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.