Prof. Andrea O’Reilly looks at how feminists are challenging motherhood norms

York Women’s Studies Professor Andrea O’Reilly’s latest book Feminist Mothering is an exploration of how feminist mothers are challenging and changing the current norms surrounding motherhood.

Feminist Mothering (SUNY Press, 2008), a collection of essays about mothering in the 21st century (part of SUNY Press’s series in feminist criticism and theory) and edited by O’Reilly, investigates feminist maternal practices that can lead to empowerment and social change. The book also looks as how feminist mothering practices can prevent the sexist and patriarchal values of motherhood from moving between generations.

“Feminist mothers and feminist scholars of motherhood have long recognized that motherhood, as it is lived and represented in patriarchal culture, is deeply oppressive to women,” says O’Reilly,  founder and director of the Association for Research on Mothering (ARM). "The importance of this collection, is that it offers an alternative view of motherhood, one that values the importance of motherwork, and affirms its potential for social and political change while insisting that this work can and must be by all; men as well as women."

Feminist Mothering builds upon Adrienne Rich’s book Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution (W W Norton & Co Inc.), 1986. "Maternal scholars distinguish between the patriarchal institution of motherhood and women’s experiences of mothering, which are female-defined and centred and potentially empowering to women,” says O’Reilly.

Since the publication of Of Woman Born, the reasons behind why patriarchal motherhood is oppressive to women has been thoroughly explored, says O’Reilly. What hasn’t been looked at in depth, in a full-length book – except by Tuula Gordon in Feminist Mothers (New York University Press, 1990) – is empowered or feminist mothering.

The 16 contributors in Feminst Mothering investigate forms of activism as practiced by women in their daily lives through paid employment and nonsexist childrearing practices as well as integrating their own interests into the whole. By doing this, women are challenging the existing societal inequalities and creating new egalitarian possibilities, says O’Reilly.

Some of the topics include: Professional Women, Timing, and Reproductive Strategies; African American Mothers: Victimized, Vilified, and Valorized; Feminist Family Values: Parenting in Third Wave Feminism and Empowering All Family Members; Rocking the Boat: Feminism and the Ideological Grounding of the Twenty-First Century Mothers’ Movement; and Women Staging Coups through Mothering: Depictions in Hispanic.

O’Reilly is the author of Toni Morrison and Motherhood: A Politics of the Heart (SUNY Press, 2004) and Rocking the Cradle: Motherhood, Feminism and the Possibility of Empowered Mothering (Demeter Press, 2006). She is also the co-editor or editor of 12 books on motherhood.

In addition, Demeter Press, the publishing division of ARM, has recently released two new books – Captive Bodies: American Women Writers Redefine Pregnancy and Childbirth by Mary Ruth Marotte and Mothering in the Third Wave edited by Amber E. Kinser.

In Captive Bodies, Marotte explores how pregnancy narratives continue to proliferate, sometimes in unexpected mediums. She also delves into the idea of pregnancy as a condition of captivity that can elicit both positive and negative experiences and feelings.

Mary Ruth Marotte is an English professor at The University of Central Arkansas (UCA), where she specializes in wom­en’s studies and critical theory. She is the co-founder and co-director of UCA’s annual graduate literature conference and serves on the board of the Arkansas Shakespeare Theater.

Mothering in the Third Wave is a collection of essays that looks at varying experiences and issues of feminist mothering in contemporary society against a background of today’s politics.

Amber Kinser is a professor of communication and director of women’s studies at East Tennessee State University. Her research and writing interests explore mothering, family interaction, feminist theory and gender. She currently is writing her next book, Motherhood and Feminism for Seal Press.

For more information or to purchase Feminist Mothering, visit the SUNY Press Web site. To purchase Captive Bodies or Mothering in the Third Wave, visit the Demeter Press Web site.