Looking at others on the margins of society

Mothering, race, ethnicity and culture are the focus of this year’s Association for Research on Mothering (ARM) conference being held Oct. 20-23 at York. Dozens of speakers from across North America will explore these topics from a variety of perspectives and disciplines, including the seldom studied aboriginal perspective.

The aim of this four-day conference, the first ever on the subject matter, is to move the study of mothers from marginalized groups to the centre of scholarly inquiry in order to more fully understand the specificities of each cultural group and to build a feminist theory of motherhood that embraces differences as an essential part of commonality.

Three prominent authorities on aboriginal mothering will look at the subject in the opening keynote panel discussion on Thursday, Oct. 20, subtitled “Oppression, Resistance and Discovery”. Scheduled speakers include Lee Maracle, First Nations writer-in-residence at the University of Toronto; Rosalyn Ing, a graduate of the University of British Columbia and an expert on residential schools, which she lived in as a child; and Donna Dubie, executive director of the Kitchener-based aboriginal organization, Healing of the Seven Generations. The panel discussion will be held from noon to 1:30pm in the Junior Common Room, 014 McLaughlin College.

Andrea O'Reilly“Scholars have long argued that a woman’s experiences of motherhood are determined by her racial, ethnic, cultural and class position,” wrote Andrea O’Reilly (right), director of York’s Centre for Research on Mothering and a professor in the School of Women’s Studies. “As well, a review of the scholarship on motherhood shows that the motherhood experience most studied by researchers has been that of white, middle-class, able-bodied, and heterosexual women. Currently, not a single book-length study has been published on aboriginal mothers and the subject of mothers with disabilities has been studied in only a handful of articles.”

O’Reilly went on to note that research on South Asian, Caribbean, African and Latino motherhood, as well as that on poor mothers, is still very much at a preliminary stage. And while African American motherhood has increasingly been examined over the last decade, far more research in this area is needed.

Dorothy RobertsThis year’s keynote speaker is Dorothy Roberts (left), Kirkland and Ellis Professor, Northwestern University Law School, and author of Shattered Bonds: The Color of Child Welfare (Basic Books, 2002) and Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty (Pantheon, 1997). Her speech, “Mothering, Race and Supervision of Children in the US” will be given Friday, Oct. 21, 7 to 9:30pm, in the Junior Common Room, 014 McLauglin College.

Roberts, who was a Fulbright scholar in 2002-2003, has written and lectured extensively on the interplay of gender, race and class in legal issues concerning reproduction and motherhood. She is the co-author of casebooks on constitutional law and women & the law and has published 50 articles and essays in books and scholarly journals, including Harvard Law Review, Yale Law Journal, University of Chicago Law Review, and Social Text. Her widely cited article, “Punishing drug addicts who have babies: Women of color, equality, and the right of privacy” (Harvard Law Review, 1991) is included in a number of anthologies.

She serves as a consultant to the Center for Women Policy Studies in Washington, DC and the Open Society Institute’s Program on Reproductive Health and Rights, and as a member of the board of directors of the Public Interest Law Center of New Jersey, the National Black Women’s Health Project, and the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform.

Keynote panel discussions at this year’s conference include sessions on:

  • Aboriginal Mothering
  • Transnational Mothering
  • Mothers and Poverty
  • Mothering and Race
  • Writing Difference
  • Challenges and Possibilities

Another highlight of the event will be an appearance by Loretta Ross (right), national coordinator for the Atlanta-based SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Health Collective. Ross is co-author, with three other writers, of the book Beyond the Politics of Inclusion: Women of Color in the Reproductive Rights Movement (South End Press, 2004).

The conference concludes on Sunday, Oct. 22, with a panel discussion featuring Jennifer James, publisher of Mommy Too! Magazine, who is currently one of the best-known and most active advocates of home education in the US African-American community. James is not only a wife and the mother of two small children, she is also director of the National African-American Homeschoolers Alliance and North Carolina African-American Homeschoolers. Along with her husband Michael, Jennifer decided even before their children were born that she would be a home-schooling mother. “It seemed like a natural progression from being a stay-at-home mother,” she said. “I am so supportive of African-American mothers staying at home with their children and I am also a strong proponent of home education. It felt right for us as a family and I want to raise the awareness in the African-American community that home-schooling is certainly an option available to them.”

In addition to scholars and writers from across Canada and the US, the conference includes seven York professors and graduate students speaking in panel discussions or workshops.

Tania Maki Chahal, graduate student in York’s School of Women’s Studies and a sessional lecturer in anthropology at Thunder Bay’s Lakehead University, will present a paper in a workshop on Motherhood in Literature. Rishma Dunlop, professor of literary studies in York’s Faculty of Education, will look at “Representation and Narrative” in another workshop which also includes O’Reilly. Joy A. Mannette, a professor of education in York’s Faculty of Graduate Studies, will present a paper in a workshop on biracial mothering and Ruby Newman, a professor of women’s studies at York, will also present a paper in a workshop on mother narratives. Professor Anne MacLennan, coordinator of the Communications Studies Program at York, will present two papers in the workshop on motherhood and popular culture, which also includes Arlene Campbell, a graduate student in education at York.

For more information on this year’s conference, including the complete program, visit the ARM Web site, call ext. 60366, or e-mail arm@yorku.ca.