The neglected debate: motherhood and work

Women’s work is a motherhood issue. And this weekend, scholars and feminists, activists and artists, from Canada, the United States, Australia and Portugal will congregate at York to explore the impact of paid and unpaid work on the experience of mothering at a conference on “Mothering and Work/Mothering as Work.”

Conference co-organizer Andrea O’Reilly is clearly excited about keynote speaker Ann Crittenden, author of the bestselling The Price of Motherhood: Why the Most Important Job in the World Is Still the Least Valued, a New York Times Book of the Year in 2001. The former economics reporter for the Times and Pulitzer Prize nominee has worked for Fortune, Newsweek and CBS News and “is a huge name,” says O’Reilly. “She put the motherhood debate into this century. Up to now, it’s been neglected.”

This conference, hosted by the international Association for Research on Mothering (ARM) and co-sponsored by York’s Centre for Research on Mothering (CRM), also showcases some of York’s considerable academic talent, says O’Reilly, a women’s studies professor here. York scholars, many of them international names in the mothering-and-work field, are participating in almost every one of the 19 panels. They include Meg Luxton, Nancy Mandell, Bonnie Fox and Norene Pupo, among others. With other scholars from across Canada, the US and abroad, they will be discussing topics such as marginalized mothers, professional and academic mothers, pregnancy and the workplace, mothers who are artists, combining mothering and paid work, and mothering and community activism. “York has a real reputation for scholarship in the field of family and work,” says O’Reilly. This  conference, she adds, is “a way to highlight their contributions to the field.”

O’Reilly and co-organizer Cheryl Dobinson have also inserted a festival of short videos and performances into the conference agenda.

CRM’s mandate is to promote feminist maternal scholarship and build a community of researchers – academics and grassroots — interested in the topic of mothering-motherhood. The centre is home to ARM and publishes the Journal of the Association for Research on Mothering. Dobinson is the centre’s coordinator.

O’Reilly is founding president of ARM, the first feminist international organization devoted  to  mothering-motherhood with more than 500 members from around the world. She is also founding and managing editor of the Journal. In 1998, she was named York’s Teacher of the Year. She is co-editor of the journal’s Mothers and Daughters: Connection, Empowerment and Transformation, published in 2000, and editor of its Mothers and Sons: Feminism, Masculinity and the Struggle to Raise Our Sons, published in 2001. Her book, Toni Morrison and Motherhood: The Politics of the Heart, is soon to be published.