Archive for the ‘feminist motherhood’ Category

Poems like “You Kindly” capture two brilliant paradoxes that run through Olds’s work. They give the impression of being wildly personal, even as the experiences they describe—in this case, the erotic union of spouses—are common. And they break with the female-confessional tradition as represented by Olds’s predecessors Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton, who used their poetry to rattle the bars of the cozy middle-class matrimony and maternity that they felt imprisoned them. Olds found a path to her own radical artistry by championing the domestic everyday. Breastfeeding a baby; coaxing a sick child to take his medicine; drinking wine on a summer evening with your husband as a comfortable prelude to sex. These are ordinary moments, the kind most of us, if we are lucky enough to have them, wash down life’s drain. Olds rescues them from obscurity by paying them the close attention of her verse.

From “Sharon Olds sings the body electric” by Alexandra Schwartz in The New Yorker.

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We Alone

We alone can devalue gold
by not caring
if it falls or rises
in the marketplace.
Wherever there is gold
there is a chain, you know,
and if your chain
is gold
so much the worse
for you.
Feathers, shells
and sea-shaped stones
are all as rare.
This could be our revolution:
to love what is plentiful
as much as
what’s scarce.

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This article by Catherine Deveny on the ABC called “Financial abortion: Should men be able to ‘opt out’ of parenthood?” is infuriatingly limited.

I have recently come to the conclusion that, as a feminist, I support men being able to opt out of fatherhood early in a pregnancy via what is known as a financial abortion.

I believe a woman should not be forced to become a mother any more than a man should be forced to become a father. If a man has not said, “I want to have a child with you now-ish”, it is fair to assume he doesn’t, and therefore should be able to legally withdraw from becoming a parent.

It would also be less traumatic for children, and more empowering for women.

A financial abortion (also known as a paper abortion or a statutory abort) would essentially enable men to cut all financial and emotional ties with a child in the early stages of pregnancy.

Men can ‘opt out’ already. Don’t have sex with women, get a vasectomy, take lots and lots of responsibility for contraception. Oh.. you mean not that kind of “control over reproductive choices”.

Men can have more control than they do currently over whether parenthood happens (see my paragraph above), but just like women they don’t have full control over conception. Pregnancy is not something you can ‘make happen’.. you can provide circumstances that will facilitate pregnancy or which won’t… but conception is a biological action that happens outside of women’s and men’s control. We all need to carry responsibility for that.

It is not something one can ‘opt out of’ if you, like me, happen to enjoy the act of putting sperm near eggs inside women’s bodies.

What certain men are seeking to ‘opt out of’ is not whether parenthood can occur, it is the responsibility of parenthood. How very user choice, what part of reality might possibly be missing from this?

The parent with the ability to decide to carry a pregnancy to term (or not) is the one whose body has a foetus inside it. If we lived in another reality where men could choose to carry a foetus in their body to term then they could opt out of doing so.. and I am sure many women would be content to concede that right to men.


And of course on the wider issue of opting out, as someone said on my Facebook page, is this…

“In practice men do have this choice: courts won’t demand men conform to care and contact agreements & DHSCS has a poor record of enforcing compliance with child support assessments/ agreements. Women’s access to abortion remains practically constrained and single mothers a group at high risk of poverty – these remain the bigger issues than further expanding masculine financial & paternal discretion.”




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It is another common assumption that a single mother is a woman who puts her sex life ahead of her social responsibility. Manipulative or sexual, she exhibits either too much self-control or not enough (what is never mentioned in relation to teenage pregnancies is the possibility of child abuse and rape). Behind the idea of maternal virtue, therefore, another demand and/or reproach. A mother is a woman whose sexual being must be invisible. She must save the world from her desire – a further projection that allows the world to conceal from itself the unmanageable nature of all human sexuality, and its own voraciousness. Even in the years leading up to the 1960s, when there was more sympathy for the predicament of single mothers, the basic assumption was there. ‘Innocent’ girls could get into trouble and deserved understanding ‘provided that they did not flaunt their transgressions’. Nor is the childless woman immune from sexual taint. ‘Surely,’ one journalist said recently, expressing a common attitude to the declining birth rate in 21st-century France, ‘a woman who refuses to be a mother enjoys lovemaking rather too much?’

In this context, ancient Greece and Rome are again refreshing. Cleopatra, deemed the most desirable of women, was the mother of four children, one, she claimed, by Julius Caesar and the three youngest by Mark Antony, something most representations of Cleopatra conspire not to remember or talk about (no one I have mentioned this to had the faintest idea she was a mother).

From this amazing essay, “Mothers” in the London Review of Books by Jacqueline Rose.

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I feel I can give you everything without giving myself away, I whispered in your basement bed. If one does one’s solitude right, this is the prize.

[Yet] dependence is scorned even in intimate relationships, as though dependence were incompatible with self-reliance rather than the only thing that makes it possible.

I know now that a studied evasiveness has its own limitations, its own ways of inhibiting certain forms of happiness and pleasure. The pleasure of abiding. The pleasure of insistence, of persistence. The pleasure of obligation, the pleasure of dependency. The pleasures of ordinary devotion. The pleasure of recognizing that one may have to undergo the same realizations, write the same notes in the margin, return to the same themes in one’s work, relearn the same emotional truths, write the same book over and over again—not because one is stupid or obstinate or incapable of change, but because such revisitations constitute a life.

Perhaps it’s the word radical that needs rethinking. But what could we angle ourselves toward instead, or in addition? Openness? Is that good enough, strong enough? You’re the only one who knows when you’re using things to protect yourself and keep your ego together and when you’re opening and letting things fall apart, letting the world come as it is—working with it rather than struggling against it. You’re the only one who knows. And the thing is, even you don’t always know.

From Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts.


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In the spring and summer 2016, my research assistant and I undertook a study on the representation of motherhood in four women’s studies venues: panels presented at the annual conference of the National Women’s Studies Association between 2010 and 2015; articles and books reviews in five feminist journals—Signs, Frontiers, Women’s Studies Quarterly, Feminist Studies, and Gender and Society—from 2005 to 2015; the table of contents of ten introduction to gender and women’s studies textbooks; and the syllabi of fifty introduction to women’s studies courses.
The breakdown of papers at the National Women’s Studies Association (NWSA) annual conference (appendix B) is as follows: 2015: 506 papers with 18 on motherhood; 2014 593 papers with 29 on motherhood; 2013 767 papers with 24 on motherhood; 2012 741 papers with 10 motherhood and 3 on the maternal; and 2011 757 papers with 19 on motherhood and 2 on the maternal. Overall, 105 papers were presented on motherhood from a total of 3,364 papers or less than 3 percent. More popular topics included academe (118), activism (193), transnational (235), race (216), trans and queer issues (156), and gender (70). Thus, more than twice as many papers on transnational issues were published than on motherhood and twice as many papers on race than on motherhood. And combining the topics of trans, queer, and gender studies, more than twice as many papers on gender and sexuality were published than on motherhood. Less than three percent, I would suggest, is far too low given that motherhood studies is at least as established as an academic field as transnational studies and sexuality studies, yet there were twice as many papers on these topics than there were on motherhood. Moreover, to my knowledge, there has been only one plenary panel (in 2006) on the topic of motherhood at an NWSA conference, and there has never been a motherhood scholar or a motherhood activist as the keynote speaker in the organization’s forty-year history.
Similar low percentages are found in the number of articles and book reviews on motherhood in gender and women’s studies journals (appendix C). From 1 January, 2006, to 31 December, 2016, the percentages of articles and book reviews on motherhood are as follows: for Signs, only 3 percent of their articles and book reviews were on motherhood; for Frontiers, 6 percent; for Feminist Studies, 1.6 percent; for Women’s Studies Quarterly, 4 percent; and for Gender Studies, 5 percent. In contrast, the percentages for the topic of sex-sexuality are 11 percent, 5 percent, 10 percent, 4 percent, and 11 percent, respectively, and for gender, 17 percent, 8 percent, 9 percent, 6 percent, and thirty-one percent, respectively. While the combined totals for sex-sexuality and gender are 41 and 71, respectively, the total for motherhood is 19.6. The average percentage was 3.92 percent for motherhood, 8.2 percent for sex-sexuality, and 14.2 percent for gender. Thus, there were more twice as many reviews or articles on the topic of sex-sexuality and close to four times as many reviews or articles on gender than on motherhood.
 The percentage of motherhood content is even lower in introduction to gender and women’s studies textbooks (appendix D). None of the reviewed ten textbooks, published between 2001 and 2016, have a section on motherhood. This absence is particularly notable in such textbooks as the recent Everyday Women’s and Gender Studies: Introductory Concepts (2016), which has no section on motherhood but includes the chapter “The Manly Art of Pregnancy,” and Feminist Frontiers (2011), which likewise has no section on motherhood but includes the chapter “Masculinities and Globalization.” As well, Listen Up: Voices from the Next Feminist Generation (2001) has no chapters on motherhood but includes the chapters “On the Rag” and “Abortion, Vacuum Cleaners and the Power Within.”
 Four textbooks have sections on the family but only four of the approximately twenty-five chapters in these family sections cover the topic of motherhood. The most discussed topics are heterosexuality and gender. Interestingly, there are as many chapters on fathering as there are on mothering in the family sections, even though it is mothers, not fathers, who overwhelming do the carework in families. As well, the topic of motherhood, as opposed to fatherhood, is represented and regarded as an established scholarly field with considerable research. Thus, one would expect to find more scholarship on motherhood than fatherhood in introductory textbooks.
 Six of the collections have chapters on motherhood; however, all but one of the chapters was under thirteen pages in length. The page count for the above nine chapters is under one hundred pages. These nine chapters along with the four in the family sections make a total of thirteen chapters on motherhood in the introduction to women and gender studies textbooks examined. At approximately a combined page count of 150 pages of the total 5,111 pages of these books, the percentage of motherhood content in the ten introduction to gender and women’s textbooks is just under 3 percent.
 An even lower percentage of motherhood content is found in the fifty introduction to women and gender studies course syllabi examined. Ten of the fifty courses include at least one reading on the topic of motherhood (Appendix E). The initial count of ten suggests a percentage of 20 percent. However, the perspective of many of these courses is that of reproductive rights and justice. One course includes two readings on childbirth from a reproductive rights perspective. Interestingly, in three of the courses in which motherhood is examined, the subject of the reading is lesbian or black motherhood. Only one of the ten courses has a full unit on motherhood in which motherhood is examined from more than a single perspective and from more than a reproductive rights paradigm. But interestingly, this unit includes an interview with Rebecca Walker, a feminist writer well-known for her mother-blame perspective. In addition to the ten courses that have at least one reading on motherhood, two of the courses have readings on the family. However the themes of the one course are “Gender and the Family”, “Family Systems, Family Lives” and “Marriage and Love.” While with the second they are “Families: World’s Toughest Job, and “Why Women Can’t Have it All.” In total, these fifty course syllabi contain hundreds of readings, but I would argue that less than ten of these are specifically on the topic of motherhood and from a mother-centred perspective; that is roughly a percentage of less than 1 percent.
The percentages of motherhood content in women studies conferences, journals, textbooks. and syllabi range from under 1 percent to just under 4 percent. Given that 80 percent of women become mothers in their lifetime, there is an evident disconnect between the minimal representation of motherhood in academic feminism and the actual lives of most women. Indeed, as Eva Feder Kitty emphasizes, most women care for their dependents at some point, and for many women, “this occupies the better part of their lives” (qtd. in Stephens 141). Moreover, these low percentages do not reflect or capture the considerable and significant research done on motherhood over the last twenty years.

From the wonderful Andrea O’Reilly writing about the launch of her new book, Matricentric Feminism: Theory Activism and Practice.

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Quick hi from me to say I will be reading an extract from my article in defence of sexting, that appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald, on ABC’s Radio National on Monday Wednesday morning.

Hear my voice, trying to speak slower.

UPDATE: Here it is – me on Radio National defending sexting. 

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