(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
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
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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 email@example.com
A London, England group is in its initial planning stages...please contact Jane at firstname.lastname@example.org for more details.
For information about starting your own Mother Outlaws discussion group in your community, please feel free to contact me at email@example.com
Jennifer Linton, I Speak you into Being-Gravid Series, 2003
Lindsay Page, untitled-Spawn Series, 2007
Jennifer Long, untitled- Fold Series, 2011