Marotta, Martha: “MotherSpace: Disciplining through the Material and Discursive”, in Hardy, Sarah and Wiedmer, Caroline (eds) Motherhood and the Space, Palgrave, New York, 2005, pp. 15-33.

In this article Marotta brings to our attention how built spaces and discourses interact in the field of mothering. Following Foucault, she argues: 

“Contemporary material and discursive spaces of Western mothers reveal the links among the powers, practices, and subjects that discipline mothers to the point of tyrannizing them” (p. 15).

 She highlights how spaces are political in a material sense in that the way we organize them, the activities we perform in them and how we live and move in them reveal discourses and messages about what is appropriate for mothers to do and which spaces mothers belong in. As Marotta puts it, mothers are controlled and subjugated not just by experts’ advice and opinions but also by discourses about what they should and should not do in a space exclusively allocated to them:

“For mothers, material space is arranged in such a way that their presence or absence is immediately visible. Discursive space is organized so that if children are unruly or engage in risky behaviours, mothers are criticized for being absent and blamed if anything goes wrong.” (p. 19)

 Marotta, however, establishes certain assumptions that I don’t completely share. In a first place, she assumes that:

“Most mothers still are not able to be equal participants in the public world since the role of the mother-caregiver continues to put limits on their public presence. That is, as long as mothers are relegated to certain built or material spaces that keep them, except for a few hours a day, at home or with children, motherhood will continue to pose a problem for the equality of women.” (p. 21)

I think it’s the other way around. As long as society doesn’t find a way to accord value and recognition to the mother-caregiver role, women will be relegated and discriminated against worldwide.

Second, housework carries negative connotations for Marotta. For example, she says:

 “Confining mothers to the kitchen not only keeps them home but keeps them on tasks attending to children. The limits on their movements also limit their identity” ( p. 22).

This is true, but doesn’t it also mean that their identity is based on this? It might be part of a couple’s agreement for some years; it might be a joy; it might be a way to survive in certain places in the world or how some cultures distribute work amongst their members – and women may be quite happy about it. I believe that by adding more negativity to the place that most of the women in the world occupy – and I’m not thinking just about white middle-class Europeans but also about women in Asia, Africa or Latin America – will not solve the problem. More to the point, how are we going to persuade men to occupy a space that is culturally and socially devaluated?

Third, it seems to me that most of Marotha’s effort is directed at highlighting the fact that women are not able to work or successfully participate in the public space because home, as a material and political space, isrestricting their movements. Marotta says that changes are needed:

“to redefine “good” workers so that mothers are not penalized in their job space, and changes in the culture and practice of home to redefine “good mothers” so that mothers are not penalized in their home space. These may include reasonable and flexible working hours, as well as more sharing of chores and tasks at home.” (p. 30)

I totally agree. However, overall what I’m missing in Marotta’s approach is the other side of the coin: how can we turn the devaluated and degraded home space into a political and material space that generates the support, solidarity and a sense of dignity that we as parents need to bring our children up in?


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