Mega conference tackles motherhood issues, struggles, changes

The mother of all conferences happens next, week with dozens of speakers looking at everything from mothers and social media to motherhood and Islamophobia, celebrity moms, mothering children with disabilities and moms in popular culture.

The “Mega” Motherhood Conference: Academic Motherhood, Mothers & Work, and Communicating AndreaOReilly3Motherhood will take place from June 24 to 26, at the Pantages Hotel, 200 Victoria St., Toronto. It is organized by the Motherhood Initiative for Research & Community Involvement (MIRCI), founded by York women’s studies Professor Andrea O’Reilly.

Andrea O’Reilly

The three-day conference will tackle the broad themes of communication, academic motherhood, and mothers and work, but will delve into contemporary art, writing motherhood memoirs, Aboriginal women in the academy and contested representations of polygamist women in popular culture – “good” and “bad” queer mothers – as portrayed in recent fictional and real-life television shows, such as HBO’s “Big Love” and TLC’s “Sister Wives”.

Kristin Dane, creator and writer of the world-recognized blog on Muslim feminism and motherhood, “wood turtle”, will give a keynote speech on “Mothering Muslim Identity in an era of Islamophobia. “In Western mainstream media, a frequently used image of the Muslim woman is stereotypically reduced to a veil-wearing mother of six. She’s often framed as struggling against a foreign political regime, trapped by patriarchal and religious oppression, AnnMaclennanor cradling her injured child in the war on terror,” says Dane. “The camera focuses on the veil and not the woman, reducing her to a symbolic representation of politicized Islam.”

Anne MacLennan

York communications studies Professor Anne MacLennan will discuss “Mothers in Distress: Contemporary Television Representations of Motherhood” in her keynote talk. “Unlike damsels in distress, North American television’s mothers in distress are rarely rescued. Concerns about the representation of women in the media usually focus on sexualization or objectization of women; mothers, on the other hand, are more frequently depicted in constant conflict,” says MacLennan. “Television mothers face the challenges of betrayal, conflicting demands as mothers in the workforce, the threat of the loss of their children, and the quotidian trials of motherhood.”

MacLennan will look at CBS’s “The Good Wife” in which Alicia Florrick, the long-suffering good mother endures the betrayal of her husband, the conflict with her mother-in-law, returning to the workforce and the threat of losing her children. She will also examine ABC’s 2012 series, “Missing”, where Becca Winstone’s former life in espionage resurfaces as she frantically searches for her son, and AMC’s “The Killing” where detective Sarah Linden is depicted as struggling to take care of and hold on to her son. She will also look at situation comedies, such as “Modern Family”, “The Middle”, “Raising Hope” and “Suburgatory”, which present failed motherhood, absent mothers and mothers who are unable to conquer everyday problems. “Even the professionally successful mothers such as Grey on “Grey’s Anatom” or Temperance Brennan on “Bones” are confounded,” says MacLennan.

MayFriedmanMay Friedman

May Friedman, a professor in the School of Social Work at the University of Toronto, will give her keynote speech on “Your Mama’s So…: Representations of Motherhood in Popular Culture”. “Popular representations of motherhood present a refracted reality – on the one hand, motherhood is meant to exist in the private sphere, yet that private sphere becomes distorted and twisted in its popular representation,” says Friedman. “This talk aims to consider representations of motherhood in popular media including reality television, so-called “mommy lit”, and advertising…this talk seeks to blend the curious tension between public and private that exemplifies motherhood and popular culture.” Friedman’s most recent project culminated in the book Mommyblogs and the Changing Face of Motherhood (University of Toronto Press).

Samantha Kemp-Jackson, a parenting writer, blogger and media personality, will present “Parenting in 140 Characters or Less: Social Media and Blogging as an Expression of Motherhood”. Until recently, the traditional view of motherhood in Western society has remained unchanged in its scope and expectations, says Kemp-Jackson. “The role of “mom” as caregiver, provider, nurturer, communicator and more has been underscored by both media and society alike. “SamanthaKemp-JacksonMom” as we’ve known her has had a distinct set of attributes that have not, until recently, changed.” But all that has now changed with the digital age. Kemp-Jackson is the resident parenting columnist on CBC’s “Fresh Air” weekend morning program.

Samantha Kemp-Jackson

And how do heterosexual partnerships impact on academic life? Professor Andrea O’Reilly will look at that in her keynote, “I Should Have Married Another Man; I Couldn’t Do What I Do Without Him: Heterosexual Partnerships and Their Impact on Mothers’ Success in Academe”.

“The literature on academic motherhood has rightly identified the need to counter and change the normative discourse of the ideal worker, and to a lesser degree that of the ideal mother, in order for women to achieve academic success,” says O’Reilly. “In this paper, I will argue that women must likewise defy and deconstruct the normative ideology of the ideal wife.”

The highly gendered scripts of the traditional wife and husband role serve to hamper and hinder women’s employment success, and that a successful academic career for mothers is as contingent upon a challenge to patriarchal marriage as to the masculinist culture of academe, she says. Women must secure gender equity in the home as well as in the workplace.  Her talk is based on  findings of interviews that suggest traditionally gendered partnerships are more of a deterrent to academic achievement than single motherhood; single mothers without the financial, practical, emotional support of a partner seem to fare better in academe than women in conventional marriages.

For a full list of talks, panels, speakers and their biographies, click here.

For more information, visit the Motherhood Initiative for Research & Community Involvement website.

The conference is funded in part by the Social Sciences & Humanities Research Council of Canada.