The two faces of motherhood

In feminism, the institution of motherhood/mothering has been a highly contested area in how it relates to the oppression of women. As US author and poet Adrienne Rich noted in her classic 1976 book Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution (Norton 1976), although motherhood as an institution is a male-defined site of oppression, women’s own experiences of mothering can nonetheless be a source of power.

A new book titled Motherhood: Power and Oppression, co-edited by Andrea O’Reilly, professor in the School of Women’s Studies at York, examines four locations where motherhood is simultaneously experienced as a site of oppression and of power: embodiment, representation, practice and separation. The book is a collection of papers presented at the first academic conference on mothering in Australia which took place in 2001.

Motherhood: Power and Oppression includes psychological, historical, sociological, literary and cultural approaches to inquiry together with a wide range of disciplinary perspectives – including qualitative, quantitative, corporeal, legal, religious, fictional, mythological, dramatic and action research. This rich collection not only covers a wide range of subject matter but also illustrates ways of doing feminist research and practice.

O’Reilly is also the director of York’s Centre for Research on Mothering, which houses the Association for Research on Mothering (ARM) and the ARM journal.

Right: Andrea O’Reilly

In addition to Motherhood: Power and Oppression, O’Reilly is the co-editor/editor of several books on motherhood, including Redefining Motherhood: Changing Identities and Patterns (Second Story Press, 1998), Mothers and Daughters: Connection, Empowerment and Transformation (Rowman and Littlefield, 2000), Mothers and Sons: Feminism, Masculinity and the Struggle to Raise our Sons (Routledge Press, 2001), From Motherhood to Mothering: The Legacy of Adrienne Rich’s Of Woman Born (SUNY, 2004), Mother Outlaws: Theories and Practices of Empowered Mothering (Women’s Press, 2004) and Mother Matters: Mothering as Discourse and Practice (ARM Press, 2004).

Working with O’Reilly on Motherhood: Power and Oppression are co-editors Marie Porter, a lecturer in the School of History, Philosophy, Religion & Classics, University of Queensland, Australia, and Patricia Short, a lecturer in the School of Social Science, University of Queensland, Australia. Motherhood: Power and Oppression is published by the Toronto-based Women’s Press.