The first person Jesus spoke to after his resurrection was a woman, Mary Magdalene.
“My children cause me the most exquisite suffering of which I have any experience. It is the suffering of ambivalence: the murderous alternation between bitter resentment and raw-edged nerves, and blissful gratification and tenderness.”
It is a sentence which blows open the myth of the Madonna Motherhood and exposes the emotional strife that afflicts mothers everywhere on a day to day basis. It is the opening sentence in Adrienne’s book called ‘Of Woman Born’ and immediately powerfully encapsulates the experience of the dual sense of mothering. Adrian wrote the book in 1976 and put into words and set in context the patriarchy of motherhood.
She energised mums everywhere who felt it was a betrayal of their status as mothers to feel cross and downtrodden who, even now, are made to feel that it is their fault for feeling that way. Adrienne broke the unspoken of secret of motherhood by terming it as a patriarchal institution.
“…I try to distinguish between two meanings of motherhood, one superimposed on the other; the potential relationship of any woman to her powers of reproduction and to children; and the institution, which aims at ensuring that that potential-and all women-shall remain under male control.”
No matter how many times I read this book I always find something that still stings me because of the potent relevance to contemporary times. sadly. In the chapter titled: ‘The Domestication of Motherhood’, Adrienne talks about how the mother-child relationship is the essential human relationship and, yet, violence is done to this fundamental human unit because the mother remains an object of ‘mistrust, suspicion, misogyny…”
The mothers caught up in wars, the Arab Spring and in everyday gender violence will identify with this. However, women in safer countries will still recognise the patriarchal domination of motherhood as laid bare in the book. Has nothing changed? A little but not enough.
This blog post is a tribute to the woman who practically invented feminist mothering. Adrienne Rich died on 27 March 2012 from rheumatoid arthritis.
This post was originally published on the Huffpost UK site for Mother’s Day 2012.
I feel blessed to be a mother. I love being a mother. These all seem obvious things to say don’t they on Mother’s Day but consider, instead, how today is celebrated as a tribute to the institution of motherhood? Much in the same the way Easter and Christmas are observed, Mother’s Day is about pink advertisements displaying flowers, chocolates and wine. Almost as a ritual the mother will be served breakfast in bed and taken out to lunch but the drawbridge is pulled up when it comes to talking about the joyful lived experience of being a mother, or ‘mothering’ as I call it.
In fact, it has become more commonplace to deride being a mother. Every so often a woman will make headlines for talking about how boring being with her children makes her. Close to the summer school holidays watch out, yet again, for mothers filling column inches talking about the dread of having their children at home for six weeks and how difficult and, again, boring it will be.
The cool culture that afflicts children under the age of 17 has been extrapolated and is now evident among mothers. Much in the same way that these children don’t want to be seen with their mothers because it is uncool, it has likewise become uncool to say that mothering is fun. It has not helped recently that motherhood, as the institution, is always portrayed as a struggle through being defined as casualties of the austerity cuts and a lack of structural support such as childcare.
Accurate though these portrayals are and much as they are needed to spur on an improved diversity in understanding the struggles of mothers there is still an omission. It is an omission that consists of a failure to place a value on the wonder of having a child. The big deal is that, as a result, there is a lack of moral development and understanding of the enduring joy that transcends the difficulties of mothering.
The public debate on motherhood places a monetary value on it in terms of childcare costs and lost wages. However, the intangibles of mothering, love and care, are confined to the private sphere of domestic life. The public face of motherhood is one of financial sacrifice and hardship and the private face of mothering is one of sacrificial love. Yes, mothers do make sacrifices and put their children’s needs first but to equate this with being an equivalent of a ‘sacrificial lamb’ is misguided.
Mothering is a personal bond and is practised subjectively but I do firmly believe that the unifying thread among caring mothers is one of enduring joyful love and devotion to their children. Happy Mothering Sunday.
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Tamil women in the north and east of Sri Lanka live a bleak life in which they are severely constrained by the dual evils of the aftermath of the civil war, fought between the Government and the Tamil Tigers, and by a serious and crucial lack of capacity building efforts to help them cope and rebuild their lives.
The plight of these women are set out in a report titled. ‘Sri Lanka: Women’s Insecurity in the North and East‘, published by the International Crisis Group on 20 December 2011. The report states that these women are powerless in the face of economic depravity, suffer from sexual abuse and are marginalised because their needs are not recognised at multiple levels.
Sri Lanka is a patriarchal society and many women are disadvantaged from having lost their husbands in the war. Their employment opportunities are limited and many cannot even afford to pay for food for their families. The catalogue of degradation makes for harrowing reading. Women have been forced into prostitution or coercive sexual relationship. Some have been trafficked. Such is the fear of sexual violation that females are too scared to go to school/college or seek employment.
Highly significantly the report states that: ‘..is the government willing and able to hold accountable those responsible for alleged crimes? To date it has failed to demonstrate that it is.’
I have been inspired by the amount of organisations around the world that are dedicated to the female cause, namely in educating girls and helping them escape dire situations in dangerous regimes or repressive cultural situations.
The soft power of compassion is the unifying thread of the tireless work of these organisations.
Compassion is a powerful feminine attribute. I don’t ascribe the use of the word compassion here to mean, in any sense, docile or submissive. The word for these traits is repression, not compassion. Compassion as a soft power is a powerful tool in helping people escape poverty, getting girls into education in places where education is reserved for males and the list goes on.
Compassion is shown by the bloggers around the world today who are bringing into the public eye stories of suffering endured by girls. Compassion is then spread through the act of other bloggers picking up on the story and running with it. Many causes are asking for funds and I hope that compassion will extend to aid giving as well. The value of compassion is limitless because it can extend from a single act of caring for your own daughter to working towards the collective good of girls everywhere. Everyone has a part to play.