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Mothering Under Capitalism


Merve Emre: The idea of motherhood operates as a kind of collective projection, an imaginary order that shapes our perspective of the kind of person a mother ought to be. Motherhood, Jacqueline Rose explains, is “the place in our culture where we lodge, or rather bury, the reality of our own conflicts, of what it means to be fully human.”

[…] Among the many horrors of mothering under the patriarchy is that the image of the perfect mother—emotional, but not in excess; accomplished, but never to the detriment of her children’s well-being; stylish, but not too sexy—has made women into extremely effective agents of their own and each other’s oppression. Motherhood is “thick with idealisations,” Rose notes, many of which converge on a fantasy of maternal virtue predicated on total self-negation—the essence of cruelty. A mother must be everything for her child, which leaves very little room for her to be anything for herself.

[…] For Rose, the ideal future is marked by peace and quiet: being “left to get on quietly with the work of making the experience of motherhood more than worth it.” I suspect all mothers yearn for that peace and quiet, but I doubt that appreciation or empathy alone will get us there. We cannot quiet the voices of judgment or shame without casting off the disproportionate and crippling burden of care that is placed on mothers, and we cannot cast off that burden until we are willing to confront what a mother is: not the disembodied “angel voice that bids you good night,” as Wendy sings, but a physical and emotional laborer, underserved, underpaid, and always on the clock. More here.

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