also overvalues fame, I’ve argued that celebrity women’s maternal bodies serve as instruction manuals of a sort for proper postfeminist citizenship” (118). Finally, Lagerway also continues to confirm how mothers’ labor in the private sphere is reinforced, while also offering individual, privatized solutions to public sphere issues and changes: As they create self-brands and perform motherhood, these celebrities and their children formulate a picture of the ways women should cope with recession and inequality, i.e., by returning to the domestic sphere, refashioning affective labor and domestic labor into entrepreneurialism, and maintaining a slender, youthful, contained body ideal. (118)

Further reading Chae, Jiyoung. “Interest in Celebrities’ Post-baby Bodies and Korean Women’s Body Image Disturbance After Childbirth.” Sex Roles, vol. 71, 2014, pp. 419–35. ———. “Am I a Better Mother Than You?: Media and 21st-Century Motherhood in the Context of the Social Comparison Theory.” Communication Research, vol. 42, no. 4, 2015, pp. 503–25. Douglas, Susan J., and Meredith Michaels. The Mommy Myth: The Idealization of Motherhood and How It Has Undermined Women. Free Press, 2004. Henderson, Angela C., et al. “A New State of Surveillance? An Application of Michel Foucault to Modern Motherhood.” Surveillance & Society, vol. 7, nos. 3–4, 2010, pp. 231–47. Jones, Jennifer Lynn, and Brenda R. Weber. “Reality Moms, Real Monsters: Transmediated Continuity, Reality Celebrity, and the Female Grotesque.” Camera Obscura, vol. 30, no. 1, 2015, pp. 11–38. Lagerwey, Jorie. Postfeminist Celebrity and Motherhood: Brand Mom. Routledge, 2017. O’Brien Hallstein, Lynn. Bikini-Ready Moms: Celebrity Profiles, Motherhood, and the Body. SUNY Press, 2015. Williams, Brittany M., et al. “Who Doesn’t Want to Be This Hot Mom?”: Celebrity Mom Profiles and Mothers’ Accounts of Their Postpartum Bodies.” Sexualization, Media, & Society, July–Sept. 2017, pp. 1–12.

Conclusions Clearly, mediated celebrity motherhood plays a central role in how contemporary motherhood is shaped and reinforced today. Indeed, as Douglas and Michael’s first suggested and my own work continues to confirm, celebrity mom profiles continue to be the most influential media form to sell the new momism, and where its key features are being refined and reinforced, particularly in terms of the obsessive focus on the maternal body in order to integrate a third shift of body work as the fourth core principle of the new momism. Since the publication of Bikini-Ready Moms, this focus on the maternal body and body work has continued to be in full force, possibly even more demanding. As such, future research needs to continue to explore how the new momism continues to develop by making the maternal body the most important symbol and embodiment of contemporary motherhood, how “real” mothers’ lives across cultures are impacted by this new focus, and the ways mediated celebrity motherhood fuels rather than challenges postfeminism. 144

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All the work reviewed here also continues to reveal that all mediated versions of celebrity motherhood remain deeply entrenched in economic, racial, heteronormative, and cisgender privilege. Indeed, rather than less privilege, the second iteration of celebrity mom profiles and reality TV celebrity motherhood show that this privilege is more entrenched rather than less entrenched. As a result, future work must continue to acknowledge this privilege, while also trying to find ways to challenge that privilege. Moreover, the work on “real” mothers’ responses to celebrity motherhood reveals that economic and educational standing do impact how mothers respond to celebrity motherhood. This means, then, that future work on mediated celebrity motherhood must continue to acknowledge both how privilege is embedded within mediated representations of motherhood but also how social location and the cultural vectors of “real” mothers’ lives also impact (or not) responses to and integration of the norms of celebrity motherhood promoted via media’s ongoing obsession with motherhood. Finally, even with the differences between real mothers’ responses in relation to mothers’ economic and educational standing, Williams et al.’s work shows that all the mothers’ surveyed believe that celebrities’ maternal bodies shape men’s expectations of mothers’ postpartum bodies. But, as they point out in the study, they did not interview men in their study. Future work, then, needs to explore how men do or do not respond to celebrity motherhood, and the expectations that those men have or not of the postpregnant bodies of the women in their lives.

Works cited Bedor, Emma, and Atsushi Tajima. “No Fat Moms! Celebrity Mothers’ Weight-Loss Narratives in People Magazine.” Journal of Magazine & New Media Research, vol. 13, no. 2, Summer 2012, pp. 1–26. Bianchi, Suzanne M., et al. Changing Rhythms of American Life. Russell Sage, 2006. Bishop, Mardia J. “The Mommy Lift: Cutting Mothers Down to Size.” Mommy Angst: Motherhood in American Culture, edited by Ann C. Hall and Mardia J. Bishop. Praeger, 2009. Blickley, Leigh. “Kate Middleton vs. Kim Kardashian: It’s Time for a Pregnancy Battle.” huffingtonpost. com, 6 Mar. 2013, n_2814304.html. Chae, Jiyoung. “Interest in Celebrities’ Post-baby Bodies and Korean Women’s Body Image Disturbance After Childbirth.” Sex Roles, vol. 71, 2014, pp. 419–35. ———. “Am I a Better Mother Than You?: Media and 21st-Century Motherhood in the Context of the Social Comparison Theory.” Communication Research, vol. 42, no. 4, 2015, pp. 503–25. Coontz, Stephanie. “The Family Revolution.”, 1 Sept. 2007, http://greatergood. Cunningham, Hilary. “Prodigal Bodies: Pop Culture and Post-Pregnancy.” Michigan Quarterly Review, vol. 41, no. 3, 2002, pp. 429–54. Douglas, Susan J., and Meredith Michaels. The Mommy Myth: The Idealization of Motherhood and How It Has Undermined Women. Free Press, 2004. Dworkin, Shari L., and Faye Linda Wachs. Body Panic: Gender, Health, and the Selling of Fitness. New York UP, 2009. Gamson, Joshua. “The Unwatched Life Is Not Worth Living: The Elevation of the Ordinary in Celebrity Culture.” PMLA, vol. 126, no. 4, Oct. 2011, pp. 1061–69. Special Topic: Celebrity, Fame, Notoriety. Gimlin, Debra. “The Absent Body Project: Cosmetic Surgery as a Response to Bodily Dys-appearance.” Sociology, vol. 40, no. 4, 2006, pp. 699–716. Gremillion, Helen. “In Fitness and in Health: Crafting Bodies in the Treatment of Anorexia Nervosa.” Signs, vol. 27, no. 2, Winter 2002, pp. 381–414. Hayden, Sara, and Heather L. Hundley. “Introduction: Challenging the Motherhood Myth.” Mediated Moms: Contemporary Challenges to the Motherhood Myth, edited by Heather L. Hundley and Sara E. Hayden, Peter Lang, 2016, pp. 1–14. Hays, Sharon. The Cultural Contradictions of Motherhood. Yale UP, 1996. Henderson, Angela C., et al. “A New State of Surveillance? An Application of Michel Foucault to Modern Motherhood.” Surveillance & Society, vol. 7, nos. 3–4, 2010, pp. 231–47.


Lynn O’Brien Hallstein Hochschild, Arlie. The Second Shift: Working Parents and the Revolution at Home. Viking, 1989. Jermyn, Deborah. “Still Something Else Besides a Mother? Negotiating Celebrity Motherhood in Sarah Jessica Parker’s Star Story.” Social Semiotics, vol. 18, no. 2, June 2008, pp. 163–76. Jette, Shannon. “Fit for Two? A Critical Discourse Analysis of Oxygen Fitness Magazine.” Sociology of Sport Journal, vol. 23, 2006, pp. 331–51. Jones, Jennifer Lynn, and Brenda R. Weber. “Reality Moms, Real Monsters: Transmediated Continuity, Reality Celebrity, and the Female Grotesque.” Camera Obscura, vol. 30, no. 1, 2015, pp. 11–38. Lagerwey, Jorie. Postfeminist Celebrity and Motherhood: Brand Mom. Routledge, 2017. Lareau, Annette. Unequal Childhoods: Class, Race, and Family Life. U of California P, 2003. Lee, Sharon Heijin. The (Geo)politics of Beauty: Race, Transnationalism, and Neoliberalism in South Korean Beauty Culture. 2012. U of Michigan, PhD dissertation. Lovejoy, Meg, and Pamela Stone. “Opting Back In: The Influence of Time at Home on Professional Women’s Career Redirection after Opting Out.” Gender, Work and Organization, vol. 19, no. 6, Nov. 2012, pp. 631–53. McRobbie, Angela. “Post-Feminism and Popular Culture.” Feminist Media Studies, vol. 4, no. 3, 2004, pp. 255–64. ———. “Yummy Mummies Leave a Bad Taste for Young Women.”, 1 Mar. 2006, www. “Motherhood Today: Tougher Challenges, Less Success.” Pew Research Center, 2 May 2007, Nash, Meredith. Making “Postmodern” Mothers: Pregnant Embodiment, Baby Bumps, and Body Image. Palgrave Macmillan, 2012. ———. “Shapes of Motherhood: Exploring Postnatal Body Image through Photographs.” Journal of Gender Studies, vol. 24, no. 1, 2015, pp. 18–37. Nelson, Margaret K. Parenting Out of Control: Anxious Parents in Uncertain Times. New York UP, 2010. O’Brien Hallstein, Lynn. Bikini-Ready Moms: Celebrity Profiles, Motherhood, and the Body. SUNY Press, 2015. O’Reilly, Andrea, editor. Mother Outlaws: Theories and Practices of Empowered Mothering. Women’s Press, 2004. Podnieks, Elizabeth. “Introduction: Popular Culture’s Maternal Embrace.” Mediated Moms: Mothers in Popular Culture, edited by Elizabeth Podnieks, McGill-Queen’s UP, 2012, pp. 3–34. Rosenfeld, Alvin, and Nicole Wise. The Over-Scheduled Child: Avoiding the Hyper-Parenting. St. Martin’s Griffin, 2001. Stone, Pamela. Opting Out?: Why Women Really Quit Careers and Head Home. U of California P, 2007. Villalobos, Ana. Motherload: Making It All Better in Insecure Times. U of California P, 2014. Warner, Judith. “Mommy Madness (excerpted from Perfect Madness): What Happened when the Girls Who Had It All Became Mothers? A New Book Explores Why This Generation Feels So Insane.”, 21 Feb. 2012, Williams, Brittany M., et al. “ ‘Who Doesn’t Want to Be This Hot Mom?’: Celebrity Mom Profiles and Mothers’ Accounts of Their Postpartum Bodies.” Sexualization, Media, & Society, July–Sept. 2017, pp. 1–12. Wolf, Naomi. Misconceptions: Truth, Lies, and the Unexpected on the Journey to Motherhood. Anchor Books, 2003.


11 FEMINIST ART AND MOTHERHOOD An overview Myrel Chernick and Jennie Klein

Introduction This chapter is concerned with the relationship between maternity, maternal ideology, secondwave feminism, and the art world. In this chapter, we argue that while women artists are being recognized in the history of art and contemporary women artists are being included in major exhibitions, there is still a prejudice in the art world against women who are mothers and against artwork that addresses or engages with the idea of the maternal. Artist mothers are not encouraged to participate in the art world, and artwork about motherhood is often rejected by curators. While there are plenty of images of mothers in art museums such as the Virgin and Christ Child, there is very little contemporary art that explores the lived experience of maternity. The situation is slowly improving. There have been some promising developments including resources that are both online and in physical venues, a proliferation of artwork about the maternal made in a variety of media, art exhibitions that are themed around the maternal, and the use of the idea of the maternal to theorize activism, maternal subjectivity, and a maternal ethics.

Background and context Historical overview of maternal artists and exhibitions The history of maternal art and theory is fairly recent, as even second-wave feminist-identified artists were ambivalent or even hostile to the idea of artist mothers and their children. Historian Michelle Moravec, noting that the slogan “the personal is political” represented the issues that feminists saw as appropriate for a social movement to address, has suggested that “these topics encompassed everything from the drudgery of housework to women’s orgasms, but rarely extended to an analysis of motherhood” (12). Laura Silagi, one of the founders of Mother Art, encountered overt hostility towards motherhood at the Woman’s Building. Silagi, who had founded a co-op daycare while she was still at the University of California, San Diego, was told by one of the (childless) founding professors at the Feminist Studio Workshop that she could not be a mother and an artist (Moravec 12). As Moravec notes, the “members of Mother Art faced intertwining myths about motherhood and art that made it seem almost impossible to combine the two roles (12). There 147

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were historical examples of women artists who combined art and motherhood such as Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun (1755–1842), Paula Modersohn Becker (1876–1907), and Käthe Kollwitz (1867–1945), although these artists were not widely known in 1972. One important project that has been undertaken by feminist critics, curators, and art historians is to address the historical lacuna of mother artists, just as their earlier counterparts did for women artists. Two important exhibitions in 2015 – The Great Mother: Women, Maternity, and Power in Art and Visual Culture, 1900–2015, curated by Massimiliano Gioni, and Rabenmütter: Zwischen Kraft une Krise: Mütterbilder von 1900 bis heute/Mother of the Year (Between Empowerment and Crisis: Images of Motherhood From 1900 to Today), curated by Sabine Fellner, Elisabeth Nowak-Thaller, and Stella Rollig – addressed both historical mother artists and the history of the representation of mothers in the visual arts. Both exhibitions, hosted in major venues (Palazzo Reale, Milan, and Lentos Art Museum, Linz), included over 100 artists, many of them male, and many more of them not biological mothers.

Contemporary maternal art exhibitions The Great Mother and Rabenmütter were not the first exhibitions of maternal-themed art. In 1966 the artist Niki de Saint Phalle constructed Hon (Her, in Swedish) a 6-ton, 82-feet-long, 30-feet-wide hugely pregnant Nana, at the modern museum in Stockholm. The visitors entered the belly through the vagina, which contained a cinema, a milk bar in the right breast, and a planetarium in the left. Saint Phalle called it “a temple, a cathedral, the return to the womb or the biggest whore in the world . . . She was also the devouring [mother], who chewed up and digested her public” (Niki Charitable Art Foundation). In 1968 the Paris-based Argentinian artist Lea Lublin presented Mon Fils (My son) at the Parisian “Salon de Mai” held in the Musée d’Art Moderne (Spencer). In the interest of creating a dialogue between gender, culture, and social life, Lublin set up her seven-month-old son’s crib under her painting and brought him with her to the exhibit every day, playing with him, feeding him, and caring for him (Lea Lublin). The following year Mierle Laderman Ukeles presented Manifesto for Maintenance Art 1969! originally written as a proposal for an exhibition she labelled Care (Phillips 42). After Ukeles gave birth to her first child, she had little time to create art. Ukeles decided to call her work as a mother Maintenance Art (Yngvason 9). Mary Kelly exhibited Post-partum Document (1973– 1979) at the ICA in London in 1976. The installation, which would eventually grow to include 139 works, used Lacanian psychoanalytic theory to analyze the first six years of her son Kelly Barrie’s psycho-social development as he separated from his mother. Post-Partum Document was a watershed in terms of maternal representation, as it was a rigorously conceptual and theoretical work that materialized and literalized the way in which developing language and representation skills produce subjectivity and separation. Kelly ceased working on the piece when her son was able to write his name. As suggested by these examples, there were very few, if any, art exhibitions devoted to maternity even at the height of the feminist art movement. When Chernick first curated Maternal Metaphors for the Rochester Contemporary in 2004, she could only point to one other exhibition of maternal art – Signe Thiell’s Doublebind, exhibited at the Kanstlerhaus Bethanian, Berlin, in 2003. The landscape has changed considerably since that time. Various factors contributed to this, including a new generation of young, feminist mothers who were already affiliated with academia and had MFAs from prestigious art schools, the facility of visual communication on the web and social media, the globalization of the art world, and the decentralization and re-localization of artists and art communities outside of major urban centers. There is a growing interest in artwork that addresses the relationship between feminism, maternity, caretaking, 148

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environmentalism, and activism. It is a welcome development that several major exhibitions on maternal art have been mounted since 2010. Beyond Re/Production: Mothering took place at the Kunstraum Kreuzberg, Berlin, 2011. An exhibition curated by Felicita Reuschling that addressed the relationship between maternity, caring, and carework, Beyond Reproduction included artists from South America and South Africa as well as Europe. The work in the exhibition and many of the essays in the accompanying catalogue addressed the relationship between motherhood, neoliberalism, and the economy of carework. The exhibition included several collectives: TIWA/Taiwan International Workers Association and the MRCI/Migrant Rights Workers Centre Ireland. Natalie Loveless curated New Maternalisms (2012, FADO Performance Space, Toronto), New Maternalisms Chile (2014, along with Soledad Novoa Donoso, Museo de Arte Conteporáneo MAC, Santiago de Chile), and New Maternalisms Redux (2016, FAB/Fine Arts Building Gallery at University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada). The exhibitions were premised on the materiality, affect, and activist potential of motherhood. New Maternalisms Redux was part of Mapping the Maternal: Art, Ethics, and the Anthropocene, a colloquium organized by Loveless and Sheena Wilson that grappled with how a maternal ethics might offer new ways of thinking about the Anthropocene, a term coined by Paul Crutzen and Eugene Stoermer in 2010 to indicate the geological impact of humans on the planet. Mapping the Maternal was an attempt to use maternal ethics – defined by philosopher Sara Ruddick as a nonviolent, anti-militaristic approach based on the daily job of nurturing children and by psychoanalyst Bracha Ettinger as an early language based on the threads of connection and coextensiveness between mother and child – to address the societal and ecological imbalance of the world today and to develop strategies for moving forward. Home Truths was curated by Susan Bright in 2014 and shown in four venues in the United Kingdom and the United States. An exhibition of contemporary photography and video work about maternity, Home Truths included work that addressed the new visibility of the mother on social media, infant mortality, and infertility (haunting photographs by Elina Brotherus that reference earlier painted images of The Annunciation). Bright also included Leigh Ledare’s photographic series Pretend You’re Actually Alive of his mother, Tina Peterson, having sexual relations with a series of men about the same age as Ledare, along with Tierney Gearon’s disturbing images of her mother descending into mental illness in the series The Mother Project. The accompanying catalogue included essays by Bright and Simon Watney that addressed the interrelationship between the histories of photography and images of mothers. Lise Haller Baggesen’s Mothernism was exhibited at multiple venues in the United States and Europe. Mothernism is an environment – a womb-like nomadic tent camp installation. The brightly colored disco tent is a place for relaxing, for conversation, and for listening. The artist’s voice over recounts stories of life and passion, informs us, exhorts us, encourages, and cajoles us. Mothernism is also a book/manifesto for artist/mothers that describes itself as being somewhere “at the intersection of feminism, science fiction, and disco” (17). The book takes the form of a series of letters, dedicated to Baggesen’s daughter, sister, and readers. Baggeson’s topics are wideranging – rape, where is the mother in the museum, Saint Phalle’s Hon, and an apparatus that allows you to take a picture of your vagina. Through the Eyes of the Mother, curated in 2014 by the late Hye-Seong Tak Lee for the Korean Cultural Center of Chicago and for the Baekryun Gallery (Gwangju Art Association Building), Gwangju, South Korea, included artists from South Korea and North America. The exhibition was particularly significant in that so many artists from South Korea were included. The Let Down Reflex was curated by Amber Bersen and Juliana Driever in 2016 for EFA Project Space, New York, and again for Take Care: Circuit 2: Carework (curated by the collective Letters and Handshakes/Greig de Peuter and Christine Shaw for the Blackwood Gallery, 149

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University of Toronto Mississauga) in October and November of 2017. The title of the exhibition referred to the letdown of breast milk and the way in which parents were “let down” by the art world. Bersen and Driever asked the artist/parents to envision “an art world where ‘Mom’ is not a demeaning characterization, where childcare is factored-in for participating artists at art spaces, and where artists aren’t forced to choose between home and work because of a lack of parental leave” (Press Release). Take Care included five exhibitions that were noteworthy in that they questioned and deconstructed the idea of caregiving, paid and unpaid labour, the relationship of care to self-care and health, and significantly, the theorization of care as an activist ecological strategy, thus echoing the themes of Mapping the Maternal and the 2017 conference The Mothernists II. Repeat Pressure Until was curated by photographer Sheilah ReStack/Wilson for Ortega Y Gassets Project, New York, and for Angela Meleca Gallery, Columbus, Ohio, in 2017. For this photographic exhibition on images of maternity, ReStack invited artists to submit images that are presented with little explanation – the viewer is left to draw connections between the works. ReStack/Wilson has published two zine-like books Mother Mother volumes 1 and 2, for which she accepted contributions and again published the images without explanation. Artist and Mother, a 2018 documentary that aired on KCET’s Artbound, was directed and produced by Joanna Sokolowski and Kate Trumbull-LaValle. Artist and Mother profiled four southern California artist mothers: Kenyatta A.C. Hinkle, Andrea Chung, Rebecca Campbell, and Tanya Aguiñiga. In addition, it included interviews with Micol Hebron, New York Times journalist Jori Finkel, and curators Naima Keith and Helen Molesworth. The documentary was accompanied on the KCET website by several articles about mother artists.

Institutions, organizations, and resources The growth in exhibitions on maternal art have been accompanied by the establishment of Do It Yourself/DIY institutions and resources to support mother art, many of them online. Lenka Clayton created her Artist Residency in Motherhood in 2012 after the birth of her son. Realizing that most residencies were closed to artists with young children, Clayton crafted a residency for herself that acknowledged the built in interruptions of small children ( Clayton’s residency was so successful that she created a website for artist-mothers to structure their own residency – anyone could apply, and the application was free ( Hebron’s and Carren Jao’s “Artist-Mothers: Where to Find Them and Who Supports Them” was compiled in conjunction with the KCET Artbound Artist Mother episode. Hebron and Jao crowdsourced mother artists, related projects, activist art, grants, exhibitions, publications, and residencies in order to put together a comprehensive list of maternal artmaking. Ruchika Wason Singh’s online Archive for Mapping Mother Artists in Asia (AMMAA) includes artists’ pages, interviews, exhibitions, and a manifesto. Wason Singh has also established Creative Collaborative Mothers, a self-funded residency. Cultural Reproducers, founded in 2012 by Christa Donner, is an excellent resource for artists, events, and exhibitions. The Artist Parent Index is an astonishingly complete index launched in 2016 by Sarah Irvin and Kathryn Carney (working as an intern). Other helpful online resources include The M/Other Voices Project (Deirdre M. Donoghue), Chicana M(Other)work, The Institute for the Practice of Art and Dissent at Home (Lena Šimić), Desperate Artwives (Amy Dignam), The Procreate Project (Dyana Gravina), Digital Institute for Early Parenthood (Mila Oshin), the blog section of the egg, the womb, the head and the moon (Helen Sargeant), and The Motherload (Natalie Macellaio and Lesli Robertson). Most of these resources were established by artists, who, upon becoming mothers, felt very isolated from the art world and their art-making practices. 150

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There have been some key conferences and symposia dedicated to maternal art as well, beginning with the day of panels that we/Chernick and Klein organized for The Feminist Art Project in 2014, which took place in Chicago at the same time as the College Art Association meeting. The theme of TFAP@CAA Day of Panels was The M Word. The panels included talks on historical artists, individual artist presentations, and artist collectives such as Broodwork and Cultural Reproducers. In 2015, Elena Marchevska and Valeria Walkerdine organized Motherhood and Creative Practice: Maternal Structures in Creative Work at London South Bank University, London. Immediately following that conference was Mothernism I, organized by the M/Other Voices Project and named after Haller Baggeson’s exhibition and book of the same title. Mapping the Maternal: Art, Ethics, and the Anthropocene, discussed earlier, took place the following year within Baggeson’s Mothernism installation. That same year, Lena Šimić and Emily UnderwoodLee organized the conference Motherhood and Live Art, held at the Institute for Art and Practice of Dissent at Home in Liverpool. Following up on the strategies discussed in Mapping the Maternal, M/Other Voices Donahue and Haller Baggeson organized their second conference The Mothernists II: Who Cares for The 21st Century? in Copenhagen in 2017.

Central theories and themes There are three primary areas of interest for mother artists working today: articulating a maternal subjectivity/language/representation, using the position of the maternal as a conduit for social and environmental activism and affective care, and the performance and materiality of the maternal. Feminist mother artists, influenced by Kelly’s Post-Partum Document, have been interested in exploring the psychic development of the maternal subject and forging a maternal language of representation that exists outside of the patriarchal economy. More recently, Lisa Baraitser and Bracha Ettinger have theorized a maternal subjectivity that counters the Freud to Lacan insistence on separation and lack as the path to subjectivity. Ettinger has argued for a subsymbolic or Real mode of representation that exists outside of language, a representation based on the connection with an/other, that can be accessed through representation or art (The Matrixial Borderspace). Ettinger’s theorization of matrixial subjectivity thus makes a case for the centrality of visual representation (Ettinger is herself an artist) in teasing out an identity and mode of representation that is not binary and hence patriarchal. Baraitser has been particularly important for artists thinking about maternal subjectivity as a new identity forged in connection with another being. For Baraitser, a key idea is that of interruption, which Baraitser uses to argue for the notion of relationality in terms of care work (Maternal Encounters). Maternal artistic activism is influenced by Sara Ruddick’s theorization of maternal thinking, a kind of moral virtue and intelligence that is honed through caring for a young child. Mothering (which Ruddick argued can be done by a man or a woman) produces empathy for others and a receptivity for change. Such qualities, Ruddick argued, can be brought to bear on political action, particularly actions against war and injustice. Maternal activism is moral and ethical. It recognizes the impact of human actions on the sentient and non-sentient alike and approaches all beings with compassion and openness. The third theme, performance, has been influenced by the writing of Judith Butler, who has argued in Gender Trouble (1989) and Bodies That Matter (1993) that the construction of gender is mutable, and that gender and identity are performative rather than biological and universal. The issue for mother artists is how the performance of maternity can challenge the hegemonic construction of the institution of motherhood in order to foreground lived experience and maternal activism. Central to this interrogation of the performance of maternity is the idea of maternal agency (Kinser et al. 3). In their jointly authored “Manifesto for Maternal Performance 151

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(Art) 2016!” modeled on that of Ukeles, artists Šimić and Underwood-Lee, drawing on the work of Ettinger and Baraitser, define the performance of motherhood as a combination of embodiment, abjection, transgression, and transcendence, stating that “Maternal performance smells” (132).

Central issues At this point there are several pressing issues. First is whether artists and art professionals who are mothers fear retaliation by acknowledging and including their children in their art-making practices and careers. To a certain degree, this situation has improved since the 1970s, as evidenced by programs such as Artist and Mother or the Artsy podcast Motherhood, Children, and Art, produced by the editorial staff at Artsy and accompanied by an article authored by Marina Cashdan that profiled well-known artist mothers such as Tara Donovan, Diana Al-Hadid, Kara Walker, Nikki Maloof, and Laurie Simmons. On the other hand, mother artists, curators, and critics are not welcomed with open arms. The situation of Nikki Columbus is a case in point. A respected curator and editor who had worked for the art publications Artforum and Parkett, Columbus was formally offered a position at MoMA PSI as curator of performance in August 2017. But just a few weeks later, Columbus, while negotiating her contract, mentioned that she had recently had a baby and suddenly found that her job offer, for which she had been recruited, was rescinded. Ms. Columbus filed a complaint with the New York City Commission on human rights (Ryzik). Another issue is the continued marginalization and discomfort with the idea of the maternal in art. So pervasive is the prejudice against art that engages with maternal issues that even artists, curators, and critics who frankly acknowledge that they have given birth are loath to be associated with art work that is about maternity. For example, none of the artists profiled in Artist and Mother are making work that directly addresses the maternal, which is probably why they are more successful than the artists profiled in the articles on the Artbound website that do make maternal art.

Challenges The central challenge facing mother artists, curators, critics, and art historians today is not so much a debate about methodologies as it is the continued ambivalence and even shame regarding having children. Why is it hard to be both an artist and mother? This question warrants multiple responses that range from the practical to the psychological. Is it hard to be a mother? To be fully responsible for one or more human beings from birth to adulthood? Is it hard to be a mother who works outside the home? To add another commitment of time, energy, and responsibility to that of being a mother? Is it hard to be an artist and a mother? Most dedicated artists have a deep psychological commitment to their work. In 1992, Joan Snyder, a wellknown painter, was asked to contribute to a forum edited by Susan Bee and Mira Schor for M/E/A/N/I/N/G. “Being an artist and a mother: hard. Being a single mother and an artist: harder. Being a mother is being a mother is being a mother. Being an artist means doing your work. You need time and you need help. Years and years of help” (Snyder, qtd. in Bee and Schor 36). Of the 32 artists who participated in the forum, the great majority of them discuss the difficulties of combining a career in art with motherhood. And if one dismisses the concept of the artist as solitary (male) genius in his studio, as does Linda Nochlin in her groundbreaking essay from 1971, “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?”, we have to conclude as she does, “that the total situation of art making, both in terms of the development of the art maker 152

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and in the nature and quality of the work of art itself, occur in a social situation, are integral elements of this social structure, and are mediated and determined by specific and definable social institutions” (158). In the past, women artists were not granted the social structure necessary in order to devote themselves to their art. Visual artists need space in which to work. They need time. And since the great majority of women who see themselves foremost as artists do not earn a living from their artwork, this necessitates a third employment, often teaching or working in a related field. In her recent book, Mothers: An essay on love and cruelty, Jacqueline Rose asks: “Why are mothers not seen as having everything to contribute, by dint of being mothers, to our understanding . . . of public, political space?” (Kindle Locations 194–95). The same question could be applied to the art world. Rose goes on to quote the poet Adrienne Rich, who wrote that “the male mind has always been haunted by the force of the idea of dependence on a woman for life itself ” (Rich, Of Women Born, 1976, qtd. in Rose, Kindle Locations 309–11). And the art world, still dominated by individual successful male artists, adheres to the concept of the selfless mother who is “expected to pour undiluted love and devotion into her child” (Kindle Locations 927–28). Visual representation of maternal ambivalence is difficult to accept in a world where the mother is almost always considered through the point of view of the (male) child. In an essay published in 2012, Chernick wrote, acknowledging one’s ambivalence is for a mother the first step in relating to her child. The competition between the two intense areas of an artist/mother’s life is acute, as evidenced by the great numbers of artists who stop making art once they have children. If the denial of maternal ambivalence were not so deeply rooted in this society, we would not so constantly feel the need to tell women how to be good mothers and to condemn them when they fail to meet the ideal. (264)

Directions for future research Future work on art and the maternal would include the following: •

An address of both the place for mothers and parents in the art world and by extension the world and the use of the idea/theorization of the maternal to address larger issues around caregiving, ecological activism, post-humanism, and the relationship between objects and actions. A focus on artists working outside of the Western paradigm of maternity. Such artists already exist – Wason Singh immediately comes to mind, but there is also Arahmaiani Feisal (Indonesia), Lynn Charlotte Lu (Singapore/London), Alejandra Herrera Silva (Chile), Lina Adam (Singapore), Amanda Heng (Singapore), Regina José Galindo (Guatemala), and Monica Mayor/Madres! (Mexico) – all artists challenging the western European and North American construction of maternity. It is our hope that exhibitions will take place outside of North America and Europe. At present, Wason Singh is one of the few organizers working outside of the West, and we would like to see many more join her in her efforts. Artists, curators, critics, and institutions support work that continues to address anti-­patriarchal, postcolonial, global, and queer maternal identities as well as to address the history of maternal representation in art and culture. Support for mother-artists such as on-site childcare at conferences, child-friendly art spaces, and the places set aside for breastfeeding and diaper changes. 153

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Further reading Bright, Susan, editor. Home Truths: Photography and Motherhood. Art/Books, The Photographers’ Gallery/ The Foundling Museum/MoCP, 2013. Epp-Buller, Rachel, and Charles Reeve, editors. Inappropriate Bodies: Art, Design, and Maternity. Demeter Press, 2019. Fellner, Sabina, editor. RABENMÜTTER: Zwischen Kraft und Krise: Mütterbilder von 1900 bis heute. Lentos Kunstmuseum Linz, 2016. Gioni, Massimiliano, editor. The Great Mother: Women, Maternity, and Power in Art and Visual Culture, 1900– 2015. Fondazione Nicola Trussardi, 2015. Haller Baggesen, Lise. Mothernism. Green Lantern Press, 2014. Loveless, Natalie, and Sheena Wilson, editors. New Maternalisms Redux. Department of Art and Design, U of Alberta, 2018. Marchevska, Elena, and Valeria Walkerdine, editors. Maternal in Creative Work: Intergenerational Discussions on Motherhood and Art. Routledge, 2019.

Conclusion In 2018, Carmen Winant’s My Birth, 2018, comprised of over 2,000 found images of women in various stages of giving birth, was included in Being: New Photography 2018, part of MoMA’s biannual New Photography Series. This level of visibility for an artist whose work addresses the representation of the maternal was unimaginable even five years earlier. That doesn’t necessarily mean, however, that maternal imagery and mothers will suddenly start to show up at major museum exhibitions and art fairs, or even that it will suddenly become easier for mother artists to have a career in an industry that is notorious for its lack of secure employment opportunities. The curatorial statement that Amber Bernsen and Juliana Driever wrote in 2016 and again in 2018 for The Letdown Reflex is sobering: When we set out to create an exhibition about parenting, we were weary from concealing our roles as parents in order to not jeopardize our careers. . . . We were exhausted by assumptions that our appetite for professional involvement would – and maybe should – change because of our parental status. And we were tired of feeling alone; alienated from the larger (art) world by our fear of speaking up about these issues. (2016) As the #MeToo movement gains momentum, we anticipate that more mother artists will stand up to the continuing discrimination against mothers in the art world.

Works cited “Artist and Mother.” Artbound, Season 9, Episode 7. KCET. Burbank, California, 18 Apr. 2018. Baraitser, Lisa. Maternal Encounters. Routledge, 2009. [Bookshelf Online], https://bookshelf.vitalsource. com/#/books/9781134050710/. Bee, Susan, and Mira Schor. “Forum: On Motherhood, Art, and Apple Pie.” M/E/A/N/I/N/G, vol. 12, Nov. 1992, pp. 3–42. Bernsen, Amber, and Juliana Driever. “The Let Down Reflex: Curator’s Statement.” EFA Project Space Program, 2016, Accessed 22 May 2018. Butler, Judith. Gender Trouble. Routledge, 1989. ———. Bodies That Matter. Routledge, 1993. Cashdan, Marina. “You Can Be a Mother and Still Be a Successful Artist.” Artsy, 24 Aug. 2016, www.artsy. net/article/artsy-editorial-why-motherhood-won-t-hinder-your-career-as-an-artist. Accessed 10 Aug. 2018.


Feminist art and motherhood Chernick, Myrel. “Reflections on Art, Motherhood, and Maternal Ambivalence.” Reconciling Art and Motherhood, edited by Rachel Epp Buller, Ashgate, 2012, pp. 255–66. Clayton, Lenka. Artist Residency in Motherhood. Accessed 10 Aug. 2018. ———. An Artist Residency in Motherhood. Accessed 10 Aug. 2018. Ettinger, Bracha L. The Matrixial Border Space, edited and afterword by Brian Massumi. Foreword by Judith Butler. Introduction by Griselda Pollock. U of Minnesota P, 2006. Hebron, Micol, and Carren Jao. “Artist-Mothers: Where to Find Them and Who Supports Them.” KCET Artbound/Culture Politics, 18 Apr. 2018, Accessed 22 May 2018. Kaplan, Isaac, et al. “Motherhood, Children, and Art.” The Artsy Podcast #12, 8 Sept. 2016, https://sound Kelly, Mary. Post-Partum Document. U of California P, 1999. Kinser, Amber E., et al., editors. Performing Motherhood: Artistic, Activist, and Everyday Enactments. Demeter Press, 2014. Lena Šimić, Lena, and Emily Underwood-Lee, editors. “Special Issue of Performance Research: On the Maternal.” Performance Research, vol. 22, no. 4, 2017. Lublin, Lea. “Mon Fils (1969).” Lea Lublin, Accessed 20 May 2018. Moravec, Michelle. “Introduction: Make Room for Mommy: Feminist Artists and My Maternal Musings.” Mother Art, edited by Suzanne Siegel et al., Otis College of Art and Design/Ben Maltz Gallery, 2011, pp. 10–15. Niki Charitable Art Foundation. “50 Years Since Hon.” Niki de Saint Phalle, http://nikidesaintphalle. org/50-years-since-hon/. Accessed 20 May 2018. Nochlin, Linda. Women, Art, Power and Other Essays. Harper & Row, 1988. Rose, Jacqueline. Mothers: An Essay on Love and Cruelty. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Kindle Edition. Ruddick, Sarah. Maternal Thinking. Beacon Press, 1989. Ryzek, Melena. “Curator Says MoMA PSI Wanted Her, Until She Had a Baby.” The New York Times, 6 July 2018, Accessed 11 Aug. 2018. Spencer, Catherine. “Acts of Displacement: Lea Lublin’s Mon Fils, May ’68, and Feminist Psychosocial Revolt.” Oxford Art Journal, vol. 40, no. 1, Mar. 2017, pp. 67–83. doi: 10.1093/oxartj/kcx012. Wilson, Sheilah (ReStack). Mother Mother, vol. 1, Self Published, 2016. ———. Mother Mother, vol. 2, Self Published, 2017. Wolfson, Julie. “Life Lessons: Motherhood and Art.” Artbound. KCET, 17 Apr. 2018, artbound/life-lessons-motherhood-and-art. Accessed 20 May 2018. Yngvason, Hafthor. Conservation and Maintenance of Contemporary Public Art. Archetype, 2002.


12 RELIGIONS AND MOTHERS Florence Pasche Guignard

Introduction This chapter provides key categories and notions to study mothers, motherhood, and mothering at the intersection with religions and spiritualities. Religion and maternity1 rarely are examined together, even as gender has become a widespread critical category of analysis in the study of religions. Rather than offering any detailed accounts or specific case studies, this chapter constitutes a general introduction and invites us to consider a plurality of institutional, organized religions rooted in historical traditions, as well as more recent, contemporary or emerging trends. Building on scholarship on religion and gender more generally, it focuses on issues specific to motherhood rather than to gender or femininity. Although many religious representations, discourses, and practices tend to conflate “women” with “mothers,” it is crucial for any academic perspective on religions and maternity to distinguish these categories and thus to avoid any essentialist assumptions. To this end, a cross-cultural and implicitly comparative approach is helpful in replacing in critical perspective what religious discourses and actors say about mothers, motherhood, and, more rarely, mothering. Uncovering what mothers themselves express, through a variety of media, about their own religious experiences and practices is possible only in contexts where sufficient data is available. Although definitions of both religion and spirituality are contentious, a broad definition of religion as a distinctive part of culture is relevant for this chapter, with the awareness that “religion” is not always a neatly carved out and separate domain. Spirituality is a term useful to highlight the discrepancy between official or orthodox discourses and the lived reality of people (e.g., practices and beliefs not necessarily rooted in or central to institutions). This chapter highlights many intersections between “the maternal” and “the religious” beyond obvious key figures and themes (outlined in the central themes section), acknowledging the diversity of ways in which religions and spiritualities influence or shape motherhood, as an institution, mothers, and, in some instances, mothering as women’s own experience of being mothers. After a preliminary historical overview, I outline a list of central themes at the intersection of religion and maternity, with the intention to draw attention to topics that deserve more scrutiny or that remain difficult to identify. After discussing selected issues around these themes, I address a few controversies and challenges. Finally, before the concluding remarks and the bibliographical section, I outline directions for future research. 156

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Background and context Historical overview Neither religious traditions themselves nor those who study them academically have always recognized mothers or the maternal as central issues. Several recent studies with a sharper focus (see the bibliographical section) successfully uncover and analyze new materials or reconsider traditional sources. On the one hand, few scholars of religions have focused their work on motherhood or mothers, and mothering is even more rarely at the center. On the other hand, motherhood studies scholars have only recently paid attention to religion specifically either as a decisive vector in enforcing traditional or conservative gender norms, or as a potential path to empower mothers. Theologians, too, some from within their own tradition and others with some more distance, have written about spirituality as a way for (mostly) women to express in their own terms their experience of being mothers and of mothering, as well as mothers reclaiming their own spiritual paths (Stovell; Thomas). Most of the key themes outlined in the next section relate to motherhood as an institution, though studies on women’s own experience of engaging in maternal practice are becoming more frequent, especially in anthropology. Because of epistemological or methodological issues, religious dimensions of mothering rarely are brought to the foreground. Indeed, for historians, access to relevant past sources is a key issue (Cooper and Phelan). Literature of various genres, attributed to men authors, gives us some access to expressions of particular aspects of maternity. Furthermore, an essentialist position that considers maternity as natural, instinctive, and universal, exempts scholars from documenting and studying it, since it is assumed to be the same everywhere and at all times. Yet, religion is one of the factors that contributes to the variety of motherhood. Although the religious lives of women – especially the literate ones who frequently also were close to or part of the religious elite – have never been completely erased or censored, the spiritual lives of mothers and their religious activities in relation with motherhood often remain a blind spot. It is rarely acknowledged explicitly that mothers are necessary to physically give birth to, as well as to practically (through care work) and symbolically transmit religion to and sustain (through religious upbringing and education, among others) the human beings that compose any religious group. Divine images or normative moral discourse tend to occupy the forefront of most discussions on religion and mothers or motherhood. The next section outlines key themes, without claiming any exhaustivity, beyond the frequent, essentialist, and naturalizing focus on “women as mothers” and of notions of “good religious motherhood” within religious traditions themselves as well as in the works of those who study them.

Central themes The variety of religions and spiritualities past and present around the globe adds to the diversity of motherhood as a social and cultural construction, beyond biologically determined processes of sexual reproduction. Attempts at a general theorizing on maternity and religion, even from feminist perspectives, are bound to fail because it is indeed perilous to claim any systematic thinking about and with categories that cover such a diversity of expressions. The following section, however, provides readers with a list of themes transversal to several religions and spiritualities, and suggest works of reference. Many studies indeed focus on maternal themes or figures within well-defined religious or spiritual traditions (with specific references to a time period, a geographical area, or to particular ethnic or linguistic expressions). Beyond encyclopedia entries that provide a general framework (Harper) or consider motherhood in particular traditions (see 157

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particular entries in the Encyclopedia of Motherhood), it is difficult to find works that consider not just reproduction or childbirth, but women and others in their specific role as mothers (whether biological, social, or spiritual) in religions. Religious traditions themselves indeed produce and reproduce their own discourses about motherhood in which the lived reality of past and contemporary human mothers rarely is central. Some traditions, however, often those outside of the most studied monotheistic ones, feature maternal figures (both human and suprahuman ones) more prominently, often with an awareness on the multidimensional aspects of motherhood, as we will see later. When addressed specifically to human mothers (more rarely, generically, to parents), religious discourses tend to convey normative views on the very topic of motherhood and family. Issues related to parenting have only recently been considered as valid topics for the study of religions (Lofton). Yet, the contents of such discourses about mothers or addressed to them, might play a crucial role in the everyday religious lives of practitioners, whether or not they mother children. Recurring themes emerge in social sciences and humanities scholarship on various aspects of motherhood in different religious traditions. Specific points of controversy and challenges, especially relevant to contemporary issues, will be discussed next, but first, based on a previously published and more extensive review (Pasche Guignard, “The Academic Study of Religions and Mothering”), the following section outlines central themes and topics relating to religion and maternity in a variety of past and contemporary traditions. Maternal cosmological narratives. Notions of generating and sustaining life are at the very center of several cosmogonies and worldviews that can distinctively be labeled as religious. Some mythological narratives conceptualize the “beginning” or the “creation” of the world with metaphors of sexual reproduction involving a maternal (though not necessarily human) body, with fecundation, gestation, and childbirth or parthenogenesis. Others emphasize the role of certain divine entities as sustainers and nurturers of humans and other sentient beings. Divine motherhood and mother goddesses. Many artistic or literary figures have been interpreted as mother goddesses, mother of the gods, or Mother of God. Systematically reading and reclaiming artifacts shaped like female bodies as “fertile,” “maternal,” or as “divine,” is problematic (Eller). In polytheistic systems that, to some extent, reflect human systems of kinship and family relations, a plurality of suprahuman figures (mostly though not exclusively feminine ones) are concerned with aspects of human life most directly related to maternity. A variety of divinities are prayed to for the good health of the mother and child. Some goddesses have maternal aspects of nurturance and protection while retaining an ambivalent character of potential danger to the child and to the mother as well. Other goddesses are constructed as feminine but without being maternal. “Mother goddesses” are not necessarily associated with children of their own, with many children, nor are represented in the very act of giving birth. Lactating or breastfeeding goddesses are more common. Other maternal figures. A range of other nonhuman figures, including male and animal ones, that have maternal aspects or take on maternal roles are featured in myths and other sacred narratives. The extent to which othermothers are represented varies in each tradition. Some sources mention other protective or nurturing figures that intervene in the life of the child in addition to the birth-giver (e.g., Halima, the wet-nurse of Prophet Muhammad; the daughter of Pharaoh raising Moses as her son while his own mother serves as wet-nurse; fairies and godmothers in European folktales). Some narratives, and often too their corresponding ritual practices, place a great emphasis on the mother of a man (more rarely, a woman) important to his (or her) religion in his (or her) capacity as a saint, a prophet, a founder, a spiritual leader, or a reformer (e.g., the Virgin Mary in some expressions of Christianity). Inversely, some religious narratives explicitly feature maternal death or comment on the absence of the mother of a 158

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famous religious figure (e.g., Queen Mahamaya, mother of the Buddha, dies seven days after childbirth). The absence or early death of the mother is accounted for, reflected upon, and often presented as necessary. Some myths feature both human and divine male childbirth and mothering, especially in the absence of a mother (e.g., Zeus giving birth to Dionysus and Athena). Maternal imagery of the divine or of a God with otherwise frequently masculine attributes and characteristics is also found in religious texts. In the Bible, for instance, God is alluded to or described through metaphors of being involved in midwifery, as a woman in labor, as a woman who has given birth and is carrying her child, as providing nurturance. Maternal physiological and reproductive functions are also mentioned in the New Testament. Some traditions have ambivalent views on maternal attachment, which is seen as “ties that bind” (Ohnuma) and thus as a potential hindrance on the spiritual path. Religious othermothering. In some religious institutions, some men and women, who have vowed to live communal lives of celibacy, concretely mother children through raising orphans or running schools or educational programs. This is the case in Buddhism, especially in Southeast Asia, where some monasteries also concretely serve as orphanages, or where parents bring their children in order for them to receive an education. The feelings of mothers willingly bringing their children or constrained to abandon them at the doors of such institutions have rarely been investigated. Catholicism also has teaching congregations known for specializing in running orphanages and schools. Spiritual and cultural religious mothering. The metaphor of the mother-child relationship is used in several traditions to describe a more advanced practitioner guiding another one as his or her “spiritual child” (also see later considerations on women spiritual leaders as mothers). Outside of such cases of spiritual mothering, very practically, the primary source of exposure of infants to religion often come from those who mother them. Philosopher Plato already acknowledged the primary role of mothers and other caregivers in exposing children to stories about divinities. In many religious contexts, mothers are the primary religious enculturators of children (Reimer, “Who Is in Charge of the Family?” 282). Such spiritual and cultural religious roles in mothering are not restricted to the private or domestic sphere. Roles of educators of children (e.g., Sunday school teacher) often are considered as socially acceptable for women (though not necessarily birth-givers) in contexts where other professional paths and roles within religious institutions remain closed to them or are deemed as inappropriate. Mother blame and religion. Perceived failure in this role as primary religious enculturator leads to forms of mother blame with specifically religious and moral undertones. More than other caregivers, mothers tend to be blamed, implicitly or explicitly, for decisions or lifestyle choices their children make. This is the case when adolescent or adult children either go against the beliefs and practices of the religious group they were born and raised into and that they sometimes choose to distance themselves from. In more secularized contexts, mother blame occurs when (generally adult) children choose a religious path that is deemed incompatible with or threatening to secular society, or when they display an excessive zeal, especially in case of conversions and further supporting or committing acts of violence. Spiritual leaders as mothers. Overlapping in some instances with the spiritual mothering mentioned earlier are now well-documented historical and contemporary cases of women as religious leaders, whether their authority is institutional or charismatic. Women in positions of spiritual (and sometimes authoritative institutional) leadership are called “mother” or equivalent terms in the respective languages of their followers, though many of them will never become birth-givers as they commit to a life of sexual abstinence (e.g., in Catholicism, an abbess in a position of authority over a community of nuns, is often called “mother superior”; as early as the late nineteenth century, several movements within Hinduism and its modern reforms and 159

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reinterpretations emerged with women as leaders or, in some instances, as celibate wife of the guru, see Pechilis). Gender equality, feminist ideals, and religious feminism with an emphasis on motherhood. Some explicitly religious movements self-identify as feminist and espouse many of the original ideals of feminism, in particular, gender equality. They fight against discriminations both within their own communities and in society in general. These movements tend to build upon maternalist ideals2 considering that women and, especially, mothers, naturally have more “morality” than men and thus should serve as guardians of good morals as well as trustworthy and efficient social and spiritual reformers or revivalists, not only in their own family or private sphere but in society in general. Other movements fight against discriminations targeting mothers for religious reasons. Religion as a way to eschew motherhood. Many works on women’s religious histories have focused on women who were deemed exceptional in the sense that they did not follow the culturally determined normative course of life for women (traditional adult roles as wife and mother). Nuns, saints, and mostly celibate women engaging in various forms of asceticism, scholarship, or service are examples in many traditions. In several contexts, a radical engagement with religion, though sometimes controversial, provides a socially accepted framework alternative to marriage and motherhood. Traditional and emerging rituals. Key moments in a woman’s life, especially those related to fertility and childbirth, are celebrated in many traditions. These often are reinterpreted or appropriated by emerging and often highly customized ritualizations in contemporary times. Cultural and religious constructions of the moral and physical im/purity of woman as (future or potential) wife and mother evolve over time. Women are responsible for maintaining many aspects of ritual purity, as well as for teaching them to daughters. Other traditions (and often too, more liberal interpretations within these same traditions) no longer regard the blood of childbirth (and of menstruation) as polluting or impure (e.g., a Sikh mother may visit a Gurdwara for the naming ceremony of a newborn as soon as she feels ready to do so after childbirth). Rituals once linked to ideas of thanksgiving and purification can take on new meanings for mothers (e.g., the churching of women, their first returning to church after childbirth). Influence of religion on the health and well-being of mothers. In some contexts, religion still influences, among others, access to medical care and the very type of services women as mothers receive. For instance, Catholic hospitals will not provide most forms of contraception, sterilization, and abortion services, even when the life of the mother would depend on it. Similarly, in Ireland, Catholic motivations and beliefs regarding women’s fertility, rather than purely medical indications, motivated the procedure of symphysiotomy (rather than C-section). Some discourses also support access to midwifery care and homebirth and resist Western biomedical models on religious grounds (Klassen). Regarding other issues such as in-vitro fertilization and third donor party, acceptance varies greatly across traditions (see Inhorn). How religions impose, offer, or lack ritual and spiritual resources for women to deal with pregnancy loss, abortion, stillbirth, or the early death of a child is also a point to consider.

Key issues and debates Differences and similarities between mothers in different religious traditions practiced in the same territories, thus sharing some common cultural elements, are striking. Recent volumes, for instance, consider the influence of Hindu, Muslim, or Sikh traditions on motherhood in South Asia and in the South Asian diaspora (Sangha and Gonsalves; Krishnaraj). Another relevant question to consider comparatively is whether monotheistic or polytheistic conceptualizations of the 160

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divine, with the presence of a plurality of feminine and maternal representations of goddesses in the latter, make any difference for human mothers in their daily life. Similarly, the influence of religious discourse on family structures, as in monogamous or polygynous marriages, or as in other forms of commitments that transcend heteronormative categories, could be further considered.

Controversies and challenges in relation to religions and maternity Both the academic study of religions and motherhood studies are highly interdisciplinary fields, each relying on various approaches. They share some methodological and epistemological challenges, such as accessing sources and reflecting on the positionality of the researcher. Versatile methodologies, often combining those of literary analysis, history, and anthropology, are privileged. Another key challenge both to women within religious traditions and to scholars who study them consists in questioning essentialist views that equate “women” with “mothers” and consider motherhood as the “natural” destiny for all (or most) women. Any academic approach to studying religion and maternity ought to identify and then deconstruct this assumption, while acknowledging that, in practice, most reproductive and care work relating to children is still overwhelmingly done by women rather than men. In the case of religious contexts, this “naturalization” of women as mothers is further reinforced when presented as a sacred duty or a divine order. In parallel, the injunction to respect one’s parents, and, especially, one’s mother is presented not just as an ethical or respectful things to do but as a command from the divinity. In many contemporary contexts, mothers thus may still derive a relatively high and respected status from this. However, it is often not the maternal status per se nor the capacity of the female body for bringing life that are valued. Even where mothers are highly regarded and respected, most women in general certainly do not enjoy the same freedom, privileges, and rights as men do in contexts where religious laws or customs prevail over or still strongly influence civil ones. While some mothers are praised, others, for the very same physical act of birthing a child (and, later, the social act of raising a child) are vilified: for instance, those who do so outside of a religiously sanctioned wedlock (whether in monogamy or polygyny), or those who give birth only to girls, or to children with disabilities. Similarly, the counterpart of this insistence on valuing motherhood and women’s maternal bodies as carriers of (a potential) life, often is the condemnation of infertility. Women who do not wish to or cannot have or raise children may suffer from religious perspectives that view having many children, especially sons, as a sign of morality and blessedness, and associate infertility with suspicion or punishment for a moral or ritual failure. Narratives about motherhood and non-motherhood ought to be contextualized and reconceived (Moss and Baden). Ritual remediation may be suggested to, or enforced on a woman, such as fasting, prayers, pilgrimages, or visits to specific religious sites. Another challenge for studying motherhood and religion is to go beyond the emphasis placed on the overlap between “motherhood” and “reproduction” by religious discourses, by some mothers themselves, and by scholars. Many studies focus almost exclusively on “biological moments,” which are indeed important and constitutive of motherhood (pregnancy, childbirth, the immediate postpartum, and lactation). Studying the religious, ritual, and spiritual aspects of childbirth in any given culture or comparing various religious discourses around a particular birth practice shared by women of several different religious, spiritual, or secular traditions (Selin; Delaporte and Martin), as homebirth for instance (Klassen), does not exhaust the topic of motherhood. It is more difficult to find studies that consider maternal roles not directly tied to biology and that can be taken on by anyone, in less gendered ways. 161

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A challenge for scholars is to identify and deconstruct the apparently benevolent rhetoric of religious groups that use motherhood and notions of family to extol a normative, religiously informed “good motherhood” while vilifying other experiences and practices of mothering that do not conform to their own values, for instance, that of same-sex couples raising children. While stigma against single and divorced mothers might have decreased in the last decades, at least in Western and secularized societies, there remains a strong opposition to same-sex parenting, grounded on religious moralistic arguments. Interestingly, groups that hold highly conservative positions on morality but have diverging theologies, meet across the religious spectrum in their opposition to same-sex marriage and families, rights to adoption, or access to gestational surrogacy.

Directions for future research Previously published reviews of literature or basic key themes on mothers and religion (­CheruvallilContractor and Rye; Sered; Kawash; Pasche Guignard, “The Academic Study of Religions and Mothering”) have already pointed out significant gaps and outlined directions for future research. Building upon these and considering new directions in most recent scholarship, I identify current or new themes or topics likely to receive more attention in the future. One such trend is to focus more on mothering and religious practice as experienced by mothers, rather than as prescribed by institutions. In line with this, aspects and experiences not directly linked to giving birth and other aspects of motherhood closely tied to biology deserve more scrutiny. Many myths, sacred narratives, ritual practices, and ethical prescriptions indeed relate to such important issues and are consequently the most studied. However, what happens in the mother-child relationship, for instance, in terms of ritualization, past the years of infancy and childhood and how religious institutions consider mothers also matter. Likewise, how different religious traditions consider as normal or as problematic that several persons other than the birth-giver intervene in the life of the child could become a fruitful topic for comparison. Furthermore, maternal participation in shaping or transmitting religious narratives and norms to their children and the general role of mothers as primary religious enculturators for their children deserves more research, especially in non-monotheistic contexts. Maternal participation in religious rituals and the issue of mother blame in perceived failures of “training” children to meet religious expectations also are likely to be further investigated. Future research ought to take emic discourses and religious sources themselves seriously, even when no direct, authentic maternal voices are available in them. Yet, tendencies of religious discourses themselves to equate women with mothers and to overemphasize the biological aspects of motherhood should be considered with distance in any critical analysis.

Notes 1 I use the word “maternity” as a cluster encompassing the various meanings of motherhood as an institution and mothering as women’s own experience, drawing the distinction, initially suggested by Adrienne Rich (13) and now a common referential in motherhood studies. Also see the general introduction to this volume. 2 Maternalism is different from matricentric feminism (see O’Reilly and in the introduction to this volume).

Further reading Cheruvallil-Contractor, Sariya, and Gill Rye. “Introduction: Motherhood, Religions and Spirituality.” Religion and Gender, vol. 6, no. 1, 2016, pp. 1–8.


Religions and mothers Harper, Susan. “Religion and Mothering.” Encyclopedia of Motherhood, edited by Andrea O’Reilly, Sage, 2010, pp. 1056–61. Pasche Guignard, Florence. “The Academic Study of Religions and Mothering, Motherhood and Mothers.” Maternità e Politeismi – Motherhood(s) and Polytheisms, edited by Florence Pasche Guignard et al., Pàtron, 2017, pp. 61–88. Reimer, Vanessa, editor. Angels on Earth: Mothering, Religion and Spirituality. Demeter Press, 2016. Sered, Susan Starr. Priestess, Mother, Sacred Sister: Religions Dominated by Women. Oxford UP, 1996 (see especially pp. 71–85).

Conclusion Any considerations on religions and mothers, motherhood and mothering should be carefully situated in their broader contexts and in regard to other factors that determine sociocultural norms and how these get enforced, resisted, challenged, or changed by mothers and others. More research on the intersection of religion and maternity certainly is needed to advance our understanding of experiences of motherhood and mothering, both in contemporary and past contexts, with attention paid to spiritual expressions, normative and marginalized discourses, as well as ritual practices. Other more specific topics of study, whether particular to one tradition or comparatively across several religions, are still to be uncovered in addition to the key themes outlined in this chapter.

Works cited Cheruvallil-Contractor, Sariya, and Gill Rye. “Introduction: Motherhood, Religions and Spirituality.” Religion and Gender, vol. 6, no. 1, 2016, pp. 1–8. Cooper, Dana, and Claire Phelan, editors. Motherhood in Antiquity. Springer, 2017. Delaporte, Marianne, and Morag Martin, editors. Sacred Inception: Reclaiming the Spirituality of Birth in the Modern World. Lexington Press, 2018. Eller, Cynthia. The Myth of Matriarchal Prehistory: Why an Invented Past Won’t Give Women a Future. Beacon Press, 2000. Fast, Kerry, and Rachel Epp Buller, editors. Mothering Mennonite. Demeter Press, 2013. Harper, Susan. “Religion and Mothering.” Encyclopedia of Motherhood, edited by Andrea O’Reilly, Sage, 2010, pp. 1056–61. Inhorn, Marcia. “Religion and Reproductive Technologies: IVF and Gamete Donation in the Muslim World.” Anthropology News, vol. 46, 2005, p. 14. Kawash, Samira. “New Directions in Motherhood Studies.” Signs, vol. 36, no. 4, 2011, pp. 969–1003. Klassen, Pamela. Blessed Events: Religion and Homebirth in America. Princeton UP, 2001. Krishnaraj, Maithreyi, editor. Motherhood in India: Glorification without Empowerment? Routledge, 2010. Lofton, Kathryn. “Religion and the Authority in American Parenting.” Journal of the American Academy of Religion, vol. 84, no. 2, 2016, pp. 806–41. Moss, Candida R., and Joel S. Baden. Reconceiving Infertility: Biblical Perspectives on Procreation and Childlessness. Princeton UP, 2015. Ohnuma, Reiko. Ties that Bind: Maternal Imagery and Discourse in Indian Buddhism. Oxford UP, 2012. O’Reilly, Andrea. Matricentric Feminism: Theory, Activism, and Practice. Demeter Press, 2016. Pappano, M. Aziza, and Dana M. Olwan, editors. Muslim Mothering: Global Histories, Theories, and Practices. Demeter Press, 2016. Pasche Guignard, Florence. “The Academic Study of Religions and Mothering, Motherhood and Mothers.” Maternità e Politeismi – Motherhood(s) and Polytheisms, edited by Florence Pasche Guignard, Giulia Pedrucci, and Marianna Scapini, Pàtron, 2017, pp. 61–88. Pasche Guignard, Florence, and Giulia Pedrucci. “Motherhood(s) and Polytheisms: Epistemological and Methodological Reflections on the Study of Religions, Gender, and Women.” Numen, vol. 65, no. 4, 2018, pp. 405–35. Pechilis, Karen, editor. The Graceful Guru: Hindu Female Gurus in India and the United States. Oxford UP, 2004. Reimer, Vanessa, editor. Angels on Earth: Mothering, Religion and Spirituality. Demeter Press, 2016.


Florence Pasche Guignard ———. “ ‘Who Is in Charge of the Family?’: Religious Mothering, Neoliberalism, and REAL Women of Canada.” Mothering in the Age of Neoliberalism, edited by Melinda Vandenbeld Giles, Demeter Press, 2014, pp. 279–96. Rich, Adrienne. Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution. Norton, 1995. Sangha, Jasjit K., and Tahira Gonsalves, editors. South Asian Mothering: Negotiating Culture, Family and Selfhood. Demeter Press, 2013. Selin, Helaine, and Pamela K. Stone, editors. Childbirth Across Cultures: Ideas and Practices of Pregnancy, Childbirth and the Postpartum. Springer, 2009. Sered, Susan Starr. Priestess, Mother, Sacred Sister: Religions Dominated by Women. Oxford UP, 1996. Stovell, Beth M. Making Sense of Motherhood: Biblical and Theological Perspectives. Wipf and Stock, 2016. Thomas, Trudelle. “Motherhood as Spiritual Crisis: Memoirs of Childbirth and Early Motherhood.” A/B: Auto/Biography Studies, vol. 14, no. 2, 1999, pp. 273–91.


13 MOTHERS AND MUSIC Martha Joy Rose

Introduction Music is a powerful instrument for social change. In many cultures, music has been employed to protest injustice, to promote storytelling, to advance history, and to share individual as well as collective experiences. The sociologist William F. Danaher, who examines music in the context of social movements, states that music activates “the feeling of being part of something bigger and having a connection to others.” Beginning in 1997, a new musical genre emerged. The “mom rock” phenomenon started when musicians began writing and performing songs about mother identity and practice. One band’s idea grew to include hundreds of musicians as well as performance artists from a variety of genres. Comediennes, actors, dancers, and spoken-word artists joined together to establish a movement of mother-made performance art that resulted in a global message focused on the empowerment of women who were mothers. The aim of this chapter is to explore mother-identity-making and mom-made performance art and how it has been instrumental in helping to amplify women’s voices within the motherhood movement. The first section of this chapter, background and context, describes the origins of mom rock and mother-made performance art. The second section, central issues, analyzes how these activities sparked a broad public discourse that increased the visibility of mothers and mother work. The third section, controversies and challenges, explores difficulties that mom rockers faced and considers the external forces that controlled and ultimately co-opted aspects of the mom rock movement. The fourth section, directions for future research, argues that future research must be intersectional and interdisciplinary.

Background and context A survey of the timeline of mom rock and the motherhood movement demonstrates that they had a vast effect on the cultural psyche at large. Mom-made music identified motherhood as a topic of broad public discourse and increased the visibility of mothers. The timeline of the movement begins with the self-identified mom rock band Housewives on Prozac, formed in 1997. Housewives on Prozac employed music, comedy, and theater as tools for social change. Focused on voice and identity, the band’s aim was to explore motherhood through song, to challenge the invisibility of motherwork, and to legitimize maternal experiences as perspectives 165

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for artistic expression. The original Housewives band, comprising two mothers and a father, initiated a conversation about maternal (and paternal) experiences while challenging the stereotype of the uncool, out-of-touch, and socially constrained parent. After their founding in 1997, Housewives on Prozac developed a performance catalog that depicted everyday life from a maternal perspective. Parameters for the band’s material included the transformative experience of birth and caregiving, family challenges, and calls for gender parity, among other things. Songs from their first album, No Prescription Required, covered a broad range of mother and family topics. For example, “I Am Not a Barbie Doll,” “I Go Thru Changes,” and “24 Hour Woman” challenged the stereotype of the beautiful but dumb woman, highlighted the discomfort and challenges of the pregnant body, and acknowledged the burdensome workload of mothers. A subsequent EP titled Gay Girls Make Great Moms was written specifically as a celebration and affirmation of women in the LGBT community. The second Housewives on Prozac album featured tracks such as “I Don’t Think Like My Mom (Anymore),” “Fuzzy Slippers,” “Eat Your Damn Spaghetti,” and “Harper Valley PTA.”  The song “I Don’t Think Like My Mom (Anymore)” encouraged the liberated woman to keep moving forward: “I have established my own point of view about the things we ought and ought not do / I don’t think like my mom anymore.” The track “Fuzzy Slippers” reflected on the transition from intellectual pursuits to childcare: “I wipe my baby’s chin with my college diploma and wonder how did I ever get here?” “Harper Valley PTA” was a reworked 1970s song about a widow who gets a note from the school board about wearing supposedly inappropriate clothing. In short, Housewives on Prozac focused on difficulties mothers encountered, such as expanding personal identity within the social construction of motherhood and challenging the invisibility of caregiving labor. Media attention ensued almost immediately. The article “Band Sings About What It’s Like to Raise a Family in the 90’s” appeared in the New York Times on November 9, 1997. This article captured Housewives on Prozac’s attempt to voice “the plight of the suburban housewife raising children” (Hershenson). Band members touted their signature leopard and boas for the article’s photographs, strongly declaring their individuality and intelligence. “They dress according to what they call ‘car pool couture’ – black velvet in the supermarket, fringed red leather and leopard designs on everything – and chafe at being pigeonholed.” Shortly after the publication of the New York Times article, Housewives on Prozac appeared on CBS Sunday Morning, a national television broadcast, singing “I Go Through Changes.” Song lyrics identified the physical changes that pregnancy imparts as well as the emotional landscape of mothers-to-be: I go through changes; it’s really something. I watch the me I knew disappear. I’m having a baby it’s getting bigger. It’s coming out sometime this year. My belly’s growing, my pants won’t fit me; I kiss size 9 goodbye and pray. Who am I kidding? I’m totally ruined. My breasts are dropping by the day. (Rose, No Prescription Required) The band’s performance pushed back against the sanitization of pregnant bodies, making silent subjects audible while acknowledging irrefutable changes brought on by maternal labor. One year after Housewives began performing, another New-York-based musician, Tina deVaron, released her album If Mama Ain’t Happy (1998). Songs on that album included “Rocking Chair,” “Put a Lock on the Bedroom Door,” and “Gravity” (about maternal bodies). The lyrics to the title track caution, “If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” DeVaron’s work


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indicated that interest and energy for making music about motherhood was poised to resonate with mainstream audiences. Her website notes: I had all these songs in my head about my experience of being a Mom. So I gave a concert at St. Michael’s church on NYC’s Upper West Side, and all these moms came. And as I sang these new songs, I heard gasps in the audience, I saw some moms break down in tears. And I thought, even though the record industry doesn’t get it, I have something here. Both Housewives on Prozac and deVaron identified a need for music by and about mothers. In order to fulfill this need, Housewives on Prozac’s frontwoman, Martha Joy Rose (performing as Joy Rose) and a group of local New York-based women began discussing the feasibility of a collective comprised of performance artists who were women, especially interested in the subject of motherhood. The result of these conversations was the first and only large-scale performance venue focused on mothers in the arts. The Mamapalooza festival got its start in May 2002. The purpose of the spectacle was to encourage women-made, mom-branded art, education, and commerce by connecting individuals who were interested in examining their identity and performance as mothers. The first event, hosted at The Cutting Room in New York City, featured the American dancer and educator Jennifer Edwards, who performed her poem “One Breasted President.” Performances also included the Housewives Band, Monique Avakian (poet), Corliss Whitney (80-year-old ex-Rockette), and Tina deVaron, among others. By its second year, the festival was held at multiple locations across New York. Feminist activist Christen Clifford appeared in her one-woman show BabyLove, which grappled with themes of motherhood and sexuality. Further performances included Nancy Lombardo spearheading Momedy Comedy, Rew Starr as Black Flamingo hosting singer/songwriter nights, and Alyson Palmer, feminist and activist from the band BETTY, pioneering the first outdoor concert with the New York City Parks Department.1 The festival also included mother-made businesses and was incorporated as a large-scale festival production company. Mamapalooza was instrumental in connecting and promoting mother performers across genres. Festivals spread to England, Australia, and Canada. More and more women found their voice as part of mom rock and the motherhood movement. Emerging artists included The Mothers (England), MotherLode Trio (New York), Placenta (California), the Mydols (Michigan), Merry and the Moodswings (Texas), CandyBand (Michigan), Frump (Texas), Hot Flash (Washington, DC), and Vee Malnar (Australia). Mamapalooza events were staged in multiple cities as the result of year-long planning sessions. Monthly conference calls were organized, and production packages were mailed with instructions on how to leverage community resources for events. Promoters were mentored about ways to make concerts profitable through local partnerships so that they could pay talent. Parks departments from New York City, to Westchester, to Los Angeles, to Detroit embraced Mamapalooza and its mission to recognize and empower mothers’ creativity and labor. In 2005, the mayor of San Jose, California, working with Mamapalooza organizer Tiffany Petrossi, declared a “Mamapalooza Day” with a city proclamation. In the same year, the mayor of Buffalo, New York, along with Mamapalooza organizer Annette Daniels Taylor, did the same. The City of Seneca Falls, New York (home of the Suffragette movement) awarded Housewives on Prozac the key to the city “for their work on behalf of women everywhere.” By 2004, New York City alone hosted over ten separate events spanning the month of May and spawned the first edition of The Mom Egg (later renamed MER, Mom Egg Review), which


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published the lyrics and poetry of Mamapalooza participants. Adoptive mothers, othermothers, and women as caregivers also participated. In California, Petrossi started her own Rockin’ Moms website, and fathers cooperatively spearheaded Papapalooza performances in Pennsylvania as well as Manhattan. Mamapalooza and the motherhood movement garnered increasing media attention on television, radio, and print. The press became captivated by the mom rock phenomenon – so much so that in 2004, The Wall Street Journal, The Chicago Tribune, CNN, and CBS, among other news organizations, featured stories on several pioneers of mom rock. In 2004, Kate Perotti, a California mother-turned-filmmaker, began interviewing the women of Mamapalooza for an independent project titled Momz Hot Rocks (released in 2008). The film opens with a quote that lays out some of the parameters of the music of motherhood at the time: Music is the art form of rebellion. We’re using music to identify [our] generation and expand on what it is to be a human being in the role of mother. We’re reinventing what it is to be a modern mom. We don’t know what that is yet. We’re still figuring it out. What had begun as a way of identifying motherhood in the arts became a rallying cry for mothers everywhere. Mom rock and Mamapalooza used music and other performance categories to increase the visibility of mothers, shatter stereotypes, and break new ground for women challenging the social constraints of motherhood.2

Central issues The central issues among mother artists have been varied and are ongoing. Three important issues are (1) the lack of supportive social and legal policies for mothers in the United States, which results in the invisibility of mothers and mother status and contributes to feelings of isolation; (2) the presence of strict ideologies, social pressures, and media portrayals of what constitutes being a good or bad mother, which objectionably constrains and limits mothers’ professional and creative opportunities; and (3) the absence of adequate public understanding of what mothering is and can be, which creates a challenge for mothers to find a balance between “me time” and “family time.” Mom rock and the motherhood movement have entered the debate about each of these issues, contributing to a more relevant and nuanced understanding. The great lack of supportive and legal policies for mothers in the United States has been well documented.3 Women who are birthing children are also raising future workers and citizens. They do this without federally mandated paid parental leave, without social security payments, without affordable health care, and without remuneration of any kind or associated retirement funds. Ann Crittendon’s bestselling book, The Price of Motherhood: Why the Most Important Job in the World is Still the Least Valued, addresses the ways in which mothers have been systematically disadvantaged by our capitalist culture and the American political system. In an op-ed article outlining her book, Crittenden asserts, “The devaluation of mothers’ work permeates virtually every major institution. Not only is caregiving not rewarded, it is penalized” (“The Price of Motherhood”). This lack of supportive policies causes mothers to shoulder an undue burden and contributes to a sense of isolation and invisibility. It can also be argued that this sense of undervaluing motherhood is also an international theme; however, due to the brevity of this chapter, there is not an opportunity to explore this further. Several organizations have targeted policy change for families in the United States through governmental action, such as the National Partnership for Women and Families (founded in 1971), Moms Rising (2006), and National Advocates for Pregnant Women (2007). Mamapalooza 168

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events also joined the effort for more supportive policies. Festivals included initiatives for domestic violence prevention, family wellness awareness, and reproductive health initiatives, among other things. Planned Parenthood mobile services were onsite for free HIV testing and to encourage gynecological checkups. While Mamapalooza pushed for better social policies, its unique focus was on making an impact on mothers’ lives using music (and the performance arts) to spread a message of creative liberation. By organizing and connecting like-minded people, the festival aimed to combat mothers’ sense of isolation and invisibility. The introduction to the 2007 Mamapalooza Magazine promised to connect new mothers while supporting them and honoring their labor and their efforts: You’ve had a baby. But, everything’s gotten more complicated. Maybe you’re feeling isolated. You’re tired. Depressed? You love your baby, but you work three jobs now, instead of two. Where did you go? Who cares about you? Who wants to see you thrive? You’re doing really important work and no one seems to notice. How can we lift each other up? How can we love each other? Who’s going to applaud you? We are! (Rose, “Introduction”) This statement seeks to counter mothers’ isolation and invisibility by inviting them to join a large circle of “moms that rock”; it offers an opportunity to find support and redemption within group experience. Mamapalooza Magazine also published women’s song lyrics, poems, and stories as an adjunct to spring festivals. The festival’s projects sought to elevate the labor of mothers through increasing their visibility and by paying them for their services and performances. A second issue facing many mothers is the hegemonic construction of good or bad parenting. Stereotypes often take the form of what might be called “the good mother imperative” (following Adrienne Rich’s “the good mother ideal”), defined as the demand that mothers frantically prioritize their children at the expense of their own personhood. Above all, there is pressure that one must avoid being a bad mother, that is, being mother who defies expectations or acts in a deviant manner by challenging the status quo. This expectation is, of course, unfair and unreasonable, and it constrains and limits mothers’ professional and creative opportunities in ways that often make mothers feel unhappy, harmed, and oppressed. Of course, mothers often care a great deal, and ideally, their care should be able to take many forms while also including important self-care activities. The problem of the good mother imperative is well documented in the scholarly literature. Michelle Hughes Miller and colleauges explain in the introduction to Bad Mothers: Regulations, Representations, and Resistance how pervasive the regulation of mothers is. Citing Adrienne Rich, they affirm the ways in which the good mother ideal imprisons women’s codes of behavior: “Motherhood is a patriarchal institution, managed and controlled by men, who have legal, technical, and ideological control over all aspects of childbirth and motherhood. The good mother ideal and its incumbent expectations thus imprison women within patriarchal motherhood” (6). Lindsey Rock explains that “the binary logic that confines mothers to ‘good’ or ‘bad’ is socially constructed and propagated in western culture to serve patriarchy and the state, dividing mothers and women” (27). Amber Kinser’s book Motherhood and Feminism also corroborates these binary constructions as something that have been part of Western culture since Descartes’s era, if not before. Mom rock and the motherhood movement emerged largely to combat the good mother imperative by challenging the stereotypes of what makes a good or bad mother. Artists did so by behaving in unconventional ways. They took their children to band rehearsals and rock concerts. 169

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They donned guitars and wore boas while eschewing frumpy clothing that ­de-sexualized them. Susan Douglas, one of the coauthors (along with Meredith Michaels) of The Mommy Myth: The Idealization of Motherhood and How It Has Undermined Women, had this to say about mother rockers as they challenged their mothering roles: “These events mark the beginning of a rebellion against the dictates of perfect motherhood and the idea that women have to always be subservient to their children. Mothers are rejecting societal pressure and finally saying ‘enough is enough’ ” (qtd. in Ginty). Mamapalooza’s mission statement carried this “rebellion” even further. It spelled out specific goals that encouraged mothers to make creativity an important part of their lives (“About” Mamapalooza Website). A further issue – so closely related to the good mother imperative that it might be understood as a corollary of it – is that an inadequate public understanding of what mothering is (and can be) creates a challenge for mothers to find the balance between “me time” and “family time.” This “me time” (or personal time) is crucial for personal development, creative expression, and professional advancement. The expectation that mothers should primarily be caretakers whose activities are solely centered on their families makes it difficult for mothers to follow their own pursuits. Sharon Hays, the author of The Cultural Contradictions of Motherhood, addresses this theme of oppressive maternal expectations in an article about Mamapalooza for USA Today. She writes, “Even the bravest feminist would be loath to speculate which generation of mothers has had the toughest row to hoe.” However, she continues, “today’s moms face demands that are historically unprecedented.” This issue was particularly salient for performance artists who needed to adhere to a rigorous practice schedule, book gigs, find sitters (or bring their kids along), perform shows (sometimes without pay), and organize their own events. For example, in an interview with Resident Magazine in early 2000, Angela Babin, a guitarist for Housewives on Prozac, said, “When I didn’t have a child, I was available for certain gigs that tour and were of a certain level. When I had my family, this was not an option. No one wants a guitarist with a baby” (8). The commitment to parent, given the evolving demands of children’s needs, the changing landscape of personal circumstances, and the necessary priorities families sift through, makes individual pursuits daunting. Vee Malnar, a playwright and musician and the event coordinator for Mamapalooza in Sydney, Australia, further speculated: When a woman becomes a mother her identity shifts. It is important at this confronting time that women see themselves reflected truthfully in the culture, so they can reconstitute a new self. It is important for mothers to know they are not alone. What happens to a woman’s creativity when she takes on care responsibilities? It is so much harder to dedicate time to creative expression, yet that expression is still important. Participating in personal pursuits outside of family ones is still often difficult. This is due to practical reasons, which I have mentioned, and also due to dominant ideologies that constrain women. Mom rockers and other performance artists in the motherhood movement tried to encourage a more sophisticated and adequate understanding of what mothering could be. Their aim was to create a space to make it possible for mothers to develop their own pursuits in their personal time. Lyrics and performances challenged both the sharp distinction between family time and personal time and confronted the prioritization of the former over the latter. For example, one prominent mom rock band, the Mydols, exclaim in their song “Runaway,” “Who gives a sh** about the PTA? I want to play my bass and go out every night. I want to tour my band across the USA” (“Lyrics” The Mydols Website). In a later interview, the Mydols’ bassist, Paige Gilbert, calls making music with her band “liberating” and labels it “her escape” (Heyman). When speaking about the mother rockers in the film Momz Hot Rocks, Andrea 170

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O’Reilly defended creative mothers by saying, “These are committed moms who also pick up guitars.” Interestingly enough, as the motherhood movement gained momentum, its participants were not portrayed in popular media as bad moms. This could have been for several reasons and is further explored in Martha Joy Rose’s “Electronic Mommyland.” Social expectations were palpable and the pushback from the women of Mamapalooza was evident throughout their performances. Martha Joy Rose is quoted in a New York Times article explaining that Making art and parenting are both creative acts, but our society isn’t sure how to deal with women who serve their own needs as well as their families. As the flight attendant says, put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others. (Ingall)

Controversies and challenges Mom rockers and artists in the motherhood movement face many challenges, including familial complications and fractures like divorce, illness, special needs, fiscal insolvency, or a move to a new location. Family life can all too easily become a triage endeavor in which one or more of its members are threatened and the entire family enters survival mode. This sort of difficulty can eradicate any progressive activities that are beyond basic daily maintenance. Two additional challenges mom rockers and participants in the motherhood movement have faced are (1) the financial co-opting of the ideals of mom rock and the motherhood movement and (2) a systemic Hollywood takeover of the motherhood identity, which did nothing to advance the progressive feminist ideals at the heart of mom rock and the motherhood movement. As the motherhood movement gathered momentum, the messages of empowerment that mom rockers advocated for were used to sell merchandise that the artists did not benefit from. While it may seem like increased corporate attention (and its concomitant advertising promotion) should increase prosperity for mom rockers, in the end, such attention profited corporations and did little to help the artists. Realizing the appeal of women who were “different,” Unilever employed that message to create new campaigns. The Dove Campaign for Real Beauty, launched in 2004, took out ads in Mamapalooza Magazine. Celebrating women’s authentic beauty, the campaign went mainstream with TV and major print advertisements for soap products. However, although the Real Beauty campaign grew, the mom rockers’ financial circumstances did not improve. Likewise, Gap ads appeared on the back of New York City buses touting the phrase “Your Mom Rocks,” but no mom rockers were paid. By 2006, a rise in socalled mommy blogs, corporate sponsorships, and mother identity in advertising was being used to sell everything from sex to diapers and dishwashers. However, none of that money trickled back to the artists themselves. In much the same way, Hollywood producers co-opted the word “housewife,” which was central to mom rock and the motherhood movement. Films and television shows employed the identities of housewives and mom rockers and portrayed them as one-dimensional characters. The objectification and simplification of women and their lives persisted in these works.4 These characters depicted exactly the stereotypes that Mamapalooza worked so hard to dismantle. Of course, the producers and investors behind these films and shows profited, but the mother artists were left behind. In 2004, the television show Desperate Housewives was a smash hit for ABC. The show featured conventionally attractive but anxious women who appeared not to work outside the home, making them part of an elite American socioeconomic group representing a significantly small percentage of the population. The problem with such a distorted 171

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portrayal of women and families is that it fails to recognize and promote diversity, inclusivity, and the struggle for financial well-being so inherent in both the motherhood movement and the third-wave feminist movement. In one episode, a desperate housewife hoses herself off wearing a wet T-shirt in the driveway of a neighbor whom she is attracted to. The characters in the show capitalized on sexuality, mood-altering substances, and catty behavior to sell their brand of “housewife.”5 The empowered mother did not make the leap from the festival stage to the Hollywood screen.

Directions for future research Challenging expectations, empowerment, expanding services for women and families, identifying hegemonic definitions of motherhood, as well as creating collaborative, supportive opportunities for personal identity and expression were all major themes throughout the rise of mom rock. Mamapalooza facilitated the organizing of events and the championing of a far-­reaching mission. The festival also supported the individuals who coordinated, participated in, and attended these events. Media coverage contributed greatly to a groundswell of attention focused on the issues of this mothers’ movement. Some of these contributions have been explored and written about in the Music of Motherhood (Rose et al.).6 Future research might include interviews with some of the original mom rockers, critical analysis of the music amassed during these years, a more thorough examination of media from the era, as well as creating transcripts of The Motherhood Movement: You Say You Want a Revolution and Momz Hot Rocks. These items are all archived at the Museum of Motherhood. Lastly, and most important, all future directions should emphasize intersectional and interdisciplinary perspectives as a guiding principle. The Mamapalooza festival continues to be organized independently through the New York Parks Department, as of this writing (2015–2019). It takes place each May at Riverside Park South in Manhattan. Multiple international organizations, such as the Artist Parent Index, the Procreate Project, and the Archive for Mapping Mother Artists in Asia (AMMAA), now collect and promote mother artists and parent-made fine art. A partnership promoted through the Museum of Motherhood, titled Mothers Are Making Art (MAMA), in collaboration with the Procreate Project (England) and Mom Egg Review (MER, USA) features monthly online exhibits. This initiative began in 2016 and is ongoing. Archives and additional research on these organizations and the individual artists would also be beneficial for understanding the ways in which mother-made fine art continues to develop and expand throughout the world. Many of the values and issues mom rockers advocated for, such as increased visibility, appear to be taking root in popular culture. Hints of progress give hope to a world still dominated by racism, sexism, and misogyny. In 2017, Senator Larissa Waters breastfed her baby in the Australian Parliament. In 2018, Senator Tammy Duckworth was the first United States senator to give birth while holding office. In the same year, congressional candidate Liuba Grechen Shirley won the legal right to apply campaign funding to her child care. Classes in mother studies, which are being taught under a variety of names, continue to make progress in universities. In a pivotal article about research programs in mother studies, Samira Kawash explains that success must reside in an “inclusive and popular” intersection “that at the same time responds to and incorporates the best of scholarship and theory” (996). Mother studies and its interdisciplinary subjects, including art, history, anthropology, sociology, and psychology should be incorporated into graduate and undergraduate curricula and into non-academic settings like birthing groups, postpartum groups, and places like the Museum of Motherhood, which champions public education and houses exhibits about mothers, mothering, and motherhood. These 172

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kinds of initiatives must be continually promoted in order to impart permanent, positive change, equalizing women’s status and decreasing the marginalization of mothers in the arts and beyond.

Conclusion The intention of this chapter has been to frame mom rock and the motherhood movement as significant and pivotal. Music is a great connector as well as an effective vehicle for social change. William F. Danaher reminds us that music evokes “emotions in the short term [that] can have long-term effects.” The goals and dreams of mother musicians to live in a society that supports maternal arts and motherhood in general is a work in progress, but much progress has been made. The rise of mother-identity-making and action in the arts has been instrumental in helping to amplify women’s voices. The energy, commitment, and hard work of the individual mothers who wrote songs and stories, created comedy and theater, rehearsed in their attics and garages, participated in interviews, conducted Mamapalooza production meetings, performed in late night gigs, and attended large-scale functions, all while raising kids, have helped a new generation of artists find their maternal expressions. This creative output is evidenced in blogs, politics, businesses, and a multitude of contemporary artistic mediums – none of which existed prior to the inception of Mamapalooza. In this way, mom rockers, the Mamapalooza organization, and the women of the motherhood movement have facilitated the coalescence of a body of work that contributes to motherhood in popular culture and to the emergence of the field of mother studies in the academy.

Notes 1 Too many women participated in Mamapalooza to cite here. Many of them were instrumental to the festival’s success. Some of these people include Sue Fabisch, Deb Chamberlin, Kim Char Meredith, Judy Davids, Nancy Lombardo, Jessica Feder Birnbaum, Terry Textor Platz, Rew Starr, Alyson Palmer, Stacy Robin, Robin Schatell, Zhen Heinemann, Vee Malnar, Eileen Motok, Janeane Bernstein, Tiffany Petrossi, and Patrice Moreman, all of whom organized concerts. 2 Mamapalooza also produced four compilation CDs (2004–2010) on the MamaPUBlooza publishing label started by Pilley Bianchi and Carol Lester. Mamapalooza also published MamaZina Magazine (2007–2011). Prior to that publication, several in-house publications with Intermixx (Independent Music Conference) and The Mom Egg (now named MER, Mom Egg Review) were produced and distributed onsite at events (2004–2007). Conferences began in 2005 and are ongoing. The first conference, titled Art, Feminism, and Finances, was held at the Women’s Media Center in New York City in 2005. 3 A classic theoretical exploration of these issues is Susan Moller Okin’s Justice, Gender, and the Family. 4 Rita Rocks (2008) is a television show about a housewife whose lead character, Rita Clemens, decides to tap into her creativity and frustration by starting a garage band with her friend. See also the movie Motherhood (2009), starring Uma Thurman (who attended at least one Housewives on Prozac concert), who plays a frazzled New Yorker with ambitions to become a writer. In the movie, Thurman’s character enters a Mamapalooza contest. Mamapalooza Inc. was not consulted and received no credit or payment for use in the film despite the use of this script device. That same year, the Real Housewives franchise launched on Bravo. The series began in Orange County and moved to different urban locations featuring wealthy, mostly white, women caught up in petty dramas. 5 Consultations with a wide range of Hollywood production companies from 2004 to 2006 resulted in controversial conversations during which Mamapalooza’s founder, Martha Joy Rose, resisted offers from producers that further demeaned women. Rose consulted with Freemantle Media, FoxLabs, and Spielburg Studios (among others) about creating reality shows featuring mom rockers. During these meetings, it became obvious that women’s empowerment was not part of the studios’ agenda. 6 Other mentions of Mamapalooza in the scholarly literature include Andrea O’Reilly (editor), The Encyclopedia of Motherhood and The 21st Century Motherhood Movement, Amber E. Kinser’s Motherhood and Feminism, Jocelyn Fenton Stitt and Pegeen Reichert Powell’s Mothers Who Deliver: Feminist Interventions in Public and Interpersonal Discourse, and Vanessa Olorenshaw’s Liberating Motherhood: Birthing the Purplestockings Movement.


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Works cited “About.” Mamapalooza Website. Mamapalooza (founded by Martha Joy Rose), www.mamapalooza.word Accessed 16 Aug. 2017. “About Moms Rising.” Moms Rising Website. MomsRising (founded by Kristen Rowe-Finkbeiner and Joan Blades), 2017, Accessed 10 Aug. 2017. Associated Press. “All-Mom Bands Rock the Housewife Stereotype.” Fox News, 22 Jan. 2005, www. Accessed 15 Dec. 2017. Babin, Angela. Interview in Resident Magazine. May 2004. Brooke, Jill. “Mommy Rebellion: Tracking the Course of Mutiny against the Tyranny of Parental Expectations.” Chicago Tribune, 21 Dec. 2004, tures/0412210035_1_perfect-mom-mommy-myth-desperate-housewives. Accessed 30 Nov. 2017. Collins, Patricia Hill. Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment. Routledge, 2000. Crittenden, Ann. The Price of Motherhood: Why the Most Important Job in the World Is Still the Least Valued. Picador, 2001. ———. “The Price of Motherhood: Why the Most Important Job in the World Is Still the Least Valued.”, 2001, Accessed 15 May 2018. Danaher, William F. “How I’ve Understood Music’s Role in Activism.” Mobilizing Ideas, 18 Jun. 2013, Accessed 17 Dec. 2017. Davids, Judy. Rock Star Mommy: Motherhood, Music and Life as a Rocker Mom. Citadel Press, 2008. della Cava, Marco R. “The Bands That Rock the Cradle.” USA Today, 31 Jan. 2005, www.usatoday30. Accessed 10 Aug. 2017. deVaron, Tina. “If Mama Ain’t Happy.” If Mama Ain’t Happy, via Bandcamp app,, 1998. ———. Tina deVaron Website. Tina deVaron, Accessed 12 Jan. 2018. Douglas, Susan, and Meredith Michaels. The Mommy Myth: The Idealization of Motherhood and How It Has Undermined Women. Free Press, 2004. Fabisch, Sue. “Walmart Woman.” Music 4 Mommies Vol. 1, Songs to Make You Laugh, Mommy Music Inc., 2007. Ginty, Molly M. “Mother’s Day Rocks for Break-the-Mold Moms.” Women’s E News, 7 May 2004, https:// Accessed 12 Jan. 2018. Hays, Sharon. “Hard Times, Hard Rock.” USA Today, 1 Jan. 2005. Hershenson, Roberta. “Band Sings About What It’s Like to Raise A Family in the 90’s.” New York Times, 9 Nov. 1997, Accessed 10 Aug. 2017. Heyman, J.D. “Moms Who Rock.” People Magazine, 11 Oct. 2014. Ingall, Marjorie. “Rock on Moms.” New York Times, 14 May 2004. Kawash, Samira. “New Directions in Mother Studies.” Signs, vol. 36, no. 4, 2011, pp. 969–1003. Keates, Nancy.“Mommie Loudest: Now Rocking: It’s Your Mother, Singing of Suburban Angst; An Ode to Uneaten Spaghetti.” Wall Street Journal, 25 Jun. 2004, Accessed 5 Jan. 2018. Kinser, Amber E. Motherhood and Feminism. Seal Press, 2010. “Lyrics.” The Mydols Website. The Mydols, Accessed 5 Aug. 2019. Malnar, Vee. Press Release for Mamapalooza Sydney. 5 May 2014. McNamara, Chris. “These Ain’t Lullabies: Moms Rock a Lot More than the Cradle at Mamapalooza.” Chicago Tribune, 14 May 2006, moms-meredith-mothers. Accessed 5 Jan. 2018. Miller, Michelle Hughes, et al., editors. Bad Mothers: Regulations, Representations, and Resistance. Demeter Press, 2017. Momz Hot Rocks: New York. Directed by Kate Perotti, Edendale Pictures, 2008. Morales, Tatiana. “Mommy the Rock ‘N’ Roller.” CBS, 23 Aug. 2004, Accessed 5 Jan. 2018. Motherhood: New York. Directed by Katherine Dieckmann, performance by Uma Thurman, John Wells Productions, 2009.


Mothers and music Museum of Motherhood Website. The Museum of Motherhood, Accessed 12 Jan. 2018. Okin, Susan Moller. Justice, Gender, and the Family. Basic Books, 1989. Olorenshaw, Vanessa. Liberating Motherhood: Birthing the Purplestockings Movement. Womancraft, 2016. O’Reilly, Andrea, editor. Maternal Theory: Essential Readings. Demeter Press, 2007. ———, editor. Encyclopedia of Motherhood. Sage Publications, 2011. ———, editor. The 21st Century Motherhood Movement: Mothers Speak Out on Why We Need to Change the World and How to Do It. Demeter Press, 2011. Rock, Lindsey. “The ‘Good Mother’ vs. the ‘Other’ Mother: The Girl-Mom.” Journal of the Motherhood Initiative for Research and Community Involvement, vol. 9, no. 1, 2007, pp. 20–28. Rose, Martha Joy, composer. No Prescription Required. Performed by Housewives on Prozac, CD Baby, 1998. ———, composer. Gay Girls Make Great Moms. Performed by Housewives on Prozac, independent release, 2002. ———. Housewives on Prozac Live. Performed by Housewives on Prozac, CD Baby, 2003. ———. “Introduction.” Mamapalooza Magazine, vol. 1, 2007. ———. The Journal of Mother Studies: A Peer Reviewed, International, Interdisciplinary, Open-Access, Digital Humanities Hybrid Project. 2015. CUNY Graduate Center, CUNY Academic Works, Master’s Thesis. ———. “Electric Mommyland.” Music of Motherhood: History, Healing, and Activism, edited by Martha Joy Rose, Lynda Ross, and Jennifer Hartman. Demeter Press, 2018, pp. 210–40. Rose, Martha Joy, et al., editors. Music of Motherhood: History, Healing, and Activism. Demeter Press, 2018. Rothman, Barbara Katz. Recreating Motherhood. Penguin Books, 1989. Ruddick, Sara. Maternal Thinking: Toward a Politics of Peace. Beacon Press, 1989. Stitt, Jocelyn Fenton, and Pegeen Reichert Powell, editors. Mothers Who Deliver: Feminist Interventions in Public and Interpersonal Discourse. State U of New York P, 2010. The Motherhood Movement: You Say You Want a Revolution: Toronto. Directed by Martha Joy Rose, independent release, 2008.



Introduction Throughout literary history, mothers have always occupied diverse textual positions. They may hover in the background in plots centred on children (i.e., heroic sons, rebellious daughters); be main characters but described by an omniscient narrator, their own first-person status decentralized; or be an absent presence (i.e., through death, choosing to abandon a child, or being forced to relinquish a child). With the surge of first-wave feminism in the late 1800s, increasing demands for women’s autonomy and agency in private and public spheres went hand in hand with challenges to patriarchal motherhood. Such a charged climate generated, unsurprisingly, a rise in matrifocal literatures.1 Matrifocal literatures are written and narrated by mothers in the first-person or limited third-person voice, rendering maternal identity and experience from subjective perspectives. Further, they (re)value the significance and meaning of maternal figures in cultural, social, and national arenas, and often contest or negotiate traditional ideologies of the “good” mother as self-sacrificing, nurturing, and sexless with her antithesis, the “bad” mother. As such, these narratives perform what Susan Maushart calls the act of “unmasking” motherhood to reveal and depict truths about maternity heretofore silenced or repressed. In offering an overview of maternal literatures in this chapter, I survey key scholarship that positions the topic in historical, critical, and theoretical terms. I then provide examples of matrifocal fiction, life writing, and poetry written in English from and within American, British, African, and Caribbean Canadian contexts.2 Read as a genre in and of itself as part of a tradition of writings about motherhood, matrifocal literatures are sites of textual liberation where women self-consciously and outspokenly chart, confront, debate, and celebrate maternal feelings, practices, bodies, and identities.

Background and context Historical overview Motherhood has perhaps most famously been theorized by Adrienne Rich in her 1976 Of Woman Born as constitutive of “two meanings”: “the potential relationship of any woman to her powers of reproduction and to children; and the institution, which aims at ensuring that 176

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that potential – and all women – shall remain under male control.” Rejecting motherhood as defined by patriarchy, she emphasizes that “for most of what we know as the ‘mainstream’ of recorded history, motherhood as institution has ghettoized and degraded female potentialities” (13). Expanding on Rich and invoking Betty Friedan’s 1963 feminist treatise The Feminine Mystique, Maushart, in The Mask of Motherhood, addresses the crisis experienced by twentiethcentury women as they grapple with contradictions between their expectations versus realities of motherhood. For Maushart, the “mask of motherhood” is “an assemblage of fronts” that women have been wearing “to disguise the chaos and complexity of our lived experience” (2) and that “keeps women from speaking clearly what they know, and from hearing truths too threatening to face” (7). Maushart’s contention that “the mask of silence – is the most treacherous one of all” (xx) resonates with this chapter’s focus on maternal literatures. While she implores women today to “strip off the masks” and “speak with open voices about the realities we experience” (xxi), numerous authors have in fact been “unmasking motherhood” (36) for public audiences since the Victorian era. Drawing on discourses related to gender, biology and reproduction, nationhood and race, economics, law, and ethics, and popular culture, among others, creative writers have led the way in breaking women’s silence about topics like pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding, postpartum depression, erotics, sexuality, adoption, abortion, miscarriage, single motherhood, and maternal ambivalence. This “unmasking” implicates mothers as “bad” not only for what they write but also for the act of writing itself. By speaking up, women repudiate proscribed patriarchal imperatives for submissive feminine behavior; their “unfeminine” articulations about the way things really are for mothers have produced narratives that are bold, irreverent, and authentic. In this chapter, I explicate these kinds of narratives. Before turning to them, I want to reflect on the scholarship that informs my wide array of examples. With the entrenchment of secondwave feminism in academia in the 1970s and subsequent third-wave or post-feminist movements from the 1980s on, literary scholars have increasingly been interested in locating and promoting representations of motherhood in literatures. This scholarship is grounded in feminist as well as psychoanalytical, postcolonial, and or new historicist theory, to name a few approaches, as applied to and generative of maternal theory itself. Studies analyze maternal stories in varied and often overlapping ways, such as tracing maternal traditions within literary history and across genres; mapping these traditions in terms of national and geographic spaces, and intersectional identities; and highlighting specific maternal themes and experiences. Scholars advance the projects of creative writers by setting up critical frameworks that privilege maternal readings. As Marianne Hirsch observed nearly three decades ago, feminist theorists must “assume a maternal position” and “speak in a maternal voice,” “listening to the stories that mothers have to tell” and “creating the space in which mothers might articulate those stories” (167). This chapter tracks maternal positions and voices at the nexus of critical theory and creative literatures.

Central theories, themes, and issues An early and sustained body of scholarship looks at traditions predicated on mother-daughter relationships. Major studies include those by Cathy N. Davidson and E. M. Broner, Marianne Hirsch, Mickey Pearlman, Heather Ingman, Susan C. Greenfield, Adalgisa Giorgio, and Yi-Lin Yu. An overarching thematic of these works is manifested in Davidson and Broner’s expansive collection The Lost Tradition: Mothers and Daughters in Literature. Contributors examine narratives across forty centuries from Near Eastern, British, and North American contexts and draw on mother-daughter dyads from mythic and biblical times, like Demeter and Persephone, and Ruth and Naomi, to those presented by authors like Doris Lessing, Sylvia Plath, Alice Munro, 177

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and Alice Walker. Chapters uncover the disruption of empowered ancient mother-daughter relationships as patriarchal forces from the early Christian centuries to the Renaissance undervalued the societal roles of women and mothers. Between the high Renaissance and Victorian periods, the mother re-emerged as a central figure, but she was simultaneously an obstacle to the daughter’s individuation. In the early and mid-twentieth century, feminist gains (including suffrage, birth control, and women’s greater access to education and the workforce) led to female agency and maternal choice, which resulted in a daughter’s looking to her mother as a possible role model. By the mid- to late twentieth century, the rebellious daughter has found a way back to the mother, reclaiming her through an acceptance of and celebration of matrilineal (that is, generational or grandmother-mother-daughter) bonds. These ties are especially strong in the literatures of women of minority status (i.e., black, Asian) who, participating in the oral traditions of their communities, give voice to their often silenced mothers. While this recovery of the maternal voice involves participation and agency by the mother, the search has tended to be what Brenda O. Daly and Maureen T. Reddy call daughter-centric (2) (as opposed to matrifocal) in that the mother is positioned in terms of her relations with, and as perceived by, the daughter. In tracing maternal traditions through realist, modernist, and postmodernist iterations, Hirsch advocates for maternal readings of mother-daughter stories which, she contends, have been “submerged in traditional plot structures” in nineteenth- and twentieth-century western European and North American fictions, which privilege the father and son (3). Citing Sophocles’s Oedipus Rex, she insists that “to know Jocasta’s maternal story . . . we would have to begin with the mother” (5). This “maternal position” (167) is taken up towards the end of the twentieth century by Toni Morrison and Alice Walker who “clearly identify themselves as a new feminist generation in relation to the maternal tradition of the past” (16). In like spirit, Daly and Reddy acknowledge that some creative and scholarly works certainly “begin with the mother in her own right, from her own perspective,” yet they “seldom hold fast to a maternal perspective” and when they do,“readers and critics tend to suppress the centrality of mothering” (2–3). As redress, their collection Narrating Maternity: Theorizing Maternal Subjectivities (1991) displays maternal subjectivity as predicated on second-wave feminism in North American and British contexts. In examining authors like Margaret Atwood, Louise Erdrich, and Sherley Anne Williams, contributors query the kinds of “revisions of motherhood” suggested by their stories (3), invoking the agendas of “unmasking” that I illuminate in this chapter. Going back to the Victorian era and the period of first-wave feminism, Barbara Z. Thaden and Mary McCartin Wearn theorize shifts in middle-class familial structures and maternal ideologies, and their impact on maternal narratives. Looking at popular British novelists like Margaret Oliphant, Ellen Price Wood, and Caroline Norton, for example, Thaden reads what she sees as “their idealized representations of motherhood as subversive and not complicit to the dominant ideology” of the married, angelic, self-sacrificing mother (5). Wearn moves the location to the United States to review how conceptions of maternal duty and the rise of sentimentalism via Transcendentalism and Romanticism played out in textual constructions of the idealized, morally righteous, white middle-class mother. She finds that “selfless, sanctified motherhood” in texts like Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin did not go uncontested and that mothers like Harriet Jacobs and Sarah Morgan Bryan Piatt “muddy the waters of sentimental writing with maternal ambivalence and with contradictory and eccentric emotions,” falling “outside the range of ‘proper’ nineteenth-century womanhood in their sexuality, power, or conditional love” (11). These conclusions underscore my contention that matrifocal voices were becoming audible during the Victorian era. In addition to scholarship clustered by temporal and historical traditions, critical studies are devoted to figures from marginalized races and ethnicities, evidenced in books by Susheila 178

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Nasta, Obioma Nnaemeka, Simone A. James Alexander, Angelita Reyes, Renate Papke, Verena Theile and Marie Drews, and Abigail L. Palko. Their work is in part a response to what many regard as the universalizing of a white, heteronormative, mainstream feminist agenda, seeking instead to delineate maternal experience and identity through the lens of postcolonial interventions. As such, they interrogate motherhood in relation to the “mother country” and “mother tongue.” Moreover, they tend to celebrate nonbiological mothers: the othermother and kinship caretakers who help to raise children in collective, communal arrangements. Utilizing samples that are again typically daughter-centric, scholars illuminate how the primacy of the mother in the domestic sphere in colonial and diasporic narratives is problematized by the very concept of “home.” African American, African Caribbean, and South Asian writers like Jamaica Kincaid, Paule Marshall, Toni Morrison, Audre Lorde, Edwidge Danticat, Kamala Das, and Kofi Awoonor, to name but a few, are marginalized from Euro- and Ameri-centric perspectives, and proffer stories of fortitude, struggle, and rebellion against patriarchal and imperial oppression. Palko, for instance, emphasizes that her study queries “essentialist ideologies of the Good Mother that have tended to dominate postcolonial rhetoric” (13). “Unmasking” motherhood in these contexts is especially political and urgent for women of colour, for they have been silenced along gendered as well as class and racialized lines. Scholarship predicated on race and nationhood is further evidenced by Di Brandt, Laura Benedetti, and Gill Rye et al. Reading for maternal presence in contemporary Canadian narratives, Brandt attends to how authors like Margaret Laurence, Daphne Marlatt, and Jovette Marchessault write from and about marginal Western positions, be they lesbian, immigrant, or Indigenous, for example, and thus our attention to them is crucial. Benedetti traces inscriptions of maternal textual subjectivity in relation to specific periods in Italy’s history, notably the cult of the Virgin Mary, fascist control of reproduction, and legalizing of divorce and abortion. Rye and her other editors position the mother as subject within twenty-first-century European literary and cultural representations, exhibiting how motherhood in all its relational manifestations and enunciations becomes “a framework through which to view the world” at a time when discourses of borders and belonging are particularly contentious (xiv). In a different sense, scholarship dedicated to specific themes enhances our appreciation of textual motherhoods. Maternal subjectivity as rendered through the body, for instance, is addressed by Tess Cosslett, Julie Tharp, and Susan MacCallum-Whitcomb. They highlight writers like Enid Bagnold and Sharon Olds, respectively, who broke taboos by writing explicitly and graphically about corporeal experiences, and for elevating them within the literary realm. Changing tack, Elaine Tuttle Hansen regards the “mother without child” as a manifestation of multiple forms of absence. These incorporate “nontraditional mothers and ‘bad’ mothers” such as “lesbians and slave mothers; women who have abortions and miscarriages; women who refuse to bear children, or whose children are stolen from them,” and even those who may be “criminals, murderers, prisoners, suicides, time travelers, tricksters, or ghosts” (10). In writing the maternal body and absent mother (back) into the text, authors reconfigure the center and margins of narrative significance. Attention to genre lends another facet to scholarship. Hilary S. Crew, Lisa Rowe Fraustino, and Karen Coats theorize young adult and children’s literatures, assessing mother-child relationships (in negotiation with daughter-centric and matrifocal perspectives) according to how mothers reinforce or complicate paradigms of the mother as traditional guardian and role model. Further to the many scholars already cited who treat fiction and poetry, Jo Malin regards how autobiographies of the daughter inevitably produce biographies of the mother. Andrea O’Reilly and Silvia Caporale-Bizzini foreground life narratives constructed by the mother herself. Contributors to their collection are attuned to political and philosophical registrations of 179

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maternity in autobiographies from the nineteenth to the twenty-first century about slavery, maternal mourning, Chicana and lesbian identity, and Irish Catholic nationalism, among others. I want to close this section on scholarship with a reference to Textual Mothers/Maternal Texts: Motherhood in Contemporary Women’s Literatures (2010), the collection I edited with O’Reilly. Featuring works from Canada, the United States, Central America, Britain, Europe, the Caribbean, Asia, and Australia, contributors illuminate narrative shifts from daughter-centric to matrifocal perspectives, proposing that the latter have become especially prominent in the last few decades. Several factors account for this trend: the founding and legitimizing of motherhood studies as a unique discipline; the “mommy wars” between the mother who works at home and the mother in the labour force; the rise of “intensive mothering” and “new momist” ideologies that mandate complete financial and emotional investment in children;3 the arrival of social media affording unprecedented means of communicating personal stories about motherhood; and developments in technology that advance and redefine reproduction and conceptions of the “mother.” Factors like these fuel debates about what constitutes the “good” mother, debates initiated over one hundred years ago as Victorian society confronted women’s demands for birth control, divorce, and single-mother rights, for instance. In the sections that follow, I offer examples of textual motherhood from these two vantage points in history, the late nineteenth century, and the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Such a framework showcases stories that “begin with the mother” (5), to quote Hirsh, and assume the “maternal position” (167) in ways that are historically contingent and fluid. Matrifocal narratives, then as now, present women who grapple with patriarchal notions of idealized motherhood and who voice and “unmask” their own counter-narratives.

Controversies and challenges in textual examples I: Victorian voices Some of the earliest texts to privilege matrifocal subjectivity appeared during the Victorian period, especially the fin de siècle. Diverse in genre as well as content, narratives undermine conventional assumptions about the “good” mother as they make groundbreaking forays into complicated and taboo regions of motherhood. For instance, in Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861), Harriet Ann Jacobs gives a first-person account of her life as a slave in North Carolina. Detailing her efforts to secure freedom for her herself and her two children, she fuses maternity with the abolitionist cause: Could you have seen that mother clinging to her child, when they fastened the irons upon his wrists; could you have heard her heart-rending groans, and seen her bloodshot eyes wander from face to face, vainly pleading for mercy; could you have witnessed that scene as I saw it, you would exclaim, Slavery is damnable! (30) The narrative charts her years as a mother in bondage, forcibly separated from and desperate to be reunited with her children. She reiterates the theme of the “proper” woman defined by motherhood: “had it not been for the hope of serving my children, I should have been thankful to die; but, for their sakes, I was willing to bear on” (135). At the same time, recognizing that her children have become “an addition” to her master’s “stock of slaves” (69), she “would rather see them killed than have them given up to his power” (87). Jacobs radically politicizes her identity: she refuses to accept her abject fate in the Confederate South; she problematizes the mother as instinctual nurturer; and she dares to articulate the ignored trauma of enslaved black women denied access to their own children. 180

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Different kinds of challenges to idealized maternity inform the oeuvre of Sarah Piatt, collected in Palace-Burner: The Selected Poetry of Sarah Piatt. Piatt upends mother comfort in poems like “Questions of the Hour” (1871), wherein the narrator has been reading Cinderella to her child, who then queries, “What makes – men’s other wives – so mean?” The mother concedes: “I know / That I was tired, it may be cross, before / I shut the painted book for her to go.” In the final stanza she reports, “Hours later, from a child’s white bed / I heard the timid, last queer question start: / ‘Mama, are you – my stepmother?’ it said” (10–11). The mother negates the image of the gentle nurturer by acknowledging the realities of motherhood that render her “tired” and “cross,” and by letting the accusation that she is the “mean” stepmother of the fairy tale stand. In another act of resistance, in “Her Blindness in Grief ” (1873) the speaker mourns her deceased child in terms that refuse to accept the will of her patriarchal God, preferring instead to rebel against the subservient, sanctified image of the bereaved Madonna. She asserts, “There is no comfort anywhere. / My baby’s clothes, my baby’s hair, / My baby’s grave are all I know” (49). Appreciating that “My cry is but a human cry,” she nonetheless insists on voicing her unfeminine thoughts: “The grief is bitter. Let me be. / He lies beneath that lonesome tree. [. . .] Despair can only be despair. / God has his will. I have not mine” (51). Refusing religious platitudes, she articulates the truths of maternal loss. The semi-autobiographical story “The Yellow Wallpaper” (1892) by Charlotte Perkins Gilman takes on the violent truths of postpartum psychosis, events informed by Gilman’s own breakdown after the birth of her only child. The narrator counters the patronizing directives of her doctor-husband (and by extension, the male medical establishment seeking to control women’s bodies) who tells her not to “let any silly fancies run away with” her (1154). Instead, she describes how the patterns on the wallpaper of her room, a metaphor for her own psychic as well as physical entrapment, are curved such that “they suddenly commit suicide – plunge off at outrageous angles, destroy themselves in unheard-of contradictions” (1150), alerting the reader to the seriousness of her condition. Unable to embrace motherhood due to her illness, she tears away at the wallpaper, and crawls about the floor of her room, mad but free. The proof of her “release” is the text itself, wherein she explains, “I don’t know why I should write this. [. . .] But I must say what I feel and think in some way – it is such a relief!” (1154). The very fact of the narrator’s writing signals her rebellion, for although she is “absolutely forbidden” by her husband “to ‘work’ ” until she gains “proper self-control” (1149), she nonetheless produces the story we are reading in which she takes control of her own subjectivity. In the novel The Daughters of Danaus (1894), Mona Caird portrays the Victorian New Woman figure who embraces modernity in her quest for self-realization. Protagonist Hadria Fullerton, a young mother in rural Scotland, recognizes how the institution of motherhood has subjugated women: “Throughout history [. . .] children had been the unfailing means of bringing women into line with tradition”; and “An appeal to the maternal instinct had quenched the hardiest spirit of revolt” (57). Her love for her own two sons is ambivalent: “They represent to me the insult of society – my own private and particular insult, the tribute exacted of my womanhood. It is through them that I am to be subdued and humbled” (58). In the spirit of Rich, she states of motherhood that, “No woman has yet experienced it apart from the enormous pressure of law and opinion that has, always, formed part of its inevitable conditions” (103). Her verdict is that “Motherhood, as our wisdom has appointed it, among civilized people, represents a prostitution of the reproductive powers” (104). Additionally, when the local schoolteacher kills herself after giving birth to her illegitimate baby, Hadria adopts the child in order to “strike a blow at the system which sent her mother to a dishonoured grave” (58). She favours her relationship with this baby because it is predicated on her autonomous choice, not biology. Hadria approaches 181

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children from political, not instinctual, perspectives. In repudiating institutional motherhood, she overturns assumptions about the “good” mother. In the novella The Awakening (1899) by Kate Chopin, Edna Pontellier is another fin-de-siècle protagonist who charts an anarchic response to motherhood. As an unfulfilled wife and mother in New Orleans, Edna longs to be an artist but is thwarted by her husband who demands that she be a “good” mother and focus only on their family. Edna is, however, maternally ambivalent, and thus relieved when the children are away on vacation: “It seemed to free her of a responsibility which she had blindly assumed and for which Fate had not fitted her” (25). Edna awakens to erotic needs, too, taking a lover and sexually yearning for yet another man. When her husband announces that he is moving the family abroad – against her will – she drowns herself in the Gulf of Mexico. Slipping under water, “The children appeared before her like antagonists who had overcome her; who had overpowered and sought to drag her into the soul’s slavery for the rest of her days. But she knew a way to elude them” (154); “She understood now clearly what she had meant long ago when she said to [her friend] Adèle Ratignolle that she would give up the unessential, but she would never sacrifice herself for her children” (154). Edna may be a “bad” mother who abandons her children, but her final actions make taboo claims to selfhood, underscoring that the imperatives of patriarchal motherhood are so ingrained in society that a woman may have no recourse but to the most extreme measures in order to transgress them.

Controversies and challenges in textual examples II: contemporary echoes and elaborations A century later, authors, narrators, and protagonists continue to “unmask” motherhood in ways that reflect and expand on the thematic of “good” versus “bad” mothering. Certainly, matrifocal narratives were produced within this one-hundred-year span. In highlighting texts from the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, I illuminate how stories from one fin-de-siècle era speak to those from another – in this case, our contemporary one. In the spirit of Caird and Chopin, for instance, The Joys of Motherhood (1979) by Buchi Emecheta reverberates with Rich’s contention that women have been oppressed by the institution of motherhood, which Emecheta presents as complicit with British colonial rule. Set in mid-twentieth-century Nigeria, the novel features Nnu Ego, an impoverished Igbo woman struggling within a racist society to raise her seven surviving (of nine) children while coping with her polygamous husband in the modernizing city of Lagos. The novel problematizes motherhood as the defining feature of womanhood, while concurrently privileging matrifocal subjectivity as a valid focus of fiction. Nnu Ego subscribes to her community’s philosophy that “a woman without a child for her husband was a failed woman” (62), yet she also prays, “God, when will you create a woman who will be fulfilled in herself, a full human being, not anybody’s appendage?” (186). She expands on her lifetime of self-sacrificial maternity: “What have I gained from all this? Yes, I have many children, but what do I have to feed them on? On my life. I have to work myself to the bone to look after them, I have to give them my all. And if I am lucky enough to die in peace, I even have to give them my soul” (186). She articulates a taboo sentiment about child-rearing: “I doubt if it has all been worth it” (202). By the novel’s end, with her adult children detached from her, she “died quietly” on “the roadside” near her home, “with no child to hold her hand and no friend to talk to her. She had never really made many friends, so busy had she been building up her joys as a mother” (224). This ironic “joy” undercuts accusations that Nnu Ego is a “bad” mother for consistently questioning the ideology of “good” motherhood. Her self-imposed badness manifests in the afterlife where she takes some


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small revenge on the cult of motherhood: it is reported that she was “a wicked woman” because “however many people appealed to her to make women fertile, she never did” (224). Nnu Ego symbolizes her nation’s devastating subscription to biological destiny, and the colonized woman as concomitantly colonized by motherhood. The experimental hybrid of autobiographical poetry and prose in Drawing Down a Daughter (1992) by Claire Harris – who migrated to Canada from Trinidad in 1966 – is the matrifocal account of a pregnant woman living in Calgary addressed to her unborn child. The book treats themes related to the maternal body and maternal ambivalence, especially at the intersection of race and racism. The narrator describes, inside her the child thrashing daughter she needs dreads for who would bring a child skin shimmering black God’s night breath curled crisp about her face courage of enslaved ancestors in her eyes who would choose to cradle such tropic grace on the Bow’s frozen banks.4 (17–18) The stanza depicts physical maternity (the “thrashing” baby) and conflates the maternal body with the racial one – images of “skin shimmering black” and “enslaved ancestors” recall the history of black slavery, as well as the narrative of Harriet Ann Jacobs discussed earlier. Additionally, although the “frozen” landscape of Canada is pitted again the “tropic” Caribbean, throughout she prefers her new home. While her partner wants to return to Trinidad, she tells him “there is racism there too!” whereas Canada affords her “freedom!” (69). That said, she implores, “remember Daughter all those othered are black / female like you or worse commit poverty” (29). The narrator continues to exact the toll of pregnancy as her freedom is manipulated by the baby she carries: she puts down the notebook stands to ease an ache in her back . . . 656th bathroom break. Girl i hope when you’re finished using my body, i can still go to concerts in the park . . . (34) The reality of going into labour is rendered as sheer pain: it rips through her so suddenly shaking her flinging her breathless against cliffs (111)


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The book ends with agonizing parturition, startlingly compared to racialized torture as the narrator loses her identity to the punishing will of her newborn: inside you thrash out i hug my belly in the helpless dawn for a moment i am as the stunned slave under the whip. (112) Harris’s dramatic text bluntly unmasks the corporeal realties of pregnancy and in the process draws powerful connections between maternal and colonized bodies. Sue Miller focuses on the maternal body as a site of sexual negotiation. In The Good Mother (1986), she hypothesizes the dire consequences for women who seek sexual fulfillment as mothers outside of marriage. Following her divorce, protagonist Anna Dunlop takes a lover, Leo. Anna eventually loses her child, Molly, in a custody battle as her ex-husband “proves” that she is a “bad” mother. Anna is wholly “bound up with” her daughter (80), but her status as a “good” mother is compromised early on with a graphic description of Anna masturbating: I felt what was at first a shapeless yearning in my body, and I learned to bring it to life. I would reach between my legs, separate the folds of my flesh. My own saliva on my fingertips would make me wet; and I came. I came again and again in those mornings, by myself, with my thoughts all my own. (83) As her relationship with Leo intensifies, she grows convinced that her sexual liberation makes her “in every way, more expressive. And it was good for Molly” (236). However, when her ­ex-husband (wrongly) accuses Leo of sexual misconduct with Molly, Anna understands that she showed bad judgment in allowing lover and child to be naked together. Forced to account for her decisions before a round of lawyers and psychologists, she feels she “was failing some test” (226), and indeed the arbiters of patriarchy determine her fate: the father is awarded custody. Miller’s text postulates how the mother who seeks to accommodate her personal and sexual freedoms within the parameters of maternity, and who provocatively “unmasks” those desires, is punished by the institutions who control the very notion of what constitutes “good” motherhood. Like Anna, in the autobiographical poetry collection Crime Against Nature (1989) Minnie Bruce Pratt depicts herself on trial, in her case for the “crime” of being a lesbian mother. Pratt came out following her marriage and birth of two sons; her sexuality was a literal as well as “moral” crime in the United States during both the period of the events taking place in the 1970s and her writing about them in the 1980s. Her text explores how her lesbianism led to her being declared an “unnatural” and therefore “unfit” mother who lost custody of her children; her guilt as well as affirmation about her decisions; and her rage against the legal and social systems that persecute gay people and communities. The book begins with “Poem for My Sons,” an address to her children in which the narrator “can only pray” that you’ll remember me, who crossed, recrossed you, as a woman making slowly toward an unknown place where you could be with me, like a woman on foot, in a long stepping out. (28) 184

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From here, the poems speak to personal and public facets of her coming out and the subsequent fragmentation of selfhood. She explains in “No Place” how her husband at the time shouted, Man or woman, her or him, Choose, choose. me or the children. There was no place to be simultaneous, or between. (32) Having chosen her female lover, in “Shame” the narrator admits: I ask for justice but do not release Do I think I was wrong? Yes. myself. Of course. Was wrong. Am wrong. Can justify everything except their pain. Even now their cries rattle in my ears like icy winds pierce in cold weather. She goes on to recall, What I The past repeats in fragments: see is everybody watching, me included, as a selfish woman leaves her children, two small boys hardly more than babies. (57) In “Dreaming a Few Minutes in a Different Element,” during a phone call with her children she tries to reconcile passion for her children and her lover; when her boys “want / to know why I’m not with them,” she queries, How to explain a kind of doubling back to myself, selfish or the difference between the stale fountain I stare at, and the creek, pure unknown upwelling, sex, what I put my hands in, how it was to touch her, (95) Ultimately, while people “abhorred” her for “the crime of moving back and forth / between more than one self, more than one end to the story” (“Crime Against Nature,” 116), the very act of translating her trauma into art affords her – and her now-grown children – some justice and redemption. In “Another Question,” she acknowledges of her sons, The world prefers Yes, they’ve seen the poems. I not tell the children: hide, be oblique, be secret, be grotesque. But the youngest says when I tell it all, that’s what he likes best. (102) 185

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The book concludes with the narrator celebrating her defiance in her titular poem “Crime Against Nature”: But I didn’t write this story until now when they are too old for either law or father to seize or prevent from hearing my words, or from watching as I advance in the scandalous ancient way of women: our assault on enemies, walking forward, skirts lifted, to show the silent mouth, the terrible power, our secret. (119) Pratt unmasks the “power” and the “secret” of her motherhood through the very mouthpiece of her poems. My final example uses satire to make serious observations about twenty-first-century motherhood. In Fiona Neill’s The Secret Life of a Slummy Mummy (2008), narrator Lucy Sweeney is forced to measure herself against the overly competitive and improbably perfect Yummy Mummy No. 1 and Alpha Mum in their tony London neighborhood. Lucy is a frazzled wife and mother of three who undermines the myth of domestic bliss while accenting the impact of forfeiting a career on professional women. A former TV producer, she confesses, It is utterly baffling to me that I used to be able to put together the lead package on Newsnight in less than an hour but am so singularly unable to meet the challenge of getting my children ready for school every morning. (10) As with so many other maternal protagonists discussed in this chapter, Lucy’s identity has fractured: “Somehow over the years I had atomised. Now, faced with the prospect of my youngest child starting nursery three mornings a week, it is time to rebuild myself, but I can no longer remember how all the pieces fit together” (11). Lucy unmasks how women have internalized maternal sacrifice to the point of self-impairment: Even though this is the first time that I have been out for almost a month, I still reproach myself. Guilt is the bindweed of motherhood, the two so inexorably entwined that it is difficult to know where one ends and the other begins. (19) While her contemporary Alpha Mum exhorts, “I didn’t breastfeed for a year, give up work, and cook organic meals every day for my child to end up at a substandard nursery” (198), Lucy’s mother, who still teaches part-time at university, disparages, “I can’t believe that a daughter of mine has chosen to be a housewife.” Lucy responds, “Actually, Mum, part of the problem lies with feminists like you, because in overemphasising the importance of women working, you totally devalued domestic life” (219). In the end, her friend asks what she will do with her immediate future: “ ‘More of the same, I suppose,’ I say with an unusual hint of certainty in my tone. ‘And less of anything different’ ” (420). Lucy articulates shifts from second- to third-wave feminism; although she is a “bad” mother for rejecting the prevailing intensive agenda of Alpha Mum, she (re)commits to her own decision to stay home as a matter of empowered choice.


Matrifocal voices in literature

Recommendations for future reading and research Neill’s The Secret Life of a Slummy Mummy can be considered a form of “mommy lit,” which is a specific genre of matrifocal fiction that warrants increased attention given its cultural and commercial currency. In “You are Not Alone: The Personal, the Political, and the ‘New’ Mommy Lit,” Heather Hewett traces the genre’s arrival to I Don’t Know How She Does It: The Life of Kate Reddy, Working Mother (2002) by Allison Pearson, which reignited “Decades-long debates about motherhood and work” as it soared to best-seller status in Britain and the United States (119). Citing other titles like Laura Wolf ’s Diary of a Mad Mom-to-Be (2003) and Fiona Gibson’s Babyface (2004), Hewitt identifies recurring characters and tropes in the stories featuring “fallible but likeable narrators (all middle class and white) who, although overwhelmed by diapers, lack of sleep, and incompetent husbands, managed to survive the self-transformation into motherhood without losing their sense of humor” (119–120). Classified as an extension of “chick lit” in which the unmarried heroine is on a quest for Mr. Right, mommy lit instead focuses on “a journey from womanhood to motherhood, and her challenge lies in integrating her new role into her former identity” (120). In the Encyclopedia of Motherhood entry for “Mommy Lit,” Diana Davidson lists numerous additional titles like Jennifer Weiner’s Little Earthquakes (2004) and Emily Giffin’s Baby-Proof (2007). Hewett emphasizes that mommy lit owes its debt to an earlier wave of stories, articles, and columns from the 1940s to the 1970s, by humorists like Betty MacDonald, Shirley Jackson, Jean Kerr, and Erma Bombeck, wherein traditional expectations for wives and mothers are subjected to criticism via self-deprecation, wisecracks, and satire (127). Hewett and Davidson both underscore that mommy lit is predicated on escapism and consumption, but the best iterations “alleviate anxiety, produce laughter, and expose cultural ideologies of parenting” (Hewett 130). Hewett also extends the definition of mommy lit to encompass texts that in general treat “the ‘real’ experience of motherhood honestly, without sentimentality or idealization or judgment, from the point of view of the mother,” and she cites as further examples nonfiction texts such as Anne Lamott’s Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year (1993) and Ann Crittenden’s The Price of Motherhood (2001) (121). Taken broadly, mommy lit signals a boom in the promotion of maternal voices which contributes to the unprecedented contemporary unmasking of motherhood through a matrifocal lens. Moving forward, mommy lit’s commercial genre fiction must do more to represent mothers from diverse race and class backgrounds. Relatedly, the genre of “nanny lit” is bourgeoning. This chapter has examined stories about mothers from the mother’s perspective, and future writing and research can be directed towards the role that othermothers or caretakers play in the raising of children, and towards expanding definitions of what we mean by “mother” and “mothering” so as to encompass and value figures like the nanny. As Elizabeth Hale outlines in “Long-Suffering Professional Females: The Case of Nanny Lit,” The Nanny Diaries (2002) by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus helped to initiate the genre. Although a branch of contemporary chick lit, nanny lit echoes Anne Brontë’s 1847 novel Agnes Grey, which depicts a “governess-heroine,” “exposes the exploitation that underpins the nannying situation,” “analyses a femaleemployer-employee relationship,” and “exposes the complexities of the mother-nanny relationship, in which the nanny is hired to substitute for a mother, and in which the mother fails to live up to her parental role, as a mother to her child, and as a mother-employer to her nanny” (Hale 104). While the governess has been a staple of fiction in the past (i.e., Charlotte Brontë’s 1847 Jane Eyre, P. L. Travers’s 1934 Mary Poppins), Travers’s line “But nobody ever knew what Mary Poppins felt about it, for Mary Poppins never told anybody anything” (14) describes the silences and masks


Elizabeth Podnieks

that ­matrifocal – and more recently “nanny-focal” – texts seek to break and uncover. That nannies of the twenty-first century remain hidden is evidenced in the 2017 New York Times article by Michelle Ruiz “Where Are All the Nannies on Instagram?” which probes the fact that although “Nannies are often lauded as indispensable to keeping modern families afloat,” they are “hardly ever included” in social media photos of those families, and are therefore rendered “invisible.” In a similar vein, critic Estelle Lenartowicz reflects that the “complex and ambiguous” relationship between “a mother and her babysitter” has remained “unexplored in literature.” Lenartowicz made this observation in her review of Leila Slimani’s Chanson Douce, the 2016 best-selling French novel based on the 2012 New York murders of two children by their nanny (translated and published in 2018 as Lullaby (UK) and The Perfect Nanny (US)). Chanson Douce, along with novels like Mona Simpson’s My Hollywood and Victoria Brown’s Minding Ben, value nanny-centric subjectivities, and are complemented by a growing body of nonfiction studies like Jessika Auerbach’s And Nanny Makes Three: Mothers and Nannies Tell the Truth about Work, Love, Money, and Each Other (2007), Analyn Aryo’s Nanny Tales: Voices from the Diary of an Overseas Filipina Worker (2009), and Cameron Lynne Macdonald’s Shadow Mothers: Nannies, Au Pairs, and the Micropolitics of Mothering (2011). Unmasking truths about nanny identity and experience necessarily raises questions and issues around race, class, immigration status, power relations, and “good” and “bad” maternal care. Recent and future creative and scholarly work predicated on nanny-focal perspectives point to new and relevant directions for motherhood studies.

Further reading Aryo, Analyn. Nanny Tales: Voices from the Diary of an Overseas Filipina Worker. ResearchMate, 2009. Auerbach, Jessika. And Nanny Makes Three: Mothers and Nannies Tell the Truth about Work, Love, Money, and Each Other. St. Martin’s Press, 2007. Davidson, Diana. “Mommy Lit.” Encyclopedia of Motherhood, edited by Andrea O’Reilly, Sage, 2018. Hale, Elizabeth. “Long-Suffering Professional Females: The Case of Nanny Lit.” Chick Lit: The New Woman’s Fiction, edited by Suzanne Ferriss and Mallory Young, Routledge, 2006, pp. 103–18. Hewett, Heather. “You are Not Alone: The Personal, the Political, and the ‘New’ Mommy Lit.” Chick Lit: The New Woman’s Fiction, edited by Suzanne Ferriss and Mallory Young, Routledge, 2006, pp. 119–39. Macdonald, Cameron Lynne. Shadow Mothers: Nannies, Au Pairs, and the Micropolitics of Mothering. U of California P, 2011. McLaughlin, Emma, and Nicola Kraus. The Nanny Diaries. St. Martin’s Griffin, 2002. Slimani, Leila. Chanson Douce. Gallimard, 2016.

Conclusion As this chapter has elucidated, the authors, narrators, and protagonists of matrifocal narratives operate within and against traditional familial arrangements to tell stories that unmask motherhood. In so doing, they reveal an awareness of how legal, political, economic, and medical institutions define and control ideologies of motherhood; and they recognize fully what their respective cultures and communities expect from them as mothers. They know the rules for “good” mothering, and yet they break them, revise them. The textual examples offered here give us women who tell blunt, brave, and vivid stories that position motherhood in terms of slavery, postpartum psychosis, adoptive motherhood, ambivalence, hetero- and homosexual desire, mourning, colonized homelands and bodies, and hyper-competitive parenting. These mothers reconstitute assumptions about “good” and “bad” mothering as they write their voices of resistance and reality into matrifocal literatures.


Matrifocal voices in literature

Notes 1 The term has been defined in O’Reilly and Caporale-Bizzini (10–11); and Podnieks and O’Reilly (3). 2 By “life writing” I mean texts that engage with auto/biographical content. I do not discuss the motherhood memoir – a significant genre in itself – because there is a dedicated chapter to it in this collection. 3 For “intensive mothering,” see Hays; for “new momism,” see Douglas and Michaels. 4 The Bow River, Alberta.

Works cited Alexander, Simone A. James. Mother Imagery in the Novels of Afro-Caribbean Women. U of Missouri P, 2001. Aryo, Analyn. Nanny Tales: Voices from the Diary of an Overseas Filipina Worker. ResearchMate, 2009. Auerbach, Jessika. And Nanny Makes Three: Mothers and Nannies Tell the Truth About Work, Love, Money, and Each Other. St. Martin’s Press, 2007. Benedetti, Laura. The Tigress in the Snow: Motherhood and Literature in Twentieth-Century Italy. U of Toronto P, 2007. Berg, Allison. Mothering the Race: Women’s Narratives of Reproduction, 1890–1930. U of Illinois P, 2002. Brandt, Di. Wild Mother Dancing: Maternal Narrative in Canadian Literature. U of Manitoba P, 1993. Brontë, Anne. Agnes Grey. Thomas Cautley Newby, 1847. Brontë, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. Smith, Elder & Co., 1847. Brown, Victoria. Minding Ben. NY Books, 2011. Caird, Mona. The Daughters of Danaus. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2014. Chopin, Kate. The Awakening. The Awakening and Selected Short Fiction, introduction and notes by Rachel Adams, Barnes & Noble Classics, 1997, pp. 1–155. Cosslett, Tess. Women Writing Childbirth: Modern Discourses of Motherhood. Manchester UP, 1994. Crew, Hilary S. Is It Really Mommy Dearest?: Daughter-Mother Narratives in Young Adult Fiction. Scarecrow, 2000. Crittenden, Ann. The Price of Motherhood. Henry Holt and Company, 2001. Daly, Brenda, and Maureen T. Reddy, editors. Narrating Mothers: Theorizing Maternal Subjectivities. U of Tennessee P, 1991. Davidson, Cathy N., and E. M. Broner, editors. The Lost Tradition: Mothers and Daughters in Literature. Frederick Ungar, 1980. Davidson, Diana. “Mommy Lit.” Encyclopedia of Motherhood, edited by Andrea O’Reilly, Sage, 2018. Douglas, Susan J., and Meredith W. Michaels. The Mommy Myth: The Idealization of Motherhood and How It Has Undermined All Women. Free Press, 2004. Emecheta, Buchi. The Joys of Motherhood. George Braziller, 1979. Fraustino, Lisa Rowe, and Karen Coats, editors. Mothers in Children’s and Young Adult Literature: From the Eighteenth Century to Postfeminism. UP Mississippi, 2016. Gibson, Fiona. Babyface. Flame, 2004. Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. “The Yellow Wallpaper.” The Norton Anthology of Literature by Women, edited by Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar, W. W. Norton and Co., 1985, pp. 1148–61. Giorgio, Adalgisa, editor. Writing Mothers and Daughters: Renegotiating the Mother in Western European Narratives by Women. Berghahn Books, 2002. Greenfield, Susan C. Mothering Daughters: Novels and the Politics of Family Romance Frances Burney to Jane Austen. Wayne State UP, 2002. Hale, Elizabeth. “Long-Suffering Professional Females: The Case of Nanny Lit.” Chick Lit: The New Woman’s Fiction, edited by Suzanne Ferriss and Mallory Young, Routledge, 2006, pp. 103–18. Hansen, Elaine Tuttle. Mother Without Child: Contemporary Fiction and the Crisis of Motherhood. U of California P, 1997. Harris, Claire. Drawing Down a Daughter. Goose Lane Editions, 2007. Hays, Sharon. The Cultural Contradictions of Motherhood. Yale UP, 1996. Hewett, Heather. “You are Not Alone: The Personal, the Political, and the ‘New’ Mommy Lit.” Chick Lit: The New Woman’s Fiction, edited by Suzanne Ferriss and Mallory Young, Routledge, 2006, pp. 119–39. Hirsch, Marianne. The Mother/Daughter Plot: Narrative, Psychoanalysis, Feminism. Indiana UP, 1989. Ingman, Heather. Women’s Fiction Between the Wars: Mothers, Daughters and Writing. St. Martin’s P, 1998. Jacobs, Harriet Ann. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. Ichthus Publications, 2016.


Elizabeth Podnieks Lamott, Anne. Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year. Anchor Books, 1993. Lenartowicz, Estelle. “Sweet song for a chilling psychological thriller.” L’Express, 27 Sept. 2016, https:// Flivre%2Fchanson-douce-pour-un-thriller-psychologique- glacant_1834575.html. Macdonald, Cameron Lynne. Shadow Mothers: Nannies, Au Pairs, and the Micropolitics of Mothering. U of California P, 2011. Malin, Jo. The Voice of the Mother: Embedded Maternal Narratives in Twentieth-Century Women’s Autobiographies. Southern Illinois UP, 2000. Maushart, Susan. The Mask of Motherhood: How Becoming a Mother Changes our Lives and Why We Never Talk about It. Penguin Books, 2000. McLaughlin, Emma, and Nicola Kraus. The Nanny Diaries. St. Martin’s Griffin, 2002. Miller, Sue. The Good Mother. Perennial, 2002. Minh-ha, Trinh T. Women, Native, Other: Writing Postcoloniality and Feminism. Indiana UP, 1989. Nasta, Susheila. Motherland: Black Women’s Writing from Africa, the Caribbean and South Asia. Rutgers UP, 1992. Neill, Fiona. The Secret Life of a Slummy Mummy. Arrow Books, 2008. Nnaemeka, Obioma, editor. The Politics of (M)Othering: Womanhood, Identity and Resistance in African Literature. Taylor & Francis, 1997. O’Reilly, Andrea, and Silvia Caporale-Bizzini, editors. From the Personal to the Political: Toward a New Theory of Maternal Narrative. Susquehanna UP, 2009. Palko, Abigail L. Imagining Motherhood in Contemporary Irish and Caribbean Literature. Palgrave Macmillan, 2016. Papke, Renate. Poems at the Edge of Differences: Mothering in New English Poetry by Women. Universitätsverlag Göttingen, 2008. Pearlman, Mickey, editor. Mother Puzzles: Daughters and Mothers in Contemporary American Literature. Greenwood Press, 1989. Pearson, Allison. I Don’t Know How She Does It: The Life of Kate Reddy, Working Mother. Anchor Books, 2002. Piatt, Sarah. Palace-Burner: The Selected Poetry of Sarah Piatt. Edited and with introduction by Paula Bernat Bennett, U of Illinois P, 2001. Podnieks, Elizabeth, and Andrea O’Reilly, editors. Textual Mothers/ Maternal Texts: Motherhood in Contemporary Women’s Literatures. Wilfrid Laurier UP, 2010. Pratt, Minnie Bruce. “Another Question.” Crime against Nature. A Midsummer Night’s Press, 2013, pp. 101–02. ———. “Crime against Nature.” Crime against Nature. A Midsummer Night’s Press, 2013, pp. 113–19. ———. “Dreaming a Few Minutes in a Different Element.” Crime against Nature. A Midsummer Night’s Press, 2013, pp. 93–97. ———. “No Place.” Crime against Nature. A Midsummer Night’s Press, 2013, pp. 32–33. ———. “Poems for My Sons.” Crime against Nature. A Midsummer Night’s Press, 2013, pp. 27–28. ———. “Shame.” Crime Against Nature. A Midsummer Night’s Press, 2013, pp. 57–61. Reyes, Angelita. Mothering Across Cultures: Postcolonial Representations. U of Minnesota P, 2001. Rich, Adrienne. Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution. W. W. Norton, 1986. Ruiz, Michelle. “Where Are All the Nannies on Instagram?” New York Times, 11 Nov. 2017, nytimes. com/2017/11/11/style/where-are-all-the-nannies-on-instagram.html. Rye, Gill, et al., editors. Motherhood in Literature and Culture: Interdisciplinary Perspectives from Europe. Routledge, 2017. Slimani, Leila. Chanson Douce. Gallimard, 2016. ———. Lullaby. Faber & Faber, 2018. ———. The Perfect Nanny. Penguin, 2018. Simpson, Mona. My Hollywood. Vintage, 2010. Thaden, Barbara Z. The Maternal Voice in Victorian Fiction: Rewriting the Patriarchal Family. Garland Publishing, 1997. Tharp, Julie, and Susan MacCallum-Whitcomb, editors. This Giving Birth: Pregnancy and Childbirth in American Women’s Writing. Bowling Green U of Popular P, 2000. Theile, Verena, and Marie Drews, editors. Reclaiming Home, Remembering Motherhood, Rewriting History: African American and Afro-Caribbean Women’s Literature in the Twentieth Century. Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2009. Travers, P.L. Mary Poppins. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1997. Wearn, Mary McCartin. Negotiating Motherhood in Nineteenth-Century American Literature. Routledge, 2008. Weiner, Jennifer. Little Earthquakes. Pocket Star Books, 2004. Wolf, Laura. Diary of a Mad Mom-to-Be. Delta, 2003. Yu, Yi-Lin. Mother, She Wrote: Matrilineal Narratives in Contemporary Women’s Writing. Peter Lang, 2005.



Introduction Motherhood memoirs, or autobiographical writing about motherhood, represent a subgenre of memoir, defined by Sidonie Smith and Julia Watson as a “mode of life narrative that historically situates the subject in a social environment” (198). This chapter examines English-language life narrative written by those who are positioned in the social location of “mother” and whose writing reflects their engagement with the work of mothering and parenting. After examining the background and context of motherhood memoirs, it reviews some of the main controversies and challenges that characterize critical discussions about the subgenre and then considers directions for future scholarly research. Because the categories of “mother” and “memoir” are not static, but rather reflect changes in cultural understandings and practices, this chapter traces many of the shifts and tensions inherent in the subgenre at the current moment. The presence of “mother” in adjectival form – reflecting (and, many would argue, producing) parenting as a gendered endeavor – reveals cultural practices and ideologies whereby the primary care of children has often been, and continues to be, undertaken chiefly (though not exclusively) by individuals identified as mothers and women. The structures that produce “mothering” – indeed, who is permitted to be a “mother” – are furthermore informed by inequities related to other axes of identity (such as race, ethnicity, class, sexuality, ability, religion, citizenship, and indigeneity). Yet because ideas about gender and parenting continue to change, maternal autobiographical writing provides a rich textual tool for mapping many of these shifts. Motherhood memoirs are expanding and developing as they record stories of mothering along with societal transformations in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. The subgenre provides a portal to a range of issues related to the landscapes of contemporary parenting, including the existence of both shifting and static understandings of gender and gendered roles within families; clashes between cultural expectations, structures of power, and current parenting practices among majority, minority, and marginalized populations; the question of whose stories are told, whose stories aren’t told, and what forms these stories take; and finally, who reads (and doesn’t read) motherhood memoirs and how various audiences make meaning out of maternal autobiographical writing.


Heather Hewett

Background and context Historical overview This chapter uses both terms memoir and autobiography; although generic differences exist, these terms are often used interchangeably.1 In the scholarly literature on memoirs written in English, several different terms are used: “mommy memoirs” (I. Brown), “motherhood autobiography” (O’Reilly and Bizzini), “maternal memoir” (Frye), “motherhood memoir” (Dymond and Willey), “maternal autobiographies” (Harman), and “maternal confessional writing” (Quiney). (In a more tongue-in-cheek coinage, writer Katie Allison Granju used the term “momoir” for a 2003 Salon article.) Both memoir and autobiography fall under the broader category of life narrative, understood as a “historically situated practice of self-representation” (Smith and Watson 14). Both memoir and autobiography have long histories. Smith and Watson note that autobiography “is a term for a particular practice of life narrative that emerged in the Enlightenment and has become canonical in the West,” a form that traditionally “celebrates the autonomous individual and the universalizing life story” and whose canonization elevated certain lives while excluding others (3). Wealthy white men viewed as holding public significance wrote and published autobiographies, while people disadvantaged by dominant structures of power generally did not. (For these reasons, postmodern and postcolonial critiques of the Enlightenment subject have resulted in critiques of traditional autobiography).2 Thus, the history of autobiography reflects existing power relations, both within nations and globally, and contains many gaps and silences. Given this literary historical context, autobiographical acts hold particular significance for those who have been silenced, dehumanized, enslaved, disregarded, and marginalized. Placing oneself as the narrator and/or subject of one’s story can contest one’s assigned position as ancillary or unimportant; it is a move that insists upon one’s subjectivity and place in history. Additionally, if memoir provides a form for “collective memorialization” that enables the writer to “keep cultural memory alive,” as Nancy Miller claims, then the act of recording one’s memories and sharing them with others can empower communities, who can use written remembrances to revise larger stories, such as national narratives (424, 432). At the same time, gaps in the historical record do not equal absence; as Alice Walker wrote in 1974 about her quest for artistic productions created by her enslaved foremothers, we must search for “our mothers’ gardens” outside of the written record and beyond places we might otherwise look (231). Within patriarchal Western societies, the devaluation of caregiving has been reflected in an absence of stories and narratives about mothering. Those who wrote about motherhood – predominantly, white, upper-class, married individuals who could claim “mother” as a valid, respectable identity and possessed the means to become literate and the time to write – had to resist sexist dualisms that split mind from body and constructed reproductive labor as less important than intellectual work or wage work. Most mothers did not have the opportunity or the freedom to write; enslaved mothers of African descent, indigenous mothers, immigrant mothers, poor mothers, and disabled mothers faced institutions and individuals who not only prevented them from writing their stories but also, in the case of enslaved and indigenous mothers, frequently took their children taken away from them. Because the history of motherhood memoirs is marked by exclusion and silence, scholars tend to define maternal autobiography broadly. Justine Dymond and Nicole Willey observe that motherhood memoir “can appear in genres that are not strictly or only memoir,” including slave narratives and diaries (10). Feminist archival work has surfaced private writing about mothering: Karin Voth Harman lists several diaries kept by wealthy white women, beginning in the 192

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seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, that recorded “the common, but nevertheless anguishing, experience of the loss of children” (617). Willey writes about the personal diary kept by African American mother Richelene Mitchell in 1973, subsequently published by her children as Dear Self: A Year in the Life of a Welfare Mother (2007). Harman notes that through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, only a few mothers who published autobiographies discussed their children openly, although many writers fictionalized their personal experience and, in the early twentieth century, turned to “poetry as a place for maternal confession” (618). With the advent of civil rights, feminist, and LGBTQ movements in North America and the United Kingdom, more writers began to analyze their experiences of motherhood. The publication of works such as Adrienne Rich’s Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution (1976) and Jane Lazarre’s The Mother Knot (1976) broke taboos as these authors wrote honestly about their ambivalences and struggles concerning motherhood. By the 1980s and 1990s, increasing numbers of “unapologetic” maternal memoirs were published (Harman 618). Bestsellers such as Anne Lamott’s Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year (1993) suggested that irreverent books about motherhood could make money, and memoirs such as Jane Lazarre’s Beyond the Whiteness of Whiteness: Memoir of a White Mother of Black Sons (1996) and Cherrie Moraga’s Waiting in the Wings: Portrait of a Queer Motherhood (1996) addressed motherhood as it relates to race, ethnicity, and sexuality. The increasing number of motherhood memoirs in the 1980s and 1990s were published during a more general “memoir boom,” and the turn of the twenty-first century saw a decided uptick in the popularity of this subgenre (Harman 618; Mendelsohn).3 Despite this growth, writing about motherhood tends not to be taken seriously by many critics. As writer Sarah Menkedick explains, “Patriarchal culture has reduced motherhood to an exercise no serious artist would tackle as a subject,” which not only marginalizes “motherhood as a literary topic” but also contributes to “the real-life marginalization of mothers.” This persists, despite the fact that many established fiction writers and journalists have published memoirs about motherhood; consider Louise Erdrich’s The Blue Jay’s Dance: A Birth Year (1980), Anne Roiphe’s Fruitful: A Real Mother in the Modern World (1996), Rachel Cusk’s memoir A Life’s Work: On Becoming a Mother (2001), and Joan Didion’s Blue Nights (2011). At the end of the twentieth and into the twenty-first century, a greater diversity of identities is being represented in maternal autographical writing as authors contest the ideologies of white supremacy, colonialism, classism, nativism, able-bodiedness, and cis-heteronormativity that designate some mothers as “fit” and others as “unfit.” The founding of publications such as Hip Mama in 1993 and Brain, Child: The Magazine for Thinking Mothers in 2000 provided additional forums for autobiographical writing, as did the advent of online magazines such as Literary Mama in 2003 and personal blogs.4 In the early 1990s, mama zines played an important role for self-authorship. Alison Piepmeier observes that zines allow for playful and powerful interventions into cultural mythologies about motherhood and make space for a more diverse range of racial and ethnic identities than have been available in publishing, noting that “approximately 20 percent of the contributors to the Mamaphiles zines are women of color” (114). A small but growing number of memoirs and personal essays authored by lesbian and queer mothers as well as trans parents (such as Rachel Epstein’s 2009 anthology Who’s Your Daddy?: And Other Writings on Queer Parenting) challenge cis-heteronormative conceptions of motherhood, parenting, and reproduction. While many of the most visible motherhood writers are still white, these openings suggest that some barriers have been overcome.5 Small presses in particular have led the way in publishing memoirs and essay collections written by younger voices and marginalized mothers; one recent example is the collection Revolutionary Mothering: Love on the Front Lines (2016), published by Between the Lines in Canada and 193

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PM Press in the United States. Likewise, independent and faith-based presses have published memoirs written by Christian, Jewish, and Muslim mothers, and social media and self-­publishing companies have opened the door for mothers and parents who wish to write about their experiences without going through a gatekeeper. Both the quality of writing and the range of topics vary widely. As well, many of the past’s taboos surrounding motherhood have fallen. For example, essays and blogs penned by mothers with mental illness, addiction, physical disabilities, and other chronic conditions challenge ideals that mothers must be able-bodied, while formerly unmentionable topics such as infertility, fertility treatments, postpartum depression, miscarriage, and child death are the subject of increasing numbers of confessional memoirs and essays. One final trend worth noting is the growing number of motherhood memoirs that narrate the experience of raising a child not considered “typical” by mainstream society or a child whose identity is stigmatized, feared, or medicalized – experiences often marked by heightened vulnerabilities – whether because the child is LGBTQIA+ or because of developmental or physical disabilities, illness, addiction, or neuroatypicality. While many of these, to date, have been penned by able-bodied mothers, they are fueled by a mission to deconstruct stereotypes and open the minds of their readers. While narrated by mothers (a few are also written by fathers), these memoirs place the experience of the child at the center of the story along with that of the parent.

Central theories and themes Broadly speaking, scholarly examinations of motherhood memoirs have been driven by two interconnected endeavors. First, much of the scholarship is animated by “larger, ongoing feminist projects that have for the past few decades been revising the Western literary canon in a plethora of ways,” which ranges from excavating the work of historically marginalized writers to uncovering additional forms of storytelling and creative expression (Podnieks and O’Reilly 5). Secondly, the scholarship emerges from cross-disciplinary feminist critiques of the private/ public distinctions that so often render motherhood and family invisible and undervalued. The commitment to examining motherhood memoirs is grounded in an understanding that narratives are powerful, both the cultural ones that elevate particular ideals of motherhood – in Euro-American contexts, this includes various iterations of what Avital Norman Nathman calls the “formidable archetype” of the “Good Mother Myth” (xiv) – as well as personal stories that critique the status quo and move “beyond critique toward transformation” (Dymond and Willey 5–6). Because of the feminist interest in understanding power and agency – particularly whether and how individuals can resist patriarchal cultural scripts – the scholarly study of motherhood memoirs has largely focused on texts with maternal narrators and/or authors. Scholarship about mothers’ autobiographical texts originally emerged out of feminist literary criticism and psychoanalytic feminism beginning in the 1970s and 1980s. Literary scholars working on women’s autobiography were relatively slow to focus on mothers; Karin Voth Harman observes that much of the major feminist scholarship on autobiography in the 1980s did not address motherhood, noting that “Even feminist theorists, as they bemoan the lack of writing about aspects of women’s lives, almost never include mothering in their lists of silenced experiences” (617). Elizabeth Podnieks and Andrea O’Reilly enumerate some of the major scholarship on (and anthologies of ) women’s autobiographies from the 1980s to the 2000s that address mothering and motherhood, but this list is relatively short (10). Dymond and Willey provide a similar overview of scholarship on women’s autobiographies during the same time period. While they build on work based in auto/biography studies, they note that motherhood memoirs “remain relatively unexplored in the field of life writing” (7). 194

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The “small explosion” of motherhood memoirs published in the late twentieth century, combined with the “ ‘coming-of-age’ of mothering studies,” has inspired more scholarship on maternal writing (Frye 191; Dymond and Willey 6). Yet to date, no full-length monograph on motherhood memoirs exists. Existing scholarship has been published in a range of journals and edited book collections, and two edited volumes focus on motherhood memoirs and autobiography: From the Personal to the Political: Toward a New Theory of Maternal Narrative (2009), edited by Andrea O’Reilly and Sylvia Bizzini; and Motherhood Memoirs: Mothers Creating/Writing Lives (2013), edited by Dymond and Willey. Most of this scholarship is based in interdisciplinary fields such as motherhood studies and women’s and gender studies. However, approaches from a wide range of disciplines – primarily auto/biography and literary studies but also sociology, history, queer studies African, American and diaspora studies, and other areas of inquiry – are being used to assess the textual and cultural meanings of maternal memoirs. As well, writers and journalists participating in mainstream media and feminist discussions have made important contributions to our understanding of motherhood autobiography. Identity serves as one of the primary areas of inquiry in contemporary scholarship. Podnieks and O’Reilly argue that autobiography provides “an especially valuable arena” for theorizing maternal subjectivity: “we can register and understand the ways that women inscribe an ‘I’ or series of ‘I’s’ in the authoring of their maternal selves, accounting for and expressing awareness of factors such as the body, sexuality, gender, race, class, and nationhood” (7). As opposed to the unitary subject of traditional autobiography, the relational dimensions of “mother” bring others into focus along with the narrating “I.” In some cases, the “I” may include a “we”; for example, Willey draws from work in African, African American, and African diasporic feminist/womanist theory in her argument that othermothering and communal mothering often characterize the autobiographical “I” of black mothers. Nor is the “I” always a mother or a woman; scholarship that draws from both queer and mothering studies, along with autobiographical writing by queer parents, establishes a diversity of gendered identities. Even so, as Margaret Gibson observes, normative ideologies continue to affect many people engaged in the work of mothering: “Even when we consider the practices and perspectives of queer fathers, transgender and transsexual parents, genderqueer parents, intersex parents, or even of queer people who did not ultimately become parents, we grapple with the institution of motherhood” (6). As part of theorizing subjectivity in motherhood autobiography, O’Reilly and Bizzini identify the term “matrifocal” as a key element for motherhood memoirs: “A matrifocal narrative . . . is one in which a mother plays a role of cultural and social significance and in which motherhood is thematically elaborated, valued, and structurally central to the plot” (11). The significance of matrifocal narrative, they argue, emerges from the long history whereby mothers’ stories have been missing. Drawing from Marianne Hirsch as well as Brenda O. Daly and Maureen T. Reddy, O’Reilly and Bizzini argue that matrifocal narratives provide the mother’s perspective that has been missing for so much of history. Related to this concept, some scholars have examined the importance of “matrilineal narrative,” in particular for writers of color, to provide what Yi-Lin Yu describes as a “lifeline and the family line that sustain and safeguard the continuation of marginalized, endangered cultures or subcultures” (qtd. in Podnieks and O’Reilly 20). Memoir can record cultural knowledge otherwise performed, embodied, or passed down orally in mothers’ stories. Through remembering, these texts can resist dominant cultures. Finally, because many of the scholars of motherhood memoir identify as mothers, Dymond and Willey use the term “autotheory” or “autocritical writing” to theorize the mixture of personal and scholarly approaches that characterize many of the essays in their collection as well as scholarship elsewhere (13). The editors draw from the tradition of “women of color writing criticism through the lens of their own experience” (12) as well as the practice of “autocritique” 195

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that blurs the boundaries “between criticizing and writing life narrative” (Smith and Watson 155). Indeed, Harman notes that many feminist scholars (such as poet-scholar Adrienne Rich) led the way in writing about and theorizing their experiences of motherhood, and other writers have created hybrid, genre-bending works in order to explore mothering (618). For example, Moraga combines memoir and journal entries in Waiting in the Wings: Portrait of a Queer Motherhood; Lonnae O’Neal Parker combines memoir, history, and reportage in I’m Every Woman: Remixed Stories of Marriage, Motherhood, and Work (2005), and Maggie Nelson incorporates multiple theoretical voices in The Argonauts (2015), a work that she herself describes as “autotheory.”

Controversies and challenges Several debates and challenges characterize the scholarship on motherhood memoirs. Complicity or critique? In her study of the common themes of nine “mommy memoirs” published between 2000 and 2004, Ivana Brown finds that while these texts all “present motherhood as a transformative experience for women,” they also show it as “constitutive to existing gender structures” (209). As a result, they “contribute to gender essentialism and dichotomous categorization of gender” (209). O’Reilly builds on Brown’s analysis, arguing more broadly that motherhood memoirs normalize patriarchal motherhood. She suggests that the emergence of “mommy lit” at the turn of the millennium is tied to the ideology of what Sharon Hays has identified as “intensive motherhood,” thus limiting any truly radical possibilities in the genre. As she argues, [while] this discourse makes a critique of patriarchal motherhood possible, it simultaneously censors what can be said in that critique. More specifically . . . this discourse ultimately reinscribes, or more accurately naturalizes and normalizes, the very patriarchal conditions of motherhood that feminists, including the motherhood memoir writers themselves, seek to dismantle. (205) O’Reilly’s argument parallels those of Kara Van Cleaf, who maps “the shift from the personalfor-politics to the personal-for-production” between 1976, when Rich published Of Woman Born, and the twenty-first century, which saw the rise of autobiographical mommy blogs (248). While consciousness-raising characterized the historical moment and the mode of Rich’s autobiographical text, Van Cleaf ’s analysis of forty-seven blogs finds a “simultaneous commodification and depoliticization of motherhood” tied to neoliberalism and characterized by what she calls “neoliberal narratives of resilience” (249, 252). Despite these shortcomings, Joanne S. Frye argues for the “value of the maternal memoir” (187). She acknowledges that “some maternal memoirs do participate in perpetuating essentialism and gender dichotomies,” but she also finds that “a select group” of texts manage “to extend our understandings of the actual lives of women who mother and to initiate alternative understandings that resist the hazardous cultural constructions with which we continue to wrestle” (188). In her close reading of three maternal memoirs, all authored by novelists, she finds that while none of them “completely eludes the constraints of cultural assumptions about mothers,” they all “participate in the feminist project of disrupting old certainties and moving toward alternative understandings – beyond the outworn polarity of good mother/bad mother, beyond the hazards of essentialism and individualism” (193–94). Likewise, in a parallel but separate conversation, scholars studying the “explosion of popular and literary writing about queer


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pregnancy, adoption, and parenting” are theorizing queer parental identities as well as what cultural changes might emanate from “queering” motherhood: “how [might] relationships, communities, genders, and sexualities . . . proceed otherwise” (Gibson 5, 6)? “Why are so few motherhood memoirs penned by women of color?” In 2008, writer Deesha Philyaw asked the question of which mothers have the privilege to write and publish motherhood memoirs in an article for Bitch magazine. Observing that most memoirs since the publication of Anne Lamott’s Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year (1993) have been written by white women, she recounts the experience of Lori L. Tharps, a published author whose agent was “less than enthusiastic” about her pitch for a mommy memoir (Philyaw). Philyaw wonders how many times this scenario might happen: do publishers and other gatekeepers “presume that a minority of middle-class and upper-middle-class married white women could speak for all mothers?” What’s even more troubling, however, is how the “absence of Black mommy memoirs mirrors the relative absence of Black women’s voices in mainstream U.S. media discourse about motherhood in general” (Philyaw). As a consequence, Philyaw writes, this conversation is primarily “concerned with how women balance the demands of family and careers,” which is neither the experience nor the concern of most women of color.6 Seven years later, Stacia Brown argued in The New Republic that “black confessional writing doesn’t get published” because the “shameless writing” of women of color is seen as “proof of deviance.” Willey puts it thus: “perhaps those words, ‘motherhood’ and ‘memoir,’ are an insight into part of the problem” (234). Pointing out that ideologies of the “good mother” have always excluded black women (234), Willey argues that “African American women have been telling and writing their mothering stories as long as they’ve been mothering, but those stories are not always made public; therefore, they are often not available, and even more often they are not celebrated, at least not in the same category as more traditional motherhood memoirs” (238). As T. F. Charlton observes in a personal essay, “The myth I contend with is not that of the Good Mother, but that of the Bad Black Mother . . . a myth that renders my motherhood at turns invisible and suspect” (178). Others are more hopeful that the literary marketplace will open up to a more diverse range of stories and “truly representative maternal memoir[s]” authored by mothers “whose resources are limited and whose experiences lies outside assumed norms” (Frye 199). Whether this will happen, and whether including more “diverse voices” will address the systemic and discursive issues identified by the critics, remains to be seen. Theorizing experience and the maternal autobiographical subject. Much of the work in motherhood theory builds on the insights of Rich, who explored the possibilities of agency and pleasure connected with mothering that can exist outside of, or despite, the oppressive and patriarchal institution of motherhood. Following this, many critics have viewed the act of maternal writing as containing the power to take off the “motherhood mask” by “documenting the lived reality of mothering” (Podnieks and O’Reilly 3). Yet post-structuralist and queer theories complicate our understanding of how subjectivity is produced. As Leigh Gilmore argues in Autobiographics (1994), “the autobiographical subject is a representation and its representation is its construction. The autobiographical subject is produced not by experience but by autobiography” (25). We can also understand experience as “the very process through which a person becomes a certain kind of subject owning certain identities in the social realm, identities constituted through material, cultural, economic, and interpsychic relations” (Smith and Watson 25). How then are mother writers themselves culturally and discursively produced through motherhood and the act of writing about mothering? As Samira Kawash argues, we need to “begin by questioning the very categories of experience and power” in order to intervene into the institution of motherhood (12).


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Directions for future research Given the number of motherhood life narratives that have been and continue to be published, much work lies ahead. While not exhaustive, here are a few main areas for future research. Life narrative theories. Innovative literary approaches in the field of auto/biography studies offer new tools and questions for academic inquiry. For example, how might a performative view of autobiographical acts help us to think about motherhood memoirs? Alternatively, how can additional approaches to genre – for example, paying attention to its technologies and its affects – along with a consideration of audience help us theorize motherhood memoirs? Separately, building on Dymond and Willey, we should consider a wider range of forms when we conceptualize maternal autobiography, including short essays, zines, graphic narratives, blogs, social media, spoken word, and autobiographical fiction. Intersectional feminist analyses. Katie Arosteguy argues that “mommy lit” (which she defines as “semi-autobiographical writing dating back to the 1990s”) normalizes whiteness and “can be seen broadly as a hegemonic tool for encouraging complicity” with white, middle-class, and heterosexual norms of motherhood (418). While Arosteguy’s critique mainly focuses on fiction, she draws attention to the need to fully address whiteness in scholarly assessments of the cultural and political work of contemporary writing about motherhood. While a number of scholars have produced intersectional analyses of motherhood memoirs, more can be done. Building on Willey, critics can draw from the work of black feminists working in sociology, history, and literary and cultural studies (including Patricia Hill Collins, Dorothy Roberts, Saidiya Hartman, and others) in order to establish alternative genealogies and frameworks. Theories from a range of disciplines can help in the development of intersectional analyses: critical race studies, whiteness studies, transnational and postcolonial studies, Latina/o/x studies, Caribbean studies, disability studies, queer studies, sexuality studies, and masculinity studies. Queer and transgender studies. These fields have been instrumental in deconstructing gender, sex, and sexuality. Scholars such as Gibson suggest ways to attend both to the “discursive (or structural) with the everyday (or experiential) in the endeavor of queering motherhood” (7–8). Scholars can build on these theories and approaches to examine motherhood autobiography, particularly those narratives that address reproduction, technology, parenthood, and kinship. How might these theories help us to approach memoirs written by those who do not identify as women, or as mothers? How might we queer the frameworks that reproduce cisgendered procreative expectations to account for alternative genealogies of creating and caring for family? Transnational, postcolonial, and decolonial frameworks. While an increasing amount of comparative and transnational work exists in motherhood studies, the study of maternal memoirs has primarily focused on texts written in English and published in North America, the United Kingdom, and to a lesser extent Australia. Scholarship from diaspora, postcolonial, and transnational studies in addition to specific area studies scholarship could help reframe existing theories and inform the examination of maternal autobiography from other locations – the European Union, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia, Oceania, the Caribbean and Central America, and South America. How do motherhood memoirs penned in other languages change our understanding of the subgenre? How do mothers and ideas about motherhood travel across borders? How are narratives about motherhood “transplanted, internalized, and reconfigured,” and how do their travels impact “the definition of self and the experience of mothering” (Hewett, “Mothering Across Borders” 135)? How do the borders of nation and citizenship circumscribe, produce, and forestall autobiographical narratives about motherhood? How do global capitalism and colonialism inform mothering and writing about motherhood? What does the future hold for the practice of writing one’s self within the circulations of the economies of publishing, the Internet, and global capital?7 198

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Finally, how might decolonial frameworks emerging from Latin American and indigenous studies as well as the autobiographical writing of indigenous mothers enable us to grapple with the interconnected oppressions of settler colonialism, nation, and patriarchal motherhood? How can we decolonize motherhood and the ability to tell and share stories about ourselves? What might it look like to decolonize the academic study of motherhood autobiography?

Further reading Dymond, Justine, and Nicole Willey, editors. Motherhood Memoirs: Mothers Creating/Writing Lives. Demeter Press, 2013. Epstein, Rachel, editor. Who’s Your Daddy?: And Other Writings on Queer Parenting. Three O’Clock Press, 2009. Gibson, Margaret F., editor. Queering Motherhood: Narrative and Theoretical Perspectives. Demeter Press, 2014. O’Reilly, Andrea, and Sylvia Caporale Bizzini, editors. From the Personal to the Political: Toward a New Theory of Maternal Narrative. Susquehanna UP, 2009. Philyaw, Deesha. “Ain’t I A Mommy: Why Are So Few Motherhood Memoirs Penned by Women of Color?” Summer 2008. Bitch, 23 Feb. 2016, Accessed 12 Aug. 2018. Podnieks, Elizabeth, and Andrea O’Reilly, editors. Textual Mothers/Maternal Texts: Motherhood in Contemporary Women’s Literatures. Wilfrid Laurier UP, 2010. Van Cleaf, Kara. “Of Woman Born to Mommy Blogged: The Journey from the Personal as Political to the Personal as Commodity.” WSQ: Women’s Studies Quarterly, vol. 43, no. 3, Oct. 2015, pp. 247–64. Project MUSE,

Conclusion The challenges inherent in theorizing a contemporary form such as motherhood memoir – a subgenre that is constantly changing, alongside cultural attitudes toward mothering, parenting, and families – may also provide its gratifications (if also frustrations) for scholars and critics. As a living form, maternal life narratives both reflect and form culture; as they expose some of the more painful truths about parenting, they can additionally reveal its pleasures and push us to imagine new possibilities and ways of forming family and raising the next generation.

Notes 1 Smith and Watson note that in “contemporary parlance,” autobiography and memoir are “used interchangeably,” though distinctions exist (198). See their discussion of autobiography, pp. 1–15 and throughout. 2 See Smith and Watson 3–4. 3 See I. Brown; Hewett, “You Are Not Alone”; O’Reilly; Frye; Dymond and Willey; and Harman. 4 See Friedman. 5 While only one measure of visibility, consider motherhood memoirs that have become bestsellers, such as Anne Lamott’s Operating Instructions (1993) and Ayelet Waldman’s essay collection Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities, and Occasional Moments of Grace (2009). Both authors are white. 6 Philyaw further elucidates these arguments in an essay for the collection Motherhood Memoirs (2013). 7 See Quiney.

Works cited Arosteguy, Katie. “The Politics of Race, Class, and Sexuality in Contemporary American Mommy Lit.” Women’s Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal, vol. 39, no. 5, June 2010, pp. 409–29. MLA. doi: 10.1080/00497878.2010.484327.


Heather Hewett Brown, Ivana. “Mommy Memoirs: Feminism, Gender and Motherhood in Popular Literature.” Journal of the Association for Research on Mothering, vol. 8, nos. 1–2, Winter–Summer 2006, pp. 200–212. Brown, Stacia L. “The Personal Essay Economy Offers Fewer Rewards for Black Women.” The New Republic, Sept. 2015, Accessed 2 Sept. 2017. Charlton, T. F. “The Impossibility of the Good Black Mother.” The Good Mother Myth: Redefining Motherhood to Fit Reality, edited by Avital Norman Nathman, Seal Press, 2014, pp. 177–83. Collins, Patricia Hill. Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment. Routledge, 2000. Cusk, Rachel. A Life’s Work: On Becoming a Mother. Picador, 2003. Daly, Brenda O., and Maureen T. Reddy. “Narrating Mothers: Theorizing Maternal Subjectivities.” Narrating Mothers: Theorizing Maternal Subjectivities, edited by Brenda O. Daly and Maureen T. Reddy, U of Tennessee P, 1991, pp. 1–18. Didion, Joan. Blue Nights. Vintage Books, 2012. Dymond, Justine, and Nicole Willey. “Introduction: Creating the Collection.” Motherhood Memoirs: Mothers Creating/Writing Lives, edited by Justine Dymond and Nicole Willey, Demeter Press, 2013, pp. 1–30. Epstein, Rachel, editor. Who’s Your Daddy?: And Other Writings on Queer Parenting. Three O’Clock Press, 2009. Erdrich, Louise. The Blue Jay’s Dance: A Memoir of Early Motherhood. Reprint edition, Harper Perennial, 2010. Friedman, May. Mommyblogs and the Changing Face of Motherhood. U of Toronto P, 2013. Frye, Joanne S. “Narrating Maternal Subjectivity: Memoirs from Motherhood.” Textual Mothers/Maternal Texts: Motherhood in Contemporary Women’s Literatures, edited by Elizabeth Podnieks and Andrea O’Reilly, Wilfrid Laurier UP, 2010, pp. 187–201. Gibson, Margaret F. “Introduction: Queering Motherhood in Narrative, Theory, and the Everyday.” Queering Motherhood: Narrative and Theoretical Perspectives, edited by Margaret F. Gibson, Demeter Press, 2014, pp. 1–23. Gilmore, Leigh. Autobiographics: A Feminist Theory of Women’s Autobiography. Cornell UP, 1994. Granju, Katie Allison. “Navel-Gazing Their Way through Parenthood.” Salon, 21 Oct. 2003, com/2003/10/21/genx_parents/. Accessed 15 Oct. 2017. Gumbs, Alexis Pauline, et al., editors. Revolutionary Mothering: Love on the Front Lines. PM Press, 2016. Harman, Karin Voth. “Motherhood and Life Writing.” Encyclopedia of Life Writing: Autobiographical and Biographical Forms, edited by Margaretta Jolly, Routledge, 2013. Hartman, Saidiya. Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route. 1st ed., Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008. Hays, Sharon. The Cultural Contradictions of Motherhood. Yale UP, 1996. Hewett, Heather. “You Are Not Alone: The Personal, the Political, and the ‘New’ Mommy Lit.” Chick Lit: The New Woman’s Fiction, edited by Suzanne Ferriss, and Mallory Young, Routledge, 2006, pp. 119–39. ———. “Mothering Across Borders: Narratives of Immigrant Mothers in the United States.” WSQ: Women’s Studies Quarterly, vol. 37, nos. 3, 4, Fall/Winter 2009, pp. 121–39. Project MUSE. doi: 10.1353/ wsq.0.0188. Hirsch, Marianne. The Mother/Daughter Plot: Narrative, Psychoanalysis, Feminism. Indiana UP, 1989. Kawash, Samira. “New Directions in Motherhood Studies.” Signs, vol. 36, no. 4, 2011, pp. 969–1003. JSTOR. doi: 10.1086/658637. Lamott, Anne. Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year. Pantheon, 1993. Lazarre, Jane. The Mother Knot. Duke UP, 1997. ———. Beyond the Whiteness of Whiteness: Memoir of a White Mother of Black Sons. Twentieth Anniversary ed., Duke UP, 2016. Mendelsohn, Daniel. “But Enough About Me.” The New Yorker, 25 Jan. 2010, zine/2010/01/25/but-enough-about-me-2. Accessed 15 Oct. 2017. Menkedick, Sarah. “Why Don’t People Take Writing about Motherhood Seriously? Because Women Do It.” The Los Angeles Times, 21 Apr. 2017, Accessed 10 Aug. 2018. Miller, Nancy K. “ ‘But Enough About Me, What Do You Think of My Memoir?’ ” Yale Journal of Criticism: Interpretation in the Humanities, vol. 13, no. 2, Fall 2000, pp. 421–36. Project MUSE. doi: 10.1353/ yale.2000.0023. Mitchell, Richelene. Dear Self: A Year in the Life of a Welfare Mother. NID Publishers, 2007.


Motherhood memoirs Moraga, Cherrie L. Waiting in the Wings: Portrait of a Queer Motherhood. Firebrand Books, 1997. Nathman, Avital Norman. “Introduction.” The Good Mother Myth: Redefining Motherhood to Fit Reality, edited by Avital Norman Nathman, Seal Press, 2013, pp. xiii–xvii. Nelson, Maggie. The Argonauts. Graywolf Press, 2015. O’Reilly, Andrea. “The Motherhood Memoir and the ‘New Momism’: Biting the Hand That Feeds You.” Textual Mothers/Maternal Texts: Motherhood in Contemporary Women’s Literatures, edited by Elizabeth Podnieks, and Andrea O’Reilly, Wilfrid Laurier UP, 2010, pp. 203–13. O’Reilly, Andrea, and Sylvia Caporale Bizzini. “Introduction.” From the Personal to the Political: Toward a New Theory of Maternal Narrative, edited by Andrea O’Reilly, and Sylvia Caporale Bizzini, Susquehanna UP, 2009, pp. 9–31. Parker, Lonnae O’Neal. I’m Every Woman: Remixed Stories of Marriage, Motherhood, and Work. Amistad, 2006. Philyaw, Deesha. “Letter to a Young Black Mama on Writing Motherhood Memoir.” Motherhood Memoirs: Mothers Creating/Writing Lives, edited by Justine Dymond, and Nicole Willey, Demeter Press, 2013, pp. 218–32. ———. “Ain’t I A Mommy: Why Are So Few Motherhood Memoirs Penned by Women of Color?” Summer 2008. Bitch, 23 Feb. 2016, Accessed 12 Aug. 2018. Piepmeier, Alison. Girl Zines: Making Media, Doing Feminism. New York UP, 2009. Podnieks, Elizabeth, and Andrea O’Reilly. “Maternal Literatures in Text and Tradition: Daughter-Centric, Matrilineal, and Matrifocal Perspectives.” Textual Mothers/Maternal Texts: Motherhood in Contemporary Women’s Literatures, edited by Elizabeth Podnieks, and Andrea O’Reilly, Wilfrid Laurier UP, 2010, pp. 1–27. Quiney, Ruth. “Confessions of the New Capitalist Mother: Twenty-First-Century Writing on Motherhood as Trauma.” Women: A Cultural Review, vol. 18, no. 1, Spring 2007, pp. 19–40. EBSCOhost. doi: 10.1080/09574040701276704. Rich, Adrienne. Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution. W. W. Norton & Company, 1995. Roberts, Dorothy E. Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty. Twentieth Anniversary ed.,Vintage, 2017. Roiphe, Anne Richardson. Fruitful: Living the Contradictions: A Memoir of Modern Motherhood. Penguin Books, 1997. Smith, Sidonie, and Julia Watson. Reading Autobiography: A Guide for Interpreting Life Narratives. 2nd ed., U of Minnesota P, 2010. Van Cleaf, Kara. “Of Woman Born to Mommy Blogged: The Journey from the Personal as Political to the Personal as Commodity.” WSQ: Women’s Studies Quarterly, vol. 43, no. 3, Oct. 2015, pp. 247–64. Project MUSE, Waldman, Ayelet. Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities, and Occasional Moments of Grace. Anchor Books, 2010. Walker, Alice. “In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens.” In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens: Womanist Prose, Harcourt Brace, 1983, pp. 231–43. Willey, Nicole. “In Search of Our Mothers’ Memoirs: Redefining Mothering Through African Feminist Principles.” Motherhood Memoirs: Mothers Creating/Writing Lives, edited by Justine Dymond, and Nicole Willey, Demeter Press, 2013, pp. 233–60.



Mothering and health

16 BEYOND DISORDERED BRAINS AND MOTHER BLAME Critical issues in autism and mothering Patty Douglas and Estée Klar

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States have called the sharply rising rates of autism diagnosis worldwide an “urgent public health concern” (27). Media images of so-called warrior mothers who cure their autistic child, or, alternately, mothers who abandon or murder their autistic child have become commonplace. Cultural fascination with the strange otherworldliness of autism has peaked in popular television shows such as Parenthood and Hollywood movies such as Roman J Israel, Esq. This chapter provides an overview of critical issues in autism and mothering in order to shed some light on this complicated terrain. We lay bare the long histories of mother blame and biomedical regulation of mothers as “fixers” of autism, understood as a negative difference. We suggest instead that autism is an embodied difference that should be accepted, not cured, and consider how mothers have also been key supporters and advocates of this alternative view. More supports that accept autism and that support access to life for both mothers and autistic individuals are urgently needed.

Context and background By way of a brief history: introducing key themes and theories The predominant understanding of autism or autism spectrum disorder in our contemporary moment is a biomedical one. Autism is understood as a neurodevelopmental disorder – a genetic condition that affects brain development and functioning. This is thought to result in three key areas of impairment: communication (e.g., impaired language), social interaction (e.g., difficulty making friends, averted eye gaze), and repetitive movements and behaviours (e.g., hand flapping) (“Autism Spectrum Disorder”). Level of impairment is measured along an axis of severity from level 1 “requiring support” to level 3 “requiring very substantial support” (“DSM-5 Criteria”). Within this view, autism is understood to be the result of both heritability and environmental triggers (Rutter). This prevailing biomedical view of autism is partnered with the biomedical imperative to view disorder and mental difference as unnatural and to remedy it (Michalko). Mothers – who carry the bulk of carework globally – are recruited as the primary agents in remedial autism treatments (Douglas, “As If You Have a Choice”). Guided by biomedical practitioners and self-fashioned expertise as “mother warriors,” many mothers access treatments for their child that are intensive and expensive and often have normalization or recovery as their 205

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goal (e.g., behavioural therapies). Given today’s biogenetic landscape, mothers are also recruited into particular practices of self-governance to “watch” their own actions. Undergoing expensive testing for the “autism gene,” for example, or engaging in self-care routines that mitigate epigenetic (inherited) risks of having a child with autism (such as maternal nutrition) have become common routines. Learning to watch for the signs of autism in your developing child, too, has become everyday practice (Douglas, Autism and Mothering; McGuire). And yet, things have not always been this way. Autism emerged as a distinct medical category in the 1940s. Leo Kanner, director of child psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Hospital and a leader in this new field, called this new disorder “early infantile autism.” He distinguished it from childhood schizophrenia (Nadesan 11) in that the children he observed were impaired from the start in their ability to communicate, unable to engage in reciprocal social interaction, and engaged in stereotyped behaviours such as rocking or “twiddling” (Kanner). Given the influence of biological psychiatry and mental hygiene in the 1940s, Kanner thought there must be some biological basis for the disorder. However, he also infamously noted the potential influence of parents, describing those in his study as lacking in warmth and affection. Most parents in the study were college graduates and worked outside of the home, and most families were middle-class and white. These children, said Kanner in an interview for Time, were “kept neatly in a refrigerator which didn’t defrost” (“Medicine: Frosted Children” 78). Such notions of refrigerator parents alongside the age-old adage of mother blame were quickly swept up within gendered post-war efforts to bolster social stability, reinstate middleclass white mothers in the home, and replace biological psychiatry with relational approaches such as psychoanalysis in an era reeling from the atrocities of the Nazi holocaust and scientific racism (Nadesan). In the work of University of Chicago psychologist Bruno Bettelheim and others, the “refrigerator mother” was born. This so-called cold mother of the 1950s and 1960s (in some cases, up to the 1980s and 1990s) was overtly blamed for her child’s autistic withdrawal. It was a mother’s innately disordered love and desires – wanting to work outside the home, for example – where the trigger for autism could be found (Douglas, “Refrigerator Mothers”). The image of the autistic child trapped in a fortress emerged during this time when Bettelheim made the disturbing analogy between refrigerator mothers and guards in concentration camps, a fate so intolerable for the child the only recourse was to withdraw completely. Separation from her child through institutionalization and psychoanalytic treatment for mothers was often prescribed by experts as the solution. Ironically, the refrigerator mother emerged as a privileged identity – other “bad” mothers of this era (i.e., black, working-class, unwed) and their children were excluded from this elite category and regulated instead through racist and classist hierarchies (Douglas, “Refrigerator Mothers”; Ladd-Taylor and Umansky 12). Mothers and parents searching for alternatives in the 1960s and 1970s began to champion emerging biological understandings of autism (Rimland). A prominent theory in cognitive neuropsychology, for example, posits that autistic people lack Theory of Mind (ToM), a cognitive structure thought to be locatable within brains as the precondition for empathy, understood as that which makes us human (Baron-Cohen et al.). The alarming implication of this still-popular theory is that without remediation, autistic people do not fully share in humanity and, indeed, are thought to be “victim-captives” of their neurology (Yergeau 3). Parents, particularly mothers, formed local and national autism advocacy organizations to educate the public about biological views of autism, raise money for scientific research, advocate for public funding and access to public schools and community living supports (Douglas, Autism and Mothering; McGuire). Through their efforts, overt forms of mother blame were debunked, new supports for families and their offspring secured, and a nascent form of disability activism forged (O’Toole; Panitch 7; Ryan and Runswick-Cole). 206

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New and intensive behavioural therapies – Applied Behaviour Analysis – emanating from the behaviourist experiments of Ole Ivar Lovaas at University of California Los Angeles on autistic and gender non-conforming children sought to normalize autistic children and their disordered biology/brains through the use of aversives to extinguish autistic behaviours (i.e., shocks from electrified floors) and rewards to shape normative ones (i.e., hugs, food) (Gibson and Douglas; Gruson-Wood). Against the backdrop of neoliberal capitalism and shifting family-state-market relations that pushed care back into the home and community as the primary responsibility of mothers (even as middle-class white mothers entered the workforce in record numbers), the ideology of intensive mothering emerged (Brodie; Hays). It would be “mother therapists” (Douglas, Autism and Mothering) under the guidance of new behaviourists who would be tasked with the “critical exigence” (Yergeau 4) to work intensively to remediate and normalize autism. Mothers were taught to “watch” themselves anew – to love and care for their child through practicing intensive, scientifically guided behavioural techniques. For those mothers who “failed” to take up these new modes of self-governance – working-class, black, and other disadvantaged ­mothers – or who did not want to care intensively in this way, this was a new form of covert mother blame that concealed unequal gender, class, and race relations and individualized a mother’s failure to remedy her child (Douglas, Autism and Mothering; Hays 165; Sousa). Today, ours is a risk society that understands autism as non-viable and hopeless, a threat to a family’s, community’s, and nation’s economic and emotional well-being. Today’s “mother warrior” must work ever more intensively to safeguard her family from the proliferating risk of autism, including from her own genes and potentially poor coping and mothering choices (Douglas, “As If You Have a Choice”; McGuire). Within social scientific studies of autism and mothering, for example, research on coping with the stress and stigma of autism as well as resiliency is predominant (Gray). While vital, possibilities for more autism-accepting and sociopolitical understandings of autism and mothering are elided in this view. Covert mother blame again cloaks mothers’ unequal access to resources and is intensified in our time; mothers become powerful curative forces as “warriors” staving off risk through their own choice and resilience (Douglas, “As If You Have a Choice”).

Central issues and debates In response to the predominance of biomedical approaches to autism, autistic people, mothers and critical and feminist scholars (not mutually exclusive) have raised a number of important issues and debates: (1) What is autism? Is it a deficit in need of remedy or a human difference? (2) How might mothers care differently, outside a biomedical framework? (3) How do power and privilege shape autism and mothering? (4) What is the role of mothers within disability and autistic self-advocacy movements? (A human rights based movement started in the 1980s by and for autistic people advocating for access and acceptance. See Autistic Self Advocacy ­Network; Autistics United Canada; Autistics for Autistics); (5) What should the goal of autism research be? In this section, we introduce alternative frameworks, including feminist disability studies, neurodiversity, and critical autism studies, that illuminate these key issues and debates. Briefly, the interdisciplinary field of disability studies rethinks disability as a sociopolitical phenomenon and raises questions about how power shapes the meaning we make of human difference. In other words, the field of disability studies is concerned with “not simply the variations that exist in human behavior, appearance, functioning, sensory acuity, and cognitive processing, but, more crucially, the meaning we make of those variations” (Linton 2; also see Michalko and Titchkosky). The marginalized standpoints of disabled persons are centered, and the biomedical view that disability is a thing locatable within individual bodies and brains, 207

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troubled. As Lennard Davis articulates, “Disability is not an object – a woman with a cane – but a social process that intimately involves everyone” (2). Rather than a personal tragedy, disability studies understands disability as a legitimate, albeit different, way of being in the world with something of value to teach us about our relationships and our life together (Davis). Lived experiences and the fleshy stubbornness of different bodies become sites of cultural production, resistance, and new knowledge (Douglas et al., “Re-storying Autism”; Rice). Scholars have also signaled the need for disability studies to take up complex histories and intersections between disability, race, class, gender, sexuality, and other oppressions and struggles for human freedom (O’Toole 297). Scholars of mothering, care, and disability working at the intersection of feminist and disability studies raise complex questions that attend to such intersections. They point to questions raised by autistic self-advocates, for example, about mothers’ (who may also be disabled) troubling implication in histories of ableist violence, oppression, and exclusion toward autistic people such as ABA (Dawson), where care is imagined as a burden on families and mothers in particular. In this view, a mother’s care must recover the autistic body to its presumed normative state, that is, to an independent, productive, and contributing body that relies on itself. At the same time, disability studies scholars point out that mothers have, in many instances, been at the forefront of struggles against autistic persons’ oppression (Ryan and Runswick-Cole). Mothers are key support persons and advocates for their autistic offspring, a sometimes-unsettling reality for autistic self-advocacy and disability rights movements that have worked hard to distance themselves from patronizing, dehumanizing, and devalued feminized aspects of care (such as dependence) to achieve support and autonomy as their fundamental right (Hughes et al.; Kelly). Beginning from the supposition that care and support are “fundamental to life,” feminist disability studies recognizes the mother-child relationship not only as political but also ethical: “caring relationships characteristically carry a jolting, perhaps irresolvable paradox – that of transgressive possibility and coercive constraint, intimate inter-dependence and constraining power, love and violence” (Douglas et al., “Cripping Care” 4–5). Within the relational tension of loving our “different” child, and against the recruitment of mothers to fix that same child through neoliberal capitalist and biomedical logics (that we suggest do violence to difference), new possibilities for supporting and being-with (versus fixing) our child in relation emerges (Douglas, Autism and Mothering; Klar). Alongside such relational and ethical questions, feminist disability studies scholars trouble the notion of disability as an added care burden for mothers – a common theoretical position in feminist political economy of care. They raise complex questions about interconnections between feminist and disability emancipation within intensive mothering and neoliberal capitalist regimes, for example, pointing out that disability and autistic self-advocates, alongside mothers in positions of privilege, are implicated in transnational capitalist flows of labour given that racialized, disadvantaged and Third World women fill the gap of underpaid carework in Global North neoliberal capitalist economies (Erevelles; Meekosha; Williams). Bridging such ethical, political, and economic tensions to achieve deeper understandings of intersecting oppressions and to work toward disability and feminist liberation is vital (Kelly). A first move toward bridging these tensions is to attend to emerging research that opens different possibilities and questions around autism and mothering. One important approach emanating from autistic communities is neurodiversity, which is the understanding that human neurology is neither static nor fixed (Walker). In other words, embodied difference is part of life and should be accepted, not cured. This offers an alternative to biomedical views such as Theory of Mind or behaviour therapies that assume autistic behaviour is the result of a disordered neurology, and therefore that it is meaningless and involuntary (Yergeau). Neurodiversity has been a formative concept within autism self-advocacy organizations organized 208

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by and for autistic persons, including Autistics United Canada and the Autistic Self Advocacy Network in the United States (Autistic Self Advocacy Network, Autistics United Canada), as well as for many autistic bloggers,1 who argue that autism is a viable way of being, and that parent advocacy should not advance a world without autism as its goal (McGuire 105–07). Neurodiversity perspectives shift the understanding of the human so that neuro-­ normativity (behaviour that conforms to normative expectations) is no longer the measuring stick of what makes a life worth living, and so that neurodivergent identities (any identity counter to neuro-normativity; see Neurodivergent K) are a viable option for people. A second important alternative to biomedical frameworks and curative therapies comes out of the emerging field of critical autism studies. Runswick-Cole et al., for example, call for a troubling of “any of the current accepted understandings that view autism as a biologically based biomedical disorder or brain difference” (7–9). They include neurodiversity in this challenge. These researchers aim to debunk the science of autism, understand how the diagnosis of autism impacts the lives of those who attract it, critique the autism industry, and promote alternative ways to provide service and supports to individuals and families beyond that of diagnosis, labelling, and remediation (8; also see Davidson and Orsini). Neurodiversity and critical autism studies, in different ways, shift the meaning of autism and the purpose of research, opening up new possibilities for being together beyond biomedical frameworks and normalizing regimes.

Controversies and challenges We delve more deeply now into two key areas of controversy related to autism and mothering that have particular salience in our contemporary moment. The first controversy is the question of autism treatment, which touches on deeper issues raised earlier around the meaning of autism, power, and privilege (in terms of access to supports as well as whose knowledge about autism counts), and the goal of autism research. We focus our discussion on one recent controversy within parent and autism communities around Applied Behavioral Analysis (also called Intensive Early Behavioural Intervention); however, our comments also apply to a number of other controversial treatments, which we point to along the way. Applied Behavioural Analysis (ABA) is currently the sole funded treatment in most countries (if any), understood as the only evidence-based intervention proven scientifically to be effective in extinguishing autistic behaviours (i.e., flapping or rocking) and increasing normative ones (i.e., making eye contact, using spoken language) (Gibson and Douglas; Ontario Scientific Expert Taskforce). Its goal is independence and normalization. It is prescribed in intensive dosages (up to thirty or more hours per week), and thought to be most effective if started early, by age two. As its founder Ivar Lovaas puts it, the goal is for treated children to become “indistinguishable from their normal friends” (8). ABA is often offered to mothers at the point of diagnosis as a child’s best or only hope for a good life – understood as a life free from autism. Mothers and families have been at the forefront of advocacy efforts for public funding for ABA (Klar, Douglas and McGuire). It is, of course, vital for families and autistic individuals to have access to a variety of supports and therapies to support their well-being and access to life, just as it is for us all. However, when ABA – alongside its goal of independence and normalization – is offered as the only possible hope, this powerfully communicates hopelessness for families who cannot (or do not want to) access ABA due to long waitlists, limited financial resources, or alternative goals for their child (Klar, Douglas and McGuire; also see Gibson and Douglas). It also elides ethical and relational questions about difference (discussed earlier), and supports the view that autism is a problem that must be fixed. When ABA fails to recover or produce a “normal” child, which is most often the case, the dire need for support, and alternative approaches to autism is clear. 209

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Within our contemporary moment, the biomedical imperative to remedy difference (Michalko) arising from the prestige of Western science as the utmost authority on health and disability drives normalizing treatments such as ABA. Many families go into substantial debt to access ABA treatment. Other mothers and parents pursue alternative, sometimes risky and usually expensive and intensive treatments to recover or normalize their child including chelation therapy, gluten-free/casein-free diets, hypobaric oxygen treatment, vitamin treatment, anti-vaccination stances, the list goes on (Nadesan). In this way, parents become part of a booming autism industry that commodifies autism (Mallet and Runswick-Cole) and profits from the “critical exigence” (Yergeau 4) to eliminate difference. For over thirty years, autistic selfadvocates, activists, and academics (not mutually exclusive) have articulated harm as a result of undergoing intensive, normalizing treatments such as ABA that use neuro-normativity as the measuring stick of what is considered human and a worthwhile life (Dawson; Sequenzia; Yergeau). They articulate the need to move beyond dominant biomedical “theories that privilege restrictive notions of what it means to interact and interrelate” (Yergeau 12). The lengthy list of parents who have murdered their autistic child citing hopelessness for their child’s future is an urgent signal that access to supports, different therapeutic goals, and positive representations of autistic individuals are urgently needed (McGuire). This raises a second area of controversy surrounding autism and mothering, namely, mother advocacy and activism, which again touches on deeper issues raised earlier about the meaning of autism, power and privilege, and the goal of autism research. The most powerful and financially affluent parent advocacy organizations today, such as Autism Speaks (McGuire 57), advocate and educate, now globally, from within a dominant Western biomedical framework. This framework, to recap, understands autism as a neurodevelopmental problem in need of a biomedical solution. In this view, behavioral and genetic therapies are interventions that aim to reshape impairments caused by disordered brain development, and a mother’s role becomes that of therapist, fixer, and even “warrior.” While seemingly a benevolent aim, these efforts export Western culture’s understanding of the normative human as non-autistic, white, and Western (Douglas, “As If You Have a Choice”; Mallet and Runswick-Cole; McGuire; Titchkosky and Aubrecht). Other ways of understanding autism and care beyond that of deficit and remedy are marginalized; scientific research agendas target the cause and cure of autism to the exclusion of research to support a good life for autistic individuals. MSSNG, for example, is a collaboration that brings together corporate America (google) with Autism Speaks and over fifty academic and research institutions in thirteen countries to “create one of the world’s largest databases on autism,” the goal of which is to pinpoint different types of autism and biogenetic treatments (“MSSNG”). One important effect of such efforts has been the generation of vast autism research industries invested in biomedical approaches (McGuire) primarily of financial benefit to non-autistic researchers rather than mothers and autistic individuals (Mallet and Runswick-Cole). The approach of Autism Speaks has been criticized by autistic self-advocates, activists, and academics who support a different understanding of autism, autism support, and research. These criticisms raise important questions about whose experience and knowledge of autism matters. The Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN), for example, an influential self-advocacy organization in the United States, points out that most money raised by Autism Speaks does not support mothers, families, and autistic individuals but rather scientists’ careers and executive salaries. Further, autistic people’s voices are marginalized within the leadership of Autism Speaks, and awareness and fundraising campaigns turn on promoting negative, stigmatizing, and fearful images of autism (“Before You Donate to Autism Speaks”). ASAN’s slogan, “Nothing about us without us!” forwards a vital message that speaks back to dominant approaches and research agendas, suggesting that a different direction for future research is needed. 210

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New directions for future research Research that brings autistic voices to the centre and considers the ethical and political dimensions of autism and mothering is crucial. We make the following recommendations. First, future research must aim to more deeply understand the lived experiences of mothers and autistic individuals within current neoliberal and biomedical contexts. This understanding must include both the ethical and political dimensions of care so that the supports and services required for a good life for autistic individuals and those who support them – still predominately mothers – can be identified and implemented. Secondly, research agendas must move away from unquestioned views of autism as disordered neurology in need of a mother’s curative labour and toward understanding difference as fundamental to life. This shift in perspective opens new possibilities to support access to life for all people, including autistic individuals and mothers. Finally, a complex interrogation of interdependence as a key goal and value of relationships and relational support should be at the centre of future research agendas. This aligns with recent calls in feminist disability studies research on disability and care to recentre interdependence in ways that bring the perspective of disabled people and the force of political economy to the fore, taking into account gendered, racialized, and classed aspects of care work while sustaining earlier disability critiques of the realities of violence against disabled persons within care relationships. (Douglas et al., “Cripping Care” 5) Key questions to guide future research include: (1) How do mothers support their adult autistic children in a social system that demands independence (Klar; Rooy)? (2) How might we reimagine autistic individuals as agential and relational within the mother/child dyad (Klar; Yergeau)? (3) How might we rethink mothering, care, and support vis-à-vis interdependence (Douglas et al., “Cripping Care”)?

Further reading Books, articles, and videos “Autism and the Concept of Neurodiversity.” Disability Studies Quarterly (Special issue on the concept of neurodiversity), vol. 30, no. 1, 2010. Baggs, Amanda. In My Language, 14 Jan. 2007, Accessed 29 Mar. 2018. Douglas, Patty. “Refrigerator Mothers.” Journal of the Motherhood Initiative for Research and Community Involvement, vol. 5, 2014, pp. 94–114. Hanley, J. J. (Producer) and David E. Simpson (Director). Refrigerator Mothers [Motion Picture]. Kartemquin Films, 2002. Jack, Jordan. Autism and Gender: From Refrigerator Mothers to Computer Geeks. U of Illinois P, 2014. Lewiecki-Wilson, Cynthia, and Jan Cellio, editors. Disability and Mothering: Liminal Spaces of Embodied Knowledge. Syracuse UP, 2011. McGuire, Anne. War on Autism: On the Cultural Logic of Normative Violence. U of Michigan P, 2016. Murray, Stuart. Representing Autism: Culture, Narrative, Fascination. Liverpool UP, 2008. Nadesan, Majia Holmer. Constructing Autism: Unraveling the ‘Truth’ and Understanding the Social. Routledge, 2005. Runswick-Cole, Katherine, et al., editors. Re-thinking Autism: Diagnosis, Identity and Equality. Jessica Kingsley, 2016. Ryan, Sara, and Katherine Runswick-Cole. “From Advocate to Activist? Mapping the Experiences of Mothers of Children on the Autism Spectrum.” Journal of Applied Research in Intellectual Disabilities, vol. 22, 2009, pp. 43–53.


Patty Douglas and Estée Klar Silverman, Chloe. Understanding Autism: Parents, Doctors and the History of a Disorder. Princeton UP, 2012. Sinclair, Jim. “Don’t Mourn for Us.” Our Voice: The Newsletter of Autism, vol. 1, no. 3, 1993. www.autreat. com/dont_mourn.html. Accessed 11 Dec. 2017. Sousa, Amy C. “From Refrigerator Mothers to Warrior-Heroes: The Cultural Identity Transformation of Mothers Raising Children with Intellectual Disabilities.” Symbolic Interaction, vol. 34, 2011, pp. 220–43. Yergeau, Melanie. Authoring Autism: On Rhetoric and Neurological Queerness. Duke UP, 2018.

Websites Amy Sequenzia: Aspies for Freedom: Autistics for Autistics Autistics United Canada The Autism Acceptance Project. The Autism Crisis: The Autistic Self Advocacy Network: Enacting Autism Inclusion: Positively Autistic: Tiny Grace Notes:

Conclusion The history of autism and mothering is one of regulation, whether the regulation of a mother’s love and care within biomedical and neoliberal patriarchal capitalist regimes, or the meaning of being human as exclusive of autistic and other difference within powerful research agendas. This chapter has suggested that embodied difference such as autism, as well as care and support – still predominately performed by women and mothers – are “fundamental to life” (Douglas et al., “Cripping Care”). Given this, the need for alternatives to biomedical understandings of difference and care is dire if we are to move beyond a landscape of hopelessness and harm for mothers and autistic individuals alike. Within the current research context, social support for autistic people and mothers remains contingent on subscribing to biomedical understandings of autism. Mothers who understand autism differently, or who seek educational and other opportunities for their autistic child beyond ABA, are left on their own without financial support or access to other resources. Indeed, mothers remain vexed figures, either covertly blamed within biomedical frameworks for failing to normalize their autistic child or criticized within autism communities for enforcing curative therapies. It is by pursuing a deeper understanding of the ethical and political complexities of mothering and autism that new possibilities for being together beyond biomedical frameworks and normalizing regimes might emerge. It is critical that future research attend to such possibilities.

Note 1 See, for example, Amanda Baggs, and Michelle Dawson www.

Works cited “Autism Spectrum Disorder.” American Psychiatric Association. autism/what-is-autism-spectrum-disorder. Accessed 11 Dec. 2017. Autistic Self Advocacy Network. Accessed 2 Feb. 2019. Autistics United Canada. Accessed 27 Sept. 2019.


Beyond disordered brains Baron-Cohen, Simon, et al. “Does the Autistic Child Have a Theory of Mind?” Cognition, vol. 21, 1985, pp. 37–46. “Before You Donate to Autism Speaks: Consider the Facts.” Autistic Self Advocacy Network. https://autistic Accessed 31 Jan. 2018. Bettelheim, Bruno. The Empty Fortress: Infantile Autism and the Birth of the Self. The Free Press, 1967. Brodie, Janine. Politics on the Margins: Restructuring and the Canadian Women’s Movement. Fernwood, 1995. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “Prevalence of the Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) in Multiple Areas of the United States, 2004 and 2006.” ADDMCommunityReport2009.pdf. Accessed 12 Dec. 2017. Davidson, Joyce, and Michael Orsini, editors. Worlds of Autism: Across the Spectrum of Neurological Difference. U of Minnesota P, 2013. Davis, Lennard J. Enforcing Normalcy: Disability, Deafness and the Body. Verso, 1995. Dawson, Michelle. “The Misbehavior of Behaviorists: Ethical Challenges to the Autism-ABA Industry.” No Autistics Allowed, 18 Jan. 2004, Accessed 30 Mar. 2018. Douglas, Patty. “As If You Have a Choice: Autism Mothers and the Remaking of the Human.” Health, Culture & Society, vol. 5, 2013, pp. 167–81. ———. “Refrigerator Mothers.” Journal of the Motherhood Initiative for Research and Community Involvement, vol. 5, 2014, pp. 94–114. ———. Autism and Mothering: Pursuing the Meaning of Care. 2016. University of Toronto, PhD dissertation. / Douglas, Patty, et al. “Cripping Care: Care Pedagogies and Practices.” Review of Disability Studies, vol. 13, no. 4, 2017, pp. 3–12. ———. “Re-storying Autism: A Body Becoming Disability Studies in Education Approach.” International Journal of Inclusive Education, Advance online publication, 4 Jan. 2019. 116.2018.1563835 “DSM-5 Criteria.” Autism Speaks. Accessed 31 Jan. 2018. Erevelles, Nirmala. “Signs of Reason: Rivière, Facilitated Communication and the Question of SelfDetermination.” Foucault and the Government of Disability, edited by Shelley Tremain, U of Michigan P, 2005, pp. 45–64. Gibson, Margaret, and Patty Douglas. “Disturbing Behaviours: O Ivar Lovaas and the Queer History of Autism Science.” Catalyst: Feminism, Theory, Technoscience, vol. 4, no. 2, 2018, pp. 1–28. 10.28968/cftt.v4i2.29579 Gray, Donald E. “Gender and Coping: The Parents of Children with High Functioning Autism.” Social Science & Medicine, vol. 56, 2003, pp. 631–42. Gruson-Wood, Julia F. “Autism, Expert Discourses, and Subjectification: A Critical Examination of Applied Behavioural Therapies.” Studies in Social Justice, vol. 10, 2016, pp. 38–58. Hays, Sharon. The Cultural Contradictions of Motherhood. Yale UP, 1996. Hughes, Bill, et al. “Love’s Labors Lost? Feminism, the Disabled People’s Movement and an Ethic of Care.” Sociology, vol. 39, 2005, pp. 259–75. Kanner, Leo. “Autistic Disturbances of Affective Contact.” Nervous Child, vol. 2, 1943, pp. 217–50. Kelly, Christine. Disability Politics and Care: The Challenge of Direct Funding. UBC Press, 2016. Klar, Estée. “The Mismeasure of Autism.” Concepts of Normalcy: The Autistic and Typical Spectrum, edited by Wendy Lawson. Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2008, pp. 104–29. Klar, Estée, Patty Douglas and Anne McGuire. “Autism Strategy Masks Societal Exclusion of Autistic Ontarians.” Ottawa Citizen, 19 April, 2016. Accessed 18 Aug. 2019. Ladd-Taylor, Molly, and Lauri Umansky, editors. “Bad” Mothers: The Politics of Blame in Twentieth-Century America. New York UP, 1998. Linton, Simi. Claiming Disability: Knowledge and Identity. New York UP, 1998. Lovaas, Ole Ivar. “Behavioral Treatment and Normal Educational and Intellectual Functioning in Autistic Children.” Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, vol. 55, 1987, pp. 3–9. Mallet, Rebecca, and Katherine Runswick-Cole. “Commodifying Autism: The Cultural Contexts of ‘Disability’ in the Academy.” Disability and Social Theory: New Developments and Directions, edited by Dan Goodley et al., Palgrave Macmillan, 2012, pp. 33–51. McGuire, Anne. War on Autism: On the Cultural Logic of Normative Violence. U Michigan P, 2016. “Medicine: Frosted Children.” Time, 26 Apr. 1948, pp. 77–78.


Patty Douglas and Estée Klar Meekosha, Helen. “Decolonising Disability: Thinking and Acting Globally.” Disability & Society, vol. 26, 2011, pp. 667–82. Michalko, Rod. The Difference that Disability Makes. Temple UP, 2002. Michalko, Rod and Tanya Titchkosy. Rethinking Normalcy: A Disability Studies Reader. Canadian Scholar’s Press, 2009. “MSSNG: Changing the Future of Autism with Open Science.” MSSNG. Accessed 31 Jan. 2019. Nadesan, Majia Holmer. Constructing Autism: Unraveling the ‘Truth’ and Understanding the Social. Routledge, 2005. Neurodivergent K [Sibley, Kassiane]. Radical Neurodivergence Speaking. Accessed 10 Dec. 2017. Ontario Scientific Expert Taskforce for the Treatment of Autism Spectrum Disorder. Evidence Based Practices for Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder: Recommendations for Caregivers, Practitioners and Policy Makers, Apr. 2017. Accessed 31 Jan. 2019. O’Toole, Corbett Joan. “The Sexist Inheritance of the Disability Movement.” Gendering Disability, edited by Bonnie G. Smith and Beth Hutchison, Rutgers UP, 2004, pp. 294–300. Panitch, Melanie. Disability, Mothers and Organization: Accidental Activists. Routledge, 2008. Rice, Carla. Becoming Women: The Embodied Self in Image Culture. U of Toronto P, 2014. Rimland, Bernie. Infantile Autism: The Syndrome and Its Implications for a Neural Theory of Behaviour. AppletonCentury-Crofts, 1964. Rooy, Robert, director. DEEJ. Rooy Media LLC and The Independent Television Service, 2017. Runswick-Cole, Katherine, et al., editors. Re-thinking Autism: Diagnosis, Identity and Equality. Jessica Kingsley, 2016. Rutter, Michael. “Genetic Studies of Autism: From the 1970s into the Millennium.” Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, vol. 28, 2000, pp. 3–14. Ryan, Sara, and Runswick-Cole, Katherine. “From Advocate to Activist? Mapping the Experiences of Mothers of Children on the Autism Spectrum.” Journal of Applied Research in Intellectual Disabilities, vol. 22, 2009, pp. 43–53. Sequenzia, Amy. “Autistic Conversion Therapy.” Autistic Women and Nonbinary Network, 27 Apr. 2016, Accessed 31 Jan. 2019. Sinclair, Jim. “Don’t mourn for us.” Our Voice: The Newsletter of Autism, vol. 1, no. 3, 1993, www.autreat. com/dont_mourn.html. Accessed 11 Dec. 2017. Sousa, Amy C. “From Refrigerator Mothers to Warrior-Heroes: The Cultural Identity Transformation of Mothers Raising Children with Intellectual Disabilities.” Symbolic Interaction, vol. 34, 2011, pp. 220–43. Titchkosky, Tanya. Disability, Self and Society. U of Toronto P, 2003. Titchkosky, Tanya, and Catherine Aubrecht. “Who’s MIND, Whose Future? Mental Health Projects as Colonial Logics.” Social Identities: Journal for the Study of Race, Nation and Culture, vol. 21, 2015, pp. 69–84. Walker, Nick. “Throw Away the Master’s Tools: Liberating Ourselves from the Pathology Paradigm.” Loud Hands: Autistic People, Speaking, edited by Julia Bascom, The Autistic Press, 2012, pp. 154–62. Williams, Fiona. “Towards a Transnational Analysis of the Political Economy of Care.” Feminist Ethics and Social Policy: Towards a New Global Political Economy of Care, edited by Rianne Mahon and Fiona Robinson, UBC Press, 2011, pp. 21–38. Yergeau, Melanie. Authoring Autism: On Rhetoric and Neurological Queerness. Duke UP, 2018.


17 NO FIXED ADDRESS The everyday health challenges of mothers living in an emergency homeless shelter Rebecca Hughes

Introduction As homeless women are not generally as visible as their male counterparts, their experiences are often underrepresented in the research literature. This study reports on three in-depth interviews with homeless mothers. These women’s first-hand experiences shed light on a number of health-related challenges experienced by homeless mothers. Women discussed negotiating the labour and birthing process, dealing with the subsequent apprehension of their infant children, seeking support after sexual and physical assaults, and managing blood-borne diseases such as HIV/AIDS. Women’s experiences were viewed both as the impetus to initiate research inquiry and the means by which to explore tangential avenues of inquiry. Framing women’s experiences not only provided the researcher with a standpoint, or a place to begin research inquiry, but it also provided a real-life backdrop or context through which to explicate the everyday survival work of homeless women. This study asks: How are health care services socially organized with regard to homeless women’s access to health care services? How do women living without a fixed address manage their sexual or reproductive health care issues or needs? How do women negotiate institutional health care directives, policies, or processes with regards to obtaining prenatal and postnatal care? How do specific texts (legislation, regulations, policy directives, and standard paperwork) mitigate women’s social interactions with institutional agencies?

Background and context In this study, interviews were conducted with 27 individuals living in a mixed-gender Open Access emergency homeless shelter located in Toronto, Canada. For the purposes of this chapter, interview data were drawn from three mothers: Stacey, Laura, and Lynn. Stacey and Laura are mothers of young children, all of whom have been apprehended by Child Protective Services and are currently living with adoptive families. Lynn raised a daughter, who is now living independently. These women’s accounts seek to capture in first-person and descriptive format the social, relational, and interactive lives of mothers living without a fixed address (Gubrium and Holstein 244). In this study, women are perceived as active agents who construct their reality of life and their understanding of the world around them through sharing, interpreting, and reflecting on their everyday lived experiences. 215

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The setting of this study was Open Access, one of 20 community-based, emergency homeless shelters located in churches and synagogues in Toronto. These are not conventional shelters. Unlike other shelters that provide daily shelter, each Open Access shelter remains open only one night per week. For the remaining six nights of the week, guests have the option to rotate through the remaining 19 Open Access shelters, all of which are located in faith-based organizations dotted around the Greater Toronto area. Although the word “emergency” is employed to describe the ad hoc, impermanent nature of Open Access, for many homeless individuals, Open Access is a place to call home during the winter season. In the warmer spring and summer months, Open Access closes its doors and reopens again in the winter season. Many individuals discussed sleeping outside in warmer weather. The Green Mile, a stretch of grassland bordering a downtown wooded ravine, constitutes a popular campground. While Open Access provides only transient shelter, it nevertheless provides guests with a sense of continuity and community throughout the winter months. The dinner tables are collapsible, the cutlery is plastic (and rewashed many times throughout the night), and fold-up gym mats serve as mattresses. There are no shower or storage facilities. However, a sense of the comforts of home is present, if only for short periods. Each night, dessert is available after the late-night movie has ended, and, early each morning, hot coffee is served in ceramic mugs. The City of Toronto provides limited funding for the provision of security services at each shelter. Security work includes denying access to disruptive individuals, breaking up occasional fights, and removing guests who consume alcohol or drugs on shelter premises. The all-access, inclusive nature of Open Access appeals to individuals seeking admission to non-bureaucratic programs and services. Unlike other shelters that require guests to complete paperwork or to show valid identification, Open Access has few prerequisites to access. The use of pseudonyms is permitted, and guests are not frisked or searched before admission. Dogs accompanying guests are permitted to sleep overnight in a heated hallway located outside the main eating and sleeping quarters. As the shelter prohibits the use of alcohol and illicit drugs, guests are asked to “bottle check” their alcohol with security personnel upon arrival.

Central themes The social determinants of health Income is a social determinant of health. Insufficient income plays a significant role not only in homelessness but also in the health of homeless individuals. A healthy life is not only a state of physical and mental well-being: it is also a measure of socioeconomic status. Broader social determinants of health (poverty, socioeconomic disparity, and social status) predetermine the extent to which certain societal groups are predisposed to illness (Wilkinson and Marmot 7). In the United Kingdom, the groundbreaking Whitehall I and Whitehall II longitudinal studies of over 28,000 British civil servants found that poorer individuals experience more illness and have a lower life expectancy than their wealthier counterparts (Marmot et al., “Employment Grade” 244; Marmot et al., “Health Inequalities” 1387), and subsequent research in the United Kingdom replicated these findings (Townsend, Davidson, and Whitehead, 1992). In the United States, Hajat et al. (627), Kitagawa and Hauser (11), and Menchik (427) established a strong correlation between wealth and increased longevity. In Canada, Frohlich and Mustard (1273), and McLeod et al. (1287) also found a strong correlation between socioeconomic status and health. For homeless mothers, their own poor health outcomes directly impact the health of their children. Current research regarding the health outcomes of homeless mothers and their children


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shows adverse perinatal outcomes including low birth weight, pre-term deliveries, increased risk of anxiety and depression, developmental disability in children, and high risk for multiple episodes of homelessness for the family (Little et al. 615–18).

Participant interviews Selected segments of conversations with three homeless mothers, Stacey, Laura, and Lynn, are featured in this chapter:. Professionals working in institutional settings (e.g., health care workers, social workers, case workers) exerted significant power and control over the lives of many of the women interviewed in this study. Institutional plans of action, put into motion by professionals, had direct and significant consequences for these individuals. Stacey recounted the birth of her child, a boy, who was apprehended by Child Protective Services immediately after birth. At the time of our interview, Child Protective Services had mounted a case for complete removal of Stacey’s maternal rights, which would allow no future contact with her newborn child. Stacey did not discuss the specifics of her infant’s apprehension, although she did discuss her disappointment when informed that she would not be permitted to provide breast milk for her premature infant. Protective Services did not allow her to pump milk for her infant, and neither hospital staff nor Protective Services explained to her why she was prevented from doing so. Stacey was not consulted regarding a number of institutional decisions regarding the birth process (e.g., birthing plan, postnatal infant care, provision of breast milk) and the subsequent apprehension of her child. Stacey remained hopeful that she would one day regain custody of her infant boy, and towards that end she was seeking a two-bedroom rental apartment. Her latest rental application had been rejected. Laura discussed the difficulties experienced by homeless individuals when balancing survival lifework with the challenges of both motherhood and the demands exerted by bureaucratic regulatory processes. Laura’s account highlights the multiple difficulties faced by mothers living without a fixed address who must manage both onerous daily survival work (accessing food banks, doing laundry, finding shelter accommodation) and health work (negotiating safe sex work, obtaining prenatal care, and routine STD testing), while also coping with addiction. Laura’s account also highlights the ways in which institutional plans of action shape, mediate, and coordinate interactions between individuals in bureaucratic settings. Laura described her recent experiences giving birth to a daughter. In the hours leading to Protective Services’ removal of her daughter from the maternity ward, a doctor offered Laura a chance to hold her daughter for the first and only time. Laura refused this offer, and she ruminated briefly on the difficulty encountered when making this momentous decision. Lynn’s discussion underscored the ways in women experience homelessness differently from men. Women are more susceptible to sexual violence, and they also have uniquely female sexual and reproductive issues. Homeless women are often more vulnerable than their male counterparts when either sleeping on the streets or sharing communal accommodation in shelter settings. For example, a few years ago, Lynn was raped in a downtown Toronto stairwell. Although Lynn feels more secure sleeping at the Open Access shelter, she nevertheless finds herself deflecting unwanted sexual advances from men (including at Open Access). Lynn’s account describes not only the daily survival work of living with AIDS but also the subsequent problems when attempting to access specialist medical care. All three accounts highlight the multiple difficulties faced by mothers living without a fixed address who must manage onerous daily heath work, such as managing safe sex work, prenatal care, monthly STD testing, and life-threatening addiction and disease.


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Stacey: homeless for two months How long have you been staying with Open Access? It’s my second time. Do you have a health care card? Mine recently just got stolen. Someone came right into my room and went into my jacket when I was sleeping and helped herself to my pocket and took it with my bus pass and my health card. Is there a door to lock? Yeah, we can lock our doors, but staff is now telling us that we are not allowed to lock our doors. And they come in while we’re sleeping to do bed checks. It’s to make sure that we’re there before curfew. That’s what I don’t understand. If the door is locked, doesn’t that mean we’re inside sleeping? Maybe they want to make sure no one else is inside? That’s not the point. You should be able to lock your door, right? It gives that little bit of security. Have you ever had any problems getting a health care? My card recently just got stolen. I have to do the paperwork all over again. What will you do now that it’s stolen? I have to do the paperwork all over again. And then wait the four to six weeks all over again. Or six to 12 weeks, depending on how backed up they are for them to send you a new one. What are some examples of your health care needs? Actually, it brings me down. It’s depressing. We’re actually going through a lot of other stuff too . . . We’re fighting a custody battle to get our baby back. Well, it’s hard. Living in a shelter, trying to get the baby back. How was your prenatal help? I did see a doctor outside of Toronto. For the last year in Toronto we have seen doctors in dropins or clinics. We just got a family doctor last month. Was the delivery doctor nice to you? Yes, but the other doctors and nurses were not nice to me at all. Because I kept telling them I was in labour, and they were not listening to me. It took them at least half an hour to find out I was in labour. The doctor looked at me and says, you either give birth to this baby right now, or we’re putting you out. So I said, whatever’s best for the baby. I wasn’t thinking about me or anything. They had to cut me open. C-section. I woke up and there’s my baby. I was scared. Literally my whole hand would fit on his back. Were you helped with breastfeeding? I was pumping until CPS [Child Protective Services] took him. They wouldn’t let you continue to pump [breast milk]? No. 218

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Laura: homeless for nine years How long have you been staying with Open Access? Nine years off and on. Like not straight every year. I’ve had my own place in between. But yeah, nine years. Tomorrow there’s two other sites. Tuesdays, it’s the hardest one, when Open Access doesn’t start until January 10. Tuesday there’s only one site. So, you have to be there early or you’re not going to get a bed. How do you feel? I’ve been using for like 10 years. My drug is crack cocaine. I’ve been using since I came to Toronto. I fell in love with crack right away. I’ve been using it ever since I came here. I’ve lost my kids because of the addiction. They took her away when I was sleeping. I knew what was going to happen. I figured they could have woken me up to say, “Bye.” Their point of view is that if we would have woken you up, you would have gotten attached to her, and you wouldn’t have wanted to let her go. I knew I would have to let her go, but I wanted to hold her. But I went to sleep. That’s when they took her away. Could you try to keep your [youngest] baby, or was there no way? There was no hope. Like, I already knew. I knew in my heart I was not ready to stop using drugs. I knew in my heart. The reason they took her is that they found traces of cocaine in her blood. So, that’s why they took her away. For that reason, and because I already gave up my son to Protective Services. Once you’re involved with Protective Services, you’re red flagged. Like even if you go have another one and you have your stuff together, they will go get into your life, and see how they can take your kid away. How does that happen? The hospitals. Once the hospital knows you’re here to have a baby, they punch your name in the system. Involvement with Protective Services shows up on the computer. I’m glad the baby came out as healthy as she did. She was almost full term. The doctor came up to me in the room. I was still a bit groggy because they gave me some drugs, but he said, “Listen, you have a beautiful 5-pound baby girl. Would you like to see her?” I said yes, but then I fell back asleep. When I woke up the next day, I thought about it, and I thought the only way I knew I could deal with it, is that I went up to the nurses’ station and said, “Listen, I’m OK, I don’t want to see her.” Because I knew if I would have seen her . . . It would be very hurtful for me. I knew I wasn’t taking her back. Have you ever had problems getting a health card? I have a family doctor at a drop-in centre. I get tested for all kinds of stuff. She will test me for diseases. I did a test three years ago. Here’s an example of how addiction can take over your life: they found something on my cervix. I’ve been letting it go for three years. I finally got another appointment in January. I had other appointments, but I kept letting them go, letting them go, because I was too busy getting high. What else do you do during the day? I need to do laundry, I need to go to the food banks. It’s not easy. Everything else comes in the way, so I’m not able to make it. 219

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You sound busy. Having an addiction doesn’t help.

Lynn: homeless for 30+ years How long have you been homeless? I was a runaway. And you know kids come to the city. Yeah, so off and on since I was 12. I did 14 years in a house and married and all that stuff. I raised my daughter and went to university, and came back out. It’s like, people become your family. Out here, as rough as it is, and as much as you hate it when you’re here – because it’s treacherous. It’s very draining, but you miss it. You miss the people. Is it dangerous by yourself? You have to know who to be around, and how long to stay if somebody’s around. And learn to recognize the signs. Because I have been raped. I have been attacked. I have been stabbed – on the streets, in the stairwell. And robbed – they steal from you. They go through your pockets and take everything you have. How many times has this happened to you? Four times. But it happens on a daily basis that guys are hitting on you. Trying to pick you up. Asking if you want to do dates.’Cause you’re a lowly homeless person they think you’re a hooker. And they offer you money for sexual favours – for like $10 bucks, $20 bucks, $40 bucks, whatever. Dirt cheap kinda crap, don’t want to use condoms. You know, it’s disgusting. Dennis, another guest of the shelter (and a previous interviewee) interrupts the interview. Dennis: Excuse me, tell her I’m not a playboy, am I? Lynn: Yeah he is. Gerald walks away, laughing. Lynn: That’s the worst of it – guys hitting on you all the time. Have you had housing off and on? Yeah, I’ve had housing, but I gave it up. I can’t stand it. They put you in some area that you’re not familiar with, and it’s not good. Not in the city. I used to go there to pick up my cheque once in a blue moon, but you know, it’s so far. No friends. I don’t know where my resources are. Like downtown, I know where to eat. I know how to survive downtown. But I know in some of these other places their food bank system in different. But to get to the doctor, my doctor is downtown. The AIDS services are downtown. Everything I need is downtown. Are you getting enough support? I did a 10-week program. They were all very supportive, but when I got out I had nowhere to go. And I got into the same circle I did when I left. And I did all that work. You can fight it, but it doesn’t last long. I will always be struggling with one addiction or another. Well, I replace addiction with addiction, with addiction. 220

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Are you taking your medication? Yeah, I have been taking my medication regularly, but this is the problem. I was at a women’s shelter, and it’s probably a great place for some people, but I couldn’t handle it. They packed my stuff into seven bags. I brought it in in two. They don’t know how to pack obviously. I had to fight with them for a token. They didn’t want to release my medication without me taking all of my belongings. They don’t have the storage space. But that’s wrong, so I had a doctor – It’s all women, and they do what they can. The doctors are female. So the doctor called the shelter and said it’s a matter of life and death. Maybe not death, but it’s crucial that she has her medication, so can she pick up just her medication and leave her belongings? Where do you keep your stuff now? My stuff is in the truck of my friend’s car, another lady who volunteers at another organization where I go to a drop-in. She offered to keep it in her house. I’m hoping this housing comes up at the end of the month.

Challenges in relation to the topic Mothers living in emergency homeless shelters: unique and differential health challenges The mothers interviewed in this study identified as “absolutely” homeless. The Oxford Dictionary states that a homeless individual “is a person without a home, and therefore typically living on the streets” (1). Rossi notes that the term “homeless” may refer to precarious or unstable housing as equally as it can to no housing at all (11). Research conducted on the night of April 17, 2013, by the City of Toronto’s Street Needs Assessment (3) ascertained that 5,253 homeless individuals lived outdoors or in shelter locations in Toronto. Individuals who are unable to secure provisional shelter and therefore sleep on the streets experience significantly high rates of mortality. Researchers in the United Kingdom found that homeless individuals living on the streets in London have an average life expectancy of only 42 years, compared with the national average of 74 years for men and 79 years for women (Grenier 5). Homeless individuals appear to be at a higher risk of injury and assault, and therefore require more preventive and rehabilitative treatment than those in the general population. Kushel et al. (2492) presented findings from a survey of 2,577 homeless people living in San Francisco, California. The study instrument included a series of close-ended, quantitative interview questions, in which researchers assessed participants’ access to housing, history of victimization, sexual behaviour, substance abuse, mental health, and justice-system involvement over a oneyear period. Kushel et al. were specifically interested in determining the connection between homelessness and reported rates of assault. Findings showed that homeless individuals were at higher risk of victimization than the general population, due to inconsistent shelter facilities, nearness to high-crime areas, and involvement in high-risk activities, such as drug use, alcohol abuse, and sex-trade work (2492). Indeed, one in three women and men (27.1% and 32.3% respectively) reported incidents of either sexual or physical assault in the one-year study period (2492). These findings indicate that violence and victimization are a common reality for many homeless individuals. Violent assault results in physical harm and emotional distress, and victims of such abuse require immediate and often prolonged medical intervention. While both sexes in the homeless population are susceptible to violence, homeless women appear particularly vulnerable to 221

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sexual violence. Researchers in the San Francisco study found that 9.4% of homeless women experienced sexual assault over a one-year study period, and that this percentage more than doubled among homeless women with a mental illness (Kushel et al. 2495). Khandor and Mason (4) present similar unsettling findings about life on the streets of Toronto: one in five homeless women has been sexually assaulted during a one-year period. Women in the general population are substantially less likely to experience sexual assault: less than 1% of the general population in Toronto reported an incidence of sexual assault in a one-year period. (In each of these studies, it is not known if strangers or acquaintances were perpetrators of these attacks, or where the attacks took place.) New and expectant mothers not only experience unique and differential health challenges, but they are also often vulnerable to intimate partner violence. New and expectant homeless mothers are also at a higher risk of injury and assault than their housed counterparts. For example, Wood et al. (1049) compared homeless Los Angeles mothers to low-income housed female mothers: homeless mothers reported increased drug use (43% versus 30%), increased mental health issues (14% versus 6%), as well as increased abuse by spouses (35% versus 16%). These findings were of particular significance for this study, as they highlight the differential health care needs and rates of victimization experienced by new and expectant homeless mothers.

Recommendations for further research Neoliberal policies have increasingly shaped the social democratic landscape, by introducing cost-effective restructuring of public health care and by reducing welfare spending. If this trend continues, it is feasible to assume that informal, nonprofit, faith-based organizations will maintain a prominent role in caring for disenfranchised groups (who are perhaps inadequately supported by social welfare programs). Informal health services refer to health care services that exist outside mainstream services and that are designed to support economically disadvantaged individuals. Many of these services are nonprofit and community-funded. Nonprofit organizations were historically formed in response to a specific need in a community that was overlooked or inadequately addressed by governmental service providers. Currently, a number of nonprofit, privately funded, charitable organizations in Toronto offer mobile, on-the-spot nursing care. These services do not require individuals to show identification or to produce a health card. Many interviewees in this study sought care from informal health care providers located in church drop-in centres, homeless shelters, or nonprofit traveling buses, in an effort to circumvent or avoid bureaucratic regulations that mediate and control access to governmental or mainstream health care services. Open Access in Ontario, an entirely faith-based program, largely relies on donations from individuals in the community, rather than government subsidies or support. Faith-affiliated, nonprofit organizations add another dimension to the provision of informal health care. Although nonprofit organizations fill a crucial role in providing care to vulnerable groups, little is known about the inner workings of such organizations. Such a study might ask: What makes informal health care the preferred choice for marginalized individuals? What support (funding or service augmentation) does the government provide for nonprofit health care organizations? Do nonprofit organizations support or diminish their governmental counterparts? What role do faith-based organizations play in the provision of health care in Ontario? How are faith-run, nonprofit service providers and recipients (volunteers, parishioners, sponsors, and service recipients) socially organized? What is the sociopolitical context in which such institutions operate?


No fixed address

Further reading Ambrosio, Eileen, et al. The Street Health Report: A Study of the Health Status and Barriers to Health Care of Homeless Women and Men in the City of Toronto. Street Health, 1992. Campbell, Marie, and Frances Gregor. Mapping Social Relations: A Primer in Doing Institutional Ethnography. Garamond Press, 2002. Chomsky, Noam. Profit Over People: Neoliberalism and Global Order. Seven Stories Press, 1999. Giroux, Henry. Schooling for Democracy: Critical Pedagogy in the Modern Age. Routledge, 1989. Raphael, Dennis. Social Determinants of Health: Canadian Perspectives. Canadian Scholars’ Press, 2004. Street, Brian. Literacy in Theory and Practice. Cambridge UP, 1984.

Conclusion This study examined the broader lineages of administrative and governmental entities that not only mediate and control women’s everyday experiences but also mediate their access to health care services. Through an in-depth examination of individuals’ first-hand experiences accessing health care services in Toronto, this study explicated the institutional practices or rules of governance that mediate relations between homeless individuals and institutional organizations. Of particular interest is the complex social interactions and interrelationships that exist between people who operate in institutionally mediated bureaucracies and the structures of health care organizations that might serve to mitigate or limit homeless individuals’ access to health care services in Toronto, Canada. Quantitative research studies have comprised a significant and useful contribution to the literature that pertains to the health of underserved populations. However, critical ethnographic research brings another dimension to the existing body of scholarly knowledge, because participants maintain an active and authoritative voice throughout the course of the ethnographic research endeavor by initiating, guiding, and directing avenues of exploration. While there have been a number of informative studies in Canada regarding the problems and challenges encountered by homeless individuals in their attempts to access health care, little has been studied regarding the everyday health-related challenges experienced by homeless mothers and women. This study aimed to fill this niche. The onerous nature of health work was a pervasive theme that emerged throughout my discussions with women living without a fixed address. For example, women often crisscrossed the city in order to shower, do laundry, obtain medicine, use the telephone or Internet, retrieve belongings from storage facilities, and relocate lost or stolen identification or paperwork. An essential component to lifework is health work, or the management of health care needs. Women’s everyday lifework was further complicated by negotiating safe sex work, obtaining prenatal care, and by managing life-threatening illness, such as addiction or HIV/AIDS. The unavoidable and relentless pursuit of daily survival work exacerbates the problems and challenges encountered by individuals. Additional to these demands are those exacted by drop-in centres or travelling clinics, each of which necessitates its own regulatory policies and procedures. Institutional plans of action, put into motion by health care policies and procedures, had significant consequences for women, and mothers, in particular. Women discussed negotiating labour and birthing processes, dealing with subsequent apprehension of their infant children, seeking support after sexual and physical assaults, and managing blood-borne diseases such as HIV/AIDS. Better access to affordable downtown housing, cash-assistance programs, and outreach programs will not only reduce the number of homeless individuals living on the streets, but such interventions may also feasibly reduce the health problems experienced by both women and their children. Homelessness and health share a cyclical relationship: poor health


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contributes to homelessness, and homelessness further exacerbates poor health. For homeless mothers, poor health has a negative and long-lasting impact not only their own well-being but also on the subsequent well-being of their children.

Author statement This research project was both reviewed and approved by the University of Toronto Research Ethics Board (REB) prior to its commencement. The author disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and or publication of this chapter: The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education and the Ontario Graduate Scholarship funded the research and/or authorship. The author declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this chapter. Pseudonyms are employed in order to protect the identity of the interviewees.

Works cited Collins Dictionaries Online. “Neoliberalism,” neoliberalism. Accessed 27 June 2017. Fischer, Pamela, and Breakey, William. “The Epidemiology of Alcohol, Drug, and Mental Disorders among Homeless Persons.” American Psychologist, vol. 46, no. 11, 1991, pp. 1115–28. Frohlich, Norman, and Cameron Mustard. “A Regional Comparison of Socioeconomic and Health Indices in a Canadian Province.” Social Science and Medicine, vol. 42, 1996, pp. 1273–81. Grenier, Paola. Still Dying for a Home: An Update of Crisis 1992 Investigation into the Links between Homelessness, Health and Mortality. Crisis, 1997. Gubrium, Jaber, and Holstein, James. Handbook of Emergent Methods. Edited by Sharlene Nagy Hesse-Biber and Patricia Leavy. Guilford Press, 2008. Hajat, Anjum, et al. “Long-term Effects of Wealth on Mortality and Self-rated Health Status.” American Journal of Epidemiology, vol. 11, 2010, pp. 627–35. Hughes, Rebecca. “Are Institutional Health Policies Exclusionary?” Journal of Qualitative Health Research, vol. 24, no. 3, 2014, pp. 366–74. Hwang, Stephen. “Homelessness and Health.” Canadian Medical Association Journal, vol. 164, no. 2, 2001, pp. 229–23. Khandor, Erika, et al. The Street Health Report 2007. Street Health, 2007. Kitagawa, Evelyn, and Philip Hauser. Differential Mortality in the United States: A Study of Socioeconomic Epidemiology. Harvard UP, 1973. Kushel, Margot, et al. “No Door to Lock: Victimization among Homeless and Marginally Housed Persons.” Archives of Internal Medicine, vol. 163, no. 20, 2003, pp. 2492–99. Little, Merry, et al. “Adverse Perinatal Outcomes Associated with Homelessness and Substance Use in Pregnancy.” Canadian Medical Association Journal, vol. 173, no. 6, 2005, 615–18. Marmot, Michael, et al. “Employment Grade and Coronary Heart Disease in British Civil Servants.” Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, vol. 32, no. 4, 1978, pp. 244–49. Marmot, Michael, et al. “Health Inequalities among British Civil Servants: The Whitehall II Study.” The Lancet, vol. 337, no. 8754, 1991, pp. 1387–93. McLeod, Christopher, et al. “Income Inequality, Household Income, and Health Status in Canada: A Prospective Cohort Study.” American Journal of Public Health, vol. 93, no. 8, 2003, pp. 1287–93. Menchik, Paul. “Economic Status as a Determinant of Mortality among Black and White Older Men: Does Poverty Kill?” Population Studies, vol. 47, no. 3, 1993, pp. 427–36. Oxford Dictionaries Online. “Homeless.” definition/homeless Rossi, Peter. Down and Out in America: The Origins of Homelessness. U of Chicago P, 1991. Smith, Dorothy E., editor. Institutional Ethnography as Practice. Rowman & Littlefield, 2006. “2013 Street Needs Assessment: Results.” City of Toronto, 2013, cd/bgrd/backgroundfile-61365.pdf. Accessed 27 June 2017. Townsend, Peter, et al. Inequalities in Health: The Black Report and the Health Divide. New York, NY: Penguin. 1992.


No fixed address UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Homelessness and the Right to Housing, n.d., www. Whitehead, Margaret. Inequalities in Health: The Black Report and the Health Divide. Penguin, 1992. Wilkinson, Richard, and Michael Marmot, editors. Social Determinants of Health: The Solid Facts. World Health Organization, 2003. Wood, David, et al. “Homeless and Housed Families in Los Angeles: A Study Comparing Demographic, Economic, and Family Function Characteristics.” American Journal of Public Health, 1990, pp. 1049–52.


18 MIDWIFERY IN HISTORICAL AND CONTEMPORARY PERSPECTIVE The collusion of race, class, and gender Alicia D. Bonaparte Introduction In 2013, the New York Times outlined the high costs of maternity care within hospital settings compared to midwifery care in the United States and Europe. Over 85% of births occur under a doctor’s supervision and predominantly in hospital delivery and labor wards. Comparatively, “in many European countries, midwives attend to most pregnancies, often in clinics, resulting in maternity charges that are a fraction of those in the United States”; “in Britain and Denmark, more than two-thirds of all births are attended by a midwife” (Rosenthal, “Getting Insurance to Pay”). Midwife literally translates to “ ‘with woman’ or ‘wise woman’ ” (Varney and Thompson 4). And yet, this birthing model’s presence became minimized in the United States so that this idea of birthing as a partnership becomes blurred or nonexistent. This chapter primarily focuses on midwifery’s history in the southeastern United States as an example of how and why midwife-attended births occur in racialized, gendered, and classed contexts. Moreover, given that black southern midwives served (and continue to serve) both black and white populaces, this grouping of midwives are vitally important today when considering the needs of vulnerable black birthing parents. This chapter will provide a history of southern black midwives, their struggles due to the development of obstetrics and gynecology in the early twentieth century, discuss the resurgence of midwives in the United States, their continued battles within birthing settings, and suggested recommendations for why black midwives are integral to address the birthing disparities faced by black birthing parents.

Background and context Historical overview of black midwifery in the United States Prior to the early 1900s, most midwives worked within their local communities in the United States. Varney and Thompson found that depending on the region, midwives were ethnic immigrant, black, or white women, and often female relatives with child-bearing history. Three predominant forms of midwifery persisted: lay midwifery, grandmother midwifery, and later nurse-midwifery. Lay midwifery connoted home births attended by informally educated 226

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practitioners. Grandmother (granny) midwifery is a derivation of lay midwifery; however, these forms of midwifery possess some differences. The term “grandmother” denoted that these midwives were older female relatives or community members who had borne children; conversely, lay midwives, were happenstance – local women who had borne children, were not menopausalaged, and were in convenient proximity to aid laboring women in their community (Bonaparte, The Persecution and Prosecution 1). Both forms of midwifery required: a spiritual “calling”; an apprenticeship until the community’s older midwife retired; or follow a matrilineal tradition of midwifery. Midwives-in-training needed a combination of these prerequisites dependent upon the southern state and traditions of their supervising midwives (1). Nurse-midwives were of a different standing given their academic and licensure expectations and their numbers grew under Mary Breckenridge’s training of nurse-midwives (Breckenridge 111).

Southern midwives: revered healers among black and white populaces Southern US midwives encapsulated within southern folk healing traditions served within their own respective racial and ethnic communities; yet, black grandmother midwives served both black and white communities during the seventeenth through the early twentieth centuries in the southern United States (Bonaparte, The Persecution and Prosecution 9). These women passed down Central and West African herbal knowledge to younger female relatives and peers which fostered rebellion against seventeenth-century dominant Western medical practices (Brown 290) and ill-suited white male doctors with little or minimal obstetrical expertise (Davis and Ingram 191–92). Poor and middle-class community members preferred entrusting their lives to these revered women due to: their divine healing gifts, skills at catching babies, respective leadership positions, and an interdependent relationship between healer and community members lasting from birth into adulthood (Bonaparte, “Physicians’ Discourse” 168). Black midwives birthed over 80% of children in the US South during the early twentieth century while white women of a higher standing in urban and northern US environs preferred a doctor or a nursemidwife as befitted their class and propriety standards (Holmes 258). These revered positions allowed midwives to not suffer undue criticism and regulation from states or the US government prior to stricter medical regulation within the first quarter of the twentieth century (Weitz and Sullivan 245). Since healthy mothers and infants were divine blessings, states with midwifery regulations had moral licensure requirements and service obligations. These regulations “typically specified that midwives attend all who needed their services, reveal the truth about illegitimacy and infanticide, and foreswear abortions and magic. Civil and religious authorities rarely interfered in midwives’ practices unless witchcraft or other heresy was suspected” (246).

Central themes and theories explaining midwifery’s decline in the early twentieth century US census records indicate midwife (and untrained nurses) numbers increased from 109,000 to 198,000 between 1900 and 1930 (Bonaparte, Persecution and Prosecution 212). The shifting landscape of US medicine and reproductive health care influenced a precipitous decline in practicing lay midwives resulting in a bifurcated system of woman-centered care and care deemed most appropriate by mainly white male physicians of the time. Consequently, the social acceptance of midwives lessened while regulation and abrogation efforts in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century impacted their birthing practices. By 1940, only 115,000 midwives (and 227

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untrained nurses) existed in the United States (212). Lay points to the renewed vigor of the American Medical Association (AMA) as a major influence on midwifery abrogation as well as an embrace of physician-supervised birthing within hospital settings (63). Prior the mid-nineteenth century, the AMA suffered a professional decline because citizens perceived doctors as barbers and incapable of providing adequate care – especially compared to alternative healers (Baer and Jones 327). Eventually, the AMA rose back into prominence via various lobbying efforts to become “a powerful interest group,” possessing political power, and a “distinctive structural position within the economy” (Starr 102 and 103). A clear example of doctors establishing themselves as reproductive medical experts involved their tapping into white middle- and upper-class women’s fears – namely not fulfilling their social gender roles resulting in death by pregnancy. The eighteenth and nineteenth century ushered in the cult of domesticity – an ideology dictating women’s mental, physical, and emotional stability required the behavioral embodiment of submissiveness, piety, domesticity, and purity (Giddings 43). White American middle- and upper-class women followed these patriarchal tenets and physicians within birthing rooms further embodied and espoused these beliefs. Women socialized into these norms opined pain was not to be borne and that women should not seek to learn midwifery skills or use midwifery services. Yet, racial prejudice and restricted socioeconomic attainment perpetuated black women’s inability to adhere to these edicts (43). For example, physicians perceived poorer and ethnic women were of “hardier stock” for childbirth and accepted their utilization of midwives as birth attendants; and, southern doctors fought against midwives’ elimination “even if they provided only second-class care” to avoid serving in rural black communities (Weitz and Sullivan 246). This acceptance was short-lived because medical professionals – under the auspices of the maternal health care movement during the second and third decade of the twentieth century – increasingly coerced poorer and ethnic minority women to use licensed physicians for prenatal and postnatal care. Conjointly, doctors sought midwifery abrogation to “force poor women to birth in hospitals to provide medical students with necessary clinical experience” (246). Doctors further established their preeminence as health care providers during the early 1900s by pathologizing pregnancy and stressed that midwife-assisted births increased probabilities of maternal or infant death, risk of disease, or puerperal fever. Conversely, physicians argued that their educational accreditation and knowledge of modern birthing technology and preventative techniques could save women from suffering. This pathologization spawned the medicalization of birth: birth is unnatural and demands trained medical supervision (Lay 5). Dr. Joseph B. DeLee, an obstetrician, led this propaganda’s charge. He rose to prominence within obstetrics as a major proponent for hospital births. His recommendations to avoid dangerous labor included using forceps, episiotomy, and ergot1 to induce uterine contractions to make birth more predictable (Leavitt 298). The AMA with support from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists advocated this procedure and catalyzed putting pregnancy and childbirth “under the control of the specialist” (298). This professional shift in birthing work monopolized prenatal and postnatal diagnosis and treatment, made medical and nursing schools harbingers of improved American health care, and undercut the practices of traditional birth attendants. Consequently, lay black and ethnic midwives in the southern and northern United States without proper credentials set forward by prohibitive licensure, professional, and academic requirements were eliminated from birthing work while a newer midwife, supervised by medical doctors and trained as a nurse-midwife, was embraced (Bonaparte, “Physicians’ Discourse” 24). Some county health departments used black nurse-midwives to “round up” lay black midwives to motivate their elimination (Bonaparte, “The Satisfactory Midwife Bag” 177). By the 228

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mid-1900s, most US babies were hospital-born while lay (mainly black and ethnic) midwives gradually became a figment of the past (Holmes 258–59). The medical model of birth where a woman’s body is a machine and the baby is its product became prominent practice until the homebirth movement challenged it (Davis Floyd 49).

Critical issues in midwife-attended births The homebirth movement and rise in midwife-attended births One central issue contributing to the renewed interest in midwife-attended births in the late 1960s into the 1970s is due to the advocacy of homebirth under midwife Ina May Gaskin and the rise of the feminist movement (Craven 47). In 1971 Gaskin, her partner, and 300 faith-based community members founded The Farm in rural Summertown, Tennessee (Gaskin 2). Within this community, traditional midwifery care is a central component of prenatal care and births within a supportive communal context. Homebirth advocacy and successful out-of-hospital births on The Farm and elsewhere contributed to the homebirth movement’s proliferation into the 1980s. The models of maternal health care began to expand beyond the highly technical into wholistic and natural models of birth. Hospital settings had a small but notable increase of midwife-attended births with some differences across racial and class lines during the late 1980s (Davis Floyd 48).

Collusion of race and class in midwife-attended births In 1989, midwife-attended births rose from 60,000 to 150,000. Women served by midwives were different from most obstetric patients because “87% of all midwife-attended births” were by non-white, younger, less educated, and unmarried women (Parker 1139). Although women of color had minute increases of midwife-attended births over white women, cultural preference might partially explain this decision-making within hospital settings. Such preferences harken back to why birthing parents celebrated traditional midwives as proponents of communal support and alternative practitioners (1139). Although Parker’s statistics date back almost three decades, she illustrates how at one point race and SES did not function as dual axes of constraint within reproductive choices or what Shellee Colen terms stratified reproduction. This term explains how and why some women of majority groups and higher-class positions are able to have empowering reproductive experiences while marginalized women are disempowered and constrained in their reproductive choices (Ginsburg and Rapp 3). Stratified reproduction then translates to either positive or negative reproductive health care experiences that impact maternal and infant health outcomes. Labor and delivery complications and low birth weight babies are lessened by midwife-­ attendance especially when the birthing parent is of low-risk and received adequate prenatal care (Davis Floyd xxi). In the early 2000s, this trend of more nonwhite birthing parents using midwives as birth attendants shifted to “home birth rates [being] higher for non-Hispanic white women, married women, women aged 25 and over, and women with several previous children” (MacDorman et al. 1). MacDorman et al. highlight that 1990 to 2006 had a continued but minimal increase of out-of-hospital and homebirths; and dropped by a few percentage points between 2004 and 2005. Within this time period, non-Hispanic white mothers had a slightly higher number of births over non-Hispanic black mothers and Hispanic mothers within hospitals as well as within freestanding birthing centers (2; Declercq 325). 229

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So, why were white women during this time period not the main recipients of midwifery care in hospitals; yet, they later became its main proponents and recipients within homebirth settings? Scholars again point to the critical role of contemporary social movements in explaining these shifts in midwife-attendant choices and how they occur in a racialized and classed context. In 2008, the Big Push for Midwives (BPM) movement – organized primarily by white homebirth mothers – advocated for more autonomous decision-making for women for their birth settings and birth attendant. BPM organizers sought “legal access to certified professional midwives (CPMs) [and] national certification for direct-entry midwives (DEM)” (Craven 1). In 2009, midwives and consumer groups supporting midwives formed the Midwives and Mothers in Action (MAMA) campaign – this campaign’s central focus was for federal recognition of CPMs. Davis Floyd delineates how the presence of midwives in reproductive health care allows women or birthing parents to have autonomy in their maternity care options (47). Rothman concurs and argues that midwifery care is a form of feminist praxis that honors the natural logistics of birthing (116). However, such autonomous choices are mitigated by: a birthing parent’s authoritative knowledge about their body, values, and beliefs in addition to how practitioners respect that knowledge (Edwards 89). Consequently, shifts in midwife-attended births continue to be gradual.

Current issues and topics Current maternal health researchers indicate despite gradual increases in out-of-hospital births and homebirths since the 1990s (Bernhard et al. 160), the legacy of pathology associated with out-of-hospital births perpetuates the trend of birthing parents’ primary utilization of hospital settings for their births in the United States ( Jansen et al. 377). Some cite the predominance of hospital births despite the availability of midwifery care persists due to an information gap about the absence of information associated with home births and birthing centers (Bernhard et al. 160). Despite an increase in midwife-attended out-of-hospital births from 1990 to 2000, state-tostate laws also govern the variation of out-of-hospital births (Declercq 326) due to the paternalistic and corporate role of insurance companies in reproductive health care (Bonaparte, “The Satisfactory Midwife Bag” 178). Various scholars disagree about why birthing parents choose midwifery services and whether wealth and race contribute to birth attendant choice or if it is a completely different confluence of factors at play such as Medicaid and private insurance. Galotti et al. contend that choosing a midwife-attended birth is directly linked to familiarity with information about birth attendance, autonomous decision-making, and appreciation of alternative birth philosophies (325). Kozhimannil et al. find similar rationales for choosing a midwife-attended birth and include birthing parents’ appreciation for the patient-provider communication patterns of midwifery care (1611). Weisband et al. contend that the role of patientprovider communication is a highly influential factor on choosing a midwife, especially when those communication patterns allow for greater autonomy rather than class (90). These studies allude to the role of health literacy. Health literacy is “the personal, cognitive, and social skills which determine the ability of individuals to gain access to, understand, and use information to promote and maintain good health” (Nutbeam 261). Nutbeam as well as Fiscella and Williams observe that poor people and people of color tend to have lower levels of health literacy in comparison to other wealthier and less marginalized groups due to restricted educational attainment via race and class (1140). These marginalized birthing parents cannot necessarily choose midwifery care. As Craven finds “white consumer power often resonates with middle-class and affluent homebirths [and] has 230

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been less applicable to the low-income families seeking midwifery care, who frequently have far fewer choices in their reproductive healthcare” (3). These constraints work in tandem with a cost-prohibitive reproductive health care marketplace.

Drivers for cost-prohibitive maternity care Insurance prohibitions within maternity care drive costs exponentially. Another contributor is corporatization in medicine where “insurance companies determine whether midwifery care is covered” to a point in which some hospitals that “primarily used midwives for prenatal and postnatal care” are shut down (Bonaparte, “The Satisfactory Midwife Bag” 178). Furthermore, insurance companies do not bundle services making patients pay more for each individual service they receive (Rosenthal, “American Way of Birth”). The 2013 Truven report reveals that between 2004 and 2010, “the prices that insurers paid for childbirth . . . rose 49 percent for vaginal births and 41 percent for Caesarean sections in the United States, with average out-ofpocket costs rising fourfold” (7). And, fearing malpractice, medical professionals engage in overzealous interventions known as “defensive medicine” (Anderson 2399). This defensive medicine in maternal health care is a consequence of the perpetual pathologization of birth thereby causing even normal pregnancies to receive a large amount of necessary and unnecessary procedures, increasing the cost of maternity care (Rosenthal, “Getting Insurance”). “Home and out-of-hospital birth is the subject [of] ongoing controversy in the United States” thanks to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists 2007 policy statement opposing home birth due to safety concerns” (MacDorman and Menacker 6). This statement supported by an AMA 2008 resolution directly contrasted with the World Health Organization, the American College of Nurse Midwives, and the American Public Health Association’s arguments supporting home and out-of-hospital births (6).

Current research on black maternal outcomes due to birth attendant choices The year 2018 marks continued attacks on women’s access to reproductive health care and a renewed interest in black women’s maternal health care outcomes as evidenced by the publication of Battling Over Birth: Black Women & The Maternal Health Care Crisis authored by ­co-founders of Black Women Birthing Justice (an Oakland-based birthing justice advocacy organization) as well as journalists Nina Martin and Renee Montagne’s ProPublica piece, “Nothing Protects Black Women from Dying in Pregnancy and Childbirth.” Battling Over Birth adroitly details via “recorded narratives and collected questionnaires” the highly vulnerable and fear-inducing birthing conditions that black women face (Oparah et al 12). Predominantly, black women face the following: “birth as a battle,” “the culture of fear and coercion,” “inadequate prenatal care,” “unnecessary and unwanted medical interventions” and “barriers to access to doula and midwifery care,” “inadequate postpartum support,” and “pressures undermining breastfeeding” (13–16). Martin and Montagne’s article echoes many of the points exposed in Battling Over Birth including “black mothers are three to four times more likely to die in pregnancy or childbirth than their white counterparts; black babies are 49 percent more likely to be born prematurely and twice as likely to perish before their first birthdays” (“Nothing Protects Black Women”, Sadly, these pieces point to what Dominguez illustrates: black maternal health outcomes have not improved significantly over the past few decades (360). Martin’s more recent article notes that midwives are a reasonable way to work to progressively address these outcomes (“A Larger Role for Midwives”). 231

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Yet, Oparah and Black Women Birthing Justice illuminate that race and SES influence why poor and birthing parents of color tend to have less authoritative knowledge in clinical settings (5). Such restrictions faced by black birthing parents explicate the preponderance of white middle- and upper-class women using CMs and CNMs. However, other contributors direct black women and poorer women in the US South away from midwife-attended births.

Southern black women choose doctors over midwives Jennie Joseph, midwife-activist for poor women and women of color and founder of the JJWay©2 finds within her activism that black women in Florida bought into the idea that midwives were alternative practitioners and less skilled compared to obstetricians and gynecologists thanks to negative myths and superstitions within anti-midwife advocacy campaigns and legislation (183). These beliefs in conjunction with issues associated with state regulations, insurance access, and the cost of maternity care further complicate choosing a midwife-attended birth.

Directions for future research Birthing work occurs within racial and classed social contexts alongside the persistence of reproductive racial health disparities predicated upon inadequate access to care and racial bias as evidenced by the experiences of black birthing parents. The nuanced complexities within the viability of midwife-attended births for women of color may have some progressive resolutions. More quality improvements are needed to mitigate disparities linked to racism and socioeconomic status. These quality improvements include: the practice of culturally competent care, health education and promotion materials geared towards increasing health literacy and autonomy among people of color and doubly marginalized groups, as well as further education about the benefits of midwifery care. Midwifery scholars could also explore how and what interventions can impede or reduce reproductive health disparities that increase opportunities for women of color to choose midwife-attended birthing settings. For example, how likely will alliances between CMS, ­ CNMS, and practicing OB/GYNs shift the landscape for bettering the birthing conditions for women of color? How do race, class, and gender impact the feasibility of these alliances? Can these alliances supersede or change the more technocratic models of birthing? How can hospitals and community health clinics embrace less technocratic models of birth in spite of influential insurance compensation rules/policies? In what ways can insurance companies be held accountable for their policies that negatively impact how birthing parents of color choose birthing attendants? And, what potentially resulting legislative reforms within insurance coverage would foment greater permissiveness of midwifery practice? Resolving these questions would provide sufficient fodder for midwifery scholars.

Further reading Bonaparte, Alicia D. “The Satisfactory Midwife Bag: Midwifery Regulation in South Carolina, Past and Present Considerations” Social Science History, vol. 38, nos. 1–2, 2014, pp. 155–82. Craven, Christa. Pushing for Midwives: Homebirth Mothers and the Reproductive Rights Movement. Temple UP, 2010. Davis Floyd, Robbie. Birth as an American Right of Passage. U of California P, 2003. Ginsburg, Faye D., and Rayna Rapp, editors. Conceiving the New World Order: The Global Politics of Reproduction. U of California P, 1995.


Midwifery in historical and contemporary perspective Martin, Nina. “A Larger Role for Midwives Could Improve Deficient U.S. Care for Mothers and Babies.” ProPublica, 2018, Accessed 13 Mar. 2018. Martin, Nina, and Renee Montagne. “Nothing Protects Black Women from Dying in Pregnancy and Childbirth.” ProPublica, 7 Dec. 2017, Accessed 12 Jan. 2018. Oparah, Julia Chinyere, and Alicia D. Bonaparte, editors. Birthing Justice: Black Women, Pregnancy, and Childbirth. Routledge, 2015. Oparah, Julia Chinyere, et al. Battling Over Birth: Black Women and the Maternal Health Care Crisis. Praeclarus Press, 2018.

Conclusion One organization seeking to continue the culture of black midwives is the National Black Midwives Alliance (NBMA) ( Embedded within the NBMA’s mission is that midwifery care promotes the understanding that birthing is a natural occurrence and allows for birthing parents to have choices regarding their birthing setting. Additionally, midwifery care can mitigate maternity costs while also providing culturally competent care to eradicate racial health disparities and fulfill the Millennium Development Maternal Health Goals of lowering maternal and infant mortality rates (Wagstaff and Claeson xi). Midwife-attended births provide opportunities for birthing parents to move away from the ways in which race, class, and gender negatively influence health care experiences and make way for affordable, supportive, and autonomous birthing settings. The recent social media campaign #BlackWomenMaternalHealthWeek highlights that scholars and maternal health care advocates continue to seek more effective interventions, so that black birthing parents can have better birthing experiences and eradicate the social inequities faced in clinical and/or hospital birthing settings ( What is of further import is that Dr. Haywood Brown and other physicians representing the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists Action group recently met at the Congressional Leadership Conference with black maternal health care advocates like Elizabeth Dawes-Gay and the organization Black Mamas Matter ( This meeting and subsequent state congressional leaders agreeing to fight against infant and maternal mortality signals more progressive steps and the onset of tailored interventions for black birthing parents.

Notes 1 Ergot is a fungus used in early obstetrical practice. 2 “The JJWay© aims not only to diminish and ultimately eradicate health disparities but also to create a community of support for the black birthing woman and all disenfranchised women” (Bonaparte and Joseph 184).

Works cited American College of Nurse-Midwives. “Fact Sheet: CNM/CM-Attended Birth Statistics in the United States.” American College of Nurse Midwives, Mar. 2016, Filename/000000005950/CNM-CM-AttendedBirths-2014-031416FINAL.pdf. 2016. Accessed 17 Dec. 2017. Anderson, Richard E. “Billions for Defense: The Pervasive Nature of Defensive Medicine.” Archives of Internal Medicine, vol. 159, no. 20, 1999, pp. 2399–402.


Alicia D. Bonaparte Baer, Hans A., and Yvonne Jones. African Americans in the South: Issues of Race, Class, and Gender. U of Georgia P, 1992. Bernhard, Casey, et al. “Home Birth After Hospital Birth: Women’s Choices and Reflections.” Journal of Midwifery & Women’s Health, vol. 59, no. 2, 2014, pp. 160–66. Black Mamas Matter. “Black Maternal Health Week.” Accessed 26 Mar. 2018. Black Midwives Alliance. “Power.” Accessed 26 Mar. 2018. Bonaparte, Alicia D. The Persecution and Prosecution of the Granny Midwife in South Carolina, 1900–1940. 2007. Vanderbilt University, PhD dissertation. ———. “The Satisfactory Midwife Bag: Midwifery Regulation in South Carolina, Past and Present Considerations.” Social Science History, vol. 38, nos. 1–2, 2014, pp. 155–82. ———. “Physicians’ Discourse for Establishing Authoritative Knowledge in Birthing Work and Reducing the Presence of the Granny Midwife.” Journal of Historical Sociology, vol. 28, no. 2, 2014, pp. 166–94. Bonaparte, Alicia D., and Jennie Joseph. “Becoming an Outsider-Within: Jennie Joseph’s Activism in Florida Midwifery.” Birthing Justice: Black Women, Pregnancy, and Childbirth, edited by Julia Chinyere Oparah and Alicia D. Bonaparte, Routledge, 2015, pp. 176–86. Breckenridge, Mary. Wide Neighborhoods: A Story of the Frontier Nursing Service. UP of Kentucky, 1981. Brown, Ras Michael. “Walk in the Feenda: West-Central Africans and the Forest in the South CarolinaGeorgia Lowcountry.” Central Africans and Cultural Transformations in the American Diaspora, edited by Hans A. Baer and Yvonne Jones, Cambridge UP, 2002, pp. 289–317. Colen, Shellee. “Like a Mother to Them: Stratified Reproduction and West Indian Childcare Workers and Employers in New York.” Conceiving the New World Order: The Global Politics of Reproduction. U of California P, 1995, pp. 78–102. Congressional Leadership Conference. “The Congressional Leadership Conference (CLC): The President’s Conference.” Accessed 21 Mar. 2018. Craven, Christa. Pushing for Midwives: Homebirth Mothers and the Reproductive Rights Movement. Temple UP, 2010. Davis, Sheila P. and Cora A. Ingram. “Empowered Caretakers: A Historical Perspective on the Roles of Granny Midwives in Rural Alabama.” Wings of Gauze: Women of Color and the Experience of Health and Illness, edited by Barbara Bair and Susan E. Cayleff, Wayne State UP, 1993, pp. 191–201. Davis Floyd, Robbie. Birth as An American Right of Passage. U of California P, 2003. Declercq, Eugene. “Trends in Midwife-Attended Births in the United States, 1989–2009.” Journal of Midwifery & Women’s Health, vol. 57, no. 4, 2012, pp. 321–26. Dominguez, Tyan Parker. “Race, Racism, and Racial Disparities in Adverse Birth Outcomes.” Clinical Obstetrics and Gynecology, vol. 51, no. 2, 2008, pp. 360–70. Edwards, Nadine Pilley. Birthing Autonomy: Women’s Experiences of Planning Home Births. Routledge, 2005. Fiscella, Kevin, and David Williams. “Health Disparities Based on Socioeconomic Inequities: Implications for Urban Health Care.” Academic Medicine, vol. 79, no. 12, 2004, pp. 1139–47. Galotti, Kathleen M., et al. “Midwife or Doctor: A Study of Pregnant Women Making Delivery Decisions.” Journal of Midwifery & Women’s Health, vol. 45, no. 4, 2000, pp. 320–29. Gaskin, Ina May. “Editorial.” Birth Gazette, vol. 10, no. 1, 1993, p. 2. Giddings, Paula. When and Where I Enter: The Impact of Black Women on Race and Sex in America. Morrow, 1994. Ginsburg, Faye D., and Rayna Rapp, editors. Conceiving the New World Order: The Global Politics of Reproduction. U of California P, 1995. Holmes, Linda Janet. “Midwives, Southern Black.” Encyclopedia of Childbearing: Critical Perspectives, edited by Barbara Katz Rothman, Oryx Press, 1992, pp. 258–60. Kozhimannil, Katy B., et al. “Midwifery Care and Patient – Provider Communication in Maternity Decisions in the United States.” Maternal and Child Health Journal, vol. 19, no. 7, 2015, pp. 1608–15. Lay, Mary M. The Rhetoric of Midwifery: Gender, Knowledge, and Power. Rutgers UP, 2000. Leavitt, Judith Walzer. “Science Enters the Birthing Room: Obstetrics in America Since the Eighteenth Century.” The Journal of American History, vol. 70, no. 2, 1983, pp. 281–304. MacDorman, Marian F., et al. “Trends and Characteristics of Home and Other Out of-Hospital Births in the United States, 1990–2006.” National Vital Statistics Reports: From the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics, National Vital Statistics System, vol. 58, no. 11, 2010, pp. 1–14.


Midwifery in historical and contemporary perspective Martin, Nina, and Renee Montagne. “Nothing Protects Black Women from Dying in Pregnancy and Childbirth.” ProPublica, 7 Dec. 2017, Accessed 12 Jan. 2018. Nutbeam, Don. “Health Literacy as a Public Health Goal: A Challenge for Contemporary Health Education and Communication Strategies into the 21st Century.” Health Promotion International, vol. 15, nos. 1, 3, 2000, pp. 259–67. Oparah, Julia Chinyere, and Black Women Birthing Justice. “Beyond Coercion and Malign Neglect: Black Women and the Struggle for Birth Justice.” Birthing Justice: Black Women, Pregnancy, and Childbirth, edited by Julia Chinyere Oparah and Alicia D. Bonaparte, Routledge, 2015, pp. 1–18. Oparah, Julia Chinyere, et al. Battling Over Birth: Black Women and the Maternal Health Care Crisis. Praeclarus Press, 2018. Parker, Jennifer D. “Ethnic Differences in Midwife-Attended US Births.” American Journal of Public Health, vol. 84, nos. 7, 1994. pp. 1139–1141. Rosenthal, Elisabeth. “American Way of Birth, Costliest in the World.” New York Times, 1 July 2013, Accessed 25 Nov. 2017. ———. “Getting Insurance to Pay for Midwives.” New York Times, 3 July 2013, https://well.blogs.nytimes. com/2013/07/03/getting-insurance-to-pay-for-midwives. Accessed 21 Nov. 2017. Rothman, Barbara Katz. Recreating Motherhood. Rutgers UP, 2000. Starr, Paul. The Social Transformation of Medicine. Basic Books, 1982. Truven Health Analytics. “The Cost of Having a Baby in the United States.” Truven Health Analytics MarketScan© Study, 2013, Cost-of-Having-a-Baby1.pdf. Accessed 25 Nov. 2017. Varney, Helen and Joyce Beebe Thompson. A History of Midwifery in the United States: The Midwife Said Fear Not. Springer Publishing, 2015. Wagstaff, Adam, and Mariam Claeson. The Millennium Development Goals for Health: Rising to the Challenges. The World Bank, 2004. Weisband, Yiska Loewenberg, et al. “Who Uses a Midwife for Prenatal Care and for Birth in the United States? A Secondary Analysis of Listening to Mothers III.” Women’s Health Issues, vol. 28, no. 1, 2018, pp. 89–96. Weitz, Rose and Deborah Sullivan. “Midwife Licensing.” Encyclopedia of Childbearing: Critical Perspectives, edited by Barbara Katz Rothman. The Onyx Press, 1992, pp. 245–247.


19 MOTHERS IN PRISON Matricentric feminist criminology Sinead O’Malley

John Lonergan, Governor of Mountjoy Prison for 22 years, writes, “I apologize to nobody when I say my ultimate admiration is for mothers. There is something distressing about seeing mothers locked up in prison and their children outside” (142). As Lonergan reveals, mothering from prison is a distinct and painful prison experience. John Lonergan, a retired governor of the largest mixed gender prison complex in Ireland, had the unique and rare position to observe all prisoner types and incarceration experiences over three decades. And while men constituted approximately 97% of the prisoner population during his period in office, the subgroup of mothers (within the subgroup of females) acquired his ultimate respect and recognition. Why? Because of the inimitable trauma that imprisonment invokes upon incarcerated mothers. Notwithstanding this, the management of penal institutions and the overall discourse on crime has primarily and historically focused on male issues as the majority population, often misrepresenting the underlining causes and effects of offending and imprisonment for incarcerated mothers globally. In the background and context section, this chapter discusses the inception of feminist criminology as a necessary development and, through a matricentric feminist lens, evidences the gendered political agenda which questions the legitimacy of imprisonment for this vulnerable group of mothers. The following section of this chapter, critical issues and topics, draws attention to research and literature on the hardships imprisoned mothers specifically are challenged with, and arguably the single biggest concern for incarcerated mothers: the complex nature of contact with their babies and older children. The overarching principle of the chapter is to present current and topical research on the maternal experience of incarceration, showcasing the matricentric strand within feminist criminology; therefore, providing mothers with their own space within the broader field of feminist criminological literature.

Background and context Accurate contemporary statistics on the number of imprisoned mothers is hard to come by. This is in part, as argued by other academics (Flynn, “Waiting for Mum”; Minson et al.; Baldwin and Epstein), due to the fact that much research precludes incarcerated mothers of children over 18 years of age and, in part, because most prison establishments do not collate or release such information. Nevertheless, a recent Irish national study conducted by O’Malley (“Motherhood, 236

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Mothering”) found that 78% of female prisoners are mothers, of which 27% of the children of the incarcerated mothers were over 18 years. While the first prison built exclusively for females was built in Amsterdam in 1645, it wasn’t until the early nineteenth century that separate prisons were established for women across Europe and the United States. Prior to this, convicted females were abandoned to penal labour colonies or housed alongside men in corrupt and dilapidated correctional houses or jails without due concern for their welfare or safety (Zedner; Clear, Cole, and Reisig). Alongside the development of female penitentiaries was the arrival of prison nurseries, marking the most visible distinction between male and female nineteenth-century penal institutions. Initially, incarcerated mothers would usually keep their children with them until the end of their sentence, and, as explained by Lucia Zedner, many mothers benefited from the basic living resources provided within the prison, resources which these mothers oftentimes lacked in the community. However, concerns grew for the cognitive and social development of the child, particularly the influence of criminality. This led to a movement whereby mothers frequently resigned (often under coercion) their maternal rights, which led to the separation from their children, who were regularly subsequently sent to other industrial or religious institutions (Zedner, 307). To the benefit of incarcerated mothers, during this era, middle-class Quakers and Christian philanthropic women became very active in providing support services within prisons (Zedner). Elizabeth Fry was one of the most prolific international advocates for female prison reform in the nineteenth century, advocating – among many things – for community-based alternatives to be used in lieu of the formal prison system where possible (Zedner; Clear et al.). Alternative formal and informal institutions were available throughout Europe and the United States; as Smith notes, the first “asylum for fallen women,” called the Magdalen Society of Philadelphia, opened in the United States in 1800 (qtd. in McAleese 36). However, by the late nineteenth century, such institutions were widespread; approximately 300 Magdalen Laundries were in operation in the United Kingdom, for example. In addition, as Pat Carlen notes in “Law, Psychiatry and Women’s Imprisonment” and Lisa Hackett in “Working with Women and Mothers Experiencing Mental Distress,” the shadowy use of asylums for the mentally insane and those women cast from society unfortunately became too familiar. Subsequently, other forms of coercive confinement became customary: female prisons began to close, and courts frequently used such institutions as an alternative to prison well into the twentieth century (Baldwin, Mothering Justice; McAleese; Quinlan; Zedner). However, as women’s rights and the feminist movement emerged on the political agenda during the mid-twentieth century, welfare reform had an interestingly diminishing effect on the use of such institutions. Mothers who received some form of social welfare income support were able to keep their children. Prior to this, maternal crimes were often poor moral crimes (i.e., infanticide and stealing) and reflective of the times of social hostility and the lack of social welfare support for single unwed mothers. As stealing for survival among poor mothers mostly dissolved, the Laundries and institutions lost their captive supply and began to close their doors (IPRT and KHF; O’Malley, “A Mother Is Serving Her Sentence”). However, the twenty-first century saw yet another turn in the criminalisation and incarceration of mothers. Today women constitute the fastest growing prison population; while the world prison population has risen by 20% since 2000, the global number of incarcerated females has increased by over 50% within the same timeframe (Walmsley; Golden). Feminist criminologist Christina Quinlan concluded that the increasing willingness to imprison women is related to a need to maintain the patriarchal order, which is managed and implemented through the relentless so-called war on drugs (also see Golden). 237

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It is now recognised that incarcerated women and mothers exhibit substance dependencies, which are often more acute compared to their male counterparts, frequently presenting as the underline cause for their criminality and imprisonment (Cain and Gross; Kilty and Dej; Elwood Martin et al., Arresting Hope). Research argues that the rise of female incarceration is due to social policies and judicial practices, which seek to punish or ignore challenges related to unresolved and ongoing trauma and adversity incarcerated mothers face in society and their often interlinked challenges with substance misuse, as opposed to promoting gender-informed responses to the root causes of crime and drug treatment and rehabilitation programmes (Costello; Minson et al.; Golden). Moreover, due to the nature of such crimes, sentences are often short which do not permit time for mothers to properly immerse in prison-based rehabilitative programmes before the cycle of release, possible homelessness, addiction, and re-entry begins again (Golden; Aiello; Unnasch; Kilty and Dej). Nevertheless, as a result of the increase in female incarceration, the distinct gendered needs of female prisoners and how mothers manage and are managed within and across the wider criminal and social justice institutions gained international, political, and scholarly attention (Carlen, “Mothers in Prison”; Enos; Flynn, “Waiting for Mum”; Carmody and McEvoy; Smart). Prior to the twenty-first century, mother’s crimes were predominantly poor gendered crimes such as stealing, fraud, infanticide, and prostitution, and early criminologists theorised female criminality as the product of “presumed” female characteristics, i.e., dishonesty, promiscuity, or insanity (Hackett, in Baldwin Mothering Justice; Zedner; Lonergan; Carlen, “Law, Psychiatry and Women’s Imprisonment”). However, the development of feminist criminology in the 1970s challenged this conventional understanding, attacking the dominant and accepted sexual and cultural stereotyping of offending women and mothers. Feminist criminology was initially advanced by sociologist Carol Smart within Women, Crime and Criminology: A Feminist Critique. While it remains true that women commit far fewer crimes and crimes that are predominately nonviolent and gendered, Smart still argued that all previous criminological theories did not address women’s distinct pathways into crime nor explain well enough their particular offences. Subsequent and complementary work by Pat Carlen explored how offending women are depicted as evil women who transgress both social and gendered norms, as Gordana Eljdupovic and Rebecca Jaremko Bromwich assert, “incarcerated mothers are ‘doubly stigmatised’ or ‘double odd’. They are where most of the women are not or should not be. They are in jail, like men” (1). Such transgressions of social and gendered norms are now referred to, in feminist criminology, as the “double deviance” phenomenon (Masson; Baldwin, Mothering Justice). Smart and Carlen ignited a debate into the ignorance of earlier criminological theories which ignored the specific economic, cultural, and class challenges women and mothers face within society. Previously overlooked areas of enquiry, such as “Why do women, who’s economic position is generally worse than men’s – commit far fewer crimes?” and “How do mothers experience incarceration differently?” became a focus for discussion for the first time.

Matricentric feminism In refining the matricentric feminist (O’Reilly) strand within criminology, O’Malley’s (“Motherhood, Mothering”) participatory research with incarcerated mothers drew from motherhood scholars such as Adrienne Rich, Sara Ruddick, Andrea O’Reilly, and Nancy Chodorow and focused on how patriarchy “polices all women’s mothering and results in the pathologizing of those who do not or cannot perform normative motherhood’ (O’Reilly 19). Moreover, Sophie Feintuch theorises that motherhood itself is used a source of control. For instance, the structure and programme of prison nurseries “(re)produce a white, Western, middle-class idealized vision 238

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of motherhood and rehabilitation – which is inconsistent with the background of most of the imprisoned women” (73). Regardless that the vast majority of mother’s crimes are completely unrelated to the love and care they provide their children, synergies between “bad mothering,” intensive mothering ideologies, and the imprisoned mother have been explored by various commentators in this area (Enos; Granja et al.; Aiello). Through the direct voices of imprisoned mothers, Talia Esnard and Kimberly Okpala theorise how structural marginalisation and inequalities – which ultimately provides the bedrock for intensive mothering ideologies – impact on mothering both before and during incarceration. Moreover, scholars such as Gordana Eljdupovic, Rebecca Jaremko Bromwich, and Lucy Baldwin (Mothering Justice) provide a matricentric focus on how incarcerated mothers are pathologised, scrutinised, criminalised, and ultimately judged as bad mothers for not subscribing to idealised motherhood often projected on them via patriarchy; “Incarcerated mothers are not doing what social expectations dictate that ‘good’ mothers should do; they are not providing daily care to their children. Rather, they are separated from their children, leaving them in the care of someone else, often a stranger” (Eljdupovic and Jaremko Bromwich 1).

Gendered political agenda As the matricentric theoretical and literature focus on imprisonment developed, so did the gendered political agenda. This political shift began to address, for the first time, the ways in which women, mothers, and maternal issues had been historically ignored. This agenda finally rendered the rights and needs of imprisoned mothers as visible and essential. The agenda of this gender politics acknowledged the unique challenges faced by incarcerated mothers as distinct from other prisoner groups, via national, European, and international treaties. For instance, Rule 19 of European Prison Rules (2006) outlines the sanitation requirements for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers; Rule 36 asserts infants should be supported to stay with their imprisoned mother for as long as it is determined in the child’s best interest, and, where separation must occur, then “the parental authority of the mother, if it has not been removed, should be recognised”; Rule 36 also states special accommodation should be set aside for mothers and babies, and there must be a nursery and trained staff to care for the infant while the mothers participates in other activities. Finally European Prison Rules (2006) subsequently inserted Rule 34, a dedicated section recognising the specific gendered needs of women, by acknowledging that “women prisoners are particularly likely to have suffered physical, mental or sexual abuse prior to imprisonment” (Council of Europe). However, one of the most significant international instruments is The United Nations Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-Custodial Measures for Women Offenders (otherwise referred to as “Bangkok Rules”), introduced and adopted by the United Nations in 2010. Bangkok Rules provide the first set of UN rules specifically geared towards the needs of women offenders/prisoners. While many of the Bangkok Rules span across areas of pregnancy, work, childcare, childbirth, Rule 64, which recommends non-custodial sentences for mothers of dependent children, is most widely referenced. Non-custodial sentences for pregnant women and women with dependent children shall be preferred where possible and appropriate, with custodial sentences being considered when the offence is serious or violent or the woman represents a continuing danger, and after taking into account the best interests of the child or children, while ensuring that appropriate provision has been made for the care of such children. (United Nations) 239

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However, while such international treaties are beginning to bed down, the voices of mothers sought out via matricentric feminist criminological research reflects that this is often political rhetoric rather a genuine agenda to reform local practice and policy. For instance, as initially argued for by Elizabeth Fry, and recommended again in Bangkok Rules, one of the most prominent topical debates is whether mothers should be imprisoned in the first place. Yet the reality is, as evidenced earlier, the number of mothers being given custodial sentences is consistently and relentlessly increasing (Feintuch; Golden). The premise of the argument for non-custodial sentencing of mother offenders is often based on the fact that prison does not work (Moore and Scraton; Baldwin, “Mothers in Prison”); it does not reduce recidivism; in fact O’Malley (“Motherhood, Mothering”) found that mothers are statistically more likely to be readmitted into prison compared to non-mothers. Moreover, much international research has recently focused on the ineptness and detrimental impact of short sentences on incarcerated mothers, which mothers are statistically more likely to receive due to their predominately low-level crimes (Elwood Martin et al., “Primary Health Care”; Masson). The premise of the concerns regarding short sentences is that even though short, evidence has shown they have the potential to have long-term, even life-long and intergenerational negative effects on the mothers and her children. One example is that mothers tend to lose their homes within 42 days of being in prison (Reilly), and the catastrophic implications of that reality on the mother and her children, a statistic not reflected in research on father prisoners. This difference is due to the fact that incarcerated mothers are more often lone mothers (Feintuch; Esnard and Okpala; Minson et al.), whereas children of incarcerated fathers tend to be cared for in their own homes by their mothers while the father serves out his sentence. Finally, incarceration is an expensive business. The Prison Reform Trust in the United Kingdom reported that the cost of imprisoning mothers for nonviolent offences is estimated at more than £17 million over 10 years (Minson et al.). Several academics and penal reform advocates argue that such an investment would be better stretched across early intervention services and alternatives to custody (Minson et al.; Mulcahy and Quinlan). Such gender-responsive services would recognise the overwhelming challenges these mothers face with their poverty and substance misuse, addictions which are often interrelated with experiences of unmanaged past and ongoing trauma and mental and maternal ill health (Baldwin et al.). For instance, in the United States, housing a mother in Riker’s Island costs $60,000 a year compared to $18,000 a year for a drug treatment centre (Golden). In Canada, the average annual cost per prisoner is $115,000 compared to $18,000 for community based parole and probation supervision (The John Howard Society of Canada). In Ireland, the Probation Service funds the community-based women’s centres, and the average annual cost of supervising a Probation Order in the community is €5,000, compared to a colossal €65,542 per year per prisoner (O’Malley and Devaney, “Supporting Incarcerated Mothers”). Central to this discussion, as alluded to earlier, is the collateral damage of imprisonment: aside from homelessness, the disruption to relationships and loss of mother-child attachments is of huge concern – having serious and direct implications for their children, referred to in the literature as the “orphans of justice” (Flynn et al.). Research has shown that relationships with children never fully recover when a mother is given a custodial sentence (Baldwin, “Motherhood Disrupted”). However, those mothering through adversity are often implicitly blamed and labelled as bad mothers, accused by “the systems” of not achieving the best for their children regardless of the explicit challenges they face and the overall lack of support from those same systems to address the issue of offending, trauma, and addiction through an alternative rehabilitative lens outside of the formal penal system (Eljdupovic and Jaremko Bromwich; Neale and Lopez; Esnard and Okpala). 240

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Critical issues and topics Trauma, mental health, and addiction Feminist criminology acknowledges the role that trauma has played in the life course of the many women who end up in the prison system (Smart; Chamberlen; Barnes and Stringer), while matricentric feminist criminologists have worked hard to draw out what this means in relation to the imprisoned mothers’ experience of motherhood and mothering (Baldwin, Mothering Justice; Enos). The empirical and statistical link between trauma and incarceration is now confirmed (Shamai and Kochal; Cain and Gross; Elwood Martin et al., Arresting Hope; Neale and Lopez; Ashton et al.). Research has found that the lifetime prevalence rates of severe violence (in childhood by child carers and in adulthood by intimate partners) experienced particularly by imprisoned mothers far exceeds all those acts of abuse reported by women in the general public (Brown et al.). Imprisoned mothers are four times more likely to have experienced rape compared to imprisoned fathers (Burgess-Proctor et al.) and nearly half of women in prison are victims of domestic abuse (Masson). Empirical research on the subgroup of imprisoned mothers found that they faced acute challenges due to situations of domestic violence, preand post-imprisonment, because of their motherhood and mothering responsibilities, which is then exasperated by the incarceration experience (Baldwin and Epstein; Minson et al.; Neale and Lopez; Carlen, “Mothers in Prison”). Moreover, incarcerated mothers are more likely to experience intergenerational and inter-familial incarceration compared to incarcerated fathers (Dallaire, “Incarcerated Mothers and Fathers”), and imprisonment has been identified as a route to lone motherhood and homelessness (IPRT and KHF), presenting challenges in regaining custody of children post release (O’Malley, “Motherhood, Mothering”; Baldwin and Epstein), such discourse which is absent in studies regarding imprisoned fathers. In addition, there are distinct differences between imprisoned mothers’ and fathers’ experiences of seeking childcare during their custodial sentences. Children of imprisoned fathers are more frequently cared for in their own homes by their own mothers (Dallaire, “Children with Incarcerated Mothers”; Minson et al.), whereas children of incarcerated mothers mostly live out of home – either with other family members or placed into state foster care, often also experiencing sibling separation (Caddle et al.; Baldwin, “Mothers in Prison”). Subsequent to this, imprisoned mothers often rely on caregivers who have health and poverty-related challenges of their own, so these substitute caregivers are not always able to provide the ideal childcare environment (Hissel et al.). Considering the challenges imprisoned mothers are already faced with regarding their own, often unmanaged trauma, this cycle of intergenerational trauma and institutionalisation is pertinent to the overall debate and the unique challenges incarcerated mothers are faced with. Equally, poor mental well-being, suicide, and deliberate self-harm is of huge concern in relation to imprisoned mothers. Statistics show that 46% of incarcerated women in the United Kingdom have previously attempted suicide (Prison Reform Trust); 20% of female prisoners self-harm while serving their sentence, which is 30 times the rate of the general population (Chamberlen) and four times the rate of male prisoners (Ministry of Justice). Deliberate self-harm is acknowledged as a coping strategy for past and ongoing traumas, including, what is referred to in criminological literature as the “pains of imprisonment” (Chamberlen) as coined by criminologist Gresham Sykes. Ann Booker Loper and Elena Hontoria Tuerk argue that there is a direct link between the “pains of imprisonment” exerted via deliberate self-harm and suicide to the emotional pain incarcerated mothers feel resulting from being separated from their children. Certainly, literature on the pain and emotional turmoil 241

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associated with the imprisoned mother’s separation from her children is often discussed as the most difficult aspect of her time in prison (Hairston; Arditti and Few). O’Malley (“Motherhood, Mothering”) found what primary caring mothers missed most was the physical presence of their children, along with performing mothering. Moreover, the emotional journey of reconnecting with children during and post imprisonment is just as challenging (Baldwin, “Motherhood Disrupted”). As highlighted by Loper and Tuerk, separation via imprisonment is distinct compared to other types of mother-child separation, as it is often enforced and therefore results in poor maternal emotional regulation under specific confined circumstances and heightened surveillance. While Sinead O’Malley (“A Mother Is Serving Her Sentence”) highlights some advances in staff training initiatives beneficial to incarcerated mothers, literature consistently reports on the lack of training and awareness among prison staff regarding the specific vulnerabilities of the mother prisoner population (CCPHE and UBC; Baldwin, Mothering Justice; Zust). Moreover, as Linda Moore and Phil Scraton impeccably highlight, imprisoned women who exhibit mental distress are often exposed to strategies, such as segregation and solitary confinement, which exasperate their psychological vulnerabilities. In response, the Guidelines for The Implementation of Mother-Child Units in Canadian Correctional Facilities (CCPHE and UBC) makes specific endorsements for trauma-informed care sensitive to the needs of incarcerated mothers and pregnant women recovering from past or managing ongoing trauma and the applied use of trauma-informed practice to address the substance use challenges imprisoned mothers face. The interconnectedness between trauma and addiction has long since been recognised and confirmed (Woods; Ashton et al.). Reflective of this, mothers in both Marguerite Wood and Sinead O’Malley’s (“Motherhood, Mothering”) study described severe and multiple childhood adversities and how substances were specifically used during motherhood to escape such difficult memories. As Woods explains, maternal stigma is magnified as substance-dependent mothers are viewed as putting their own needs before their children, which according to good mothering ideals (Granja et al.) is the epitome of bad mothering; “good mothers,” as the literature on intensive mothering asserts, must “always” put their children first (Aiello). Likewise, many mothers challenged with addictions acknowledge that they are viewed and judged by society as “dishonest” “bad mothers” (Woods). Most studies concerning maternal imprisonment, regardless of the research aims and objectives, will at least acknowledge substance misuse among this group of mothers, if not explicitly report its prevalence (Kilty and Dej; O’Malley (“Motherhood, Mothering”); Espinet et al.; Freudenberg et al.; Cain and Gross), or that mothers challenged with addictions and incarceration have significant family histories of substance misuse (Taylor et al.; Suchman et al.). The consumption and sale of illicit drugs has affected incarcerated mothers across the globe (Giacomello; Silva-Segovia). In Iran, for example, most imprisoned mothers are incarcerated for stealing invoked as a method of survival due their husband’s drug addiction and/or their subsequent divorce; they rarely consumed drugs themselves (Forooeddin Adl et al.; Rahimipour Anaraki and Boostani). Likewise, Talia Esnard and Kimberly Okpala in their work seeking the voices of incarcerated mothers in Trinidad and Tobago highlight that over half of the women of African descent were in prison for drug-related crimes (52%), followed by violent crimes (26%); while the opposite is true for East Indian women in the same prison population, half of whom are in prison for violent crimes (50%), followed by drug offences (27%). The primary reason for female imprisonment in Latin America is drug trafficking based on economic necessity (Silva-Segovia). Reflective of this is the strong representation of Latin American mothers in European prisons (Feintuch). Nonetheless, as Jimena Silva-Segovia clearly asserts, the institution of motherhood is 242

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always challenged when it is a mother who is criminalised and incarcerated, regardless if she is a consumer, a vender, or challenged by adversity and poverty, or all the above. As a result of the recognised drug epidemic, many prison-based parenting programmes have a starting point that mothers have extensive histories with drug or alcohol addiction, which have impacted on their ability to mother (Aiello). Interestingly, maternal incarceration can however serve to alleviate some chaos associated with managing active addiction and can offer children of imprisoned mothers a period of relative stability (Burgess and Flynn; Burgess-Proctor et al.). Several studies (Aiello; Cartwright; Baldwin and Epstein; O’Malley “Motherhood, Mothering”) found (sometimes within their broader study) that prison can provide substance dependent mothers with “much needed clean-time and a chance to restore communication with children and child caregivers” (Aiello). Indeed, Sinead O’Malley (“Motherhood, Mothering”) found that mothers often used prison as a space of “respite and repair” to overcome long-term problematic drug use. Similarly, research has shown the opportunity to mother while in prison can potentially invite positive change (Kauffman; Shamai and Kochal).

Supporting mother-child bonds and contact? Babies in prison While it has been reported that 7% of women who go into prison in the United Kingdom are pregnant (McLaughlin et al.), US research claims that if those who have recently given birth are also considered, then the figure could be as high as 25% (Kubiak et al.). There are several international practices that support imprisoned mothers and babies to remain together, much of which is provided for via legislation to support of breastfeeding, often for children up to two to three years (Library of Congress). Examples of this include countries such as Ireland, the United Kingdom, Canada, Zimbabwe, Botswana, and Chile among many others (Matsika et al.; CCPHE and UBC; O’Malley and Devaney, “Maintaining the Mother”; Abbott, in Baldwin, Mothering Justice). Additionally, there are examples where time limits for babies have been flexible meaning babies can remain in prison with their mothers after the legal age limit (O’Malley and Baldwin). Programmes where incarcerated mothers are supported to keep their babies are commonly referred to as Mother and Baby Units (MBUs) or Prison Nursery Programmes (PNP) (Abbott; Byrne et al.). The overarching benefits of MBUs/PNP have been outlined by many commentators (Abbott; Sleed et al.; Baradon et al.; Byrne et al.; Campbell and Carlson). Custodial programmes focused on child-rearing not only have positive outcomes for the mother-baby relationship and the mother’s well-being but also assist in lowering recidivism (Burgess and Flynn). Moreover, mothers who engage with such programmes are more likely to sustain longterm relationships with their children (Kubiak et al.). Overall, the consensus is that MBUs/ PNP provide positive opportunities for mother-child bonding (Byrne), otherwise challenged in the community via chaotic lifestyles, strained or violent inter-partner relationships, substance misuse, poverty, or poor mental and maternal well-being (Baldwin, Mothering Justice). This is important, since women are twice as likely as male offenders to have experienced foster care as children (Gardiner et al.), therefore acknowledging the intergenerational cycle of disrupted maternal bonds which MBUs/PNP have the potential to break. Indeed, several criminological and psychological studies on MBUs/PNP have applied attachment theory, as coined by John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth, to the mother-child prison scenario (Baradon et al.; Cassidy et al.). However, a systematic review on attachment-focused policy and government publications in the United Kingdom found that, while attachment theory 243

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infiltrated much of the discourse, most references were child-focused and hinged on the “best interest of the child” (Powell et al.). What this work ultimately confirms is that, while the trauma of mother-child separation is very much recognised in feminist criminology, such strong moral and child-focused arguments frequently overshadow the equal need for the mother to have a healthy balanced attachment with her child. However, matricentirc feminist research is beginning to emerge in this area. For example, Laura Abbott and Tricia Scott’s work on pregnancy and birth in prison found mother-baby bonding through breastfeeding while in prison was described as a “life-saving experience” by some of the mothers in their work. Regardless of the overall positive evidence on MBUs/PNP, unfortunately, it is not automatic protocol that imprisoned and postpartum mothers will keep their babies. While in some countries, Ireland and Africa, for instance (O’Malley, “A Mother Is Serving Her Sentence”; Matsika et al.), mothers are generally supported to keep their babies; other countries, such as the United Kingdom, Canada, and Scotland, do not automatically support this practice (Gardiner et al.; Abbott and Scott; McCormick et al.). In the United Kingdom, approximately 500 postnatal imprisoned mothers are separated from their babies each year (O’Malley and Baldwin), and one in every five babies are removed from their imprisoned mothers in Scotland (Gardiner et al.). Subsequently, many MBUs, for instance, in the United Kingdom and Canada, remain underutilised and are being closed (O’Malley and Baldwin; CCPHE and UBC). Reasons, again, often focus on the “child’s best interest” (CCPHE and UBC); however, it has been proven that decisions related to whether or not a mother can keep her baby are oftentimes realised by professionals who have rarely met the mother. The trauma of mother-child separation under such circumstances is acute (O’Malley et al). While imprisoned mothers endure poor mental health and well-being as a result of being separated from their babies (Byrne et al.), maternal depressive and mental health difficulties already present can be exasperated as a direct result of the mother-baby separation via imprisonment, particularly when separation occurs soon after birth: a time when postpartum mothers’ maternal well-being is ordinarily monitored and challenged regardless of additional challenges (Abbott; Powell et al.).

Visits, letters, and calls While literature provides examples where countries permit older children to reside with their mothers in prison (Library of Congress; Philbrick et al.), the reality remains that most mothers are separated from their children via incarceration. For those, mother-child contact is a contentious issue. Moral and rights-based debates occur regarding whether or not children should have contact with their incarcerated mother (Matsika et al.; Epstein). These initial debates are not independent of an additional layer of complex questions, which tend to be the focus of most contemporary research and literature: for instance, how is contact managed? Who supports dependent children to visit? How often is enough or too little? What are the conditions within which visits take place? (Burgess and Flynn; Flynn, “Getting There and Being There” Mignon and Ransford; Arditti). However, while this is not an exhaustive list of relevant questions, a smaller body of research reminds us that no matter what the conditions – or indeed if the perfect prison policy recipe exists – outcomes of mother-child prison visitation and contact are contingent on the context of individual mother-child relationships and the mothers formal and informal supports prior to, during, and post her imprisonment (O’Malley, “Motherhood, Mothering”). Often, prison visits and parenting programmes are utilised as a method to sustain meaningful contact between incarcerated mothers and their children (McLaughlin et al.). Where unique interventions are designed to increase the quality and frequency of mother-child contact via 244

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imprisonment, it is difficult to source negative research. For example, increased mother-child prison visitation has shown to improve maternal depressive symptoms (Poehlmann) and improve empathy and parenting attitudes among imprisonment mothers (Loper and Tuerk). However, prison visitation is complex and not always possible. For example, O’Malley (“Motherhood, Mothering”) found that, while 90% of children of incarcerated mothers either lived with or had contact with their mother prior to her imprisonment, only 30% visited their mothers while she was in prison. A large-scale US study found that visits were in fact the least common way mothers sustained contact with their children (Glaze and Maruschak). The type of visit ultimately determines the potential benefits or negative outcomes of contact. Prison settings and facilities vary from full physical contact, to limited contact at the beginning and/or end of the visits, or screened visits (i.e., behind glass), all of which dictate the types of interactions mothers and children can have during visits (Poehlmann et al., “Children’s Contact With Their Incarcerated Parents”). Much research exists regarding the harmful nature of un-child-friendly prison visitation and how mothers are often reluctant to pursue or encourage their child to visit under such circumstances (Hairston; Arditti). Examples include harsh and disrespectful treatment by prison officers, which impact on the experience, the short visiting times, which restrict emotional mother-child connectivity or time to resolve complex issues (Arditti), and the journey children must endure to the prison, which is often long and costly (Hairston; Poehlmann et al., “Children’s Contact with Their Incarcerated Parents”; Martyn). Mother-child visitation is recurrently described as “bittersweet” (Arditti and Few; CaseyAcevedo et al.; Hairston); while incarcerated mothers long to see and embrace their children, they are nonetheless concerned about harm the visiting process can cause (Hairston; Arditti and Few). Regardless, mother-child separation is the often discussed as the most emotionally challenging aspect of serving a custodial sentence for a mother (Hairston); all the practical challenges associated with visitation can have an overwhelmingly negative impact, and, as Hairston and others have found (Loper and Tuerk), mothers are left to consider are they worth the colossal emotional upheaval. Interestingly but understandably so, the negative effects of mother-child prison visits has been associated with poor prison conduct (Casey-Acevedo et al.). There has been a subsequent call for better scrutiny into the quality of the visitation environment and support for the mothers’ distress following visits (Arditti and Few; O’Malley, “Motherhood, Mothering”). Visits can be a reminder to the mother of her lack of parental control and mothering practices while incarcerated (Casey-Acevedo et al.; Arditti and Few), and the anger related to this lack of control is what has been attributed to higher rates of incidents of misconduct among those mothers who receive visits in prison from their children (Casey-Acevedo et al.). Moreover, the search process, security dogs, and the long waits have been reported as frightening for children (Dallaire et al., “Children’s Experiences of Maternal Incarceration-Specific Risks”; Arditti). Some children are so distressed at the process, they present with behavioural and emotional difficulties from the outset of the prison visit with their mother. This intensifies what is already a difficult contact arrangement and impacts on the quality of the interaction (Arditti and Few; O’Malley, “Motherhood, Mothering”). Such settings, it is argued (Poehlmann; Dallaire and Wilson), do not provide an opportunity for the mother to support the frightened child to work through the visiting experience or the child’s feelings of insecurity before mother-child separation is once again enforced at the end of the visit, ultimately reinforcing harmful experiences of separation. Overall, however, it is acknowledged that increased levels of contact between imprisoned mothers and their children provide a stronger alliance between the mother and the child’s caregiver and provoke positive maternal perceptions of the mother-child relationship (Poehlmann; 245

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Loper et al.). Alternative methods of contact either alongside or in lieu of visitation is also well published (Cassidy et al.). A US national survey found that mothers had more phone and mail contact with their children compared to imprisoned fathers, and between mail, telephone, and visitation, mail correspondence was the most common – followed by telephone contact and lastly visits (Glaze and Maruschak). While the attractiveness of telephone calls is evident, collect calls rates in the United States, for example, have been found to be more expensive than calls made in the community, meaning families can financially struggle to accept such calls (Poehlmann et al., “Children’s Contact with Their Incarcerated Parents”). Moreover, imprisoned mothers do not always find talking over the phone an easy task (Hissel et al.), a challenge made more difficult when opportunities for calling are often limited and restricted to times which coincide with when children are in school (Hissel et al.; Baldwin, “Mothers in Prison”). Contrary to this, however, is the example of a commendable practice where all national and international phone calls (and letter postage costs) are provided free of charge by the Irish Prison System (O’Malley and Baldwin). While nothing can replace the importance of a mother seeing, hearing, and embracing her children, the overall benefits of letter writing in prison is wholly evident. For instance, increased mail correspondence between incarcerated mothers and their children has been associated with less depressive and somatic symptoms in children (Dallaire et al., “Children’s Experiences of Maternal Incarceration-Specific Risks”) and lower parenting stress for the imprisoned mothers (Houck and Loper). Both mother and child apply thought and intention behind the process of writing, sending sentimental items (pictures, photos, poems) (Poehlmann et al., “Children’s Contact with Their Incarcerated Parents”; Tuerk and Loper), and return post provides something tangible and comforting to have in difficult times (Dallaire et al., “Teachers’ Experiences with and Expectations of Children”; O’Malley “Motherhood, Mothering”). Moreover, as Poehlmann et al. highlight, imprisoned mothers can control the content of the letter, writing supportive and comforting words their child may like/need to hear, fostering a sense of control often lacking in unhospitable and noisy visiting environments.

Gatekeepers While much debate exists regarding the beneficial or potential or possible detrimental effects of contact between incarcerated mothers and their children, this is equally matched by an interest in the ways in which contact is either supported or prevented. Incarcerated mothers often rely on their own mothers and female friends to provide childcare and caregiving (Raikes); grandmothers, in particular, have been noted for their overall support for children of imprisoned mothers (Gill; Raikes). Research shows an overall increase in mother-child contact when the imprisoned mother has a close and loyal relationship with her child’s caregiver (Poehlmann et al., “Representations of Family Relationships”; Barnes and Stringer), or equally how motherchild contact is curtailed when such relationships are strained or have broken down (Flynn, “Caring for the Children of Imprisoned Mothers”). There is a strong emerging case for prison interventions to focus on assisting caregivers with their stress and their concerns with visitations, and supporting methods of positive communication and co-parenting skills in collaboration with the mother in prison (Poehlmann et al., “Children’s Contact with Their Incarcerated Parents”; O’Malley,“Motherhood, Mothering”). Interventions designed to support such communications have demonstrated a decrease in general maternal distress, less stress related to child visits, improved alliances with caregivers, and increased letter writing (Loper and Tuerk). However, incarcerated mothers who have children in state foster care experience additional challenges. While social services ought to play a role in sustaining and promoting mother-child 246

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contact (Sheehan; Mignon and Ransford), research consistently confirms that access between an imprisoned mother and her child is reliant on whether the child protection social worker believes contact is in the child’s best interest (Poehlmann et al., “Children’s Contact with Their Incarcerated Parents”; O’Malley and Baldwin). And as argued (Poehlmann et al., “Children’s Contact with Their Incarcerated Parents”), determining the “best interest” of children visiting their incarcerated mothers is inherently the subjective opinion of an individual social worker. Likewise, permanency planning legislation for children in state care is of concern, as attention is brought to the lack of consideration given to the difficulties imprisoned mothers are faced with in sustaining maternal bonds and mothering while in prison (Beckerman; Flynn et al.; O’Malley, “A Mother Is Serving Her Sentence”). For instance, US child protection legislation automatically ignites permanency planning for children in foster care longer than two years, which unjustly impacts on children of incarcerated mothers (Poehlmann et al., “Children’s Contact with Their Incarcerated Parents”). Much international research is emerging on the overall lack of direct child protection and welfare protocol to support children who are separated from their mothers due to imprisonment, who are exposed to acute challenges and long-term detrimental disadvantage as a direct result of this situation over which they have no control (Sheehan; O’Malley and Devaney, “Supporting Incarcerated Mothers”). O’Malley (“Motherhood, Mothering”) voices a concern for the general lack of collaboration between the criminal, social, and welfare systems during maternal imprisonment as a lost opportunity to harness and support positive change and future mother-child relationships. The challenges faced by children with child welfare involvement whose mothers are engaged with the criminal justice system extend beyond issues related to maternal criminal justice involvement alone – these challenges, in fact, are significant for both criminal justice and child welfare practice and policy jointly (Miller et al.; Neale and Lopez)

New directions for research First, feminist criminologist Quinlan (“Discourse and Identity”) argues the significance of culture in the maintenance of patriarchy (25). However, as noted by O’Malley (“Motherhood, Mothering”), Shamai and Kockal, and Flynn (“Caring for the Children of Imprisoned Mothers”), culture has not been well explored among international literature on mothers in prison and is certainly an area for further reflection. For instance, breastfeeding is noted as the primary legal reason for supporting mothers and babies to remain in prison together following birth. In African prisons, breastfeeding as a recognised cultural maternal practice, this legal instrument certainly remains relevant (Matsika et al.). Yet, while the legal framework is also reflective of breastfeeding in the United Kingdom, Ireland, and Canada, these countries have extremely low breastfeeding rates. Interestingly, while MBUs are closing in Canada and the United Kingdom, Ireland has maintained a protocol of automatically supporting mothers to keep their babies, regardless if they are breastfed or bottle-fed, in order to “support mother and baby bonding” (O’Malley, “Motherhood, Mothering”). Additionally, Ireland is currently supporting the building of a new prison which intends to include a new mother and baby unit, following the recognition of need (O’Malley and Baldwin). Therefore, while breastfeeding may not be a culturally and universally relevant, there is certainly a gap in understanding why some cultures support mothers to keep their babies, while others do not. Another distinct reason culture merits closer attention is due to the over-representation of ethnic minority mothers held in prisons (Feintuch). This is partly to do with the varying ways that the “war on drugs” has affected mothers differently in the global prison system. However, how mothers serve out their sentence in a prison which does not subscribe to their own culture 247

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(be it through different regimes, rights recognitions, or cultural calendar events) is an important line of enquiry. Cultural practices have implications on the imprisoned mother’s maternal identities and practices, not to mention the distinct challenges for those attempting to not only manage mothering from prison but also managing mothering from another country. Overall, in order to advance matricentric feminist criminology in such a way that is reflective of the reality of motherhood and mothering while incarcerated, the interface of culture and its distinct maternal practices within and across prison spaces – places of oppression and containment – it is argued here, must be better explored in further research. Second, the prison population is currently reflecting an aging and older society, yet grandmothers have only become visible in few studies. While scholars highlight the incarcerated mother as specifically symbolic of a “bad mother,” Baldwin (“Grandmothering”) argues this is evermore magnified for the imprisoned grandmother. The image of a grandmother is at complete odds with the image of a prisoner, regardless if it is a female prisoner. Moreover, incarcerated grandmothers are unique; they are not only separated from their own children, often also struggling with their own adversities in the community, but they are trying to negotiate and maintain their grandmothering role with practically no support or recognition (Baldwin “Grandmothering”). This issue is considered within the recognition of the changing and more prominent role grandmothers now play in their grandchildren’s lives. For instance, a new flow of research notes how grandmothers provide a particular form of informal family support for incarcerated mothers and their children, however, research exploring the grandmother’s presence and voice within the prison system is scant. Yet, 20% of the mothers in O’Malley’s (“Motherhood, Mothering”) study spoke about the importance of their grandmothering role, a role which was often impinged upon because they are in prison. On the whole, grandmothers in prison have been internationally noted as an overlooked cohort within feminist criminology and prison sociological studies. Matricentric feminist advocates the inclusion of all mothers, all mothering types, and non-mothers, in research, politics, and activism (O’Reilly). Therefore, as matricentric feminist criminology advances, it would be vital to sustain this philosophy of inclusion and therefore address the current gap in research on this important and growing group of incarcerated mothers. By doing so, it will also address the current gap whereby research has (for some reason) predominantly focused on mothers of children under 18 years, therefore making invisible the older/adult child population who are equally affected by the imprisonment of their mothers; many of whom are still dependent on their mothers for varying reasons, often including grandmothering. Thus, it is important to advance research in this area to bring forward the experience of grandmothers within research on mothers in prison. Third, contrary to general perception, newly emerging yet limited research in Australia, Iran, England, and Ireland have found that biological fathers play a significant and often primary caregiving role for children of incarcerated mothers (Flynn, “Caring for the Children of Imprisoned Mothers”; O’Malley, “Motherhood, Mothering”; Baldwin and Epstein; Forooeddin Adl et al.). However, there is certainly an overall lack in research in this area, which would be particularly welcomed considering the changing roles men are beginning to play in some societies and would therefore be encouraging to address this in more analytical depth. Matricentric feminism (O’Reilly) draws from Sara Ruddick’s maternal theory, asserting that true mothering is a voluntary commitment; it is not dictated by nature or social imperative, confirming and asserting that men can and do perform motherwork. Through applying this matricentric feminist lens to criminological studies which focus on the father’s or man’s roles in mothering children of incarcerated mothers is completely lacking and of particular interest in the advancement of this area of enquiry, and therefore ought to be considered for future research. 248

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Overall, these three areas of further research – culture, grandmothering, and the role of the father for children of imprisoned mothers – are flagged as the most substantial gaps in current knowledge regarding mothers in prison. Mother scholars interested in the theory and sociology of crime have begun to emerge. Such scholars have sought out the inclusion of all mothers and non-mothering mothers in their work, therefore providing space within the broader field of feminist criminological research for mothers experiencing imprisonment. There is certainly a recognition, although both groups of prisoners (females and mother prisoners) are recognised as vulnerable, stigmatised, and challenged with multiple adversities, these are magnified when the female prisoner is also a mother. On the whole, matricentric feminist criminology is in its infancy, it is hoped that it continues to develop and advance, to include but not be limited to areas of culture, grandmothers, and fathering. This advancement in research is vital if we are to be serious about providing vulnerable and criminalised mothers their own space to voice their needs so we may attempt to address such needs. Finally, mother scholars continue to highlight class, poverty, and structural and gender inequality, which is equally pertinent to the case of the incarcerated mother.

Further reading Baldwin, Lucy. Mothering Justice: Working with Mothers in Criminal and Social Justice Settings. Waterside Press, 2015. Burgess, Alannah, and Catherine Flynn. “Supporting Imprisoned Mothers and Their Children: A Call for Evidence.” Probation Journal, vol. 60, no. 1, 2013, pp. 73–81. Eljdupovic, Gordana, and Rebecca Jaremko Bromwich. Incarcerated Mothers: Oppression and Resistance. Demeter Press, 2013. Enos, Sandra. Mothering from the inside: Parenting in a Women’s Prison. N.p., 2001. Golden, Renny. War on the Family: Mothers in Prison and the Families They Leave Behind. Routledge, 2005. Granja, Rafaela, et al. “Mothering From Prison and Ideologies of Intensive Parenting: Enacting Vulnerable Resistance.” Journal of Family Issues, vol. 36, no. 9, 2015, pp. 1212–32.

Websites Birth Companions: Children of Prisoners Europe: International Coalition for Children with Imprisoned Parents: Penal Reform International: Women in the Criminal Justice System: women-in-the-criminal-justice-system/ Women in Prison: Women’s Prison Association:

Film documentaries Mothers of Bedford, Cain, L., and D. Gross. Healing Neen, Gallery 144 Productions, 2010.

Conclusion Feminist criminology provided, for the first time, a discourse for the pathways of crime and imprisonment for offending women. Within this, the more recent matricentric focus has better explored how those challenges, such as the level of trauma, mental health, and addictions are a distinct experience for the subgroup of imprisoned mothers because of the influence of and on maternal identity, representations of motherhood, responsibilities of mothering, and maternal 249

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practice; all of which make the mothers’ experience of imprisonment somewhat unique in comparison to the general female prisoner population. Notwithstanding the growing attention being given to this area of oppressed motherhood, it is yet in its infancy, and certainly some areas of enquires remained scantly addressed. Regardless, one argument is that while acute childhood challenges and ongoing adversities present in motherhood, incarcerated mothers remain faced with judgements as bad undeserving mothers – rather than survivors against all odds. While MBUs/PNP present some hope in disrupting the unmanaged and intergenerational maternal trauma in the way they support mothers to keep their babies, it is an unfortunate reality that this practice is not systemic. On the whole, imprisoned mothers are mostly reliant on external supports and empathic prison policies when attempting to maintain meaningful contact with their children. Subsequently, incarcerated mothers feel they have lost or are losing their child to a system, which doesn’t support their continued contact or evolving dynamic mother-child relationships. Imprisoned mothers do not have the means to exercise their rights or wishes and as evidenced by Schram (1999), rights which are diminished because of their “bad” mothering status directly linked to their convict status rather than any connection to their love or ability to care for their child.

Works cited Abbott, Laura. “A Pregnant Pause: Expecting in the Prison Estate.” Mothering Justice: Working with Mothers in Criminal and Social Justice Settings, edited by Lucy Baldwin, Waterside Press, 2015. Abbott, Laura, and Tricia Scott. “Women’s Experiences of Breastfeeding in Prison.” MIDIRS Midwifery Digest, vol. 27, no. 2, 2017, pp. 217–22. Aiello, Brittnie.“Making Mothers: Parenting Classes in a Women’s Jail.” Contemporary Justice Review, vol. 19, no. 4, 2016, pp. 445–61. Arditti, Joyce. Parental Incarceration and the Family: Psychological and Social Effects of Imprisonment on Children, Parents, and Caregivers. New York UP, 2012. Arditti, Joyce, and April Few. “Maternal Distress and Women’s Reentry into Family and Community Life.” Family Process, vol. 47, no. 3, 2008, pp. 303–21. Ashton, Kathryn, et al. “Adverse Childhood Experiences and Their Association with Health-Harming Behaviours and Mental Wellbeing in the Welsh Adult Population: A National Cross-Sectional Survey.” The Lancet, vol. 388, July 2016, n.p. Baldwin, Lucy. Mothering Justice: Working with Mothers in Criminal and Social Justice Settings. Waterside Press, 2015. Baldwin, Lucy.“Grandmothering in the Context of Criminal Justice: Grandmothers in Prison and Grandmothers as Carers When a Parent Is Imprisoned.” Grandmother and Grandmothering, Demeter Press, 2017, 1–20. ———. “Motherhood Disrupted: Reflections of Post- Prison Mothers.” Emotion, Space and Society, 2017, pp. 1–8. ———. “Mothers in Prison.” Corrections Today, vol. 181, 2017, pp. 45–47. Baldwin, Lucy, et al. “Mothers Addicted.” Mothering Justice: Working with Mothers in Criminal and Social Justice Settings, edited by Lucy Baldwin, Waterside Press, 2015. Baldwin, Lucy, and Rona Epstein. Short but Not Sweet: A Study of the Impact of Short Custodial Sentences on Mothers & Their Children. De Montfort University, 2017. Baradon, Tessa, et al. “New Beginnings – an Experience-Based Programme Addressing the Attachment Relationship between Mothers and Their Babies in Prisons.” Journal of Child Psychotherapy, vol. 34, no. 2, 2008, pp. 240–58. Barnes, Sandra L., and Ebonie Stringer. “Is Motherhood Important? Imprisoned Women’s Maternal Experiences before and during Confinement and Their Postrelease Expectations.” Feminist Criminology, vol. 9, no. 1, 2014, pp. 3–23. Beckerman, Adela. “Charting a Course: Meeting the Challenge of Permanency Planning for Children with Incarcerated Mothers.” Child Welfare, vol. 77, no. 5, 1998, pp. 513–29. Brown, A., et al. “Prevalence and Severity of Lifetime Physical and Sexual Victimization among Incarcerated Women.” International Journal of Law & Psychiatry, 22, 1999, pp. 301–22.


Matricentric feminist criminology Burgess, Alannah, and Catherine Flynn. “Supporting Imprisoned Mothers and Their Children: A Call for Evidence.” Probation Journal, vol. 60, no. 1, 2013, pp. 73–81. Burgess-Proctor, Amanda, et al. “Comparing the Effects of Maternal and Paternal Incarceration on Adult Daughters’ and Sons’ Criminal Justice System Involvement a Gendered Pathways Analysis.” Criminal Justice and Behaviour, vol. 43, no. 8, 2016, pp. 1034–55. Byrne, Mary W. “Interventions within Prison Nurseries.” Children of Incarcerated Parents: A Handbook for Researchers and Practitioners, edited by J. Mark Eddy, and Julie Poehlmann, The Urban Institute Press, 2010. Byrne, M. W., et al. “Intergenerational Transmission of Attachment for Infants Raised in a Prison Nursery.” Attachment & Human Development, vol. 12, no. 4, 2010, pp. 375–93. Caddle, Diane, et al. “Mothers in Prison.” Criminal Justice Matters, vol. 30, no. 1, 1997, pp. 21–23. Cain, L., and D. Gross. Healing Neen. Gallery 144 Productions, 2010. Campbell, J., and J. R. Carlson. “Correctional Administrators’ Perceptions of Prison Nurseries.” Criminal Justice and Behavior, vol. 39, no. 8, 2012, pp. 1063–74. Carlen, Pat. “Law, Psychiatry and Women’s Imprisonment. A Sociological View.” The British Journal of Psychiatry, vol. 146, no. 6, 1985, pp. 618–21. ———. “Mothers in Prison.” Sociology of Health & Illness, vol. 9, no. 1, 1987, pp. 105–06. Carmody, Patricia, and Mel McEvoy. A Study of Irish Female Prisoners. Stationary Office, 1996. Cartwright, Luke. “Respite and Repair: How Mothers of Incarcerated Long-Term Problematic Drug Users Make Prison Work for Them.” Journal of Substance Use, vol. 21, no. 4, 2016, pp. 439–43. Casey-Acevedo, Karen, et al. “Children Visiting Mothers in Prison: The Effects on Mothers’ Behaviour and Disciplinary Adjustment.” Australian and New Zealand Journal of Criminology, vol. 37, no. 3, 2004, pp. 418–30. Cassidy, Jude, et al. “An Attachment Perspective on Incarcerated Parents and Their Children.” Attachment & Human Development, vol. 12, no. 4, 2010, pp. 285–88. CCPHE and UBC. Guidelines for the Implementation Of Mother-Child Units in Canadian Correctional Facilities November 2015. The U of British Columbia, 2015. Chamberlen, Anastasia. “Embodying Prison Pain: Women’s Experiences of Self-Injury in Prison and the Emotions of Punishment.” Theoretical Criminology, vol. 20, no. 2, 2016, pp. 205–19. Clear, T., et al. American Corrections. Cengage Learning, 2012. Costello, Lisa. Women in the Criminal Justice System: Towards a Non-Custodial Approach Planning the Future of Irish Prisons Line Two Here. Irish Penal Reform Trust, 2013. Council of Europe. “Recommendation Rec(2006)2 of the Committee of Ministers to Member States on the European Prison Rules.” Council Of Europe Committee Of Ministers. N.p., 2006. 8 June 2017. Dallaire, Danielle H. “Children with Incarcerated Mothers: Developmental Outcomes, Special Challenges and Recommendations.” Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, vol. 28, no. 1, 2007, pp. 15–24. ———. “Incarcerated Mothers and Fathers: A Comparison of Risks for Children and Families.” Family Relations, vol. 56, no. 5, 2007, pp. 440–53. Dallaire, Danielle H., and Laura C. Wilson. “The Relation of Exposure to Parental Criminal Activity, Arrest, and Sentencing to Children’s Maladjustment.” Journal of Child and Family Studies, vol. 19, no. 4, 2010, pp. 404–18. Dallaire, Danielle H., et al. “Teachers’ Experiences with and Expectations of Children with Incarcerated Parents.” Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, vol. 31, no. 4, 2010, 281–90. Dallaire, Danielle H., et al. “Children’s Experiences of Maternal Incarceration-Specific Risks: Predictions to Psychological Maladaptation.” Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology, vol. 44, no. 1, 2015, pp. 109–22. Eljdupovic, Gordana, and Rebecca Jaremko Bromwich. Incarcerated Mothers: Oppression and Resistance. Demeter Press, 2013. Elwood Martin, Ruth, et al. Arresting Hope: Women Taking Action in Prison Health inside Out. Inanna Publications & Education, 2014. ———. “Primary Health Care: Applying the Principles within a Community-Based Participatory Health Research Project That Began in a Canadian Women’s Prison.” Global Health Promotion, vol. 16, no. 348114, 2009, pp. 43–53. Enos, Sandra. Mothering from the inside: Parenting in a Women’s Prison. N.p., 2001. Epstein, Rona. “Mothers in Prison: The Sentencing of Mothers and the Rights of the Child Making This Research Possible.” Coventry Law Journal, Dec. 2012, pp. 1–33. Esnard, Talia, and Kimberly Okpala. “Mothering at the Margins: The Case of Incarcerated Women in Trinidad and Tobago.” Criminalized Mothers, Criminalizing Mothering, edited by Joanne Minaker, and Bryan Hogeveen, Demeter Press, 2015.


Sinead O’Malley Espinet, Stacey D., et al. “ ‘Breaking the Cycle’ of Maternal Substance Use through Relationships: A Comparison of Integrated Approaches.” Addiction Research & Theory, vol. 24, no. 5, 2016, pp. 375–88. Feintuch, Sophie. “Mothering in Prison: The Case of Spain’s New External Mother Units.” Bad Mothers: Regulations, Representations, and Resistance, edited by Michelle Hughes Miller et al., Demeter Press, 2017, pp. 73–97. Flynn, Catherine. Waiting for Mum: The Impact of Maternal Incarceration on Adolescent Children. Monash University, 2008. ———. “Caring for the Children of Imprisoned Mothers: Exploring the Role of Fathers.” Child Abuse Review, vol. 21, no. 4, 2012, pp. 285–98. ———. “Getting There and Being There: Visits to Prisons in Victoria – the Experiences of Women Prisoners and Their Children.” Probation Journal, vol. 61, no. 2, 2014, pp. 176–91. Flynn, Catherine, et al. “Responding to the Needs of Children of Parents Arrested in Victoria, Australia. The Role of the Adult Criminal Justice System.” Australian & New Zealand Journal of Criminology, vol. 49, no. 3, 2016, pp. 351–69. Forooeddin Adl, Akbar, et al. “Physical and Social Circumstances of Children in Iran Affected by the Incarceration of the Mother.” International Journal of Social Welfare, vol. 16, no. 3, 2007, pp. 278–80. Freudenberg, Nicholas, et al. “Coming Home from Jail: The Social and Health Consequences of Community Reentry for Women, Male Adolescents, and Their Families and Communities.” American Journal of Public Health, vol. 95, no. 10, 2005, pp. 1725–36. Gardiner, Adelle, et al. Contributors to the Rose Project The Rose Project Team. U of Stirling and Aberlour, 2016. Giacomello, Corina. “How the Drug Trade Criminalizes Women Disproportionately.” NACLA Report on the Americas, vol. 42, no. 2, 2014, pp. 38–42. Gill, Owen. “Developing Pathways into Children and Family Services for Mothers Involved in the Criminal Justice System.” 2013, n.p. Glaze, Lauren E., and Laura M. Maruschak. “Parents in Prison and Their Minor Children.” U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2008, pp. 1–25. Golden, Renny. War on the Family: Mothers in Prison and the Families They Leave Behind. Routledge, 2005. Granja, Rafaela, et al. “Mothering From Prison and Ideologies of Intensive Parenting: Enacting Vulnerable Resistance.” Journal of Family Issues, vol. 36, no. 9, 2015, pp. 1212–32. Hackett, Lisa. “Working with Women and Mothers Experiencing Mental Distress: Creating a ‘Safe Place’ for Constructive Conversations.” Mothering Justice: Working with Mothers in Criminal and Social Justice Settings, edited by Lucy Baldwin, Waterside Press, 2015. pp. 43–64. Hairston, Finney. “Mothers in Jail: Parent-Child Separation and Jail Visitation.” Affilia, vol. 6, no. 2, 1991, pp. 9–27. Hissel, Sanne, et al. “The Well-Being of Children of Incarcerated Mothers: An Exploratory Study for the Netherlands.” European Journal of Criminology, vol. 8, no. 5, 2011, pp. 346–60. Houck, Katherine D. F., and Ann Booker Loper. “The Relationship of Parenting Stress to Adjustment among Mothers in Prison.” American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, vol. 72, no. 4, 2002, pp. 548–58. IPRT and KHF. The Whitaker Report 20 years On: Lessons Learned and Lesson Forgotten? Dublin: Irish Penal Reform Trust/Irish Katherine Howard Foundation, 2007. Kauffman, K. “Mothers in Prison.” Corrections Today, vol. 63, no. 1, 1991, n.p. Kilty, Jennifer M., and Erin Dej.“Anchoring amongst the Waves: Discursive Constructions of Motherhood and Addiction.” Qualitative Sociology Review, vol. 8, no. 3, 2012, pp. 6–23. Kubiak, Sheryl Pimlott, et al. “Assessing Long-Term Outcomes of an Intervention Designed for Pregnant Incarcerated Women.” Research on Social Work Practice, vol. 20, no. 5, 2010, pp. 528–35. Library of Congress. “Laws on Children Residing with Parents in Prison.” N.p., 2015. 7 June 2017. Lonergan, John. The Governor. Penguin, 2010. Loper, Ann Booker, and Elena Hontoria Tuerk. “Improving the Emotional Adjustment and Communication Patterns of Incarcerated Mothers: Effectiveness of a Prison Parenting Intervention.” Journal of Child and Family Studies, vol. 20, no. 1, 2011, pp. 89–101. Loper, Ann Booker, et al. “Parenting Stress, Alliance, Child Contact, and Adjustment of Imprisoned Mothers and Fathers.” Journal of Offender Rehabilitation, vol. 48, no. 6, 2009, pp. 483–503. Martyn, Michelle. Picking up the Pieces: The Rights and Needs of Children and Families Affected by Imprisonment. Irish Penal Reform Trust, 2012. Masson, Isla M. “The Long-Term Impact of Short Periods of Imprisonment on Mothers.” King’s College London, 2014.


Matricentric feminist criminology Matsika, A. B., et al. “Innocent Inmates: The Case of Children Living with Incarcerated Mothers in Zimbabwe’s Chikurubi Prison.” Journal of Social Development in Africa, vol. 28, no. 2, 2013, pp. 73–93. McAleese, Senator M. Report of the Inter-Departmental Committee to Establish the Facts of State Involvement with the Magdalen Laundries. N.p., 2013. McCormick, Amanda, et al. In the Best Interests of the Child: Strategies for Recognizing and Supporting Canada’s At-Risk Population of Children with Incarcerated Parents. U of Fraser Valley, 2014. McLaughlin, Katrina, et al. “Parenting Programmes for Incarcerated Parents.” Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, edited by Katrina McLaughlin, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, 2016. Mignon, Sylvia I., and Paige Ransford. “Mothers in Prison: Maintaining Connections with Children.” Social Work in Public Health, vol. 27, nos. 1–2, 2012, pp. 69–88. Ministry of Justice, National Offender Management Service (NOMS) Women and Equality Group. A Distinct Approach: A Guide to Working with Women Offenders. Ministry of Justice, 2012. Minson, Shona, et al. Sentencing of Mothers: Improving the Sentencing Process and Outcomes for Women with Dependent Children. Prison Reform Trust, 2015. Moore, Linda, and Phil Scraton. The Incarceration of Women: Punishing Bodies, Breaking Spirits. Palgrave Macmillan UK, 2014. Mulcahy, J., and C. Quinlan. The Needs of Women in the Criminal Justice System: Proposals for Reform. Irish Academic Press, 2013. Neale, Anne, and Nina Lopez. SUFFER the Little CHILDREN and Their MOTHERS. Crossroad Books, 2017. O’Malley, Sinead. “A Mother Is Serving Her Sentence . . . In Her Head, Outside As Well As Inside”: Motherhood and the Irish Prison System”. National U of Ireland, Galway, 2013. O’Malley, Sinead. Motherhood, Mothering and the Irish Prison System. National U of Ireland, Galway, 2018. O’Malley, Sinead, et al. “Mothering Interrupted: Mothers Separated From Their Children By Incarceration in England and Ireland.” Developing a Children’s Rights Approach to Parental Imprisonment, Routledge, forthcoming. O’Malley, Sinead, and Carmel Devaney. “Maintaining the Mother – Child Relationship within the Irish Prison System: The Practitioner Perspective.” Child Care in Practice, vol. 5279, Sept. 2015, pp. 1–15. ———. “Supporting Incarcerated Mothers in Ireland with Their Familial Relationships: A Case for the Revival of the Social Work Role.” Probation Journal, 2016, n.p. O’Malley, Sinead, and Lucy Baldwin. “Mothering Interrupted: Mothers-Child Separation via Incarceration in Ireland and England.” Mothers Without Their Children, edited by Charlotte Beyer and Andrea Robertson, Demeter Press, 2018, pp. 73–110. O’Reilly, Andrea. Matricentric Feminism: Theory, Activism, and Practice. Demeter Press, 2016. Philbrick, K., et al. Children of Imprisoned Parents: European Perspective on Good Practice. Children of Prisoners Europe, 2014. Poehlmann, Julie. “Incarcerated Mothers’ Contact With Children, Perceived Family Relationships, and Depressive Symptoms.” Journal of Family Psychology, vol. 19, no. 3, 2005, pp. 350–57. Poehlmann, Julie, et al. “Children’s Contact with Their Incarcerated Parents: Research Findings and Recommendations.” American Psychologist, vol. 65, no. 6, 2010, pp. 575–98. Poehlmann, Julie, et al. “Representations of Family Relationships in Children Living with Custodial Grandparents.” Attachment & Human Development, vol. 10, no. 2, 2008, pp. 165–88. Powell, Claire, et al. “Mother – infant Separations in Prison. A Systematic Attachment-Focused Review of the Academic and Grey Literature.” Journal of Forensic Psychiatry & Psychology, 2017, n.p. Prison Reform Trust. Prison: The Facts. n.p., 2013. Quinlan, Christina. “Discourse and Identity: A Study of Women in Prison in Ireland.” 2006, n.p. Rahimipour Anaraki, Nahid, and Dariush Boostani. “Living in and Living out: A Qualitative Study of Incarcerated Mothers’ Narratives of Their Children’s Living Condition.” Quality & Quantity, vol. 48, no. 6, 2014, pp. 3093–107. Raikes, Ben. “ ‘Unsung Heroines’: Celebrating the Care Provided by Grandmothers for Children with Parents in Prison.” Journal of Community and Criminal Justice Probation Journal, vol. 63, no. 3, 2016, pp. 320–30. Reilly, Judge Michael. Inspector of Prisons Standards for the Inspection of Prisons in Ireland – Women Prisoners’ Supplement. N.p., 2011. Schram, P.J., “An Exploratory Study: Stereotypes About Mothers In Prison.” Journal of Criminal Justice, vol. 27, no. 5, 1999, pp. 411–426. Shamai, Michal, and Rinat Billy Kochal. “ ‘Motherhood Starts in Prison’: The Experience of Motherhood among Women in Prison.” Family Process, vol. 47, no. 3, 2008, pp. 323–40.


Sinead O’Malley Sheehan, Rosemary.“Parents as Prisoners: A Study of Parent – Child Relationships in the Children’s Court of Victoria.” Journal of Social Work, vol. 11, no. 4, 2010, pp. 358–74. Silva-Segovia, Jimena. “The Face of a Mother Deprived of Liberty: Imprisonment, Guilt, and Stigma in the Norte Grande, Chile.” Journal of Women and Social Work, vol. 31, no. 1, 2016, pp. 98–111. Sleed, Michelle, Tessa Baradon, and Peter Fonagy. “New Beginnings for Mothers and Babies in Prison: A Cluster Randomized Controlled Trial.” Attachment & Human Development, vol. 15, no. 4, 2013, pp. 349–67. Smart, Carol. Women, Crime, and Criminology: A Feminist Critique. Routledge, 1976. Suchman, Nancy E. et al. “Mothering From the Inside Out: Results of a Second Randomized Clinical Trial Testing a Mentalization-Based Intervention for Mothers in Addiction Treatment.” Development and Psychopathology, vol. 29, no. 02, 2017, pp. 617–36. Taylor, Myra F., et al. “Drug Addiction Is a Scourge on the Earth and My Grandchildren Are Its Victims: The Tough Love and Resilient Growth Exhibited by Grandparents Raising the Children of DrugDependent Mothers.” International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, vol. 14, no. 6, 2016, pp. 937–51. Tuerk, Elena Hontoria, and Ann Booker Loper. “Contact Between Incarcerated Mothers and Their Children: Assessing Parenting Stress.” Journal of Offender Rehabilitation, vol. 43, no. 1, 2006, pp. 23–43. United Nations. United Nations Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-Custodial Measures for Women Offenders (the Bangkok Rules). 2010, n.p. Unnasch, Emily Ann. Motherhood on the Inside: Exploring the Challenges Facing Incarcerated Women at Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women. N.p., 2011. Walmsley, Roy. World Female Imprisonment List Women and Girls in Penal Institutions, Including Pre-Trial Detainees/Remand Prisoners: World Prison Brief. N.p., 2015. Woods, Marguerite. “ ‘Keeping Mum’: A Qualitative Study of Women Drug Users’ Experience of Preserving Motherhood in Dublin.” U of Dublin, Trinity College, 2007. Zedner, L. “Wayward Sisters: The Prison for Women’.” The Oxford History of the Prison: The Practice of Punishment in Western Society, edited by N. Morris, and D. Rothman, Oxford UP, 1998, pp. 329–361. Zust, Barbara L. “Partner Violence, Depression, and Recidivism: The Case of Incarcerated Women and Why We Need Programs Designed for Them.” Issues in Mental Health Nursing, vol. 30, no. 4, 2009, pp. 246–51.


20 ABUSED WOMEN’S MOTHERING EXPERIENCES Making the invisible visible Caroline McDonald-Harker

Introduction Today’s modern family has undergone significant transformation, often deviating from traditional family compositions and structures. In North America and beyond, there has been a significant decline in marriage, a rise in separation and divorce, more blended and reconstituted families, a decrease in fertility rates and number of children per household, and a growth in dualearner families resulting from an increase in the number of women in the workforce. Indeed, the very dynamic of the family has changed, leading to increasingly complex and diverse family forms. Yet, traditional views of gender still largely shape and influence sociocultural norms and expectations about family roles and functioning, particularly when it comes to child-bearing and child-rearing. The ideal of the male breadwinner and female caregiver/homemaker continues to persist today, despite the changing nature of the family. This has important implications for the expectations that are placed on mothers and fathers, which are highly gendered. Modern mothers continue to face societal and cultural demands to adopt and maintain the role of the primary caregiver in the family, and they are also now held to new and more highly idealized standards when it comes to caring for children. It is no longer enough for mothers to merely bear and care for children, they are now expected to dedicate and sacrifice their entire physical, intellectual, psychological, and emotional well-being (Hays). Modern motherhood is thus shaped by a dominant ideology of motherhood that emphasizes intensive mothering and consists of “a gendered model that advises mothers to expend a tremendous amount of time, energy, and money in rearing their children” (Hays x). This type of mothering reflects a privileged Eurocentric, heterosexual, white, and upper-class perspective of parenting and child-rearing. The ideology of intensive motherhood has a powerful influence within today’s modern family, as well as within wider society. Not only is it represented and emphasized in numerous social institutions, cultural practices, and social interactions, but it is also acquired and reproduced through the language, statement, terms, and classifications that define how women must mother. Mothers are dichotomized into two separate categories – they are either a “good mother” or a “bad mother.” Mothers who follow and live up to the standards of intensive mothering are considered to be “good mothers,” and mothers who oppose and deviate from the standards of intensive mothering are considered to be “bad mothers” (O’Reilly, Mother Outlaws 2). Yet a 255

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disconnect exists between the idealized standards of intensive mothering and the reality of the various and diverse social positions, locations, and circumstances in which many women carry out their mothering. Not all women live and mother within privileged spaces and places, but they are all still held to the same idealized standards of intensive mothering. As a result, some mothers are perceived, labeled, and portrayed as “bad mothers” because they mother outside the socially constructed boundaries of “good mothering,” including, for example, teen mothers, mothers who consume alcohol and drugs, mothers on social assistance, and incarcerated mothers, to name just a few. This is particularly the case for mothers living in marginalized circumstances based on marital status, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, and social class, including, for example, single mothers, lesbian mothers, mothers of color, and low-income mothers (McDonald-Harker, Mothering in Marginalized Contexts 7–9). In recent years, mothers who are victims of domestic violence are one group of mothers who have become especially criticized, stigmatized, and vilified for mothering outside the socially constructed boundaries of “good mothering” because they have lived in circumstances of abuse. Despite being the victims, abused mothers are often perceived and characterized as “bad mothers” because their ability to shelter, care for, protect, and provide a safe and secure environment for their children is called into question and deemed deficient, regardless of whether their children have witnessed or experienced abuse themselves (McDonald-Harker, Mothering in Marginalized Contexts 9–10). In this sense, victimization and mothering are often perceived as contradictory because it is constructed as a particular kind of deviant mothering that opposes and offends sensibilities about how a “good mother” ought to be and where “good mothering” should take place (McDonald-Harker, “Mothering in the Context of Domestic Violence and Encounters with Child Protection Services”; Lapierre, “Striving to be ‘Good’ Mothers”). It is no surprise then that abused mothers are more likely to come to the attention of and be subjected to heightened surveillance, governance, and control by both legal and extra-legal state agencies, such as, for example, the police, shelters, and child protection services. Despite the increasing marginalization of abused mothers, our knowledge about mothering in the context of domestic violence is relatively recent, limited in scope, and mostly focuses on domestic violence and mothering as separate topics of inquiry rather than as interrelated. There is, however, a small but growing body of scholarly research that examines abused women’s mothering experiences. This chapter provides a comprehensive overview of (1) the historical developments in the scholarly research on domestic violence and motherhood and mothering; (2) maternal theory, both past and present, and the implications it has for our understanding and framing of abused women’s mothering experiences; (3) current research, findings, controversies, gaps, and future directions for increasing our understanding of mothering in the context of domestic violence. The contents of this chapter provide an important background for understanding the multiple and varied ways that abused women’s mothering has thus far been framed, explored, and discussed in scholarly work, and how this framing shapes the ways that abused mothers are constructed, perceived, and treated in wider society.

Background and context A recognition and focus on domestic violence: 1960s–1970s In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the topic of domestic violence emerged as an important and central topic of public and academic attention and inquiry. The social problem of domestic violence was not new – it had been occurring for decades. But feminist activists and scholars began


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to call attention to how domestic violence provided a powerful illustration of the systematic oppression of women in the context of male domination and to the ways that separating the private sphere of the home from the wider public sphere perpetuated the oppression of women (Dobash and Dobash). Awareness of the long-standing issue of domestic violence was due in large part to the pioneering work of feminists who sought to politicize violence against women, create and enforce legislative sanctions for male offenders, and aid and support female victims. During this time, a large body of feminist research emerged which conceptualized domestic violence in two main ways: as a gendered social problem and as reflecting a patriarchal social structure. The social problem of domestic violence has been attributed to wider gender inequalities within society. In this view, the unequal power imbalance between males and females in both the public and private sphere leads to men being the primary perpetrators and women being the primary victims of domestic violence (Kurz; Berk et al.; Dobash and Dobash; Pleck et al.; Russell; Walker). Violence towards women is thus used as a way for men to attain and maintain power over women. This standpoint emphasizes that when women do engage in acts of violence, they do so primarily in self-defence, and therefore there is a need to specifically focus on men’s violence against women. This perspective has faced criticism for focusing predominantly on domestic violence in heterosexual relationships, and therefore failing to acknowledge and consider that domestic violence also occurs in same-sex relationships, including those involving lesbian couples. Domestic violence has also been framed and linked to patriarchal social structures. From this perspective, men’s violence against women is due to a male-dominated social system throughout organized society. In the domain of the family, the ideology of familial patriarchy teaches males to use techniques of control in order to maintain their dominant position and the subordinate position of females in family, relationships, and wider society. This leads to the physical, psychological, emotional, and sexual abuse of women by their intimate male partners. The patriarchal norms of the family, whereby contemporary society still institutionalizes the control of women through the structure of male-female roles, further contributes to and justifies men’s violent behavior towards women (Bograde; Bowker; Dobash and Dobash; Lenton). This viewpoint attributes male dominance, and the violence used to sustain it, to male socialization and the patriarchal social structures that support it. This perspective has recently been criticized for largely focusing on gender as the key explanatory factor of domestic violence, and therefore neglecting to include other important social dimensions such as race and social class. Today, after fifty years of scholarly research, domestic violence is recognized as a serious violation of human rights and continues to be a major issue on the international human rights agenda. According to Article I of the United Nations Declaration on Violence against Women, violence against women consists of an act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result, in physical, sexual, or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion, or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life (United Nations). Domestic violence is one aspect of violence against women and refers specifically to physical, sexual, psychological, emotional, financial, or verbal abuse perpetrated by an intimate partner ( Jasinski 5). Although anyone can be subjected to and experience domestic violence by an intimate partner, “women are most frequently the victims of domestic violence” and “suffer the most persistent abuse and the most severe injuries” (Radford and Hester, “Introduction” 8). Women who have children face even further complexities and difficulties as they perform and carry out their mothering in the threatening and dangerous circumstances associated with domestic violence.


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The emergence and focus on motherhood and mothering: 1980s–1990s In the 1980s, motherhood and mothering began to emerge as an important and central topic of public and academic inquiry, spurred on by feminist scholars who began to call attention to the exclusion of motherhood and mothering in feminist theory (O’Brien Hallstein). As mothers increasingly entered the workforce during this time and were engaging in a “second shift,” that is, shouldering the extra burden of unpaid child care and housework in addition to the paid work they were performing outside the home, the lack of attention paid to the various roles and experiences of mothers in both the private and public spheres became even more apparent (Hochschild). Much debate arose among feminist scholars in the 1980s as they attempted to theorize motherhood and mothering. Early feminist work cast motherhood and mothering in a negative light and focused on how women’s reproductive abilities subjugated them in the family. This work associated motherhood with oppression (Featherstone and Trinder; Firestone; Knowles and Cole). Later feminist work highlighted the positive elements of motherhood and mothering and focused on how women’s procreative potential provided them with moral superiority over men. This work equated motherhood with value and empowerment (Chase and Rogers; Featherstone and Trinder; Firestone). The evolution of feminist conceptualizations of motherhood and mothering in the 1980s led to the development of a significant body of feminist literature on motherhood and mothering in the 1990s, which is still growing today. This literature examines motherhood and mothering along two broad tracks. One track has a universalistic focus and attempts to develop an understanding of motherhood and mothering which highlights commonalities in women’s mothering experiences. Attention is given to women’s common maternal practice, as it relates to the nurturing, protecting, and training of children, as a way to understand their collective mothering experience (Ladd-Taylor; Leonard; Ruddick). This perspective has been criticized for reducing all women’s mothering experience to one unifying experience and for failing to consider differences in their experiences and wider social contexts. The other more recent track has a more particularized focus and seeks to develop an understanding of motherhood and mothering which recognizes and draws attention to variations in women’s mothering experiences. Women’s mothering experiences are identified as being multiple, diverse, and varied. As such, attention is given to the ways in which mothers’ social locations, experiences, and identities are mediated by race, class, sexuality, age, ability, and dominant ideologies of mothering. The individual, sociocultural, and economic contexts that shape the lives of mothers is given important consideration. This represents an important shift in understandings about motherhood and mothering as it brings to light the complexity of factors that shape and influence women’s experiences of motherhood and mothering (Collins; Gordon; Hays; Luxton; Mauthner; McMahon). Today a distinct feminist framework of knowledge and practice for conceptualizing mothers, motherhood, and mothering has emerged, referred to as maternal theory (Hays; HillCollins; hooks; Ladd-Taylor; Maushart; O’Reilly, Maternal Theory; Rich). Current maternal theory distinguishes between motherhood and mothering, and is largely influenced by Adrienne Rich’s work (Of Woman Born). “Motherhood” is conceptualized as the patriarchal institution of motherhood, which is male defined, controlled, and oppressive to women, whereas “mothering” is conceptualized as women’s experiences of mothering, which are female defined, centered, and potentially empowering to women (Rich). Rich argues that the reality of patriarchal motherhood must be distinguished from the possibility or potentiality of empowered mothering. 258

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Andrea O’Reilly’s work provides the largest and most significant contribution to the further development of Rich’s work and to the construction of a feminist theory and practice of empowered mothering. O’Reilly’s theory of “Mothering against Patriarchal Motherhood” provides a counter-narrative of motherhood that attempts to interrupt the master narrative of oppressive motherhood and implement a view of mothering that is empowering to women (Rocking the Cradle 45–48). Women who conform to the ideology of intensive mothering are considered “good mothers” while those who do not are considered “bad mothers.” O’Reilly argues that mothers can and do challenge the demands of intensive mothering by engaging in what she refers to as “empowered mothering,” which involves resisting as opposed to accepting patriarchal motherhood (O’Reilly Rocking the Cradle). Empowered mothering is characterized by agency, authority, autonomy, and authenticity (21–23). According to O’Reilly, marginalized mothers, such as poor mothers, mothers of color, and lesbian mothers, are more likely to engage in empowered mothering as they have fewer resources and less status in motherhood, and therefore are more able to perceive and oppose their oppression (46). Mothers who experience domestic violence are another group of marginalized mothers who have unique experiences due to the non-normative, stigmatized, and challenging circumstances in which they care for their children.

Findings, controversies, gaps, and future directions in relation to mothering in the social context of domestic violence Despite the long-standing research and literature in the area of domestic violence, and the more recent and emerging research and literature in the area of motherhood and mothering, there is surprisingly little overlap between these two bodies of work. The domestic violence work neglects to consider the unique mothering roles and responsibilities of women with children, and the motherhood and mothering work fails to consider the context of abuse in which some mothers carry out their mothering (McDonald-Harker, “Mothering in Marginalized Contexts”). A lack of knowledge and understanding about abused women’s mothering experiences continues to persist despite findings which indicate that women with children are up to three times more likely to experience domestic violence compared to women who do not have children; women’s decisions to contact and access domestic violence interventions are influenced based on whether or not they have children; and women and their accompanying children constitute a large number of the residents in women’s shelters (Holden and Ritchie; Holden et al.; Levendosky and Graham-Bermann, “Behavioral Observations of Parenting in Battered Women”). What then do we know about abused women’s mothering experiences? Since the late 1990s and early 2000s, a small body of scholarly research has begun to emerge as a result of concern among clinicians, particularly doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists, counselors, and social workers, about the prevalence of abuse experienced by women and children, with a particular focus on the later. Much attention has been given to the protection, safety, and overall health and well-being of children. The majority of the existing research examines the impact of domestic violence on women’s mothering, and, in turn, the impact of women’s mothering on their children. Domestic violence, therefore, is largely viewed and framed as a child welfare issue. As a result, abused women are often only considered in relation to their children, relegating them to the periphery, which has important implications for how abused mothers are constructed, perceived, and portrayed in wider society (Lapierre, “Mothering in the Context of Domestic Violence”). Only a very limited amount of the existing research examines abused mothers in their own right. 259

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The current body of literature focuses on three main areas: (1) the impact of domestic violence on mothering practices; (2) the effects of domestic violence on mother-child relationships; and to a lesser extent (3) abused women’s perceptions and experiences of mothering. Some of the early research points to abused women’s mothering deficits and ineffective mothering abilities, raising concern about their competence as mothers. Suspicion is thus often placed on abused mother’s capacity to care for and protect their children. This has led to abused mothers facing criticism and heightened surveillance by service agencies and providers, particularly child protection services. However, the more recent research calls into question the supposition that abuse universally impairs women’s mothering, pointing to women’s mothering strengths and effective mothering abilities. As such, many scholars are now advocating for a move away from this deficit focus, and for greater support, rather than criticism, of abused women’s mothering (Krane and Davies, “Sisterhood is Not Enough”; Lapierre, “Mothering in the Context of Domestic Violence”; McDonald-Harker, Mothering in Marginalized Contexts; Nixon et al.; Radford and Hester, “Overcoming Mother Blaming?”). Each of these three main areas of focus will be discussed in order to provide an overview of the current knowledge and understandings of mothering in the context of domestic violence.

Domestic violence and mothering practices Much of what we know about abused women’s mothering focuses on their parenting practices, specifically their ability to cope with stress and trauma, the various disciplinary methods they utilize, and the nature and quality of their interactions with their children. Compared to non-abused women, abused women have increased levels of psychological distress as a result of experiencing abuse, whether it is verbal, emotional, psychological, physical, or sexual abuse ( Jones et al.). Consequently, the hardships of domestic violence are thought to have a direct and negative effect on women’s parenting capabilities, which puts their children at risk. Some assert that abused mothers experience increased parenting stress and react to their children in less effective ways (Levendosky and Graham-Bermann, “The Moderating Effects of Parenting Stress”), employ coercive parenting strategies (Hazen et al.), engage in harsh disciplinary practices which involve the use of verbal aggression (Morrell et al.), and are physically aggressive with children because they are distressed and distracted, resulting in strained interactions (Moore and Peppler). Despite this early and long-standing research which points to abused mothers’ deficits, sufficient evidence does not exist to conclude that experiencing domestic violence adversely affects parenting capabilities. In fact, recent research reveals that abused mothers compensate for the abuse they personally experience by being more affectionate, attentive, and sensitive to their children. Many argue that there are no differences in the parenting practices of abused and nonabused mothers, and that they are “remarkably similar” when it comes to their parenting values, beliefs, behavior, abilities, and interactions with their children (Holden and Ritchie; Van Horn and Lieberman). Some indicate that abused mothers have increased empathy for and protectiveness of their children (Levendosky et al., “Mothers’ Perceptions of the Impact of Woman Abuse”), are available to and closely supervise their children (Sullivan et al.), show positive discipline and warm and nurturing behavior towards their children (Letourneau et al.), avoid violent behavior with their own children (Buchbinder), create a buffer between their children’s world and their violent world by maintaining a positive attitude (Peled and Gil). Some also demonstrate that abused mothers take active steps to protect their children from violence, such as putting them in another room (Kelly), calling friends, family, or police for assistance (Haight et al.), and avoiding, appeasing, or leaving the abuser (Hardesty). 260

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On the whole, abused mothers do experience stressors as a result of abuse, but this does not necessarily mean that it directly impacts their parenting practices and leads to diminished parenting. Abused mothers are concerned about their children’s well-being and do find ways to compensate and overcome the violence in their lives.

Domestic violence and mother-child relationships Our knowledge about abused women’s mothering also largely focuses on mother-child relationships. A significant amount of attention is given to the psychological, emotional, and social characteristics of mother-child relationships, specifically mothers’ responsiveness, communication, and nurturing abilities. Domestic violence is believed to have detrimental effects on mother-child relationships. Some purport that abused mothers are emotionally drained and have little to give their children by way of emotional support (Abrahams), show less maternal warmth, affection, and kindness (Levendosky and Graham-Bermann, “Behavioral Observations of Parenting in Battered Women”; McCloskey), and have limited time and energy to devote to communicating with their children and therefore building, nurturing, and solidifying relationships (Mullender). Contrary to this early research, a growing body of research indicates that many mother-child relationships successfully endure during and after abuse, particularly when mothers receive social support. As such, these seeming deficiencies in mother-child relationships are attributed not to abused mothers themselves but rather to the lack of social supports that are accessible and available to abused mothers. Several uphold that abused mothers compensate for the abuse by becoming more effective and responsive to their children (Levendosky et al., “The Impact of Domestic Violence on the Maternal-Child Relationship and Preschool-Age Children’s Functioning”), provide emotional support and nurturance to their children as a protective strategy (Nixon et al.), and demonstrate supportive maternal relationships with their children which counteract the adverse psychological consequences of domestic violence ( Jarvis et al.). All in all, abused mothers are not helpless victims in the face of violence who subsequently neglect their relationships with their children. Abused mothers are often active subjects who attempt to compensate for the abuse by forging stronger relationships with their children, even in times of crisis.

Abused women’s perceptions and experiences of mothering Very little is known specifically about abused women’s mothering in its own right, separate from their children. There is a lack of research and knowledge about abused women’s subjective mothering perceptions and experiences from their own voices, perspectives, and subjectivities. There is an even greater dearth of knowledge about the complex ways that abused mothers are held to the dominant ideology of motherhood and how standards of good mothering shape their mothering experiences and views of themselves as mothers. Not much therefore is known about abused women’s lived realities. Some of the research that does specifically examine abused mothers in their own right focuses on their experiences with domestic violence protective interventions, mainly abused women’s shelters. There is increasing recognition and awareness that abused women’s shelters do not always effectively recognize and address women’s mothering needs. Residents are often viewed in a unidimensional way, as victims, and therefore other facets of their lives such as their role and responsibilities as mothers are not taken into consideration (Krane and Davies, “Sisterhood is not Enough”). Women residents are expected to pursue their individual needs in order 261

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to confront and overcome the violence in their lives, and those individual needs are not inclusive of their needs as mothers, rendering them invisible. When mothering is rendered visible, it is subject to idealized constructions which reinforce the message that good mothers should always be available to their children, and that their children’s needs must come first (Krane and Davies, “Mothering under Difficult Circumstances”). A contradictory message is thus conveyed to abused mothers – they must put their individual needs first to overcome the violence in their lives, but they must also and at the same time put their children’s needs first to fulfill their role and obligations as mothers. There is also some very limited research that focuses on the ways that abused women view, understand, and carry out their mothering. Attention is paid to the ways that standards of intensive mothering shape and influence abused women’s mothering experiences. Abused mothers often express the desire to be “good mothers” and to be perceived as such by engaging in “good mothering” strategies, such as putting their children first, and caring for and protecting their children even when their abusive male partners targets their mothering as part of their coercive and violent strategies (Lapierre, “Striving to Be Good Mothers”). Some abused mothers even directly articulate, challenge, and resist the constricting and oppressive nature of the ideology of intensive motherhood and the associated discourses of the “good mother” and “bad mother.” Abused mothers articulate that even though they are often viewed and portrayed as “bad mothers,” they are in fact “good mothers.” They resist the intensive mothering ideals by redefining what a “good mother” is so that it has more inclusive boundaries. In this sense, abused mothers, many of whom are also marginalized (single, poor, and nonwhite), find ways to empower themselves in their subjective constructions of their mothering identities in the face of an ideology of intensive mothering that delegitimizes and subjugates them (McDonald-Harker, Mothering in Marginalized Contexts). Overall, abused mothers are more strongly held to the idealized standards of mothering because they mother outside the socially boundaries of “good mothering.” However, this does not necessarily mean that they are passive victims who merely accept and internalize the ideology of intensive mothering that casts them in a negative light. Abused mothers do question these mothering standards and view their mothering in a positive light, despite their stigmatized status.

Conclusion Despite decades of awareness and research in the area of domestic violence, little is known about abused women’s mothering experiences, particularly from their own voices. Much of what we do know today about abused women’s mothering is largely in relation to their children and focuses on their parenting practices and their mother-child relationships. A lot of the early scholarly work focuses on abused women’s deficits as mothers, and only recently has there been a move towards acknowledging their strengths and abilities as mothers. It is important to recognize that locating the problem of domestic violence primarily with the women and their mothering obscures the gender inequalities that underlie domestic violence relationships, whereby males are the perpetrators and females are the victims, not to mention removes responsibility from the men who inflict abuse in the first place and their fathering. Moreover, targeting and blaming mothers for their own victimization, and then monitoring and questioning their mothering is more likely to lock women into abusive relationships, as it has the potential to discourage them from reporting and leaving abusive partners (Radford and Hester, “Overcoming Mother Blaming?”). Although emerging research is beginning to provide a window into the lived realities of abused mothers by focusing on their individual perceptions and experiences of mothering, 262

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much of this work is still in its infancy. Only when we give abused mothers a voice, pay close attention to their subjective experiences, and shine the light on their everyday realities, are we able to gain a clearer and more holistic understanding of their unique mothering experiences, which have been silenced for far too long. It is crucial to make visible the unique experiences of women who mother in the context of domestic violence, as failure to do so risks further marginalizing an already marginalized group of mothers, and rendering their experiences invisible. Going forward it is important to envision ways for creating spaces where all mothers, regardless of the contexts in which they carry out their mothering, are included rather than discounted, understood rather than criticized, and supported rather than judged.

Works cited Berk, R. A., et al. “Mutual Combat and Other Family Violence Myths.” The Dark Side of Families: Current Family Violence Research, edited by David Finkelhor, Sage Publications, 1983, pp. 197–212. Bograde, M. “Feminist Perspectives on Wife Abuse: An Introduction.” Feminist Perspectives on Wife Abuse, edited by Kersti Yllo and M. Bograde, Sage Publications, 1988, pp. 11–26. Bowker, Lee H. Beating Wife-beating. D. C. Heath, 1983. Buchbinder, Eli. “Motherhood of Battered Women: The Struggle for Repairing the Past.” Clinical Social Work Journal, vol. 32, no. 3, 2004, pp. 307–26. Chase, Susan E., and Mary F. Rogers. Mothers & Children: Feminist Analyses and Personal Narratives. Rutgers UP, 2001. Collins, Patricia Hill. “Shifting the Center: Race, Class, and Feminist Theorizing About Motherhood.” Mothering: Ideology, Experience, and Agency, edited by Evelyn Nakano Glenn et al., Routledge, 1994, pp. 45–66. Dobash, R. Emerson, and Russell Dobash. Violence against Wives: A Case against the Patriarchy. Free P, 1979. Featherstone, Brid, and Liz Trinder. “Familiar Subjects? Domestic Violence and Child Welfare.” Child and Family Social Work, 2003, pp. 147–59. Firestone, Shulamith. The Dialectic of Sex: The Case for Feminist Revolution. Bantam, 1971. Gordon, Tuula. Feminist Mothers. Macmillan, 1990. Haight, W. L., et al. “Mothers’ Strategies for Protecting Children from Batterers: The Perspectives of Battered Women Involved in Child Protective Services.” Child Welfare, vol. 86, no. 4, 2007, pp. 41–62. Hardesty, J. L. “Separation Assault in the Context of Post-Divorce Parenting: An Integrative Review of the Literature.” Violence against Women, vol. 8, 2002, pp. 597–625. Hays, Sharon. The Cultural Contradictions of Motherhood. Yale UP, 1996. Hazen, A., et al. “Female Caregivers’ Experiences with Intimate Partner Violence and Behavior Problems in Children Investigated as Victims of Maltreatment.” Pediatrics, vol. 117, no. 1, 2006, pp. 99–109. Hochschild, Arlie R., and Anne Machung. The Second Shift: Working Families and the Revolution at Home. Penguin Books, 2012. Holden, George W., and Kathy L. Ritchie. “Linking Extreme Marital Discord, Child Rearing, And Child Behavior Problems: Evidence from Battered Women.” Child Development, vol. 62, 1991, pp. 311–27. Holden, George W., et al. “Parenting Behaviors and Beliefs of Battered Women.” Children Exposed to Marital Violence: Theory, Research, and Applied Issues, edited by G. W. Holden et al., American Psychological Association, 1997, pp. 289–334. hooks, bell. Feminist Theory from Margin to Center. South End, 1984. Jasinski, J. L. “Theoretical Explanations for Violence against Women.” Sourcebook on Violence against Women, edited by C. M. Renzetti et al., Sage Publications, 2001, pp. 5–21. Jones, L., et al. “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in Victims of Domestic Violence: A Review of the Research.” Trauma, Violence & Abuse, vol. 2, 2001, pp. 99–119. Kelly, U. A. “ ‘I’m a Mother First’: The Influence of Mothering in the Decision-Making Processes of Battered Immigrant Latino Women.” Research in Nursing & Health, vol. 32, 2009, pp. 286–97. Knowles, Jane Price, and Ellen Cole. Woman-defined Motherhood. Hawthorn Press, 1990. Krane, J., and L. Davies. “Sisterhood Is Not Enough: The Invisibility of Mothering in Shelter Practice with Battered Women.” Affilia, vol. 17, 2002, pp. 167–90. ———. “Mothering under Difficult Circumstances: Challenges to Working with Battered Women.” Affilia, vol. 22, no. 1, 2007, pp. 23–38.


Caroline McDonald-Harker Kurz, Demie. “Social Science Perspectives on Wife Abuse: Current Debates and Future Directions.” Gender & Society, vol. 3, no. 4, 1989, pp. 489–505. Ladd-Taylor, Molly. “Mother-work: Women, Child Welfare, and the State, 1890–1930.” Journal of Historical Geography, vol. 21, no. 2, 1994, pp. 231–33. Lapierre, Simon. “Mothering in the Context of Domestic Violence: The Pervasiveness of a Deficit Model of Mothering.” Child & Family Social Work, vol. 13, 2008, pp. 454–63. ———. “Striving to Be ‘Good’ Mothers: Abused Women’s Experiences of Mothering.” Child Abuse Review, vol. 19, 2010, pp. 342–57. Lenton, R. L. “Power Versus Feminist Theories of Wife Abuse.” Canadian Journal of Criminology, vol. 7, 1995, pp. 305–30. Leonard, V. W. “Mothering as a Practice.” Caregiving: Readings in Knowledge, Practice, Ethics, and Politics, edited by S. Gordon et al., U of Pennsylvania P, 1996, pp. 124–40. Letourneau, N. L., et al. “Mothering and Domestic Violence: A Longitudinal Analysis.” Journal of Family Violence, vol. 22, no. 8, 2007, pp. 649–59. Levendosky, Alytia A., and Sandra A. Graham-Bermann. “The Moderating Effects of Parenting Stress on Children’s Adjustment in Woman-Abusing Families.” Journal of Interpersonal Violence, vol. 13, 1998, pp. 383–97. ———. “Behavioral Observations of Parenting in Battered Women.” Journal of Family Psychology, vol. 14, 2000, pp. 80–94. Levendosky, Alytia A., et al. “The Impact of Domestic Violence on the Maternal-Child Relationship and Preschool-Age Children’s Functioning.” Journal of Family Psychology, vol. 17, no. 3, 2003, pp. 275–87. Levendosky, Alytia A., et al. “Mothers’ Perceptions of the Impact of Woman Abuse on Their Parenting.” Violence against Women, vol. 6, 2000, pp. 247–71. Luxton, Meg. Feminism and Families Critical Policies and Changing Practices. Fernwood, 1997. Maushart, Susan. Mask of Motherhood. Penguin Books, 1999. Mauthner, Natasha S. “ ‘Feeling Low and Feeling Really Bad about Feeling Low’: Women’s Experiences of Motherhood and Postpartum Depression.” Canadian Psychology/Psychologie Canadienne, vol. 40, no. 2, 1999, pp. 143–61. McCloskey, Laura Ann, et al. “The Effects of Systemic Family Violence on Children’s Mental Health.” Child Development, vol. 66, 1995, pp. 1239. McDonald-Harker, Caroline. “Mothering in the Context of Domestic Violence and Encounters with Child Protection Services: From Victimized to “Criminalized” Mothers.” Criminalized Mothers: Criminalizing Motherhood, edited by J. Minaker and B. Hogeveen, Demeter Press, 2015, pp. 323–54. ———. Mothering in Marginalized Contexts: Narratives of Women Who Mother in and through Domestic Violence. Demeter Press, 2016. McMahon, Martha. Engendering Motherhood: Identity and Self-transformation in Women’s Lives. Guilford, 1995. Moore, T. E., and D. J. Peppler. “Correlates of Adjustment in Children at Risk.” Children Exposed to Marital Violence: Theory, Research, and Applied Issues, edited by G. W. Holden et al., American Psychological Association, 1988, pp. 157–84. Morrel, T. M., et al. “The Effect of Maternal Victimization on Children: A Cross-Information Study.” Journal of Family Violence, vol. 18, no. 1, 2003, pp. 29–41. Mullender, Audrey. Children’s Perspectives on Domestic Violence. SAGE, 2002. Nixon, K. L., et al. “Protective Strategies of Mothers Abused by Intimate Partners: Rethinking the Deficit Model.” Violence against Women, vol. 23, no. 11, 2017, pp. 1271–92. O’Brien Hallstein, D. Lynn. White Feminists and Contemporary Maternity: Purging Matrophobia. Palgrave Macmillan, 2010. O’Reilly, Andrea. Mother Matters: Motherhood as Discourse and Practice: Essays from the Journal of the Association for Research on Mothering. Association for Research on Mothering, 2004. ———. Mother Outlaws: Theories and Practices of Empowered Mothering. Women’s Press, 2004. ———. Rocking the Cradle: Thoughts on Feminism, Motherhood, and the Possibility of Empowered Mothering. Demeter, 2006. ———. Maternal Theory: Essential Readings. Demeter Press, 2007. Peled, E., and I. B. Gil. “The Mothering Perceptions of Women Abused by Their Partner.” Violence against Women, vol. 17, no. 4, 2011, pp. 457–79. Pleck, E., et al. “The Battered Data Syndrome: A Comment on Steinmetz’ Article.” Victimology: An International Journal, vol. 2, 1977–1978, pp. 690–84.


Abused women’s mothering experiences Radford, L., and M. Hester. “Introduction.” Women, Violence and Male Power, edited by M. Hester et al., Open UP, 1996, pp. 1–16. ———. “Overcoming Mother Blaming? Future Directions for Research on Mothering and Domestic Violence.” Domestic Violence in the Lives of Children: The Future of Research, Intervention, and Social Policy, edited by S. A. Graham-Bermann and J. L. Edleson, American Psychological Association, 2006, pp. 135–56. Rich, Adrienne. Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution. Norton, 1986. Ruddick, Sara. “Maternal Thinking.” Philosophy, Children, and the Family, vol. 6, no. 3, 1980, pp. 101–26. Russell, Diana E. H. Rape in Marriage. Macmillan, 1982. Sullivan, Cris M., et al. “Beyond Searching for Deficits.” Journal of Emotional Abuse, vol. 2, 2000, pp. 51–71. United Nations. Strategies for Confronting Domestic Violence: A Resource Manual (1993). United Nations, 2015. Van Horn, P., and A. Lieberman. Domestic Violence and Parenting: A Review of the Literature. Judicial Council of California, Center for Families, Children and the Courts. 2002. Walker, Lenore E. The Battered Woman. Harper & Row, 1980.



Mothering, families, and domestic space

21 FROM HOME TO HOUSE Neoliberalism, mothering, and the de-domestication of the private sphere? Melinda Vandenbeld Giles

Introduction In At Home: An Anthropology of Domestic Space, John Rennie Short writes, “Given the huge significance of the home, there is comparatively little work on its meaning” (Short ix). Short is referring specifically to the “home” as conceptualized in the Euro-American imagination. It is important to note that he made this statement in 1999. Two decades later, exploring, analyzing, fretting, and writing about the meaning of “the home,” “mothering,” and “the family” has become a favourite North American past-time. Given the 2008 economic “crisis,” the meaning of the “home” has become particularly imperative. If the “home,” particularly the “suburban home” is the site of the American dream, is it any wonder this dream is considered in threat of collapse given the fallout from the housing mortgage crisis? Although greater bank regulation has provided protection in Canada, our social imaginaries remain intimately connected with the American context, thereby creating an affective anxiety with “housing” at its core. The plethora of real estate shows and home improvement books and magazines quickly reveal this societal preoccupation with the “home.” In “Home Improvement: Domestic Taste, DIY, and the Property Market,” Buck Clifford Rosenberg discusses the DIY culture and the imperative to depersonalize one’s home to increase future sale prospects. In an effort to avoid the “grandma effect,” affect associated with materialism is erased and replaced with homogenized “style” (Rosenberg). Rosenberg links this depersonalized aesthetic conversion of the home to the wider processes of neoliberal selfhood in which the “branding” of self becomes a marketing tool. There is a particular and homogenized moral imperative induced within home improvement shows that reduces individuality to market demands. Rosenberg writes, “The makeover has removed . . . personalization from the house – and potentially the status of ‘home’ along with it – for the materialized identities of its owners are no longer present” (Rosenberg 17). In other words, have neoliberal imperatives reduced the “home” to being a “house?” Has the “home” become merely another site of investment devoid of symbolic significance? Has the “home” figuratively become a “hotel” – a place perceived to be devoid of personal aesthetic, a place of anonymity and mobility? Given the moral imperative of the “home” in the North American imagination, the perceived loss of this symbolic space could produce significant societal anxiety. As Dolores Hayden writes, the American ideal life is embodied in the suburban 269

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home as the site of individualism, privacy, and idealized family and gender norms. If this symbolic significance is apparently stripped by economic imperatives, does this alter our very understandings of “family” and “motherhood?” (Blunt and Dowling 7) Or is this assumption regarding the loss of the symbolic erroneous?

Background and context In The Managed Heart, Arlie Hochschild discusses the economic coopting of emotion in the movement from a Fordist labour economy based on material relations to a post-Fordist service economy based on social relations. Value is to be found in people, not things (Hochschild). The shifting space of the “home” in the North American imagination is emblematic of larger neoliberal societal narratives in which we are witnessing increasing financialization of the “social” (Haiven). How are neoliberal discourses governing morality and subjectivity implicitly informing and altering conceptualizations of the “home” and associated presumptions of domesticity? In Enjoying Neoliberalism, Jodi Dean writes, “Neoliberalism relies on the production of imaginary rather than symbolic identities” (Dean 60). I will refer to Lacan in describing the symbolic order as the everyday order of language and meaning. Jodi Dean utilizes Žižek in her theorizing, suggesting a “loss of symbolic efficiency” (Dean 61). In essence, Žižek suggests a loss of “common sense” or “what everyone knows.” The argument is that the Fordist era produced specific subjectivities or roles to play. The diversity and chaos of the post-Fordist neoliberal era, however, produces anxiety due to a loss of established meaning. In other words, there is a disconnect between the signifier and the signified leading to the erosion of symbolic efficiency. This relates back to popularized perceptions of the home wherein the “home” as an established material and symbolic entity representing a definitive concept of how things “ought to be” (the American dream) is transforming into a physical house given no meaning beyond market value. It is precisely this connection between the symbolic and the material that I wish to explore further. To what degree are normative conceptualizations of “the home” still relevant? Governmentality theorists suggest the categories of meaning have become even more entrenched, albeit implicitly rather than explicitly. I will borrow from Jesook Song to define governmentality as “liberal political reasoning and technologies that are suffused throughout society by various social actors and spheres, such as NGOs, businesses, residential communities, families, schools, and individuals as well as state administrative institutes” (Song xii). While “the home,” “the family,” and “good mothering” have always been defined in a way that is consistent with particular economic/political imperatives, in the post-1970s neoliberal era, instead of signifying social roles, they now signify particular economic positions masked as the social. The more disconnected the signifier from the signified, the more entrenched must these categories become thereby leading to increased surveillance to ensure complicity. Thus, instead of viewing home decorating shows or the perceived transition from “home” to “house” as a loss of the symbolic, it could alternately be viewed in terms of increased moral/social imperatives to follow even more homogenized roles masked by the fiction of depersonalization.

Historical overview What does “home” mean? What are the current meanings of “home,” “family,” and “mothering”? If we are to understand the specificity of the neoliberal mothering paradigm, we must first place it within historical context. In American Kinship, David Schneider effectively reveals the extent to which this 270

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unification of the “family” and the “home” has always been an implicit and naturalized assumption in the Euro-American imagination. Schneider writes, “A family is a mated pair raising its offspring in a home of its own. A family without a home, a husband, a wife, or a child is not complete” (Schneider 50). He discusses the pivotal and rather unique perceived segregation in American society between the realm of “work” and “home.” Since kinship has been segregated to the realm of the “home,” the “home” has become a defining symbol of family life. “Work” has been defined as the place of productivity, progress, and money, where “man” has governed the forces of “nature.” In sharp contrast, “home” has been the place of the maternal, love, and familial relationships, governed by what is “natural” (Schneider 46–48). In Home: A Short History of an Idea, Witold Rybczynski traces the historical transition in Europe from the public feudal household to the private family home. Rybczynski discusses the public/private divide and the creation of a feminized domestic economy. Rybczynski writes, “Before the idea of home as the seat of family life could enter the human consciousness, it required the experience of both privacy and intimacy, neither of which had been possible in the medieval hall” (Rybczynski 48). Although Rybczynski acknowledges the impossibility of defining a singular moment when the modern idea of the family home first entered the human consciousness, he does discuss the domestic interior of seventeenth-century Netherlands as exemplary. From 1609 to 1660, the Netherlands became the world center for international finance. As primarily merchants and landowners, the Dutch social fabric developed within an urban context. Increasingly, the Dutch owned their own homes and built separate establishments for their businesses. With education being prioritized, children remained at home instead of being sent out to work. Given the Calvinist emphasis on independence, the Dutch hired few servants and imposed special taxes on those who did employ domestic help. These various shifts led to the positioning of women with their children isolated within the private “family home.” Rybczynski highlights the central importance of words in defining our realities. “We use words not only to describe objects but also to express ideas, and the introduction of words into the language marks the simultaneous introduction of ideas into the consciousness” (Rybczynski 21). The concept of the “home” as we understand it today in the Euro-American imagination could not exist without first developing the concepts of “domesticity” and “comfort.” As the domestic world became increasingly isolated from the public realm, the word “home” emerged to define the site of family, intimacy, and child-rearing.

Central themes Imagining the “home” in a neoliberal era David Schneider interpreted the core symbols of American kinship as revealed amongst primarily white, middle-class Americans during the 1960s. He revealed the processes of domesticity that had been occurring for hundreds of years, as Rybczynski illustrated. He also provided a pivotal framework within which to consider both stability and change. How are social, economic, and political forces constantly redefining and reinterpreting these core symbols, particularly since the mid-1970s with increasing neoliberalism and globalization? In A Brief History of Neoliberalism, David Harvey writes, “Future historians may well look upon the years 1978–80 as a revolutionary turning-point in the world’s social and economic history” (Harvey 1). Harvey defines neoliberalism as a theory of political economic practices that proposes that human well-being can best be advanced by liberating individual entrepreneurial freedoms and skills within an 271

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institutional framework characterized by strong private property rights, free markets, and free trade. . . . It holds that the social good will be maximized by maximizing the reach and frequency of market transactions, and it seeks to bring all human action into the domain of the market. (Harvey 2–3) In what ways does this increasing market imperative then influence how these core symbols are to be interpreted in the North American societal imagination? Increasing neoconservative discourses of familial domesticity within the “home” coincide with the growing prevalence of families experiencing homelessness. The vision of wealth and productivity evoked by the construction of shiny new condos eclipses the massive dispossession of social housing. These “homeless” families subvert the neoliberal individualistic ideologies of productivity wherein the “family” provides the essential educational/emotional/ physical space within which to socially reproduce future creative and entrepreneurial neoliberal subjects (Vandenbeld Giles, “Making Invisible” 162). Within an increasingly competitive and capitalistic world where the perceived loss of the “social” has become paramount, how might these associations of the “family home” as the site of “love” and “selflessness” become further strengthened? Alternately, is the “family home” still conceptualized as the site of “love” as Schneider established, or have these symbolic categories been submerged by neoliberal narratives of investment? Can the “home” be both a depersonalized site for investment purposes and a moralistic space of social reproduction? In “Complexio Oppositorum: Notes on the Left in Neoliberal Italy,” Andrea Muehlebach writes, “Neoliberalism is often better understood as a form that can contain the oppositional . . . and fold them into a single moral order” (Muehlebach 495). Neoliberal discourses frame the merging of this home/work, public/private dichotomy as a positive element of creativity. Leftist postmodern criticisms of modernist home/work dualisms ironically bolster neoliberal “flexible labour” and entrepreneurial imperatives. Mothers are encouraged to financialize the domestic space through “work-from-home” ideals despite precariousness and often poor remuneration. Yet within the neoliberal framework, this creative “freedom” only applies to a privileged sector of the population. How do the majority of citizens experience this mobility/flexibility imperative, particularly those who do not “choose” to live in constant transience and insecurity? There are no easy answers or solutions for these questions, but in the asking we can hope to begin a more nuanced and critical dialogue regarding the normalized assumptions of the neoliberal world in which we live.

Further reading Blunt, Alison, and Robyn Dowling. Home. Routledge, 2006. Haiven, Max. Cultures of Financialization: Fictitious Capital in Popular Culture and Everyday Life. Palgrave Macmillan, 2014. Harvey, David. A Brief History of Neoliberalism. Oxford UP, 2005. Hochschild, Arlie Russell. The Managed Heart: Commercialization of Human Feeling. U of California P, 1983. Rybczynski, Witold. Home: A Short History of an Idea. Penguin Books, 1987. Schneider, David. American Kinship: A Cultural Account. 1968. 2nd ed., U of Chicago P, 1980. Short, John Rennie. At Home: An Anthropology of Domestic Space. Syracuse UP, 1999. Vandenbeld Giles, Melinda. “ ‘Making Invisible’: The Eradication of ‘Homeless Mothers’ from Public Policy in Ontario, Canada.” Mothering in the Age of Neoliberalism, edited by Melinda Vandenbeld Giles, Demeter Press, 2014.


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Conclusion It is always in moments of transition when hegemonic fantasies reveal their inconsistencies thereby necessitating increased enforcement. If we return to earlier conceptualizations of “home,” we have witnessed a perceived neoliberal transition from “home” as a symbolic place of love and nurturance to “house” as a depersonalized space of investment. But does this depersonalized conceptualization of home mask an increasingly gendered moralistic environment? Equally, it would seem diverse interpretations of mothering mask an increasingly stringent moral regulation of mothers. How do neoliberal conceptualizations of the “home” and “mothering” work together to reinforce each other, increasingly placing the “mother” in the “home” despite overt narratives of “choice”? (Vandenbeld Giles, “Introduction” 4) Given the multiple ways in which neoliberalism can be viewed as a tool enfolding dichotomous narratives, the more “home” becomes a depersonalized site of regulation co-opted by the market, the more must it thus be identified as a site of “maternal love” defined by intrinsic biological and thus seemingly irrefutable imperatives.

Works cited Blunt, Alison, and Robyn Dowling. Home. Routledge, 2006. Dean, Jodi. “Enjoying Neoliberalism.” Cultural Politics, vol. 4, no. 1, 2008, pp. 47–72. Haiven, Max. Cultures of Financialization: Fictitious Capital in Popular Culture and Everyday Life. Palgrave Macmillan, 2014. Harvey, David. A Brief History of Neoliberalism. Oxford UP, 2005. Hochschild, Arlie Russell. The Managed Heart: Commercialization of Human Feeling. U of California P, 1983. Muehlebach, Andrea. “Complexio Oppositorum: Notes on the Left in Neoliberal Italy.” Public Culture, vol. 21, no. 3, Fall 2009, pp. 495–515. Rosenberg, Buck Clifford. “Home Improvement: Domestic Taste, DIY, and the Property Market.” Home Cultures, vol. 8, no. 1, Mar. 2011, pp. 5–23. Rybczynski, Witold. Home: A Short History of an Idea. Penguin Books, 1987. Schneider, David. American Kinship: A Cultural Account. 1968. 2nd ed., U of Chicago P, 1980. Short, John Rennie. At Home: An Anthropology of Domestic Space. Syracuse UP, 1999. Song, Jesook. South Koreans in the Debt Crisis: The Creation of a Neoliberal Welfare Society. Duke UP, 2009. Vandenbeld Giles, Melinda. “Introduction: An Alternative Mother-Centred Economic Paradigm.” Mothering in the Age of Neoliberalism, edited by Melinda Vandenbeld Giles, Demeter Press, 2014, pp. 1–30. ———. “ ‘Making Invisible’: The Eradication of ‘Homeless Mothers’ from Public Policy in Ontario, Canada.” Mothering in the Age of Neoliberalism, edited by Melinda Vandenbeld Giles, Demeter Press, 2014, pp. 153–168.



Do the parents’ needs always coincide with the child’s? How do we decide what is in the “best interests of the child”? How can we ensure that it’s not at the expense of the mother? How is parenting different or similar in marriage than it is in divorce? How can parenting work effectively when society promotes intensive mothering within marriage, which is enacted by mothers, yet upon divorce, some fathers, who previously did not adequately parent, then advocate for equal coparenting? In addressing these questions, it needs to be said that this chapter is not about excluding fathers in parenting, but rather balancing the parenting role in an appropriate way with divorce as an extension of parental behavior within marriage. Both parents are important to their children but perhaps may contribute in different ways to parenting, not necessarily in equal measures.

Contemporary context: parenting today In this context, there is not only a need to examine the impact of the patriarchal system on mothers’ potential oppression but also to further explore the myth of how such a system can only operate at the expense of a matriarchal one. Taking into account that we aspire to have co-parenting in marriage, this is not always realistic. Increased father recognition in divorce may undermine motherhood by reinforcing the injustice of equalizing parenting by not addressing the lack of equalization when it comes to women’s relationship to work once they become mothers. Alternatively, there are instances, particularly in separation, when partners become oppressive to each other when one chooses not to take on financial responsibility within the relationship, despite disempowering themselves in the process. As we generalize mothering into parenting, it needs to be said that parental thinking “denies the ongoing presence of gender imbalance and the fact that the actual work of parenting continues to be done largely by women” (Frye 16), namely mothers. In understanding parenting today in North American culture, there is a need to explore the conflicting narratives about fathers, which is that fathers today are more involved in parenting and, paradoxically, that mothers do the bulk of parenting. As Podnieks has noted, “The definitions of fatherhood have shifted in the twenty-first century as paternal subjectivities, conflicts, and desires have registered in new ways in the contemporary family.” Although there has been increased parental participation by fathers in marriage, the literature notes that leisure time for part-time working mothers is scattered while men have more unbroken leisure time (Schulte 28) and that stay-at-home women feel guilty and do everything (168). As Doucet, in her earlier 274

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work, has said: “Men do not mother, even when they are primary caregivers, they enact their role as fathers. Women adjust their lives to accommodate children not usually men” (250). To help explain this behavior, Harrington et al. have suggested that most of the fathers in their study aspire to share equally in caregiving with their spouse/partner, but often are unable to bring this desire to reality. In addition, they concluded that fathers need time to develop parenting skills, especially in the United States, which they don’t have, because it isn’t particularly a family supportive culture (Harrington et al. 33). From this we can surmise that there is a need to focus on wider gendered relations, which is not happening at an equal rate at this point in time. Even while fathers have been reworking their role as nurturers over the last two decades, as Doucet has noted (Podnieks), the patriarchal system is still operating and determining how parents should perform their roles. There is also a relationship between societal expectations and the individual mother’s style of mothering. There needs to be a greater respect for motherhood and a necessity to promote societal changes that will address what actions to take regarding all that is “on one plate”, namely mothers’ (Brown). It may also be about the perception of the value of the work, not the income and expectations the couple has (Maushart). Spousal earnings should be equally owned, since dependent wives have been shaped by a patriarchal system that adopts pro-marriage policies rather than offering equal job opportunity especially for women and mothers. At this point in time in Ontario, women do 50% more work at home than men, according to Statscan, choose more flexible lower-paying jobs to cope with responsibilities at home and are expected to put caring over career (Kaplan).

Personal view of my father I became interested in this topic because of my own father’s intense involvement in parenting. He made lunches, wrote notes, which he placed in his children’s lunches, wishing them a good day or good luck on a test. He sewed jumpers for their home economics classes, took his children to school and picked them up, did the shopping, took them skating, looked after them when they were sick, took them to the doctor, and went to all parent and teacher meetings in addition to working outside of the home. This parental involvement sounds like our mothers of today. He encouraged his daughters to be self-sufficient and have careers because “you never know what tomorrow brings.” He was an equal co-parent in marriage, who had flexible hours, owned his own business, and was compensating for enormous loss in his life. In addition, he took on parenting when he wasn’t working outside of the home. Because of his role modeling, the question for me is and has always been; Are they all like that? Can fathers parent or should we even be comparing the mothering and fathering role? I subsequently conducted a qualitative study entitled “Paternal Involvement and Maternal Employment,” which explored whether fathers are more involved in marriage when their partners are employed. The result of that study indicated that it wasn’t so much maternal employment that determined paternal involvement but rather the relationship that the father had with his own mother and the losses he experienced, which resulted in the desire to re-create the parent-child bond, as well as to model effective parenting by his own father (Ennis, “Paternal Involvement and Maternal Employment”). In addition, it was noted that mothers who are insecure as mothers, or in their career, may not be as open to father involvement as secure mothers.

Historical background and context While it is recognized that parenting for fathers is important, both for a child’s well-being, as well as for the father, mother, and couple relationship, the desire to be an involved and 275

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nurturing parent may not be the same as what is actually occurring for all fathers. Having said that, while historically fathers were relegated to the role of primary breadwinner and mothers to the sole caregiving of children, this has shifted to a more fluid involvement by both parents, depending on the definition of the marriage as more traditional or egalitarian, as well as the degree of involvement in the workforce and income earnings. Marriage has become more optional and fragile with more mutual choices to be made and has become more democratized although traditional elements still exist within more egalitarian marriages (Ennis, After the Happily Ever After). It is unclear whether more paternal involvement actually frees up mothers to be more engaged in their careers, which was likely the logic of the second-wave feminists. However, research does suggest that “high father involvement with children is associated with a positive couple relationship in that the better parents are getting along, the more likely dads are to be doing things with their children” (Pleck et al.). Recent analysis of the first five years of the Millennium Cohort Study has supported these findings and found evidence which supported the “spillover” model – that marital conflict affects parenting behaviour which in turn affects children – rather than the “compensatory” model which suggests parents try to compensate for poor partner relationships with good child relationships (Poole et al.). Having said that, in contemporary North American society, “intensive mothering” determines the degree of father involvement in that the primary preoccupation with the children is attributed to the mother in that she is often the one who “holds the child in her head.” While intensive parenting has also become more popular today, the quality and nature of that relationship may be quite different for both parents. In addition, parental involvement is very much related to the financial stability of the parties involved (i.e., who earns more) and the practicality of who should be the primary caregiver (i.e., who works from home).

Controversies and challenges Are fathers all the same? Mothers don’t mother the same but societal expectation is clear about the role of mothers. Even though it seems as if fathers parent differently than mothers, do fathers parent the same as each other? Men may not mother, but parent in their own unique way and often do so at their own discretion. Why are we juxtaposing mothers and fathers against each other and expecting equal parenting arrangements if none existed during the marriage? If the father’s primary contribution was monetary and the mother’s was mothering, after the divorce, the mother will be expected to take on financial obligations to survive and the father more parenting arrangements during his co-parenting time with the children. How can parents, particularly mothers, suddenly shift onto the career path without adequate employment or training as co-primary breadwinners (which wasn’t as much of a concern within the marriage) while fathers are expected to transform into equal, nurturing parents, which didn’t exist prior to divorce?

Gender essentialism and the new momism When we think about parenting, one controversy that needs to be addressed is “gender essentialism,” which is a stereotypic and biased view that women and men are inherently different because of intrinsic differences between the genders. It suggests that men and women act differently and have different options in life because of these essential differences between the sexes (Boskey). This term is often used to excuse patriarchal behavior towards women, lower pay, or


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traditional views on caregiving. Frye in “Parental Thinking” said that “parental thinking” is “a practice deriving from the ongoing and active commitment to caring for children, shaped by constructions of gender but available to both men and women” (15). She continues that this way of thinking “denies the ongoing presence of gender imbalance and the fact that the actual work of parenting continues to be done largely by women” (16). Many fathers embrace fatherhood but rely on the women in their lives for emotional guidance in parenting. Alternatively, they may have a fear that they are compromising their careers and fear the stigma of caring for children (Marotte). We try to equate paternal involvement with equity between the sexes and are afraid of being accused of gender differentiation or, at the very least, narrow-minded by adopting rigid thinking. As a result, we try to encourage those of different races, cultures, and sexual orientation to embrace parenting equally. This is, of course, imperative to the future of our society, but as it stands now, studies show that, even though fathers develop a similar attachment relationship with babies, mothers engage in more parenting activities than fathers do. Maybe, the parenting is still more of an attachment, nurturing type rather than an affiliative, playful one, and we need to understand why. The construction of our society, even if we don’t want to admit it, is still patriarchal. We want equality for women and encourage them to be involved in the workforce for their family security as well as to justify having an equal education to men. However, we do not offer encouragement to anyone for raising children, neither to mothers nor for fathers. Why would anyone, other than those in a lesser financial position or who have bought into the expectation of intensive mothering, want to engage in an activity that isn’t respected and doesn’t offer remuneration? The new momism, a type of gender essentialism, “insists that if you want to do anything else, you’d better first prove that you’re a doting, totally involved mother before proceeding” (Douglas and Michaels 22). The issue with this philosophy is that if, as a mother, she embraces it, the financial fallout is huge. An intensively involved mother may end up sharing parenting even where equal parenting may not have existed within the marriage. The controversy around equal co-parenting has been huge especially in areas pertaining to family law when the question arises whether fathers matter as much as mothers and whether they should be granted equal co-parenting rights.

The lived experience of mothering Another challenge related to parenting and mothering is the lived experiences of mothers during marriage, separation, and divorce. I was once invited to give a talk to young mothers who desperately were seeking advice about their partners forcing them back to work after the maternity leave period elapsed because “that’s not what they signed up for.” The desire to continue in the mothering mode, as the primary caregiver, was apparent for these mothers, which is reinforced by our society yet not always by one’s partner. In addition, it is curious how mothers engaging in primary parenting, even while working, seems to function in marriage but its value is further reassessed in divorce. There is often no acknowledgement by divorcing ex-partners that the individual who parents longer hours should pay less support payments. The rationalization often is that the uninvolved parent didn’t want to be around his/her family because he/she felt uncomfortable being around his/her ex-spouse and, as a result, parented less. However, now that his/her ex-partner is gone on his/her days, he/she can be a good parent. How can parents co-parent effectively if they avoid each other? How can one parent effectively if he/she hasn’t done so up to this point?


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The risks of avoiding gender essentialism, intensive mothering, and the mommy track It is necessary to examine our distaste for the term “gender essentialism” particularly as it relates to motherhood. Even though we are in denial over gender essentialism in parenting, it is still factually true that it remains in parenting because mothers do the overwhelming majority of parenting work. We compensate for this discomfort, specifically as it relates to fatherhood care, by diluting motherhood to “the other” who engages in childcare. In a utopian world, there would be no differences between gender, race, sexual orientation, and culture. Even I, as the author of this chapter, tried to be inclusive and attempted to recognize the involved father by not identifying, specifically, which parent was being discussed when elaborating upon parental involvement. Even though, in a previous context, it was suggested that expanding upon the model of “intensive mothering” to “intensive parenting” through education and more paternal involvement was optimal (Ennis, After the Happily Ever After), it was recognized that fathers intensively parent differently (Ennis, Intensive Mothering). “Intensive Mothering” is defined as parenting primarily being conducted by mothers (both stay-at-home and working), centered on children’s needs with methods informed by experts, which are labour-intensive and costly simply because children are entitled to this maternal investment (Hays; O’Reilly, “Introduction”). However, despite our hope for equality, there is the possibility that increased father recognition may undermine and fail to acknowledge the maternal role, in some cases, and may be further devaluing the motherhood model. While fathers can mother, many fathers do not choose to do so, as it is still not the norm, just as some mothers are trained to be successful in careers and sometimes it doesn’t play out that way, in reality, due to work-motherhood imbalance and an oppressive patriarchal system. In divorce, is it in the best interest of the child for a mother to lose her financial status on a career path because she lingered too long on the mommy track, who opted to sacrifice promotions and pay raises in order to devote more time to raising her children? Many women lose their financial status because they couldn’t veer off the mommy track, in addition to losing their children to joint parenting with a partner, who may have shown no interest in being involved in parenting. This is a critical issue when it comes to divorce proceedings where joint parenting is granted to fathers, who may not have been engaged with their children prior to separation. There is a mistaken assumption or myth that the less involved parent will “step up to the plate,” if given the opportunity, when the mother is not preventing it, which sounds a lot like “mother blame,” once again. The question is how to encourage father involvement but not at the expense of motherhood and how not to further disempower mothers, who have been repeatedly disenfranchised by the patriarchy. We need to think about how to reconcile our need to be all-inclusive in parenting, while recognizing that the best interests of the child, as well as the mother’s, must be adequately served. By being gender inclusive, as a vehicle to avoid gender essentialism, we have to be careful to not, inadvertently, run the risk of devaluing the work that mothers actually do.

Best interests and co-parenting Another challenge related to co-parenting is that often there is some confusion, in the North American context, what the term “best interests of the child” actually means, especially the subtle nuances of the term in situations, which are not as obvious. In the context of child custody cases, focusing on the child’s “best interests” means that all custody and visitation discussions and 278

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decisions are made with the ultimate goal of fostering and encouraging the child’s happiness, security, mental health, and emotional development into young adulthood. Generally speaking, it is often in the child’s best interests to maintain a close and loving relationship with both parents, but the practicalities of promoting and maintaining such relationships can be the main challenge in resolving a child custody dispute. Taking this definition into account, is it always in the best interests of the child for parents to adopt an equal co-parenting arrangement in divorce if one of the parents had no interest in being one during the marriage? Even though in most situations, joint custody, which entails joint decision-making, is warranted, co-parenting refers to the care of the child and the time each parent spends with him/her. How can we get uninvolved parents reinvested in parenting before the court decides that there should be co-parenting in separation because we believe in equality and because it is politically correct? While not restricting parenting to mothers in both marriage and divorce, there is a need to question whether co-parenting is a means of disempowerment to the newly divorced mother, since theoretically we are advocating equal parenting. Yet, our neoliberal society still ensures that the bulk of parenting is done by both working and non-working mothers. When the uninvolved parent within marriage is suddenly expected to parent on his or her own after separation or divorce, he/she may then offload the child onto someone else to serve the function that the primary parent provided. As such, is it in the best interests for a child to be looked after by the uninvolved parent’s relative or a nanny rather than the primary caregiver he/she was accustomed to? To clarify, not all fathers are negligent and mothers engaged. How can we get the uninvolved parent more involved in a proper co-parenting arrangement? Within marriage, women often take maternity leave and use that opportunity to connect with their baby. Fathers still do not take paternity leave as often as mothers, even though it is offered, because of the stigma associated with it in many work environments, which also needs to change. How can we get fathers reinvested in parenting before we decide that there should just be co-parenting because we believe in equality even though this is not the case for most women financially? In divorce, there is a sudden shift whereby the uninvolved parent may feel entitled to joint parenting, not because they want to do it. We rationalize that this parent has realized the error of his ways and mourns the loss of his family but in fact, it appears to be more of an issue of a fair settlement, as it is with property division, in the form of the parent paying less child maintenance if he has the child for longer periods of time. Perhaps we need to consider how to equalize the financial loss of the mother, who withdrew from full-time work, as a primary caregiver, by equalizing the status of living upon divorce between the divorcing parents. Although it is possible that joint parenting may free up the mother to engage in a new career that often has been derailed by motherhood, in our quest for equality, are we further disempowering mothers by considering the father’s sense of inequality in cases where he sought no such equality within the marriage? We need to finally shatter the myth of how a patriarchal system can only operate at the expense of a matriarchal one.

The Ontario 40% rule and transitioning parents into an equitable parenting arrangement Another issue is that there have been different perspectives regarding the involvement of fathers with their children upon divorce. “The Changing Identity of Mothers in Situations of Separation and Divorce” noted that, while “historically the ideology of motherhood in Irish society was very much defined by a connection to and immersion in the family, upon separation however, analysis showed that there is a shift in the pattern of responsibility whereby there is 279

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significant disengagement by fathers and mothers’ responsibilities become all encompassing” (Crosse and Millar). Alternatively, Olerenshaw may have looked at the flip-side of the aforementioned study, which noted how a patriarchal system and increased father recognition, at the expense of motherhood, is undermining motherhood when she commented,“The reality is stark: mothers are, in gradual steps, losing the rights, freedom and economic ability to raise their own children, within the patriarchal and capitalist project” (22). While in the Crosse and Millar study, fathers seemed to distance themselves from their children upon divorce, this is not really so different from what is actually happening in other contexts except fathers are automatically feeling entitled to coparenting arrangements. The relationship between the Ontario 40% residency rule and co-parenting becomes more apparent when we examine the trend for the uninvolved parent to request more parenting time in exchange for paying less child support. The law in Ontario provides that shared custody exists where a parent exercises access or has physical custody for no less than 40% of the time over the course of a year. Whether or not co-parenting is actually being implemented is in question and the gains for the access parent, namely the 40% threshold requirement, indicate a reduction in child support to the mother by acknowledging that arrangement. This has been disputed by legal practitioners, who profess that when the father engages in equal shared parenting, the child support is applied in his parenting. As Colman says: My experience has almost universally been that my father clients simply want to maintain and even expand their parent/child relationships. The motivation is not money. If you have the child 50% and that reduces your child support, your other costs re child care (food, housing, trips, clothing, etc.) then go up. So, by having a 50/50 arrangement you are not saving any money at all. Nevertheless, it appears as if the way to change the status of mothers is still “by gaining real recognition for their motherhood work, (which) is the great unfinished business of the women’s movement” (Crittenden 7). For this reason, mothers need a feminism of their own and more empowerment in the form of “matricentric feminism” (O’Reilly, Matricentric Feminism). Ennis argues, a solution to this conundrum of how to balance an effective co-parenting relationship between mothers and fathers is a comfortable “transitioning into an equitable parenting arrangement,” not necessarily an equal parenting one