Writing at the intersection of motherhood, feminism and my Latinidad

24 February 2009

Book Review: Feminist Mothering edited by Andrea O’Reilly

I like to call myself a feminist mom blogger, but after reading Feminist Mothering I find myself questioning that label. Mostly I find myself questioning how I see feminist mothering and what that means to me. If asked to give a definition of feminist mothering before reading this text, I would have told you that it was about raising a feminist child, empowering that child and helping them rise above or thru the sexist ways of the world. Or something like that. Yes, it would have included being a good role model, but this text has helped me realize that feminist mothering is much more or should be much more than that.

This is a text book not a feminist Dr. Spock or guide to feminist mothering, rather it is a collection of fifteen thoughts on what is feminist mothering, how can it be done, and what does that mean for the world. It is moving, thought-provoking and a must read for any mother and any woman. Just as a survey of 15 women would result in 15 different definitions of feminist, the same is seen for feminist mothering. Yet at the core is the belief that feminist mothering is woman centered not child centered. It is empowering for both the woman and child, if not more for the woman. O'Reilly offers this definition in the introduction: "Feminist mothering functions as a counterpratice that seeks to challenge and change the many ways that patriarchal motherhood is oppressive to women (p 10)."

Feminist mothering is much more than raising empowered daughters or thoughtful son. It is about breaking down patriarchy thru the way we raise children. It is more than making sure our daughters know that clothes come in something other than pink, it is showing her that being a woman can be a strength in this sexist society.

O'Reilly's contribution to this text is the most moving piece in this collection. As a feminist activist, I carve out time from work and family to be active in my community. This requires time away from my daughter for meetings and trips as well as countless hours on my computer writing, organizing and keeping up with the latest news. I have often pondered how much this effects my daughter and if she will rebel in a way that I can't comprehend – anywhere between becoming an Alex P. Keaton to just plain tuning out of politics and the movement. Mostly I fear that she will hate me for all that I do to make this world a better place for all of us. O'Reilly's contribution is a conversation between her teenage daughters and if you can trust that they are pretty candid and honest with their mom, you see that raising a child with feminist methodology pays off in spades. It also proves that sometimes kids do forget the nights you missed tucked them into bed and can be proud of having a mom who spends more time writing than baking.

Gisela Norat's contribution tackles the question of whether a mother's movement is a feminist movement through a historical look at mother's movement in Latin America. Norat's historical summary of how ordinary women whose children were disappeared or jailed throughout Latin America and how the government's silence propelled these women to take to the streets is moving and still relevant. She makes an eloquent case for why mothering can be the force that joins all women in a struggle, yet at the same time what we struggle against is also filtered through race and class. All mothers should be allies in the battle for a just world, yet some injustices, like environmental toxins in a neighborhood, benefit some and harm others.

And that is the heart of Feminist Mothering – In order to be a feminist mom raising a child in a feminist way, we need to look beyond our family to see how decisions impact our community and world. The fight for affordable child care should not end when we get a big raise or our children are capable of watching themselves. It should be a struggle for all women with children and some would argue all of us in general. In the end, Feminist Mothering could be a handbook if one uses it to guide her in how decisions are made in the household, how to organize in the community and how to have faith that your children will grow up to be the strong adults we imagine. It won't tell us what to pack for the hospital, but it will help us recenter ourselves when we're about to blow our gasket at that precious child who keeps sassing you.

We need to politicize motherhood and to recognize the work that mothers do - we need to claim that work for feminism, to learn its strategies, so that we might convince mothers that as much as feminism needs motherhood, mothers also need feminism. (Quoted from Hirsh 367 on page 254)

Feminist Mothering can be purchased at an indie bookstore or Powell's and it would be a wonderful Mother's Day present!

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