Sunday, 20 November 2011

We (Still) Need to Talk About the Truths of Motherhood

"There are many masks of motherhood, but the one of silence is the most treacherous one of all...the mask of motherhood keeps women from speaking clearly what they know and from hearing truths too threatening to face."
(Susan Maushart, The Mask of Motherhood:  How Becoming a Mother Changes Our Lives and Why We Never Talk About It)

In one particularly poignant scene in Lynn Ramsay's film adaption of Lionel Shriver's novel We Need to Talk about Kevin, the character of Eva (portrayed by the brilliant Tilda Swinton) attempts to silence both her baby’s incessant crying and her own  maternal despair by pushing her pram next to a loud drilling  in the  middle of a busy city street. Viewers are positioned to be bystanders to her transgressive act, and like the passerbys on the screen, we can choose to either engage or look and then turn away.
Although I will be writing a more full review of this  much anticipated film in the coming weeks after its Toronto December release, I really wanted to talk  here in this post about the visual imagery of maternal ambivalence and more generally, the subject of the unspoken yet  complex realities of the mothering experience.

In a feature essay in the most recent issue of Brain Child Magazine, Katy Read wonders:
"So which are we: A culture in which mothers hesitate to voice misgivings for fear of social reprisal? Or one so inundated with maternal kvetching that onlookers are understandably tired of it?"
I would agree with this writer  that “it is still rare and socially risky for mothers to admit any discontent” and that “such intense societal disapproval” of maternal ambivalence keeps the subject   under wraps . Indeed, I believe that far from reaching a “cultural tipping point”, there is  an ever increasing backlash against such expressions of the taboo aspects of mothering. Read explains it this way: "Cultural constraints lead mothers to complain, which draws societal condemnation, which makes mothers feel even more stifled, which provokes further complaint …".
Our Mother Outlaws Speakers Series this Tuesday Nov 22 in Toronto will address this topic specifically by showcasing the work of three local artists who make visible the hidden and often challenging experiences of women’s lives as mothers. 
Portrait of the Artist as a Mother: Visualizing the Unspoken, consists of presentations by Canadian visual artists: Jennifer Linton, Jennifer Long and Lindsay Page. Through their individual practices in photography, drawing and video, these artists create work that challenges the myth of motherhood as celebration and seeks to open up a dialogue around the aspects of this transition that are, in a variety of ways, unspoken.
The artists in this  panel  discussion create work that seeks to address the complexity of one’s relationship to the role of mother and in turn focus on how apprehension and taboo, loss and disappearance intermingle with the celebratory aspects of this transition. They challenge the stereotypes and critique the societal pressures to conform to an ill-fitting mold that somehow still remains intact and supported.
Undoubtedly, more honest and  accurate visualizations  of mothering “realities" -such as the ones expressed by these artists -  can lead towards radical transformations and challenges to the dominant representations of motherhood as all bliss and perfection . Of course, in conjunction with such diverse visual representations, mothers themselves must do the essential  work of  “unmasking motherhood”  by speaking authentically and  collectively with other woman about these buried  truths. As Susan Maushart wrote: “Unmasking motherhood is a greater challenge to the feminist imagination than all the other ‘women’s issues' put together”.

There is one moment I remember very clearly from my own early years of motherhood. Pushing my carriage alongside another new mother I had recently met in my neighbourhood, we attempted to have a casual conversation about diapers and sleep deprivation above the din of her daughter’s shrill crying (my son just happened to be asleep at that time). We approached the top of a steep hill and this woman abruptly stopped herself in her tracks. I looked at her directly and with my eyes  invited her to “ just say it, sister!” She spoke her truth: “ I kind of feel like I just want to push this stroller down the hill!” I simply replied with three words- “I hear you”-  and advised her to go ahead of me taking my son and that I would continue behind her at a comfortable distance  with her daughter.  She knew that she was not alone in her experiencing of  such contradictory feelings. And I knew  that I had found a true friend.
I hope the  readers of my  post also have a network of support to discuss their true feelings about mothering.

FYI: Upcoming Mother Outlaws discussion groups- Speakout and Speakeasy
For mothers in the London, Ontario vicinity, the next meeting of the London Feminist Mamas is Monday, November 21 at 6:30pm
Topic- Mothering and Guilt
For further information, contact Coordinator Shawna at

For mothers in Toronto, the next meeting of the Toronto Feminist Moms is Sunday, November 27 at 7 pm
Topic- What are the reasons and advantages in continuing to focus on mothers, motherhood and mothering, as opposed to parents, parenthood and parenting?
For further information, contact Coordinator Rebecca at

A London, England group is in its initial planning stages...please contact Jane at for more details.

For information  about starting your own Mother Outlaws discussion group in your community, please feel free to contact me at

Image credits:
Jennifer Linton, I Speak you into Being-Gravid Series, 2003
Lindsay Page, untitled-Spawn Series, 2007
Jennifer Long, untitled- Fold Series, 2011

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Mother Outlaws Speak the Unspoken about Motherhood

My full post  on this topic will be up soon ...until then please see information about our next  Mother Outlaws Speakers Series` on Nov 22, 2011 in Toronto.

Image credit: "Genesis" by Jennifer Linton, 2004

Mothering for Schooling: Beyond Bake Sales (The Marketization of Motherhood -Part Two)

The issue   I addressed in my previous post regarding the ethical  implications of how to resist corporate capitalism’s continuous encroaching on family life was further illustrated for me the other weekend when I attended  the annual People for Education conference at York University.
Although  Executive Director and Founder, Annie Kidder truly summed up this amazing conference here , I remain perplexed in my questions about how "mothers" are often  the hidden gendered labor behind the scenes of  a school's (and its students) perceived success or failure. 
Just as was detailed in this groundbreaking book, mothers' work in and on behalf of their childrens' schools has highlighted inequities of educational opportunities for all children  and been  increasingly intensified as resources are withdrawn from  public schools and our governments shift much of the work of teaching and learning  to families. I would also add fundraising to this list as an assumed duty for all mothers of school-aged children to perform.

In a panel session entitled “Public Schools and Private Money: The Fundraising Dilemma”, discussions highlighted the “desperate times call for drastic measures” notion whereby short on money for everything from math workbooks to pencils, public schools are seeking corporate sponsors, promising them marketing opportunities and access to students in exchange for desperately needed donations. Of course, we all know that many public schools are struggling financially and with the threat of closure due to decreased enrollment. We also are aware that several schools are seeking alternative solutions which include big money corporate sponsers entering the schools, using our children as salespeople, and essentially moving from bake sales to big business.

However, one cannot overlook the “bigger picture” and "make the connections" – as was emphasized at the entire People for Education conference.
Why are parents and school councils having to resort to such fundraising measures to compensate for a lack of support for public schools by our current government?
What does it mean to contribute via such fundraising mechanisms to the creation of ‘Have’ and ‘Have-not’ schools?

In her presentation based on a recent report by Social Planning Toronto, entitled"PUBLIC SYSTEM, PRIVATE MONEY: Fees, Fundraising and Equity in the Toronto District SchoolBoard" Lesley Johnston, Research and Policy Analyst,  highlighted how socio-economic, ethno-cultural and neighbourhood divides in the city are being institutionalized in a number of ways so that the principles of equity and inclusivity in our public education system are being undermined.

In this session, participants asked each other:
"Should Private Money Fund Public Schools?"
"Should public-private partnerships be formed to shore up gaps in school budgets? "
This Mother Outlaw is curious what others think about the equity and ethical concerns on this current issue.
Where are lines being drawn on equity principles and how much longer are parents (albeit mothers) expected to fill in with  their time and skills to compensate for our current government's inability to provide adequate funding and support  for all public schools?

** * Added note: I have no skills in baking however I DO have many other  skills to make  changes in how we discuss important issues that effect mothers...

Image Credits:
"Cupcakes Clone" via Toni Busch
"Blogging Hands" via Social Solutions

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Mommy Blogs, Marketization and why this Mother Outlaw will Never Contribute to a Half-Baked Sale of Her Feminist Soul (Part 1)

One of my favourite  feminist mother bloggers had   an interesting post the other day entitled “Bad pitches I’ve spared you from”.  Annie of Phd in Parenting addresses the oft-discussed issue in the mamasphere of how one should   react to corporate  pitches that are inappropriate to your blog or your audience.
I loved her transparent honesty in discussing this topic because it reflects my own concerns regarding the intentions for my  blog as a community building tool versus an outlet for “mommy marketization”.

In the groundbreaking collection of essays Mothering and Blogging: The Radical Act of the MommyBlog by MIRCI’s Demeter Press, several contributors also highlighted these same concerns.

In her chapter  Web 2.0, Meet the Mommy Bloggers” Ann Douglas parenting writer, discusses this  darker side of the “mamasphere” — how the influx of marketers and marketing make mothers compete against each other for a slice of the pie. This  pie is not just financial recompense, though, as she notes:
…social networking sites are able to attract hundreds of thousands of members who are willing to accept popularity — or even the promise of popularity — in lieu of cash payment for the content they provide to these sites. [...] This can, in turn, create an atmosphere of competition rather than cooperation between mothers.

Jen Lawrence,  formerly of MUBAR and now blogger at Dwell on These Things furthered this discussion in her  great chapter  Blog for Rent: How Marketing is Changing Our Mothering Conversations” , by addressing how the advent of the monetization movement  for mommy bloggers completely altered the dynamic between bloggers and readers, and among bloggers themselves. She includes one of my favourite analogies of all time, with respect to marketing and  mommy bloggers:
I think that blogging can be an incredibly powerful tool when it comes to building community, even if there are blog ads running down the sidebar. [...] But I don’t want blogging to become just another guerilla marketing technique. I don’t want to be invited to a friend’s home, only to discover I was really invited to a Tupperware party.

At MIRCI’s most recent conference in October this year , one of  my fellow feminist motherhood researchers, Andrea Doucet,  presented a paper entitled “Maternal Thinking in a Digital and Neo-Liberal Age: Mommy Blogging and the Blurring of Care, Work and Consumption”.
Her awesome presentation  was rooted in  Sara Ruddick’s  revolutionary work on maternal thinking and how this  feminist scholar’s  theories of care are being both expanded  and challenged by current  21st century mothering practices. Specifically,  Doucet’s paper discussed how maternal subjectivities are being altered by new social media and the rapid proliferation of “mommy blogging”. Doucet argued that  although this social medium can disrupt  the binaries of mothers’  paid and unpaid work , it  often remains firmly entrenced in notions of consumption  over care due to  the proliferation of  corporate sponsorships and marketing products being directed towards and accepted by  these bloggers. 

Of course, Doucet-and myself, too in this post -are not saying that women who are currently  the primary caregivers of their  children should not take advantage of additional sources of income that can be accomplished from their home base.  My own mother operated several small businesses-child care provider, house cleaner, and Tupperware salesperson, to name a few-while she was home with her young children.

However, in the  case  of "mommy blogs"- established as essentially  a virtual community of support for mothers-there is a concern about how  corporatism and commercialization are usurping an otherwise powerful   medium for women as mothers and social activists.

What remains most illuminating to me personally from Doucet’s presentation was her thought-provoking questions to the audience:
“ What happens to notions of  care when there is a constant commercialization of intimate life?"
“ How can 'mommy blogging' resist hegemonic forms of mothering and remain a radical act of maternal re-thinking?”

This Mother Outlaw is curious what others think about this issue?

Image credit:

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Street Hauntings: Outlaw Mothers Taking Back the Night

The title of this post  alludes to several themes. 
Of course, as it is being written the day after Halloween, it is meant to incite “spooky” interest about a night that celebrates dressing up in “costumes” that may or may not reflect our “other” selves. The title also is an ode to Virgina Woolf’s famous essay   about a woman  who, in the quest to buy a pencil, enjoys a day of carefree  street sauntering in the city.
And finally, the subtitle refers to : the empowering process of being a “mother outlaw” and and the need for all women (and their children)  to reclaim “the night” and “the streets” as their own without a fear of violence.

I have been a proud supporter of “Take Back the Night” events in Toronto since I was a teenager. The idea  that all women should feel confident and safe walking  in their neighbourhoods and city streets without worrying about dangerous “boogie men” who lurk in the darkness, was a powerful message for me as a young feminist.
I  proudly reclaimed the streets with other women and did it with an empowered sense of bold defiance that only  comes with those moments of feminist activism when you know “you are not alone” . I also took my neice  to these events for many years-from the ages of 8-13- and she fondly remembers them now as a young woman, as being the consciousness-raising moments for her own feminism.

HOWEVER, it saddens me that, in 2011- women (and children)  still cannot walk our city streets without fearing for their safety. I am angered that, in 2011, women and young girls are still told that they should refrain from dressing in a certain way , more specicifically,  not dressing like “sluts”, to avoid rape and sexual harassment.

Although, the global movement of the Slutwalks   this year  has  continued to raise  both media attention and  individual awareness to the continued issue of violence against women, I remain disheartened about continued patriarchal dictates regarding safety issues for women; whereby the blame  for  potential sexual harrassment (and possible rape) is placed on what a woman wears  versus the onus and focus  being placed on the actual perpretrators of such crimes.  I also find  it quite disheartening  that  a  healthy divisional faction within the feminist movement itself on this issue -  ie. how activism regarding violence against women should be publically  addressed- is being used in the media to further a discrediting and silencing on such an important topic. is my truth....

I am still walking the streets alone as an independent woman , yet contine to look over my shoulder for concerns regarding my safety.
I continue to  receive  critical comments from others regarding my decisions to  allow my ten year old son his own  freedom - for example,  this year I supported my son to  go trick and treating alone with his friends -albeit with a 15 year old elder sister that did accompany  them.  Some how, I was being a "bad mother" in allowing my son this opportunity to roam his neighbourhood without the surveillance of his parents as chaperones.
Furthermore, women are  still being told that if they dress in certain "costumes" for Halloween, they can guarantee that their "trickster" performativity  can only guarantee one thing...a really "bad treat".

This Mother Outlaw has to wonder: When will our streets be truly safe for everyone to “saunter” and “street haunt” without such  worry?

I attended the Toronto Slut Walk in April 2011 as a proud Mother Outlaw….I plan on attending again next year.
BUT-  I have to say.... this is one feminist  community  mobilizing event, I wish wasn’t even in need of my support or  attendance .