What is Maternal Feminism?
At the Women’s Worlds conference in Ottawa, Canada, all kinds of feminists from all parts of the world were represented. While the overall feminist movement aims to achieve equal rights and equal opportunities for women, there are many specific groups of women who face different challenges or have to deal with different issues. This includes aboriginal women, women with disabilities, trans women, lesbian or bi-sexual women, women of color, low income women and more.
One of the sessions at Women’s Worlds focused on maternal feminism, looking specifically at the challenges and issues facing mothers in our society. The session was chaired by Dr. Andrea O’Reilly, a professor in the School of Women’s Studies at York University. Dr. O’Reilly is also the founder of the Motherhood Initiative for Research and Community Involvement and the author and editor of several books, including most recently 21st Century Motherhood Movement.
When asked why we need a feminism specifically for mothers, Dr. O’Reilly said there are two key reasons. First, the gender straightjackets that we ask our children to wear are damaging to them. Second, we need to give up selfless mothering and instead look towards a society where everyone mothers, not just women. Men should mother and the community at large should mother too.
Feminist mothering, according to Dr. O’Reilly, needs to focus on the things that patriarchal motherhood denies women. Specifically, feminist mothers needs to focus on the the five A’s:
- Agency: Having control over their own lives.
- Authority: The ability to be the author of your own life and to determine your own path.
- Authenticity: The right to be truthful, to talk about the difficult parts of mothering and to mother according to our own beliefs rather than according to mainstream society’s expectations.
- Autonomy: Being able to hold into ourselves, rather than sacrificing ourselves and giving up our own lives to be a good mother.
- Advocacy: Being advocates for each other and for ourselves.
In addition to the presentation and discussion by Dr. O’Reilly, there were also several presentations by other women on their own feminist mothering experiences and research. Erella Shadmi from the Haifa Feminist Center in Israel spoke about the reluctance to accept motherhood as a source of power within the feminist movement. She explained that feminist analysis seems to be entrapped in the patriarchal box because they see the family as a nuclear family in the private sphere, whereas the self-realization and empowerment that feminist women seek are individual and achieved in the public sphere (e.g. business). Issues related to motherhood are “private” and not part of the broader feminist movement. As a result, feminism has not succeeded in resolving the problems in which mothers are trapped.
The Motherhood Initiative for Research and Community Involvement hosts several conferences each year and also publishes a journal and a wide range of books on feminist mothering via Demeter Press. It holds a key position in advancing research and supporting activism related to feminist mothering in the global community.
When you look at feminism, have you considered the specific needs and challenges of mothers within your view of the goals of the feminist movement?
Photo credit: codepinkhq on flickr