Following up on my earlier post about AP, sacrifice, and feminism, I thought it would be good to try to nail down some guiding (but not limiting) principles for feminist mothering. Andrea O’Reilly has written tons about this topic; in fact, her new book, FEMINIST MOTHERING, is one example. Let me quote from the book blurb for a distinction I think is really helpful (I have not yet read the book, but I heard her speak a couple of years ago and she made this distinction then, and I liked it a lot):
“O’Reilly makes a distinction between motherhood as an institution filled with tradition that can possibly lead women to a sense of isolation and feminist mothering that recognizes ‘that mothers and children benefit when the mother lives her life, and practices mothering, from a position of agency, authority, authenticity, and autonomy.’”
So, “motherhood” is that patriarchal institution, essentially, and “mothering,” especially feminist mothering, is a more active, positive place from which to move. I like this separation because it allows us to critique societal expectations of mothers without getting to a point where the only way out is to jettison being a mother altogether. It suggests that, dammit, yes, mothering can be a feminist practice, it can be a creative practice, it can be a liberating practice – an expanding practice, as La Lubu suggests. (O’Reilly has drawn on WOC writing and theorizing about mothering, in fact, in her work, and I think she is informed by what La Lubu was talking about in her comment (55 on the other thread – I can’t figure out how to link directly to it.)
Just as we struggle to move mainstream feminism to recognize issues like immigration and poverty and transphobia as central “women’s issues”, a practice of feminist mothering must recognize that such issues are also central to our parenting. Yes, feminist mothering means support for breastfeeding so that all women are supported and able to breastfeed (simultaneously, those women who choose not to or are not physically able to must also be supported and not made to feel like they are lesser mothers). Certainly, feminist mothering means rethinking how we participate in our communities as mothers and with children, and it means demanding that our communities don’t isolate us (childfree folks: I’m not advocating that children invade grown-up space, but simply that we shape society so as not to exclude mothers from it).
But it also means that we are thinking more broadly, beyond “me and my baby,” and out to the impact of – oh, for example, our diaper use on other mothers who have to live near the trash our communities dump in their communities (yes, I used disposable diapers. I’m pointing the finger at myself, here). It means that we support mothers whose children are taken away from them. It means that we hold child social services to a much higher standard so that poor women and women of color and women who love women do not have their children removed from their care because they can’t afford a crib, or because they have a boyfriend their social service worker doesn’t like, or because they are Black and are held to a different standard than they would if they were white, or because the social service agency sees all sex outside of marriage as evidence of the mother being unfit.
It means that mothers should be on the front lines protesting immigration raids that separate mothers from children (and fathers, too – no need to be exclusive).
It means that the epidemic of incarceration of Black youth is something that all mothers should take personally (and take to the streets).
It means that the first response to a community problem – such as the building of a trash incinerator, a site for a new group home, incidents of police brutality in a particular neighborhood – should not be “here is how this affects my child,” but rather, “how does this affect the other children in this community? Are there solutions here that will benefit all children?”
It means that we need to be thinking globally: how does this bottle of water I take to the gym affect the mothers in India, who don’t have access to safe water because Coke has bottled it up and shipped it to the U.S.?
In other words, feminist mothering means, to an extent, that we “othermother,” as Patricia Hill Collins calls it (scroll down) (though I think I may be applying this term more broadly than she does; IIRC, she was using it to describe the kind of helping out and watching out for each others’ children that women in Black communities do, and I’m expanding this definition). We need to be responsible for, not only raising our own children, but helping to ensure that the mothers around us can raise their children. We are not only raising our children to make feminist change, but we need to use our mothering to make feminist change. That, to me, is feminist mothering.
What do you all think? What is feminist mothering to you?