I am always struck at the dichotomy between the way feminism is practised in the developed countries and in non developed countries. What we in the former countries consider to be sometimes a pain in the neck chore is, instead, considered an ‘Essentialism’ of mothering for mothers in the latter countries. Cooking and sanitation are two examples but for the purposes of this blog post I will concentrate on cooking.

Save the Children has released a report called ‘A Life Free From Hunger’ which starkly lays out the statistics for hungry children. Nearly half a billion children’s lives will be affected by malnutrition over the next 15 years if world leaders don’t act to tackle hunger. Millions of lives, however according to the report, can be saved through teaching mothers about nutrition.

There is an army of volunteer health workers in Afghanistan who conduct cookery classes. Not for them the expensive Cordon Bleu classes that we in developed countries pay for nor the Nigella Lawson type cookery books which we get as presents. For the Afghan mums their cookery lessons consist of each mother bringing a nutritious ingredient such as carrots, rice, potatoes, egg, oil or salt which the health worker then combines together to produce a shared pot of healthy living meals. In this way, mums are learning how to stave off malnutrition.

The simplicity of this moves me because it demonstrates the purity of feminist mothering which is about doing the best for your child under all circumstances. While mothers in Afghanistan may have no notion of feminist mothering given the extreme patriarchal conditions they live under they still undertake the chores that mothers in developed countries do which begs the question is cooking an Essentialism of mothering?

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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.

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