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Motherhood Institution of Motherhood Simply defined, motherhood refers to mothers as a collective group, to the state of being a mother, and

to the qualities attributed to mothers. However, motherhood cannot be simply defined. Motherhood is also a principle, a key component in the political and social order of communities: an institution. Institutions are established social mechanisms and significant cultural practices that regulate human behavior according to the needs of a community, not individuals. Thus, motherhood is not simply biological or innate; it is also a social institution that functions ideologically and politically. In this role, motherhood idealizes mothers. Motherhood is a set of ideals determined by the established traditions and inherited history of a society, which sees women as primarily responsible for meeting their childrens daily needs. However, institutional motherhood does not grant mothers sweeping authority to challenge the ideal view of motherhood as a natural female state or essentialist normative role. Becoming a mother means a woman enters into the expectations of idealized motherhood: self-denial, self-abnegation, inherent goodness, unwavering love, duty-bound presence. these expected qualities and associated attributes shape conventional notions of appropriately maternal behavior; they are also often unattainable. In her analysis of motherhood and mothering, Adrienne Rich identified important differences between motherhood and mothering: motherhood consists of the strict expectations determined by a social order, while mothering is an individual womans approach to the experience of being a mother. Rich asserts that, as an institution, motherhood has specific social, cultural, and political goals that work to benefit and perpetuate patriarchal society. By contrast, mothering is not an institution, but the individual qualities and practices each woman brings to her role as a mother. In Of Woman Born, Rich distinguished 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 institutionwhich aims at ensuring that that potentialand all women shall remain under male control. In motherhood studies the term motherhood is used to signify the patriarchal institution of motherhood, while mothering refers to womens lived experiences of mothering as they seek to resist the patriarchal institution of motherhood and its oppressive ideology. An empowered practice/theory of mothering, therefore, functions as a counternarrative of motherhood: it seeks to interrupt the master narrative of motherhood to imagine and implement a view of mothering that is empowering to women. Empowered mothering may refer to any practice of mothering that seeks to challenge and change various aspects of patriarchal motherhood that cause mothering to be limiting or oppressive to women. Or, to use Richs terminology, an empowered maternal practice marks a movement from motherhood to mothering, and makes possible a mothering against motherhood. In the decades since the publication of Richs landmark book, motherhood research has focused upon the oppressive and empowering dimensions of mothering and the complex relationship between the two. Stemming from the above distinction, motherhood studies may be divided into four interconnected themes or categories of inquiry: motherhood as institution, motherhood as experience, motherhood as identity or subjectivity, mothering as agency. While scholars who are concerned with the ideology or institution investigate policies, laws, ideologies, and images of patriarchal motherhood, researchers who are interested in experience examine the work women do as mothers, an area of study paved with insights from Sara Ruddicks concept of maternal practice. The third category, identity or subjectivity, looks at the effect that becoming a mother has on a

womans sense of self; in particular, how her sense of self is shaped by the institution of motherhood and the experience of mothering, respectively. Since the turn of the millennium, a new theme in motherhood has emerged which scholars have termed agency. Motherhood scholarship, whether its concern is mothering as an institution, experience, or identity, has tended to focus on how motherhood is detrimental to women because of its construction as a patriarchal entity within the said three areas. For example, scholars interested in experience argue that the gender inequities of patriarchal motherhood cause the work of mothering to be both isolating and exhausting for women, while those concerned with ideology call attention to the guilt and depression that is experienced by mothers who fail to live up to the impossible standards of patriarchal motherhood that our popular culture inundates them with. In contrast, little has been written on the possibility or potentiality of mothering as identified by Rich. This point is not lost on Fiona Green who writes, still largely missing from the increasing dialogue and publication around motherhood is a discussion of Richs monumental contention that even when restrained by patriarchy, motherhood can be a site of empowerment and political activism. More recently however, agency has emerged as a prevailing theme in motherhood scholarship. Specifically, the rise of a vibrant and vast motherhood movement in the United States over the last decade has paved the way for more meaningful exploration into the emancipator potential of motherhood in the 21st century. Angel in the House The Angel in the House was an idealization of womanhood embraced by Victorian society, especially the middle class. Its origins lie in the patriarchal belief that women, because of their sex, are reproductive and domestic beings. The term comes from Coventry Patmores poem of the same title, published between 1854 and 1862, but the image of the domestic paragon who finds fulfillment and happiness in motherhood and family life was already well established by mid-century. Restricted to the home yet powerful through her moral influence, the Angel is a contradictory figure who reflects some of the challenges to womens social position in the Victorian period and beyond. The domestic Angel emerges as loving, good and pure, always gentle, pious, submissive, and above all, selfless and self-sacrificing. Without troubling about self-identity, she consistently places others, especially her husband and children, first. In the privacy of the home, she creates a haven of peace and benevolence, and a sanctuary from the morally suspect public sphere. She submits to her husband, but her innate female goodness makes her superior to the male sex. She is her homes moral center, providing guidance and exerting influence on the entire household. The Angel in the House, although popularized by Patmore, was familiar to the readers of novels and womens advice manuals by the time of his poems publication. Charles Dickens privileges female characters like Agnes Wickfield in David Copperfield (184950) whom David deems his better angel and identifies with a churchs stained glass window. In her popular conduct guides, like The Women of England (1838) and The Mothers of England (1843), Sara Stickney Ellis advocates domestic and maternal duties as the paramount means of fulfillment for womankinds angelic nature. The Angel also had an American counterpart in the 19th-century ideal of the True Woman. In its insistent association of women with the private sphere, the Angel ideal placed significant limitations on the majority of womens lives, but the conduct manuals suggest that her domestic responsibilities could also prove empowering. Her duties in the home education of the very young, both male Essentialism and Mothering As a philosophy, essentialism believes that the true essence of any person or thing is established prior to its existence and determines what shape that existence will take. In practice, mothering is

the individual approach a woman brings to the experience of being a mother. Essentialism has had a tremendous impact on political, cultural, and social visions of what good mothering should be, because essentialist thinking has largely based that image on the notion that all women naturally possess innate female qualities that drive them to pursue maternal goals above all others. These essentialist notions go beyond the obvious biological fact that women physically give birth, and assume that women are genetically destined to be responsible for childcare and, by extension, most domestic duties. Nonessentialist views of mothering argue that women are no more physiologically configured to change diapers, tend to childrens needs, and perform domestic services than men are. An intense form of essentialist mothering in mainstream Western society works against nonessentialist views, which posits that the extent of a womans biological, natural involvement includes carrying the fetus through the gestational period, giving birth to the child after a period of labor, and providing the childs infant nourishment in the form of breastmilk. Everything else associated with mothering is a social and cultural construct, subject to individual interpretation and community scrutiny. Essentialism Versus Existentialism Essentialism has deep roots in Western civilization: many consider the Greek philosopher Plato, with his concepts of ideal forms, to be the first essentialist. Essentialism is the opposite of existentialism, a theoretical development that grew out of the work of 19th-century philosophers Sren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche. As theoretical tools, the philosophies of essentialism and existentialism are often used to examine human life. Existentialism postulates that free, rational, responsible individuals develop themselves according to their will: people become who they are by what they do, not through essential physiological structures. By contrast, essentialism presupposes that peoples lives are lived according to what they are, not what they learn. Both theories developed in strongly patriarchal social orders. Essentialism has been applied to expectations of both femininity and masculinity. However, when the existentialism movement became prominent in the early 19th century, its ideas applied primarily to men. In 1949, Simone de Beauvoir did much to initiate a change in thinking with her famous comment that women are not born, but created by culture and society. In 1976, Adrienne Rich expressed the essentialist foundations of motherhood when she described that institution as a structure of patriarchal social orders. Essentialist Views of Motherhood The life opportunities open to women have been widely understood through essentialist mainstream thinking that is rooted in biology and supported by the social and political needs of male-dominant cultures. Essentialist views of motherhood assume that women want to be mothers and that women should be mothers; however, nonessentialists argue that this approach denies women individual autonomy. In essentialist thinking, women who do not become mothers are often seen as somehow unnatural or abnormal. In this type of thinking, women are assumed to be mothers first and foremost. Because essentialist views of womanhood focus on the notion that natural female capacities determine that women are primarily motivated to bear children and nurture them to adulthood, essentialism not only shapes notions of mothering, but also of femininity: womens feminine nature leads women to selflessly devote themselves to mothering their children or nurturing others. In this way, essentialist thinking sees femininity as selfsacrificing: women derive emotional satisfaction from mothering, and their sexual drives are supported with the idea that they will become mothers. Thus, a subtext of essentialist thinking is that natural female sexuality is heterosexual. The essentialist influence on mothering has economic consequences: Western society accepts that mothering includes unpaid work, a feminine labor of love. Since its onset after the industrial revolution, capitalist societies have

benefited from the free labor provided by mothers as part of their so-called natural roles. As women overcame workforce barriers, even professions deemed appropriate for women (nursing, teaching, social work) grew out of the motherly roles women filled. In the professional world, these female dominant professions are still among the lowest paid. Women in male-dominant professions often struggle to find a balance between their maternal duties and those of their profession. The notion of the mother omnipresent in her childs life often results in women being sidelined in their careers while men who become fathers do not face these repercussions. Todays version of essentialism and mothering has combined to create a role with duties ranging from meeting simple needs to arranging elaborate rounds of activities, play dates, and workshops. As mothering practices are integral to social structures, mothers must work to reinforce these structures, even as they simultaneously encourage their children to find their free autonomous selves. Myths and Beliefs of Motherhood In its institutional capacity, motherhood is subject to many myths and beliefs. Values and customs handed down through the centuries affect notions of what it means to be a good mother today. Despite the pervasive images of traditional motherhood, the realities of mothering are not static or unchanging. However, although each new era and society adds to and adjusts the myths surrounding motherhood, the weight of social expectations about mother performance falls heavily and constantly on womens lives. Societal Expectations and Agency Andrea OReilly notes that the institution of motherhood has become the official and only meaning of motherhood, marginalizing and rendering illegitimate alternative practices of mothering. Although this version of ideal motherhood is pervasive in Western society, women who become mothers do not necessarily receive those ideals passively: they can become active agents in shaping them. However, transgressing the conventional ideals of motherhood sometimes results in a negative backlash. Child-raising instruction manuals and community advice usually reflect the ideology in which they were created, and family and community networks observe maternal behavior so ascertain if it is in line with conventional expectations. Women who follow the parameters of institutional motherhood can be considered good mothers and receive social approval, while women who go in the opposite direction can be labeled bad mothers. Nevertheless, many mothers today realize they can exercise individual agency in their approach to mothering and reject the institutional version of motherhood. This realization allows them to embrace their experience of mothering as a source of proactive empowerment. Everyone has a mother; therefore, motherhood can often be an uncomfortable topic for theorists, critics, and feminists to examine. Because feminism, in all its varied forms, works to challenge patriarchal structures that limit life opportunities for women, the relationship between feminism and motherhood is both intimate and conflicted. Motherhood issues have been linked to and distanced from various womens movements. In the early years of the 20th century, first wave feminism worked to achieve voting rights for women and invoked maternal feminism as their fundamental argument for women to participate more fully in public life. In the second half of the 20th century, second wave feminism rejected motherhood based on the claim that maledominant society exploited women. Changing Views of Motherhood In the 21st century, views about motherhood and feminism are shifting. Conventional notions of the good mother who places her childrens needs at the top of her priorities present women with implications and complications that put their domestic lives in conflict with their professional lives. Contemporary versions of good motherhood consist of complex cultural images that are

still perceived as naturally innate rather than social structures. The feminist movements of the 20th century have resulted in critical debates scrutinizing every aspect of maternal situations. The task of balancing historical and still-prevalent perceptions about motherhood with individual womens needs, goals, and ambitions is enormous. As Patrice DiQuinzio has observed, the essential, ideological construction of motherhood puts women in an difficult situation: they cannot bring their individualism to their lives or their mothering because the institution of motherhood views them first and foremost as mothers, not people. Idealization of Motherhood Several things happen when something is idealized. First, it begins to exist only as an idea. Second, when something is regarded as ideal, it becomes dichotomous: right or wrong; good or bad. In the case of the idealization of motherhood, both of these happen. As the idea of the perfect mother permeates the culture, a disconnect occurs between this myth of mother and the realities of everyday life. Also, when an ideal is culturally agreed upon, as is the idea of the perfect mother, then one either succeeds or fails. A woman is a good mother, or a bad mother. In contemporary Western culture, motherhood has come to exist primarily as an idea. Various works have referred to the idealization of motherhood as the good mother, the perfect mother, intensive mothering, new momism, or the mommy mystique. Scrutinizing the ideas that construct contemporary motherhood reveals the disjuncture between the myth and everyday life. Ann Oakley wrote that the idealized mother is one who craves motherhood instinctively. It assumes that motherhood is the natural course for women and that her identity will hinge on her status as mother; therefore, the childless woman is regarded with suspicion. It also sets the stage for guilt and shame when a new mother does not enjoy every aspect of mothering. The Concept of the Ideal Mother The idea that motherhood is instinctive has its roots in the separation of sphereswhen processes of industrialization and modernization drove work from the home and into factories and cities. Work then become the province of men, and home the province of women. That constructions of gender that held women and men as fundamentally different helped reinforce the idea that womens traits made them naturally appropriate for home and childcare, while mens traits made them more suitable for work outside of the home. Thus, the idea of motherhood as instinct includes all manner of childcare duties. The ideal mother understands that she is her childs best caretaker. Currently, as more and more mothers of young children remain in the workforce, the notion of the mother as a childs best caretaker conflicts with her everyday life. As many mothers simply cannot be the sole caretaker for their children, the actual care of children includes fathers, family members, friends, and childcare services. The idea that mothers can do it all, instinctively and with ease, is not in sync with the life experiences of most women. The concept of the perfect mother is in sharp conflict with the reality of working mothers, as well as with those who find little to no joy in the details of parenting that often fall to mothers. Media Representations As motherhood and mothering remain idealized, two dichotomous representations emerge and become internalized as real. That is, if an idealized mother exists as popular media insists, then one either achieves it or does not. In February 2005, Newsweek magazine featured an article titled The Myth of the Perfect Mother. The cover depicted an illustration of a white mother with a baby on her lap, with six arms extending from her body, each holding an object signifying her myriad of rolesa soccer ball, a pan of bacon, a childs doll, an exercise weight, a telephone, and a high-heeled shoe. Within the text, Judith Warner described the frenetic style of mothering whereby women lose themselves in their children as they embrace the contemporary child

development paradigm, which encourages mothers to deeply engage with their children and sacrifice themselves in the process. Warner noted that many end up feeling depressed, anxious, and guilty. Other forms of mass media offer images of good and bad mothers. Very often in film, working mothers are portrayed as the villain (emasculating, power-starved, or cold) while the hero is the stay-at home mother who sacrifices her career for her children (e.g., Fatal Attraction, 1987; Stepmom, 1998; Little Children, 2006). TV moms have undergone a change since the 1950s image of June Cleaver, who met her husband at the door each evening in a dress and high heels, with dinner on the table. Todays TV moms include Lynette on Desperate Housewives, who struggles with issues such as battling cancer while raising three active boys. But even while she and other contemporary TV moms step out of the June Cleaver mold, they often still perform good mothering as they consistently put the needs of their children ahead of their own. Women celebrities become heroes when they become mothers. From the front pages of magazines, they proclaim how important motherhood has been to their lives. On the flip side, the bad mothers are often unfortunately represented as women of color, and described in the media as crack mothers or welfare mothers. Within the media, it is difficult to rate as an ideal or good mother if one is nonwhite, poor, or teenaged. The idealization of motherhood is disconnected from the experiences of day-to-day life, and pits mothers against mothers. The attempt to live according to a manufactured ideal is fruitless, and sets mothers up for guilt and shame. Literature, Mothers in Mothers frequent the literature of all nations in all time periods. As the origin of life for humankind, they provide an enduring focus for the literary imagination of both female and male writers. Among the major writers in the British and American traditions, literary representations of mothers and the maternal often reflect the values, norms, and expectations placed on women in their time, but they also frequently question them. Sometimes the questioning is a direct challenge to social demands, while at other times, it subtly subverts them. As in daily living, mothers in literature are often a site of conflict and tension. They are worshipped and blamed. Literatures mothers are both the object and agent of love and devotion, resentment and rejection. They bear the complex, ambivalent relationship to the maternal not only of other characters in their fictional worlds, but also of their creators and readers. They exert a powerful presence even when they are absent, which is evident in the attention that literatures missing mothers receive. Mothers in literature have many faces; they often emerge as extremes, falling into the binary oppositions so often associated with womankind, of evil or saintly, sinful or pure. But they can also be evasive figures that defy facile categorizations to bring forth new revelations about the maternal character and experience. Myths of Motherhood: Good/Bad Common myths about mothers shape the beliefs of mothers and others about what mothers are like. Given that mothers in many countries around the world are a scapegoated group, it is not surprising that most the myths about mothers are frequently used to demean mothers. Further, myths about mothers often shape assumptions about women and girls in general, since most female humans at some point become mothers and since it is often believed, whether or not data support the belief, that all females share certain biologically determined characteristics because of their potential to become mothers. Two Categories of Mother Myths The most common and influential myths about mothers can be divided into two categories: the perfect mother myths and the bad mother myths. The perfect mother myths embody standards so high that no human being could ever possibly meet them. As a result, actual mothers naturally fail to meet standards of perfection. What is especially interesting is that, as a result of this

failure, they are often assumed to be not simply imperfect, but rather harmful or otherwise bad. Thus, these myths expose them in a way that shared with fathers, open to being blamed by therapists, laypeople, mothers themselves, and their partners and offspring for nearly everything that goes wrong with their children. The four perfect mother myths include the measure of a good mother is a perfect child; mothers are endless founts of nurturance; mothers naturally know how to raise children; and mothers dont get angry. These four myths have their effects. For example, if one holds to the myth of a mothers endless capacity for nurturance, a mother who provides only 99 percent of the nurturing her child might wish may be seen as withholding, cold, or betraying the child. The bad mother myths are comprised of a slightly more complicated collection, including some descriptions of clearly undesirable behavior, but also some that would be considered neutral or even positive, were they not about mothers. But all of these bad mother myths share a propensity to transform a mothers actions into proof of something negative about her. The six bad mother myths are: mothers are inferior to fathers; mothers need expert advice in order to raise healthy children; mothers are bottomless pits of emotional neediness; mothers relationships with their teenage and adult children are sick if they are very close; mothers are dangerous when they are powerful; and both stayat- home mothers and mothers with paid work are inadequate mothers. It is worth noting that the 10 myths include at least two pairs that are mutually exclusive: that mothers are endless founts of nurturance, but are also bottomless pits of emotional neediness; and that mothers naturally know how to raise children, yet need expert advice in order to raise healthy children. The coexistence in society of myths that cancel each other out is revelatory, because it reflects the fact that there is, in essence, a myth for every occasion. That is, for anything a mother might do, there is certain to be a myth that can be used to construe her actions as evidence that she is inferior or otherwise deserves to be demeaned. When these myths are believed, a totally selfless mother receives no credit, because of the myth that mothers are inevitably nurturant and giving; however, the myth that mothers are endlessly needy reinforces the scapegoating of mothers who wants something for herself. Mother Blame Collectively, these myths support the whole societal structure of mother blame. Mothers are consciously or unconsciously aware of the existence of the myths, and tend to monitor their own behavior with the myths as standards. As a result, many women feel they are never doing a good job of mothering, because, like the rest of society, they find that they do not measure up to the standards set by the perfect mother myths. They also interpret their own bad, neutral, or even good behavior according to a combination of the perfect mother myths and the bad mother myths; thus, in essence, each action tends to appear to range from inadequate to outright bad. By increasing mothers insecurity and alarm, the xistence of these myths tends to intensify their attempts to be ever-better child rearers, draining them of the emotional and physical energy necessary to organize to protest the unfairness of this situation. Since part of motherhood mythology is that mothers are almost totally responsible for their childrens healthy development, even mothers who might want to organize for political action are likely to be too overloaded to take on anything more. Furthermore, the expectation for mothers to be totally selfless leads them to feel selfish if they consider taking time to work together with other mothers to improve the situation for them all. Underlying many of the myths about mothers is the assumption that mothers are naturally disposed to be selflessly devoted to their children, an assumption that such writers as Elisabeth Badinter (1980) and Beverly Birns (1985) have called into question. In what may seem paradoxical, as Mary OBrien (1981) has observed, a mother of a happy child rarely gets credit for this success, because she is thought to have done only what came naturally to her, whereas a mother of an unhappy or troubled child will be faulted for not

following the experts advice. In these various ways, the myths about mothers powerfully support mother blame.