Saturday, 24 December 2016

A photo that tells all about the political vote on Israeli Settlements

For those who wish to read about the political impetus behind this photo please click here


Wednesday, 14 December 2016

What Syria used to look like

Syria was once a thriving and beautiful country. I cannot imagine what it must feel like to live under constant bombardment and to see the fear in your children's eyes while wondering whether every day will be your last. Many people feel powerless as I do to help the victims of the Syrian war. The least we can do is to show solidarity with their suffering. I have chosen to do this by publishing the photographs below which show the ravages of war. The victims once had lives just like we do in the Western world. 


Sunday, 4 December 2016

A Mumsnetter’s response to Paul Mason

On the 7th of November Paul Mason, an author and former broadcaster on BBC’s Newsnight programme and on the Channel 4 news, wrote an article in the Guardian newspaper titled: “Bond traders, Trots and Mumsnetters must unite against Farage’s mob”.  The gist of the article was about the rise of right-wing populism and the danger it poses through its’ mass movement founded on hate, as seen in Donald Trump’s racist rallies. In the UK UKIP is threatening to gather 100,000 supporters outside the Supreme Court on 5 December when the appeal hearing starts on the Brexit judgement. 

The backdrop to the Supreme Court hearing is the judgement previously passed by the High Court stating that the Government must offer MPs a vote on the terms of Article 50. The Government has maintained all along that it does not have to consult with MPs because the result of the referendum in May is all that is needed for it to go ahead with Brexit. 

Paul Mason, in his article, states that left-wingers who are: “Anti-racists, globalists and believers in the virtues of science over mumbo-jumbo are still winning elections…” but progressive politics is being drained of its resilience. While the left is capable of fighting back Paul Mason makes clear that the “effort is going to exhaust us unless we become more radical”. The fight back, he claims, is the responsibility of the left to orchestrate through “an alliance of bond traders, Trots and Mumsnetters”.

As a left-wing feminist mother Mumsnetter this article, to me, was a ‘call to arms’ to stand up for the values and norms that protect our children’s rights and freedoms. Put simply, I don’t want my daughter growing up in a society where right-wing populism touting the language of racism and xenophobia coupled with knee-jerk reactions that command stupid headlines in right-wing newspapers is the staple everyday lingo and mind set.

I have blogged about this in a post which describes my experience of living in a country where the judiciary is not independent. There is no way that I would want my daughter growing up in similar circumstances.

Paul Mason writes about the momentum behind people like Trump and Farage that comes from populism that is “moving fast”. The left needs to catch up and the first priorities are to make a “rhetorical break with neoliberalism”.

The associated features of neoliberalism are: “the doctrine of austerity, inequality, privatisation, financial corruption, asset bubbles and technocratic hubris.”

Given the way austerity has been pursued it has become easy for the right to claim it as a necessary way of life so that, among other reasons, our children aren’t saddled with national debt when they are older. Paul Mason, however, states that “It is entirely possible to construct a humane pro-business version of capitalism without these things”.

Back in 2014 I authored a chapter in a book titled: ‘Mothering in the Age of Neoliberalism’. My chapter was called: ‘Austerity and Gender Neutrality: The Excluding of Women and Mothers from Public Policy in the UK’. I provided an analysis of the impact of austerity cuts in the UK on mothers. Much of women’s economic prosperity and ability to access services has been reshaped in accordance with a neoliberal framework that disregards women’s wellbeing and autonomy in society. 

Despite much evidence that points to how our lives have been made poorer materially by austerity the feminization of poverty has continued through benefit cuts, welfare caps and the withdrawal of various subsidies.

Neoliberalism is presented as a 'no other option' scenario when, in actual fact, it is a choice made by elected leaders. Austerity places more pressure on women, especially mothers who are struggling economically. 

I haven’t had a pay increase in my public sector job for 7 years now. A ‘no option’ austerity package plays into the hands of right-wing populism by allowing them to create and dominate a political space that crowds out respect for women’s rights and establishes a political culture in which it’s fair game to be sexist and racist.

Paul Mason ends his article by pointing out that the left needs to become populist and offer an alternative narrative and way forward. This is critical, he states, due to the collapse of the “extreme centre”.

A key part of this left populism should be about mother centric policies such as childcare and adequate social care because it is largely women, many of them mothers themselves, who look after children and older parents through unpaid labour. Mothers need an education system that is less about grades and more about education in a broad sense, a rational social based housing policy, better paid jobs and security of work. We want safe spaces for our children through an adequate provision of leisure and play areas.

There is much for mothers to collaborate around. Political capital does lie with us to reclaim political space and values.

Paul Mason concludes by stating that:  “If Nigel Farage leads 100,000 people to intimidate the Supreme Court, I intend to be on the other side of a police crash barrier opposing him. I don’t want to be flanked by only my anti-fascist mates from 30 years ago: I want to see an alliance of the left and the radical centre on the streets. That means bond traders from Canary Wharf, arm in arm with placard-carrying Trots. Masked-up Kurdish radicals alongside Mumsnet posters. Eighty years on from Cable Street, we don’t have many dockers and miners around, to help face down rightwing intimidation. Puny as we are, it’s up to us”.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Attacking the judiciary's independence is the hallmark of third world status-Brexit ruling

Has anyone found the collective common sense of the country yet because it feels as if it has abandoned Britain over the Brexit ruling? Sitting on the train the morning after the Brexit ruling on 3 November I took my newspaper out of my bag and opened it. A chill went through me. It was not because of some idiot passenger who had to sprint the last few yards to jump onto the train before the doors closed and then opened the window to cool off even though it was cold outside. Nothing as mundane as that. 

My chill was brought on by the realisation that nothing is sacred in this country anymore. One of the bastions of Britishness - the independence of the judiciary - is being seen as if it were more than an inconvenient institution. Frankly, from this point on it becomes a slippery slope to third world status unless people recognise that the attacks on the three judges in the Brexit ruling was an attack against fairness and impartiality.  

You see, I know what I am talking about, sadly. I grew up in a third world country (but live in the UK now) where the independence of the judiciary was slowly poisoned by government actions and hijacked for political benefit over a number of years before it became a full throttle assault without any pretence. The practical reality of having a NON independent judiciary can be summed up in one word - DANGEROUS. Voicing any dissent of the government of the day, no matter how reasonable, is likely to result in the person/people being arrested and charged without the comfort of knowing that the court will pay heed to their right to free speech. 

Supporting the opposition party can be a cat and mouse game because the opposition is constantly silenced by being thrown into jail by politically biased judges and its' supporters are marked and harassed with no recourse to the law. The notion of 'human rights' is seen as something that the Western world enjoys because of the judges' independence. There is so much envy in other countries that similar is not afforded to the citizens who live in third world countries. Notice that I haven't mentioned which country it is I am talking about? That is what fear and oppression does. 

One of my favourite books is the 'Rule of Law' written by a former judge, Lord Tom Bingham who died in 2010, for the way it sets out the simplicity of the meaning that 'no man is above the law' (not even Prime Ministers). That being so the judiciary who adjudicate have to be free and fair minded in pronouncing judgement without the dice being loaded against one party. Every political person and organ of state bears responsibility for upholding these traits. 

Lord Bingham wrote that: "The constitution of of a modern democracy governed by the rule of law must...guarantee the independence of judicial decision-makers...". The legitimacy of independence is enshrined in the Act of Settlement 1701 and codified in the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 section 3(1) which states that: The Lord Chancellor, other Ministers of the Crown...must uphold the continued independence of the judiciary". 

When an attack is made on the judiciary it endangers all of us. Irresponsible newspapers who dish out provocative headlines to make money from stirring up negative emotions are affirming and legitimizing the growing sense of hatred of everything that is not right-wing. Hatred of immigrants is fodder for profit. Refugees are treated as swarms of insects who deserve to die watery deaths. Where will all this end and what comes next? 

The Brexiters have their ire stoked and stroked by narratives that are devoid of facts. That the judges were handing back power to Parliament was lost in the false anti-EU rubbish. In the days leading up to the EU Referendum, the phrase 'taking back control', rang hollow for remainers like me but, ironically, the Brexit ruling has actually lent some sense of intelligence to the phrase. 

It feels as if the country is standing at a forked road ahead of the Supreme Court hearing on 5 December on appeal over the Brexit decision. 

Go right for more vitriol or go left for some sense of rational thinking and debate. It sounds rather extreme and radical but that is the reality. For years I have watched the Republican Party in America descend into a deep sewer of right wing-ism and I have sighed a sense of relief that no such thing could ever happen in this country. I was wrong. The MP Jo Cox was murdered for her liberal views. Cue Donald Trump who attacks the press on a regular basis and then ponder on the criticism heaped at the three Brexit ruling judges. Suddenly the stakes have become high. 


Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Is Donald Trump a 'father feminist'?

Years ago I worked with an extremely nice man who was in his 60s. He took an interest in my career and would advise me on related matters such as what I needed to do to get a promotion. What was even nicer about him was the interest he took in my daughter's political blogging and in her academics. He had a daughter who had scaled academic heights with extremely good results and he was always keen on to pass on any snippets of wisdom from his parenting. His generosity of spirit was rare and highly commendable.

Just as I began to class him as a 'feminist' he dropped a bombshell. After a telephone conversation with his wife over what they were going to do at the weekend he turned to me and told me that while men may be very happy for their daughters to be feminists, it was quite a different matter with their wives. His precise words were: "All men want their daughters to be equal to their husbands but not for their own wives to be equal to them".

Why had I not sussed that one out! In that split second I recognised that my own father had been a 'father feminist'. My realisation grew tentacles as the day went on and I started to put together a collection of other men I know who practised this type of split duality of feminism. My own uncles, my male cousins, male friends and, at this point, it was perfectly reasonable that I felt a veil of frustration shroud me.

Malala Yousafzai with her father who has supported her 
Do feminists applaud this split duality or spit on it? When men class women as 'keepers' or 'fun women',  i.e partner material or as bedroom conveniences,  feminists rightly challenge this demeaning behaviour. The accusation that these men are 'guilty' of chauvinistic behaviour is cut and dried.

With 'father feminists' the urge to use the word 'guilty', as in 'these men are guilty of only being father feminists', was and remains strong but might this not be a case of cutting one's own nose to spite one's face? Looked at in a glass half-full type of way these men are raising a generation of feminists but the scent of 'half-way feminism' still prevails.

Donald and Ivanka Trump

All this brings me neatly to the topical discussion about Donald Trump's relationship with and reliance on his elder daughter, Ivanka Trump. Given Donald Trump's history of being a misogynist, sexual predator coupled with his rants over various women one can hardly call him 'feminist friendly' or even 'feminist lite' despite the fact that he calls himself a feminist. His wife, Melania, has not been a constant figure at his side. In fact she will not even be moving into the White House with him.

The landscape changes when it comes to his relationship with Ivanka. She was constantly at his side during his campaign rallies to become the President of America and has caused controversy by attending a high-level political meeting with the Japanese Prime Minister while being a non-appointed political person. Ivanka supposedly will be running her father's business interests. It remains to be seen whether Ivanka will be a regular visitor to the White House but all indications so far is that she will play some substantive part in his political career.

Kate Chase

Coincidentally enough, there are parallels with another republican candidate, Salmon Chase, a 'feminist father' who stood for the Presidential nomination against Abraham Lincoln. Salmon Chase was grooming his daughter Kate to be his political partner/First Lady but this never came to pass because he lost out to Lincoln. A fate that has not befallen Trump.

While men are capable of splitting the atom of feminism into 'father feminism' I don't think it is the progress that feminism seeks nor would want to lay claim to if it is done at the exclusion of other women. Consider this destructive paradox, while a girl's mother is not encouraged to be a feminist the same said mother is expected to be helping to raise a feminist daughter because that is what the father wishes. Patriarchy does find ways to ensure its' own survival.

This blog post was featured by the Mumsnet Bloggers Network on 2 December 2016

Monday, 21 November 2016

A plea from a benefit claimant - "I’ve reached the point that I need help from the #foodbank. Something inside me has died"

I came across this blog post and am reblogging it here in the hope that people will be able to help this person out. 

For nearly 3 years now I’ve been tweeting about food banks and the efforts made by local communities to support them. For almost 3 years I have shown examples of families who have needed them, some with dramatic stories that normally involve the DWP or another Government department not doing their job or being overly officious. For all that time I have tried not to become one of their statistics but now it has reached a point where I feel I have no choice.

Mine is not a headline grabbing story. Rather it is one of slowly getting into more debt, by a few pounds here and there each week. Since I went off JSA I have struggled to have enough income to pay all my bills, with any small issues, like the washing machine needing replacing last month, becoming a real problem. Bit by bit, week by week I have slid more into debt until this week I reached a crisis point and I knew I had to get help.

I contacted my housing association and this morning someone came to see me and issued a voucher to the food bank. The food bank does not open until Tuesday afternoon so I have a few days to wait. This afternoon the electric ran out so I am sat here without food and in the dark, feeling very alone. It reminds me very much of when I was sanctioned. The memories of that experience keep appearing in my mind and it’s not very nice.

The last few weeks have been especially difficult. A delayed payment meant the bank charged me for direct debits I could not honour. That landed me with an unauthorised overdraft and even more charges. To add to that the credit card company and BT have added late fees. I’ve spoken to the bank explaining my situation, but they will not remove the fees. They have, however, stopped any more charges. But those charges and overdraft have meant I cannot buy electric or food.

 Being anonymous on social media I am faceless to most of those who read what I share, but behind that mask I am just a person like everyone else. I put on a front that tells people I am okay, when in fact quite the opposite is true. I don’t like to bother people with these troubles as I know all too well that they have their own challenges to cope with. But in not sharing how things really are all I am doing is making it harder for myself.

Am I alone in thinking how odd it is that we have all this technology, all these forms of communication, but at the same time loneliness is increasing and more people are feeling isolated. In our homes we routinely have technology to entertain and communicate, yet millions do not have enough money for food, heating or energy.

Having to use a food bank – having to admit that things are not well and I need help – is really something I don’t want to do. It feels like something in me has died today and I feel very low. I don’t want to be in this place but I am struggling. My pride has taken a really hammering.

Truth be known I don’t want to have to visit the food bank at all, but waiting for them to open is worse. I don’t want to sit without food until Tuesday afternoon. I’ve done this before when I was sanctioned and my mental health collapsed. So to stop that happening again I would ask for your help.

Somewhere on the page is a donate button for Paypal. It was put there for another purpose but it can equally be used to help me out of this problem. If you’re able to help I’d really appreciate it – it will help in ways that are difficult to express. I don’t need a lot, just enough to buy electric and some food. Any small amount will help. Thanks.

IF MOTHERS COUNTED-Status symbols for the Invisible Art of Mothering

I had the pleasure of meeting Shira Richter, who was one of the visual presenters at the MIRCI conference. Shira uses the power of images to tell feminist/mother-nest stories. She is a pioneer feminist multidisciplinary artist, award winning film maker, loud mouth activist, curator writer and independent scholar who lives in Israel. She has been ARTiculating the maternal for 15 years. I asked her if I could feature her amazing photography which captures the way women are silenced in the economic structures of society. I am grateful to Shira for allowing me to republish her work. 

Shira's artistic photography is featured on the cover of Demeter's book  Counting on Marilyn Waring-New Advances in Feminist Economic'. The photo is called 'Iron Maiden' and is an actual a photo (not manipulated) of baby bottle nipples. This photo forms part of a large scale solo photography installation titled INVISIBLE INVALUABLES which features photographs of every day mother/parent equipment; pacifiers, bath floors and baby bottles as expensive and valuable gems, communicating the way this work SHOULD be valued.  Inspired by M.Waring's work, The project premiered on International Women's month  2011, at the large gallery of Tel Aviv artist's house. Shira also co-wrote a chapter in this book titled: 'If mothers counted - status symbols for the invisible art of mothering' in Israeli culture and society with Dr Hadara Scheflan Katzav, The paper offers a multidisciplinary perspective on mother's status in Israel and is published below. 

The foundation of this reading is Marilyn Waring's position regarding the value system of western capitalism in which every merchandise and activity becomes visible via their monetary value. We illustrate how the concept of "value" is loaded with a double meaning and inner contradiction. Israel, a democratic, western, capitalistic, family oriented and militaristic society, puts a high value on motherhood because of public secular and religious ideology, but zero economic value. 

The National Insurance Institute defines the job of mothering as “not working” and a woman who has worked and paid national insurance all her life loses her rights if she works "only" as a mother four years or more. The "gap" between the official "family values" vs. the economic reality is usually against women. 

This chapter is the fruit of an ongoing collaboration between multidisciplinary artist, speaker and activist Shira Richter and Dr. Hadara Scheflan KatzavHead of Art Department at Hakibbuzim College 
'INVISIBLE INVALUABLES' is one of our major projects resulting from Warings' influence and inspiration: An exhibition of illuminated photographs extracted from domestic unpaid labor which highlights the irony of the low status of mothering by transforming mundane objects of child rearing and household work into sleek status symbols. The exhibit about maternal invisibility in the economic sphere is both personal and political. It exposes extremely sensitive nerves in Israeli society, and has contributed to a public discourse among both individual women and socio- political organizations.

More information on Shira Richter: 

Shira was one of the first artists to Lecture about UN Resolution 1325 calling for inclusion of women's/mothers voices in conflict areas, together with screenings of her award winning film TWO STATES OF MIND

Her acclaimed photography project The Mother Daughter and Holy Spirit humorously tells the truth about the physical price of the body transition of a woman into a mother. The project became central in the effort to expose the reasons behind post partum depression. 

Her activist work includes raising awareness about women's erased voices in wartime/area, creating the first facebook page and manifest for inclusion of gender studies in the formal educational system (in Hebrew), and being the catalyst for several mainstream newspaper articles about post partum depression, gender education and - the 'useless practice of homework'. 

Recently Richter participated as first international guest of The Motherload Project in Dallas, and The Women and Money project in Minnesota. She has given visual lectures about Mothers, war and art. 

Born in the USA to a secular Jewish family, they moved to Israel when she was a child. Shira is not religious, but adores the religious feminists, combatants for peaceWasatia and Women wage peace.  She is Inspired by the positive aspects in many religions and bothered by any kind of extremism. She works at a national youth film festival, an adjunct college lecturer, a coach to mother artists. Shira is also a feminist mother of two boys and a feminist co-parent with a loving man ("we also argue!"). 

For more information on Shira's fabulous work please go to:

Get 40% off Marilyn Waring's book until December 15 using coupon code MOTHERS at:


Wednesday, 16 November 2016

MIRCI 20th Anniversary Gala Conference 2016
by Victoria Bailey 

Held over three days in downtown Toronto – October 14-16 – the Motherhood Initiative for Research and Community Involvement (MIRCI) 20th Anniversary Gala Conference was nothing if not jam packed. The schedule ran from early morning to late evening each day, with minimal breaks in-between multiple co-occurring and thematically diverse sessions. Highlights included keynote addresses from Martha Joy Rose - founder of the Museum of Motherhood, Marcelle Soviero - editor of Brain, Child magazine, Jowita Bydlowska – author of Drunk Mom, and a special address by Marilyn Waring entitled, ‘30 Years of Counting for Nothing: Reflections, Strengths and Strategies,’ as well as numerous insightful presentations provided by academic staff and students as well as activists and artists. 

However MIRCI 2016 also took on a reflective tone; a giant photo board overladen with images and documents displaying past activities and attendees took pride of place in the conference’s temporary ‘main room’ paying testament to the achievements of MIRCI’s history. This history has included a founding as ARM (Association for Research on Mothering), a period when it looked like the organization might disappear altogether, followed by its rebirth as MIRCI and the related founding of Demeter Press which is also marking its 10th anniversary. Over the past 20 years MIRCI has published 38 journals, and facilitated 50 conferences, many of which were held outside of Canada in locations including Barbados, Lisbon, Athens, Puerto Rico, and New York.

Yet though I attended this particular ‘Gala’ conference as a ‘newbie,’ it seems that it marked a milestone not just for MIRCI – but for the concept and continuation of motherhood as a research, academic and ultimately feminist topic. MIRCI founder and director, (and also founder and editor-in-chief of the Journal of the Motherhood Initiative and Demeter Press) Professor Andrea O’Reilly, PhD (in the School of Gender, Sexuality, and Women's Studies at York University) released her new book at the conference which not only shines a light on the topic of motherhood studies, it demands its due recognition. 

In this new text 'Matricentric Feminism: Theory, Activism, and Practice', O’Reilly ultimately declares that mothers need a feminism of their own while sounding the alarm for mothers, mothering and motherhood’s continual, not only seeming but documented, disappearance from traditional and more academic realms of feminism. As O’Reilly explained at the conference, ‘Motherhood studies exists as an island – it is adrift.’ 

In the text O’Reilly documents how, when examining the content and coverage of typical feminist research spaces e.g. women’s studies conferences, textbooks, journals and women and gender studies departments classes, currently a motherhood focus typically occurs just 3% of the time and in some cases even less. This is despite 80% of women in Canada identifying as mothers. However, this is not to say that this diminished prioritization or focus on motherhood linked themes is only of concern to women. ‘For mothers, maternity matters as much as, if not more so, than gender thus mothers need a feminism that puts mothers and mothering at its centre,’ O’Reilly explains. At the core of this argument is the idea, as repeatedly exemplified during the conference, that mothers are oppressed as women and as mothers and that without establishing a feminism for and about mothers, motherhood will remain on the periphery of feminist focus or worse, be overlooked, trivialized or ignored. 

In looking toward the goals of MIRCI in the next twenty years, O’Reilly explains that like many non-profits, financial stability and sustainability remains an on-going issue. MIRCI continues to be solely funded by donation, memberships, publication purchases and conference attendance. This Canadian organization provides a unique space, nationally and internationally, for discussion and examination of motherhood related issues and topics, and/or to analyse social issues through a mothering lens thus, sustained financial support, in-hand with being valued and prioritized within academic and feminist spheres, is crucial - to say motherhood is important is beyond trite. 

Thus, in an aim to promote continuation of the organization, its focus, successes and goals, going forward, MIRCI will now focus its attention on organizing one conference per year, alternating between hosting within Canada, and then abroad the subsequent year. 

Plans are already underway for a 2017 conference in Galway, Ireland, providing space for examining, exploring, discussing, analysing and reflecting on mothers/mothering/motherhood. As always, presentations are not exclusively limited to an academic framework. ‘We don’t include a title on our name badges,’ O’Reilly points out, ‘That’s intentional – there’s no hierarchy at MIRCI conferences.’ Contributions from, and participation and attendance by, artists, activists and community members is keenly encouraged. For more information about MIRCI please visit

Victoria Bailey has an MA in Women's Studies and is due to begin a PhD program in Sept 2017. Until then, she will continue working in a freelance capacity researching, writing, and ranting mostly about feminist issues on blog sites, in anthologies, and for magazines, as well as teaching yoga, walking her manic sidekick dog and mothering three children (a high-schooler, a middle-schooler, and an elementary-schooler) in Calgary, Canada.


Understanding the Republican Mind


Tuesday, 15 November 2016

If it squeaks like a racist then for F***sake it is racist

A racist comment is a racist comment if it contains an intended slur against someone else, especially against a person of colour. A racist comment often disparages a person's skin colour or it can be couched in other terms by referring to features that are considered inferior because of the association with a particular group of people. 

And so it came to pass that a woman who lives in West Virginia, America, posted a comment on her Facebook page which stated: "It will be refreshing to have a classy, beautiful, dignified First Lady in the White House. I’m tired of seeing a (sic) Ape in heels." (pic above)

For F*** sake, no matter which way you look at this comment, no matter how you shake it all about to find different angles you would be hard pressed not to see it as a racist comment. In plain English speak the comment is a racist slur against Michelle Obama, a Black woman, as a comparative against Melania Trump, a White woman. 

As a woman of colour I am sick and tired of this parallel universe created by racists who have appropriated a sense of high entitlement to say whatever they want with no fear of reprisal nor possessing a shred of human decency.  

The woman who wrote this comment is Pamela Ramsey Taylor, director of Clay County Development Corp. She has since resigned. To make matters worse the Mayor of Clay County, Beverly Whaling, commented: “Just made my day Pam.”

In a post-truth world which has been turned downside up racists' claims that they are fighting a backlash against 'political correctness'  is absolute tosh. Not being able to indulge in hate speech does not lessen anyone's rights. The concept of 'political correctness' is an evolution of human understanding that one cannot say some things because they are offensive, at the very least, and, at the very worst, could actually incite violence against the group of people targeted. 

Another recent absurdity is the appointment of Stephen Bannon who is Executive Chairman of Breitbart, an obviously quite extreme right wing website, as a senior aide to Donald Trump. Watch the clamour of people rushing to defend Bannon and Breitbart as being non-racist. This is regardless of the fact that the site itself seems quite proud of its' political leanings and Bannon is a senior bod. 

Alas, 2016 will come to be seen as the year that racism was legitimized and when it became part of a politician's arsenal of soundbites designed to win votes. In the UK, the London mayoral election and Brexit opened a Pandora's box. In the USA it is Donald Trump who day after day spoke with racist vitriol to such a highly satisfactory level that even the Klu Klux Klan are holding a 'celebratory' rally in 'honour' of his election win. But, yet again, fans of Donald Trump rush to defend him against accusations of racism. 

The only silver lining in the darkness of the rise of racism is that people of ALL colours are united in calling racism wherever it rears its' ugly head. Racism is not a platform for opportunists to tout their egotistical selfs, like the President elect. 


Monday, 14 November 2016

Academic feminism ignores Motherhood

An interview with Dr Andrea O'Reilly conducted by Shira Richter on the launch of Dr O'Reilly's book 'Matricentric Feminism: Theory, Activism and Practice' 

Dr O'Reilly gave this interview a day before the Gala 20th year anniversary conference of MIRCI's founding held in Toronto, October 2016. Dr O’Reilly persuasively shows how matricentric feminism has been marginalised in academic feminism and considers the reasons for such exclusion and how it may be challenged and changed.

"My whole book is on how much (the subject of motherhood) is women studies conferences, journals textbooks and women studies introduction classes...

"Together with Angie Deveau...who did this amazing work, we did a research study this summer...I thought I was paranoid all these years, and it's true!.. under 3% of the content of journals is about motherhood...(more statistics)...Women studies intro classrooms is under 1%. Textbooks is under 3%. The highest was 3.9%. Intuitively I knew this because I've been doing this for 25 years and I've talked to thousands of mothers and they are all telling me "I'm being ignored, my books aren't being reviewed", I talk about motherhood in a conference and everyone rolls their eyes...I knew this before but I didn't have proof."

"And Now there is quantitative proof. Empirical evidence that in the big forums of women studies motherhood has literally fallen off the academic page. Before it might have been in the margins, it's not even on the page anymore. In the last 10 years. In my book I try to theorize why that is. I think there are lots of reasons why motherhood is so ignored."

"I needed to quantify it. When I told people this - you know, that motherhood is being ignored, people said "no it's not, you're too paranoid", and I thought, well, maybe I am! But no. I'm not saying it universally, I think there are some great women studies dept which do motherhood and some great women studies scholars who do motherhood, but overall it's not being taught it's not being read it's not being reviewed."

Voice behind camera, videography, writer and translator of this text and uploader (so you know who to praise, credit or complain ): Shira Richter; Mamactivist Artist/Scholar who gave an artistic visual talk at the conference about the personal political and economic experience of - Mothers/Mothering work, War, Values and Economy. (Based on her personal story).

ד"ר אנדריאה אוריילי, מהחוקרות החלוצות בתחום מחקר "אימהות" בעולם, יום לפני הכנס הגדול החוגג 20 שנות פעילות והוצאת ספר חדש מתראיינת אצל שירה ריכטר, אימניסטית פמיניסטית רב תחומית החיה בישראל.

Book may be ordered at 40% off until Dec 1 using coupon code 'mothers'.


Thursday, 10 November 2016

Learning how to be a “good mother” at an Early Years Centre.

Neoliberal Pedagogies of Motherhood:  This blog entry is adapted from a paper that Kinga Pozniak recently presented at a conference on motherhood organized by The Motherhood Initiative for Research and Community Involvement. Kinga's thoughts are universally applicable to mothers who frequent and utilise state run drop in centres for mothers and children. 

Kinga Pozniak is an anthropologist based at The University of Western Ontario in Canada. She has conducted research in Poland that looked at the changes that have taken place there since the collapse of the country’s socialist government in 1989 and the subsequent neoliberal reforms that were adopted. Based on that research she published several articles and a book titled “Nowa Huta: Generations of Memory in Model Socialist Town”. After having children she started to think anthropologically about her experiences as a mother. As a result, she is now starting a new research project that asks how ideas about what makes a “good mother” have changed over the past few decades in relation to the neoliberal turn in the organization of political, economic and social life.

Where do mothers learn how to be mothers and what it means to be a “good” mother? 

We learn this from all kinds of sources: media, our own parents, friends, teachers, pediatricians… But today I want to zoom in on one additional source: Early Years Centres. 

In Canada where I live, Early Years Centres are sort of one-stop shops, or umbrella spaces, that offer a whole array of services for caregivers (mostly mothers) and young children. They are funded by the Ministry of Education in each province. And for me, as well as for many other mothers that I know, they are one of the first encounters with “official” government ideologies about what it means to be a mother. 

In the town where I live, many if not most public health initiatives directed at mothers with small kids are housed in an Early Years Centres. If you take a breastfeeding class or prenatal class through public health, chances are these will be held in an Early Years Centre. These classes are often run by a public health nurse along with an employee of the Centre (and all of the employees I’ve met come from an early childhood education or a counseling background). Many centres loan resources on topics like breastfeeding or sleeping. They also offer drop-in sessions where caregivers can come and talk to a public health nurse or an infant development specialist about any aspect of their child’s development. So, in a nutshell, they’re places that bring together official government discourses in the areas of early childhood education and healthcare, along with the related domains that inform these – for example neuroscience, psychology, etc. 

And lastly (and importantly) Early Years Centres are also places where caregivers can bring their kids to play. They are like free indoor playgrounds with lots of age-appropriate toys. 

Sounds pretty good right? Yes, Early Years Centres definitely do offer a lot of tools for caregivers. And this is exactly what their mandate is: to support families. But they do this in a particular way that conveys particular ideas about what it means to be a mother. So let me now dig a little deeper and look at the ideas about mothering and motherhood that they disseminate through their activities. 

Since my first son JD was born over three years ago, I’ve attended all sorts of workshops held in the Early Years Centres: prenatal classes, breastfeeding classes, baby massage, and numerous workshops on positive relationships and attachments. I’ve also brought my kid there just to play and I went on playdates there with other parents and their kids. 

So what did I learn about being a mother from all these activities? 

1) The mother is responsible for herself and her children 
Early Years Centres are places that provide resources to mothers so that they can be better mothers. But here’s the catch: information is NOT the same as HELP. They do not provide any concrete help (like childcare). In fact, I find that they actually create more work for mothers. The workshops teach mothers all the different things they SHOULD be doing with their babies, and then the onus is on the mother to go and do all these things. Even if you bring your kids there just to play, you still have to be there and watch them the entire time – and of course clean up whatever mess they make. 

2. The mother listens to expert advice 
The idea behind these workshops it that mothers need expert guidance to teach them how to do things: how to massage their baby; how to breastfeed; how to develop a positive relationship with her baby. The mothers are not forced to do anything – everything is presented as a choice, but the experts are there to sort of steer the mother to make the “right choices”. 

3) The mother is always trying to be a better mother 
The purpose of all these workshop is to teach women how to be better mothers: to know the right songs and the right activities to stimulate their babies’ brains in age-appropriate ways. The mothers are doing all of this, of course, to ensure their children’s development. But this work of always doing more and being better is not just about learning the right developmental activities: the mother is actually supposed to be working on her own personality so that she can be a good role model for her children. 

Let me give you an example of how this works. I once attended a workshop dealing with separation anxiety - a huge issue in my household. One of the things the facilitator (a public health nurse) told us is that children often pick up on your emotions, so if your child cries when you leave – well maybe the problem is YOU. So what you need to do is work on yourself and your own feelings about separation. 

I’m sure there is something to be said for that advice. But do we always have to start with the assumption that everything is the mother’s fault? Could it conceivably be the case that maybe, just maybe, no matter how cheerful and optimistic I act and feel, the kid is still going to bawl his head off when I leave him with a stranger? Is it at all possible that maybe it’s not me that’s the problem? 

Which perfectly leads into my next point… 

4. The mother is responsible for her own (and her child’s!) failures
If you can always do more and be better, that means you’re never good enough. At every workshop that I’ve ever attended it’s been emphasized that the first five years of life are a “critical time of development” and if the mother misses the boat (i.e. doesn’t engage appropriately with her kids, doesn’t provide the right stimuli), she will never get this time back.  

I once attended a workshop called “Healthy Baby Healthy Brain”, and the facilitator (who was a public health nurse) made the point that in the first few years of life the brain makes millions of new connections (which is true) and if you don’t engage your child in the appropriate activities to stimulate these connections, then these connections will DIE. Talk about a guilt trip! I mean, what sort of mother would want her child’s brain to DIE? 
* * * 
My point in spelling out these “big messages” about mothering (as I see them) is not to say that they are right or wrong, good or bad. Rather, as an anthropologist, I am interested in what they can tell us about our society. 

So what can they tell us? Well, one of the premises of this paper is that political and economic processes aren’t just “out there”  - rather, they have implications for all aspects of people’s lives, including the experience of having and raising kids. And in the past twenty-thirty years (so roughly a generation), we have seen the emergence of a new way of thinking that shapes all aspects of life, including politics, economic, and social life. A catch-all phrase for this is neoliberalism, and what it basically means is that ideas from the sphere of the market (like efficiency, competition, flexibility, independence, private property) are being applied to all other areas of life.  This means that people, too, are expected to manage themselves according to market-oriented principles. So, for example, it is assumed that: 
-  People are independent and responsible for their own well-being (meaning, they should not rely on others - like the state -- for support) 
- People should always be trying to improve themselves and become better versions of themselves 
- People should listen to expert advice and use it to improve their lives. Because people are free and independent individuals no one can MAKE them do anything – rather, they are sort of steered to make the right choices, and one of the ways in which this happens is through expert advice. 

These values are disseminated through various agents and institutions in society: from mass media to schools to doctors’ offices to Early Years Centres, where they shape ideas about what makes a good mother. So, in a nutshell, our ideas about what makes a good mother cannot be separated from the bigger political, economic and social processes in which we live our lives. 

So far I have focused on the messages that women receive about mothering. I have yet to address the messengers (that is, the “experts”: the Early Years staff, public health nurses, lactation consultants, etc), and of course the recipients: that is, the mothers themselves. To what extent do they internalize and ascribe to these norms of mothering and motherhood? Do they resist them? Do they propose alternatives? Are there ways in which these neoliberal projects or techniques can be put to work to serve goals that are NOT neoliberal?

As I do more research I hope that I will be able to attend to these questions in my future talks. For the time being, let me say that even if the ideas about mothering that I elucidated above are seen as “common sense”, it is worth remembering that what is “common sense” is never set in stone; rather, it is always has to be defended and reinforced – and this, in turn, means that it can also be resisted and changed. 


Wednesday, 9 November 2016

A Powerful Message from a Pro-Hillary Feminist

Many women are despairing over a Trump presidency which is now a foregone conclusion. There isn't anything that can be done to change the decision but for one woman change and a fightback will be a personal mission. This is her powerful and moving message which I am proud to publish

Chimine Nicole 

I jolted out of bed this morning, thinking back on the dream I was having over the night.
I was in my biological father’s home. There was a party. But everyone who had ever hurt me was there. I was supposed to just be at this party and ignore the fact that my father had abused me and my mother had abandoned me. I was searching the house for something hard to drink, I couldn’t be present, I needed to disengage.

When I woke up – it took a nano second to realize that a Trump presidency was the equivalent of having to share space with the people who have physically, emotionally and spiritually abused me throughout my entire life.

You may have not liked Hillary, but Hillary represents every woman who has had to live in tyranny their entire life. Like the year I spent crying myself to sleep living under my father’s abusive dictatorship. Or the afternoon I was raped by a serial rapist in my own room, on my own bed, at seventeen years old. Or the handful of times I asked a man to stop and he ignored my pleas.

When my daughter woke up, all I could do is hold her. THIS is not the world I want her to grow up in. Where the leader of her country thinks it’s totally acceptable to grab women “by the pussy.” I loathe the day I have to tell my daughter that her birthright as a woman is that men will violate her body every chance they get. Whether it be a daily micro aggression about her skin, her hair or her body shape. Or one actually forces themself on her.

If you voted for Trump: I may never change your mind. But I will make sure everyday you see me. You will hear my name. You will know that I personally am effected by your choices. You will know how you impact my children. You will know how you impact every woman and child in your life. I will remind you. Until you find your true voice.
Its time for feminists to unite. This is enough.
Chimine has spent her life as an activist to end violence against woman. As a teenager she was raped by a serial rapist whom later received a 107 years to life sentence. Since becoming a mother in 2013, Chimine has been working on her PhD from California Institute of Integral Studies looking at the relationship between patriarchy, rape culture, intergenerational violence and breastfeeding. Her current work at Mental Health Systems is creating a “mother-centered” approach to curriculum to help mothers heal trauma through bonding with their children. She has received the Valor Award from Community Service Programs as well as been honored by the D.A. in Orange Country at the first annual Victim Rights Walk for her tireless contribution to the welfare of women and children.


Monday, 7 November 2016

The Mother-Son Relationship in Anglo-American Feminist Theory

From Clytemnestra and Orestes to Thetis and Achilles; From Estrangement to Connection: The Mother-Son Relationship in Anglo-American Feminist Theory

In “Man Child: A Black Lesbian Feminist’s Response,” African-American poet and essayist Audre Lorde (1995) asks us to “consider the two western classic myth/models of mother/son relationships: Jocasta/Oedipus, the son who fucks his mother, and Clytemnestra/Orestes, the son who kills his mother” (76). These ancient myths are continually retold and reenacted in Western culture and function, in Louis Althusser’s terms, as ideological apparatuses that interpolate mothers and sons into specific relationship positions that are most fully dramatized in the narratives of Clytemnestra and Jocasta. The sanction against mother–son closeness and connection is signified and achieved by the incest taboo, while the enforcement of mother–son separation is represented and enforced by the murder of Clytemnestra. Both patriarchal narratives are enacted through the denial and displacement of the maternal presence.

I open this chapter referencing the above narratives because it is my contention that maternal erasure and disconnection are central not only to patriarchal thinking on mothers and sons but also to Anglo-American feminist thought on mothers and sons as well. This paper will, examine how the early Anglo-American perspective on mothers and sons scripted mother–son attachment in terms of these hegemonic narratives of maternal erasure and disavowal. Next, I consider how recent Anglo-American feminist writings on mothers and sons call into question this patriarchal and early feminist view of maternal displacement to emphasize mother–son connection. 

Patriarchal narratives
The story of Oedipus and his mother Jocasta was first told by the playwright Sophocles, but is known to us today through Freud’s psychological theory of the Oedipal complex. The son’s first love object, according to Freud, is the mother, but the son renounces this love upon the realization that this desire is forbidden and will result in his castration by the father. In the story of Clytemnestra and her son Orestes, the mother, as most accounts tell it, kills her husband Agamemnon upon his return from Troy to avenge his sacrificial killing of their daughter, Iphigenia, and because he has brought home with him a concubine. In retaliation against his father’s death, Orestes kills his mother, which he defends as just vengeance for the death of his father. 

These ancient myths are continually reenacted and retold in our contemporary culture. A cursory review of twentieth-century popular culture reveals many and diverse manifestations of the ancient patriarchal narratives of forbidden Jocasta/emasculated Oedipus, and of triumphant Orestes/defeated Clytemnestra. Philip Wylie in his immensely popular Generation of Vipers (1942) coined the term “momism”.

“Our land,” writes Wylie, “subjectively mapped, would have more silver cords and apron strings crisscrossing it than railroads and telephone wires. She is everywhere and everything ... Disguised as good old mom, dear old mom, sweet old mom ... she is the bride at every funeral and the corpse at every wedding” (185). In the 1960s, the Moynihan report advanced the now infamous black matriarchy thesis that described the black family as dysfunctional and argued that mothers were to blame for the pathologies of the race. “In essence,” wrote Moynihan, “the Negro community has ... a matriarchal structure which ... seriously retards the progress of the group as a whole” (1965: 75). The 1980s gave us Robert Bly, the father of the men’s mytho-poetic movement and author of the best-selling Iron John, the notorious thesis which suggests the American man has grown up with too much mothering and not enough fathering: they suffer from what Bly diagnosed as “father hunger. Feminism has long critiqued Wylie’s momism, Moynihan’s black matriarchy, and Bly’s father hunger for their blatant misogyny and virulent mother blame. 

Early Anglo-American feminist theory on the mother– son relationship
However, the purpose of this paper is not to detail the patriarchal script of maternal displacement and denial. Rather, I am interested in exploring how this displacement and denial are represented, recast, and resisted in feminist theory on mothers and sons. The first section   offers a reading of one classic Anglo-American texts on the mother–son relation: Babette Smith’s Mothers and Sons: The Truth about Mother-Son Relationships (1995). in order to examine how this literature mimicked, albeit unintentionally, the patriarchal dictate of maternal displacement and denial. In the longer version of the paper published in Demeter’s recent collection on Mothers and Sons I also examine Judith Arcana’s Every Mother’s Son: The Role of Mothers in the Making of Men (1983) and Linda Forcey’s Mothers of Sons: Toward an Understanding of Responsibility (1987
Babette Smith’s Mothers and Sons: The Truth about Mother-Son Relationships (1995). Smith’s research, developed from a comparative study of postwar and post-1960s mothers and sons, explores how mothers’ and sons’ perceptions of one another and of their relationship have changed over the last fifty years. 

This study focuses on two interrelated questions: How do mothers perceive masculinity? And how do sons, in turn, perceive their mothers and their mothering? Of interest to us here in the discussion of the way motherhood is represented in feminist thought on the mother–son relation is Smith’s second concern: sons’ perceptions of maternal practice.

The postwar sons’ reflections on their mothers and mothering were both startling and sad. These sons, Smith writes, “were struggling to love where they had little respect, to believe they were loved when they remembered no affection, to justify their love by saying their mother was not typical” (33). While the ideology of “the Good Mother,” particularly as it was represented in the 1950s, demanded that mothers be selfless, moral, pleasing, passive, and subservient to their husbands, and led mothers to believe that they would be honored and appreciated for this, the views expressed by the now middle-aged sons interviewed by Smith reveal the contrary: the mothers were neither admired nor respected for their maternal devotion. As one son commented: “The worst thing I think was the way she made herself a martyr to what everyone else wanted” (34). 

The few sons who spoke or wrote favorably about their relationship with their mothers remembered their mothers as “female people rather than [just] ‘mothers’” (50). The memories of these sons “reveal that these women had also developed wide-ranging interests beyond the home, ‘artistic and intellectual curiosity,’ ‘stories from work,’ ‘has published a book’” (50). They felt their mothers were “adaptable,” or they had “broadness of outlook and knowledge,” qualities that their sons celebrated 

In contrast, the post-1960s sons genuinely liked their mothers and enjoyed being in their company. The reasons, the interviews would suggest, are: (a) the mothers of these sons were less invested in the ideology of the Good Mother; (b) as a result of increased education, work, and travel opportunities for women, these mothers had more in common with their sons; and (c) the familial, economic, and cultural changes occasioned by feminism gave women more confidence and clout. As well, and of particular significance to the discussion at hand, according to Smith, for the post-1960s son, “it was noticeably easier for [him] to agree that he admired or respected his mother when he did not have to pass judgement on her parenting at the same time ... [in contrast], [1950s] sons had no choice but to evaluate their mothers in her maternal role” (182). 

Mothers who exhibited attributes valued in male culture, and/or achieved what was deemed success from the masculine standpoint, were more readily respected and admired by their sons. As one schoolteacher observed of the sons in the class: “Boys identify with mothers who are independent, freethinking, nice people, not only for security and emotional reasons, but also because they happen to like their mothers as people. These are mothers who actually present themselves to their sons as people without overt[ly] ‘being Mother’” (185, italics added). 

And while Smith argues that the variable is not so much paid employment as self-confidence, she nonetheless concludes that women’s work outside the home benefited the mother–son relationship because it, as noted above, “[provided] the boys with something about their mother which was understood and valued in their male world” (182). Male respect and admiration for mothers, Smith goes on to argue, is essential “because, without those elements, there is no basis for equality between them” (185).

Though not always explicitly acknowledged or addressed, the “beyond motherhood” thesis of Smith begins with the recognition that motherhood in patriarchal culture is neither valued nor respected, and that mothers do not acquire any real or substantive power, status, or agency— economic, cultural, or otherwise—for the work they do as mothers. Thus, as a mother, the woman is not able to secure the respect of her son. Though this is a concern for all three, it is of particular importance for Smith because her theoretical platform for improving gender relations hinges upon sons respecting and admiring their mothers. 

The problem, according to Smith, is “[how do] sons ... hold their own mothers dear in a society which has little regard for mothers” (180). Smith argues, as we saw earlier, that this problem may be remedied through mothers fashioning an identity and role “beyond motherhood” in the public, male realm of work so as to, in Smith’s words “provid[e] [their sons] with something about their mother which [is] understood and valued in their male world” (182. Smith’s argument thus reinscribes, as did much of 1970s liberal feminism, the hierarchal gender opposition that privileges masculine values over those that are associated with the feminine, and in so doing both mimics and perpetuates the patriarchal disparagement and displacement of the maternal.

As Smith’s argument seeks to distance mothers from motherhood and downplay their maternal role and identity, it also calls for the abdication of maternal authority and power. Smith argues that post-1960s mother–son relationships are more successful because they are based on equality, and that this equality is what makes possible the respect Smith deems essential for a successful mother– son relationship. While equality in relationships is generally understood to be a good and desired thing, in the mother–child relationship such equality is problematic because it denies the mother the power and authority that is rightly hers as the mother of the child. 

“Smith argues that the less a mother relates to her son as “mother,” the greater the chances will be of raising non-sexist, non-masculine (as it is traditionally defined) boys and improving relations between mothers and sons and men and women generally In so doing it downplays, denies, and in some instances, disparages, the responsibility, authority, and power of mothers as mothers of sons, while according the same to women as women. 

New Anglo-American Feminist Perspectives on the Mother–Son Relationship
Feminist theory on mothers and sons has been informed by and has developed in the context of feminist thinking on mothering and motherhood over the last thirty years. More specifically, Anglo-American feminist theory on mothers and sons mirrors and reenacts the theoretical trajectory of Anglo-American feminist thought on the mother–daughter relationship. The 1970s feminist view that problematizes if not pathologizes mother–daughter identification has now fallen out of favor among Anglo-American feminist theorists. Indeed most Anglo-American feminists, since at least the mid-1980s, regard mother–daughter connection and closeness as essential for female empowerment. 

A similar trajectory may be observed in Anglo-American feminist writing on the mother–son relation, with an approximate ten-year time lag. The text  examined above tend to downplay women’s maternal role and identity. In contrast, the contemporary Anglo-American feminist view emphasizes mother–son connection, and positions it as central to the reconfiguration of traditional masculinity. 

Similar to the new Anglo-American feminist literature on mothers and daughters that recasts connection as empowerment by referencing the mythic mother–daughter dyad Demeter and Persephone, the contemporary Anglo-American feminist emphasis on the mother–son connection is also frequently conveyed through a mythic mother–son relation, that of Thetis and Achilles.
“Thetis, according to the myth, dipped her son Achilles into the river Styx to render him immortal. However, fearing that he might be lost to the river, she held onto him by his ankle. Achilles, as the story goes, remains mortal and vulnerable to harm. Thetis would be forever blamed for her son’s fatal flaw, his Achilles heel.” 

However, contemporary feminist theorists reinterpret the traditional reading of this narrative to argue, as Nikki Fedele and Cate Dooley do, that “the holding place of vulnerability was not, as the myth would have us believe, a fatal liability to Achilles. It was the thing that kept him human and real. In fact, we consider it Thetis’ finest gift to her son” (Dooley and Fedele 357). Fedele and Dooley’s research with mothers and sons reveals that “boys with a secure maternal connection develop stronger interpersonal skills and enjoy healthier relationships as adults” (360). Mother–son connection, they conclude, is what makes possible the new masculinity we desire for our sons and men in general.

The Thetis and Achilles model of mother–son attachment advanced by Dooley and Fedele is examined fully in Olga Silverstein and Beth Rashbaum’s 1994 book, The Courage to Raise Good Men. In her book Silverstein calls into question this received view of mother–son relation and argues that the mandate of disconnection and the taboo against mother–son intimacy is the root cause of sons’ difficulties as adults. The assumption is that boys, as scripted by the Freudian Oedipal scenario, gradually withdraw and distance themselves from their mothers as they grow into manhood. 

A close and caring relationship between a mother and a son is pathologized as aberrant, while a relationship structured upon separation is naturalized as the real and normal way to experience mother–son attachment. Silverstein explains: “[Our culture believes] that a male child must be removed from his mother’s influence in order to escape the contamination of a close relationship with her. The love of a mother—both the son’s love for her, and hers for him—is believed to ‘feminize’ a boy, to make him soft, weak, dependent, homebound .... [O]nly through renunciation of the loving mother, and identification with the aggressor father, does the ... boy become a man” (11). In other words, the majority of us in Western culture see mother–son separation as both inevitable and desirable.
Silverstein challenges the central, organizing premise of patriarchally mandated mother–son separation, namely that this process is both natural, hence inevitable, and “good” for our sons. 

She emphasizes that what we interpret as a normal process is, in fact, a culturally scripted and orchestrated act. Moreover, she argues that it is mothers and not boys who both initiate and direct the separation. “By expecting our sons to cut off from us,” she writes, “we make sure that they do” (159). The mother, aware that mother–son connection and closeness is disparaged and pathologized in our culture, is ever-vigilant that she not be “overclose” with her son. While her son nurses in her arms, she may worry about the intimacy and stiffen, pull back, or look away; so too when her eight-year-old scrambles onto her lap she will laugh proudly and nudge him off, saying that he is now a big boy and cannot fit in her lap; and when she is kissed by her teenage son, she will turn her cheek, tense her body, and mumble to hurry and not be late. 

The gestures of distancing are often subtle yet cumulative. A boy, Silverstein argues, “absorb[s] at an unconscious level that his mother is somehow uncomfortable with him, that she is pulling back from him, that their closeness is problematic” (31). “Soon,” Silverstein continues, “he responds in kind, so that his mother, who wasn’t aware that she herself was the original actor in this scenario of withdrawal, eventually assumes that the withdrawal was his not hers” (31). 

Once the son reaches adolescence, the mother, increasingly concerned about mother–son closeness and the damage such may inflict on her son’s incipient manhood, may abruptly withdraw from her son; an act that the son may experience as abandonment. Confused and hurt by his mother’s rejection of him, the son decisively breaks from his mother and forges an identity separate from her modeled upon the masculine values of self-sufficiency and autonomy, particularly as they pertain to emotional identity. 

Whether or not the son is fully aware of the mother’s distancing, he nonetheless, Silverstein argues, experiences a deep and inexplicable loss that is seldom understood or articulated, a loss that profoundly scars the boy and causes him to grow into a psychologically wounded man. 

Demanding that young boys distance and differentiate themselves from their mothers, we require them to deny or repress the so-called feminine dimensions of their personalities. Silverstein argues that sons are deeply betrayed by their mothers’ rejection of them and deeply wounded by the loss of the feminine in themselves occasioned by this separation. The result of this, she says, is: “lost boys, lonely men, lousy marriages, and midlife crises,” or, as Pollack describes it, “a deep wellspring of grief and sadness that may last throughout [men’s] lives” (1998: 12). 

Over the last decade our culture has identified a crisis in masculinity. Though varied and diverse, the majority of commentators on this “crisis in masculinity” agree that masculinity must be redefined, and that such is to be achieved through a reconnection of father and son. In contrast, Silverstein counters this received narrative to argue that: “the real pain in men’s lives stems from their estrangement from women” (1994: 225) “As a culture we have to,” as Silverstein concludes, “face up to the longing [of sons for mothers]—its power, its persistence throughout a man’s life, its potential for destruction when unacknowledged” (1994: 225).

Early Anglo-American feminist theorists on mothers and sons believed that motherhood oppressed women, impeded mother–son equality, and fostered both sexism and patriarchal masculinity. This literature consequently downplayed, denied, and at times, disparaged women’s maternal identity, viewing as problematic women’s responsibility and authority as mothers. A mother must rear her son outside/beyond motherhood, they argued, in order to raise a non-sexist, non-masculine (as it is traditionally defined) boy, and to improve relations between mothers and sons, and men and women generally.

In contrast, the “new” Anglo-American feminist theory argues that too little mothering, and, in particular, the absence of mother-son connection, are what engenders both sexism and traditional masculinity in men. Thus a mother must foreground her presence in the life of her son; she must establish and maintain a close and caring connection with her son throughout his life. The mother is, accordingly, afforded agency as a mother, and her maternal responsibility and authority are emphasized and affirmed. This perspective positions mothering as central to feminist politics in its insistence that true and lasting gender equality will occur only when boys are raised as the sons of mothers. As the early feminist script of mother–son connection required the denial of the mother’s power and the displacement of her identity as mother, the new perspective affirms the maternal and celebrates mother–son connection. In this, it rewrites the patriarchal and early feminist narrative to give Jocasta and Clytemnestra presence, voice, and a central and definitive role in the lives of their sons.

Early Anglo-American feminist thought tended to downplay, devalue, and at times disparage motherhood. Sexism and patriarchal masculinity, these writers contend, are perpetuated and reinforced through maternal practice, by placing women in service to boys (Arcana), by making women responsible for sons (Forcey), and by preventing sons from respecting women (Smith).; Smith, as well, criticizes maternal authority. In each, the woman, as mother in both definition and act, becomes absent and silent. 

In contrast, recent Anglo-American feminist thought focuses on maternal presence, arguing that mother–son connection is what makes possible the new non-patriarchal masculinity we desire for our sons, and for all men. The stress on maternal presence and involvement is underscored by an insistence on the significance of maternal responsibility, agency, and authority. 

The above developments in Anglo-American feminist thought on mothers and sons have rewritten the patriarchal script of mother–son separation/maternal absence as they are enacted in the narratives of Jocasta and Oedipus, Clytemnestra and Orestes. In so doing, they give both voice and presence to the mother and make mother-son connection central to the redesign of both traditional masculinity and the larger patriarchal culture. 

This new perspective, I want to suggest, allows for real and lasting social change. Feminist positions that depend upon the marginalization of motherhood and a mitigation of maternal authority and agency, I argue, cannot effect change, because they reinscribe, albeit inadvertently, the valorization of the masculine and the degradation of all that is deemed feminine in our culture. The denial and disparagement of the maternal bespeaks a larger unease with, and aversion to, the feminine. 

The new Anglo-American feminist perspectives in highlighting maternal voice and presence, affirming maternal agency, authority, and responsibility, and foregrounding mother–son connection, have imagined and made possible a truly feminist narrative of mothers and sons.
Work cited: 
Dooley, Kate and Nikki Fedele. "Raising Relational Boys." Mother Outlaws: Theory and Practice of Empowered Mothering. Ed. Andrea O'Reilly. Toronto. Women's Press. 2004. Print.

For the  full and complete paper please see Andrea O'Reilly's chapter "In Black and White; African American and Anglo-American Feminist Perspectives in Mothers and Sons: Centering Mother Knowledge

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