York graduate students explore motherhood

child holding onto mother's skirt

In the midst of ongoing debates surrounding reproductive rights, five York University graduate students had work published in the Journal of the Motherhood Initiative that looks to re-evaluate conventional notions of motherhood beyond essentialist and biological frameworks.

The students’ essays have been published in the Winter/Spring 2024 issue of the journal, which was founded and edited by Andrea O’Reilly, a professor in the School of Gender, Sexuality & Women’s Studies at York. The biannual, peer-reviewed scholarly journal is dedicated to advancing the discourse on motherhood from a global and interdisciplinary standpoint, offering a diverse array of scholarly insights into the multifaceted concept of motherhood.

Andrea O'Reilly
Andrea O’Reilly

“The defining mission of the Journal of the Motherhood Initiative,” O’Reilly writes in her introductory notes, “is to promote and disseminate the best current scholarship on motherhood, and to ensure that this scholarship considers motherhood both in an international context and from a multitude of perspectives, including differences of class, race, sexuality, age, ethnicity, ability, and nationality, and from across a diversity of disciplines.”

With ongoing support from the Social Sciences & Humanities Research Council of Canada, the journal continues to serve as an important platform for advancing an understanding of motherhood.

The five essays – among a total of 11 in this issue – written by York graduate students build on that tradition.

Thea Jones, a PhD student in the Graduate Program in Gender, Feminist & Women’s Studies, critically examines the impact of breastfeeding mandates on breastless parents who have undergone mastectomies in her essay. Jones challenges normative motherhood discourses and highlights the exclusion of non-conforming parenting bodies from mainstream narratives.

In her essay, Ame Khin May-Kyawt, a PhD candidate in the Graduate Program in Social & Political Thought, explores the experiences of socially displaced refugee women/mothers from Southeast Asia to Canada. Through an intersectional lens, May-Kyawt sheds light on how these women navigate their gender norms and identities while fulfilling multiple roles.

Katrina Millan, another PhD student, presents a compelling analysis of post-apocalyptic narratives in her article “Only Mom Can Save the World.” Millan advocates for a queer futurism that challenges heteronormative mandates and offers alternative visions of human futurity.

Winter/Spring 2024 Issue of Journal of the Motherhood Initiative
Winter/Spring 2024 Issue of the Journal of the Motherhood Initiative

Tina Powell, a PhD student in Gender, Feminist & Women’s Studies, addresses the marginalization of mothers in feminist scholarship and economics. Powell calls for an intersectional approach to understanding motherhood, one that acknowledges and addresses the unique challenges faced by mothers in contemporary society.

Sofia Ahmed, a PhD student specializing in feminist and gender studies, delves into the complexities of Muslim motherhood. Ahmed invites readers to explore the myths, challenges and spiritual insights of motherhood through the lens of Islam, celebrating the empowerment and resilience of Muslim mothers in navigating societal constructs.

The students’ contributions not only aim to enrich the scholarly discourse on motherhood, but also underscore the journal’s commitment to fostering inclusivity and representation within motherhood studies, a comparatively new field of academic study that O’Reilly, who has authored and edited more than 20 books devoted to motherhood, has spearheaded.

“I think that good scholarship of motherhood matters,” O’Reilly once told an interviewer. “But for me it matters more when we can use that scholarship in a way to effect societal cultural change.”