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But What Else Do Mommies Want?


Brain, Child magazine co-editor Stephanie Wilkinson wrote an interesting survey well worth reading (I was tipped to it at Mother Shock) looking at the current state of the mothers’ revolution.
The what? Exactly. She looks at lots of different organizations and thinkers and finds not a heck of a lot going on – some efforts in small areas, but hardly even the faintest glimmer of an overall movement to improve mothers’ lives. Which at first read struck me as somewhat depressing – just as I find out about the idea of a mothers’ revolution, I learn it doesn’t exist – but she also provides a glimpse of ways the movement might work.

Maybe asking mothers to commit to a social movement is like getting water to run uphill: it can be done, but there are strong forces pushing against it. If ever there was a class of person consumed by the local and personal, with fewer disposable hours to spend on life outside, observers of the nascent movement say, it’s mothers.

Others reject that description. Mothers have organized successfully in the past many times. The temperance movement was led by mothers. Peace movements have been led by mothers. Mothers Against Drunk Driving was led by mothers.

So perhaps it’s efforts issue by issue that would work, despite the fact that mothers’ revolution is such a more stirring concept. And those successful campaigns mentioned tend to fall under maternalist politics, a Progressive Era idea that mothers can extend their natural care for the family outward to politics that improve the state of the world. (That political caring is supposed to follow from the example of mothers who, “naturally,” take good care of their children, not the mothers who do horrid things to them.) This divide between maternalist interests (for example, keeping violent video games from kids) and interests in changing the political situation of motherhood itself, or of mothers in their relation to the outer world – which overlaps more with mainstream feminist issues—is one of the points that’s keeping the revolution down, the article says.
There’s the basic question, too: What do mothers want? (Besides the obvious answer of an hour-long pedicure and a good trashy magazine to enjoy while it’s going on.) We moms are as diverse as our kids are. Child care subsidies, universal preschool, social security for moms – female parents come down on every possible side of the issues. And being sleep deprived, we’re likely to be fairly cranky about our opinions.

And as the article points out, mothers’ movement issues, whatever they might be, aren’t high up on the radar of the average mom. The mothers’ movement these days is in a position similar to where the women’s movement was in the ‘60s and ‘70s.

Right now, the hard part, according to most of the leaders in this movement, is convincing women that things don’t have to be the way they are now.

That’s why so much begins with consciousness raising. Every single person I talked to about a mothers’ movement talked about the need for mothers to have their consciousness raised. For a movement to go anywhere, enough mothers have to start to believe that: a) it’s okay to want help caring for your children and family; and b) it doesn’t have to be a personal solution, like asking your friends or your parents or your church. Mothers can begin asking for changes from companies that are working employees longer hours than in any other industrialized nation; protesting a retirement insurance scheme that overlooks non-income-producing mothers; agitating against a government that preaches self-reliance and the value of work but forces women with small children and limited means out into the workforce without even providing help for their children.

Again, a bit depressing. How often and in how many different ways do women need to be reminded they’re getting, metaphorically, screwed?
Even the naming of a mothers’ movement points to some of the basic conflicts in how to tackle family issues. There are those non-mother mother-types, i.e., fathers and other caregivers, and people who support them, who are excluded by the name. That problematic naming implies women, again, are solely responsible for families’ interests. After all, it’s been long clear that men can (and should) be feminists, even if some of them only agree at last call on a Saturday night in a Harvard Square bar. (Imagine though if we had a strong labor movement in this country for boys and girls together to take up the push on many of these “mothers’” issues.)
Still, a “mothers’ movement,” just by invoking the grand Mama – the nursemaid, the chef, the storyteller, the tear wiper, the tushy wiper – in its name, trades on the supposed moral authority of mothers. If spreading some subconscious guilt around in the public sphere helps to draw more support for families’ needs, then I’ll concede the name. And perhaps I’ll think of it as a movement for mothers, instead of by them, so everyone who wants to support it can feel included.

Share  Posted by Deborah Klosky at 12:25 AM | Permalink

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