Women’s Liberation, Mothers’ Liberation.


SO we know the book is launching on 23 September – it is available for pre-order here!

I will be posting extracts each week for you to enjoy and share so here is the first for you!

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Women’s liberation must be mothers’ liberation or it is nothing.

Germaine Greer, The Whole Woman


                Mater, Mama, Maman, Mutter, Mummy, Mommy, Mother. Me. You. Us.

           If it is true that there have been waves within the women’s liberation movement, then mothers’ rights are the flotsam left behind on the ocean surface of patriarchy. We are currently experiencing a tsunami of ‘fourth wave’ feminism yet, for mothers who want to care for their young children, little seems to have improved. Many mothers remain alienated from feminism, feeling that it still doesn’t speak for us or recognise our lived reality. We see, too, that politics and economics seem to have no place for maternal care. Well, with that in mind, we need to get onto dry land and make the women’s movement an earthquake to shake the foundations of our culture to its core. And to get there? I have often reflected that, as women, we can rock the boat but we are not allowed to build a new one. Well, sisters, we really do need a better boat. The Mother Ship, to take us to the Motherland. Or something.

           We have the right to stand up for ourselves and our families, and we deserve a society which takes on board our rights as mothers. Because the reality is that, in all, the right of women to care for our own children on our terms is diminishing, along with any recognition that care is valuable and necessary work. When it comes to maternal care, we are socially and financially penalised for nurturing our families, despite the fact that care is crucial for the benefit of the human race and society as a whole. Many of us are forced away from our babies and young children against our wishes — financial pressures leave us little choice but to find paid work to put food on the table and a roof over our heads. Our bonds of motherhood are being replaced with binds to the market and wage slavery. We are in bondage — and not in a 50 Shades way.

              When we stop to see where we are now, it is clear that we are witnessing a silencing (bordering on contempt) of mothers who wish to provide loving maternal care to their children: those of us who choose to care are becoming sacrificial lambs at the altar of equality, economics and neoliberal* selfishness. Our sisters who are compelled to be separated from their children against their wishes, who are thereby relieved of the ‘burden’ of care under capitalist patriarchy, have been betrayed. We are supposed to be grateful for this, yet many women are treading water financially or drowning under immense pressure.

               As Western women we occupy an interesting time. We have been liberated from the edict that a woman’s place is in the home: it is now out of the home. Whether she is a mother or not. Regardless of her own needs and inclinations or those of her children. It is understandable that feminists have traditionally spoken carefully about matters of the womb. After all, a woman’s biology and reproductive powers have been used to keep her down over the course of patriarchal history. The problem is that elements of the women’s movement, in cohorts with neoliberal individualism, have effectively alienated us from motherhood or from caring for our families. Yet women’s liberation never was, nor ever should be, about liberation from motherhood: it’s about liberation from oppression.

              For many women, myself included, becoming a mother and mothering our children can be a liberating and sacred experience. It can connect us to something and someone: to love, spirituality, meaning, our children, and our maternal ancestors. It can free us from something, it can free us to something. There is something about motherhood.

            From the power of our bodies to create life and give birth, to the nurturing of our children we, as mothers, touch something outside the ‘machine’ of modern economic existence. We know the value in what we do, and it goes far beyond basic economics. But to publicly address such ‘soft’ subjects as maternal care and motherly love is seen as too risky by feminists and politicians in our world where GDP is as God.

We know that when mothering takes place in conditions which allow us and our children to flourish, it can be one of the most precious times of our lives. Motherhood need not be an institution of inequality or self-sacrifice, if our culture had the will and decency to honour it for what it is: the active continuation and nurture of the future members of the human race. We can celebrate mothering, too, without reducing it to sentimentality or idealisation. We need to speak about the joys, the benefits and the satisfaction in mothering our children, as well as the challenges; and we need society to value what we do and respect us in our work. When mothering is on our terms, it can be a liberating motherhood. We know it when we live it, when we feel it and when we see it. It is what we will remember on our deathbed: life, love and little people.

             For me, mothering my children has been a liberating experience: I finally saw and understood the power of women. I knew I was doing something important that contributed to humanity and to society in a way that my work in the legal profession hadn’t. I know I am not alone in feeling like this. But our society doesn’t see it this way. It sees caring for our children as not working or, worse, as being somehow parasitic or exercising a privileged choice. Of course, I’m not supposed to say any of this. None of us are. We are supposed to go out to work like good little girls and be grateful for what we’ve got. Well, that wasn’t what got the women’s movement rolling — we need to summon up our strength and resist what is happening and demand change. We need to demand the right to frame our lives with autonomy and self-determination.

         Many mothers feel immense social and economic pressure to ‘get a job’ and face financial penalties for caring for their children, or feel the strain of working outside the home on top of everything. We know this from our own experience, our family, our friends, and social media. Mothers in Western culture are effectively forced to return to employment to reduce their financial and personal vulnerability. There were, after all, good reasons for seeking economic autonomy and greater rights in the workforce for women. However, for many women, working our jobs comes at a high cost — the sacrifice of time and the opportunity to care for our own children, and immense domestic pressure at home. Something has to give.

            When I talk about liberating motherhood then, it is also with a second meaning: how can we ensure that a mother is free of constraints which prevent her from mothering her children? What are these barriers? How can she be free of conditions which render her without economic security or public standing if she chooses to care for her family? In other words, how can she enjoy both the authority and means to direct her own life, and the respect for her wishes and the choices she makes? How can we make sure that we do not penalise women for making the choice of caring for their families? What could we do to support and empower our sisters who want to care, but are currently compelled to ‘get back to work’? How can we make sure mothers have the chance to take time out of the workforce to care for their children, if that is what they want to do, and ensure that they are not penalised when they try to get back to the workplace? Because it needn’t be forever. It just has to be for the time that is right for us. And the next generation we are raising.

        The problem is, for all the talk of women’s liberation, when it is predicated on liberation from motherhood, it is no liberation at all. When feminism is based on ideas of equality which ignore the actual reality of her life, her deep wish to care for her children, and deny the value of caring, a mother is in chains. We need to get going on liberating motherhood. We can say, loud and clear that: “I don’t need liberating from motherhood: motherhood needs to be liberated from a system which devalues it, devalues us and devalues our children.”

           So what are the barriers which work against mothers? What do we need liberating from? Well, for starters, despite decades of feminism, Western culture remains sexist. I will talk about a little something called ‘patriarchy’ and a big something else called ‘misogyny’. For seconds, we have a cute system called ‘capitalism’, and its heavyweight contingent called ‘neoliberalism’. All these combine so that a mother’s price for caring for her family is the sacrifice of full citizenship and financial safety. And the cure under patriarchal neoliberalism? The workplace. Often in low paid, low security, low status jobs. With the second shift of housework and childcare on top. Which, despite some improvement, still falls heavier on the shoulders of women. That ain’t no liberation, sisters. When it comes to mothers, we have to do better for those of us who want to work outside the home, as well as those who would prefer to care for their children. It’s the least feminism can do: value mothers, the majority of women.

            The problem is, despite the average mother’s predicament within motherhood, there is no sisterhood: the agenda is now driven as much by a privileged class of women as men. They are those women who, instead of trying to dismantle the master’s house, moved in and shut the glass door behind them. The power of women to grow babies, birth babies and nurture them from the breast and beyond is becoming as taboo as the needs of our children to responsive family care, particularly in the early years. The priority is the ‘market’ and our ambition is supposed to be ‘self-sufficiency’. And neither of those honour our wishes, love, our wellbeing, humanity or family life.

         The fundamental point is that when it comes to mothers, our culture refuses to honour its responsibility to the very reproducers of the human race. And when we try to order our lives in a way to survive and flourish, we are damned if we do and damned if we don’t. We could say that a mother’s place today is on society’s naughty step.

         Consider the fact that today’s mother is expected to be educated, ideally before becoming a mother. But then motherhood is considered a waste of this education. She is expected to give birth naturally, but within a medical situation which tends to interfere with natural childbirth. She is expected to breastfeed, but within a culture still reeling from institutionalised formula milk promotion and loss of skills, expertise and normality of nurturing at the breast and frequent sabotage of her efforts. She is expected to mother her child, but return to work outside the home for long hours. She is expected to be more than a mother, to be a self-fulfilled gender-neutral individual worker-consumer in a capitalist post-feminist world which places the wellbeing of human beings very low indeed. In the midst of this, she is expected to raise healthy, well-adjusted, high-achieving children. If she chooses to care for her children, she is at the mercy and charity of a partner, cast down into the ‘private sphere’ in which she is utterly marginalised. Mothers who wish to care for their children are reduced to caricature: the ‘stay at home mother’, the ‘homemaker’, the ‘housewife’, or just plain ‘lazy’ and ‘unambitious’. We are retrograde, unfashionable, smothering of our children, wasting our talent and ‘human capital’, and failing society by ‘not contributing’. Welcome to twenty-first century motherhood.

* I will explore the meanings and implications of ‘capitalism’ and ‘neoliberalism’ in later chapters and the glossary at the end. For now, think ‘rampant selfishness’ and ‘dog eat dog’. That should do it.

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Liberating Motherhood, Birthing the Purplestockings Movement, out 23 September 2016 from Womancraft Publishing. Available for pre-order now.

Image credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/danielleblue/8728924907/in/photolist-eim2gi-6LfBgQ-34RR4A-8Nftto-65yVKa-6Eu3A4-oqVRKF-7gjcaJ-8utZnT-4xikR3-aiNWbh-baRLu8-8cPhST-8nXtEE-6fghas-9wJCZC-wd7exu-EEanki-ohbuxx-8JFXSk-6RTL7f-745G5Q-9hbhHU-aaieqm-aeA2pw-fSzSGY-4DQHDD-D71fzK-arRenw-AYafe4-cPcYzY-a66Qox-aiCVU4-568rwJ-wEe9KU-woji5b-oi1FW2-ok8cR6-siNJb3-26kVZX-dN5zfo-i7a6A-MmDRU-4x3HLU-8CFUJx-aEmo5F-42N8Va-b93ft2-8MJsvq-7TYhD2


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