Maki Motapanyane, PhD



Matricentric Feminism: Theory, Activism, Politics, Practice and Representation

Posted by Maki Motapanyane on May 4, 2018 at 1:05 PM

"Motherhood is the unfinished business of feminism" - Andrea O'Reilly, founder and Director of the Motherhood Initiative for Research and Community Involvement (MIRCI) and Demeter Press.

MIRCI is an international consortium of motherhood scholars and activists, developed by Andrea O'Reilly from the former Association for Research on Mothering at York University (1998-2010). The initiative houses the Journal of the Motherhood Initiative (JMI), Mother Outlaws, and is partnered with Demeter Press. This year's MIRCI annual conference was held at Syracuse University in Florence, Italy, and focused on the theory and practice of matricentric feminism - a mode of feminism in which mothers and mothering count.

In the words of the conference overview:

"Maternal scholars [...] emphasize...that the category of mother is distinct from the category of woman and that many of the problems mothers face - social, economic, political, cultural, psychological, and so forth - are specific to women's role and identity as mothers. Indeed, mothers are oppressed under patriarchy as women and as mothers. Consequently, mothers need a matricentric mode of feminism organized from and for their particular identity and work as mothers. Indeed, a mother-centred feminism is needed because mothers - arguably more so than women in general - remain disempowered despite forty years of femnism."

In her keynote address, formidable motherhood scholar and psychotherapist Petra Bueskens, called attention to the fact that the crucial gains made by women in their youth, are not sustained over the longer life cycle - a pattern that is related to the politics of marriage and motherhood. This reality means that women in the West are faced with a particular contemporary conundrum - they are simultaneously liberated (in the neo-liberal, individualistic sense) and oppressed. Bueskens presents this dynamic as a new sexual contract, in which modernity has enabled women as individuals, and disabled them as mothers. See Petra Buesken's book on this subject, Modern Motherhood and Women's Dual Identities: Rewriting the Sexual Contract. Routledge, 2018.

In her keynote address, Andrea O'Reilly, trailblazer and mother of modern motherhood studies, reasserted the need that mothers have for a feminism of their own. She identified a pervasive feminist discomfort with all things to do with motherhood, noting, importantly, that it is the institution of motherhood that is the problem, not the experience of being a mother and mothering. Mothers and mothering, are too often, and unfortunately, approached with apprehension, or neglected all together by a mainstream and academic feminist cultures in which there is great discomfort with anything perceived to underscore gender difference or signal gender essentialism. However, as O'Reilly aptly argues, we do not have to disavow the experience of mothering in order to critique and deconstruct the institution of motherhood. We can say that gender is a construction and that mothers and their mothering work matters. See Andrea O'Reilly's, Matricentric Feminism: Theory, Activism, and Practice. Demeter Press, 2016.

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