Category Archives: feminist theory

Measuring mothering

Rebecca Kukla “Measuring Mothering” The International Journal of Feminist Approaches to Bioethics, Vol. 1, No 1, 2008, pp. 68-90.

In this article  Rebecca Kukla examines how mothering is measured according to certain standard points in time at which mothering is considered to be of paramount importance: for instance, at the first ultrasound test and when making choices about the birth and about feeding the baby. Kukla argues that mothering is a lifelong process and that mothers cannot be judged according to how they behave at certain moments that are culturally and socially constructed to measure their emotions and reactions to their babies. As Kukla points out, measuring mothers’ behaviour at certain given moments can hardly evaluate their behaviour as future mothers.

Although I agree with Kukla’s analysis up to a point , I feel that certain matters need to be disentangled. First, the question of measuring in relation to judging; second, the question of bounding v. controlling; and third, the cultural construction of the ‘good mother’.

Concerning the first point, Kukla rightly uses the term measuring rather than judging when she refers to mothers. According to the Oxford Dictionary, measuring means assessing the importance, effect or value of something, whereas judging refers to forming an opinion or a conclusion. Although I sympathise with the effort to remove judgement from the debate, the fact is that women are judged rather than measured when it comes to their mothering. 

When talking about mothering performance, the issue is still much around forming an opinion rather than giving a value, as Kukla shows when referring to “good mothers”. For this reason I believe that the whole discussion would more appropriate if it considered why mothers should be measured or judged at all rather than whether good mothers can be measured by their behaviour at certain given moments. The problem is that mothers are measured/judged by social and cultural constructions that are later endorsed not to empower women but to make them feel insecure and dependent.

Second, the question of bonding v. controlling: according to Kukla, the first ultrasound in pregnancy has moved from a being required medical protocol to being a social and cultural activity where future mothers’ reactions to this first picture of their baby are observed and measured. Although I agree with this statement, I also think that the first ultrasound event is very much the result of paranoid Western control of every single aspect of nature and birth. As Douglas and Michaels shown in The Mommy Myth, the industry of controlling, protecting and providing all types of safety gadget for babies and toddlers grew dramatically in the 1980s, forcing parents to endlessly evaluate their children’s activities, almost exclusively according to safety criteria. This paranoia places mothers as the only experts responsible for the health and safety of their children. Admittedly, the first ultrasound screening poses a question of measuring v. bounding, but also one of control, increased paranoia and fear of life.

Finally, I must confess that I was surprised to see how Kukla refers to good mothers as mothers who give birth naturally without any sort of pain relief. This is definitely a cultural and class construction belonging to the Anglo-American middle class experience. In Spain, the country I come from, people considered my option to have a natural birth “stupid” (really!) and “masochist”, and I was not in the least considered a better mother than my friends and family members who had epidurals and bottle-fed their babies. In fact in Spain natural birth options (especially home births) are seen as dangerous, and those who choose them, freaks. In sum, the narrative of a good mother is a social and cultural one in which women are subject to fashion and dominant opinions at a given place and time.

This brings me back to the question of why mothers should be measured/judged at all, and most of all to how and when the battle to make the personal political turned into a blaming and scrutinizing game in which my personal becomes public. I feel that there is a need to go back to basics and revise the feminist slogan that the personal is political, because somewhere and somehow our beliefs that were stolen,. Bringing problems and issues that were considered private (reproduction, mothering) into the public arena suddenly became bringing public judgement on our private lives. In my view, the question remains very much why there is so much measuring and judgement of mothering.

Natalia

getting out in the world of academia

I have been planning to go this seminar series on Feminism and Futurity in Bristol for a while, but could only make it to this one, on material feminisms. This was one of the ones that looked more promising to me, as it combined exciting (for me!) theoretical approaches I have used for my PhD, vibrant materialities and actor-network theory, and this new area of work I want to move into: feminist theory, to focus on feminist mothering.  

So all the complicated practicalities were planned, requesting babysitting services from grandparents, driving three hours to their house the day before, the next day leaving early to catch a train to Bristol for an hour and a half to get there; the same thing back.  But it was worth it. It has been a long time of reclusion during the final intense stages of the PhD, where I hardly slept, nor did much else than PhD and be with my little one. There was not space, or more accurately time, for much else.  So this was exciting.

Three really interesting talks, and loads of discussion and getting to know people whose work is really related to what I want to do next (yeah, I can do somehting different now!!).

The first one was by Felicity Callard, on new neurosciences studies on the ‘resting state’, which she explained in a clear way (thank god for that!), and talked about some of the repercussions of this work, in terms of re-conceptualisations of the self, but that could also be used to reinforce, for instance, existing gender stereotypes.

Kate Boyer’s talk was on a subject close to my heart, breastfeeding in public. Her talk used cultural and feminist geographical approaches to understand how breastfeeding in public is in practice constructed as ‘out of place’ in different ways, from social disapproval in many guises, to the constructions of lactation rooms. Her talk really resonated with my experience, and also with my desire to do some research on this area, the politics of breastfeeding.

Finally Maria Fannin’s talk on economies of the placenta, opened up the complexities of the materiality of the placenta in terms of its role, its properties, what is does, and who does it belong to, which opened my eyes to the different trajectories of placenta (from cosmetic uses, research, medicine,  home freezers, burials under trees to breakfast!), and the different politics that its complex materiality brings.  

For me, these different talks showed how interesting it is to bring in the materialities of things, of bodies, materials, objects, organs, as these inevitably relate, affect and generate different politics, economies, conceptions of self, which have performative effects on gender relations. But was great was that  it turned out to be a space that generated conversations that were open to explore these issues, and where I got to meet very interesting women. And in this doom and gloom times, it reminded me of what I like most about academia. 

There is a last seminar in June, which promises to be good too. Will love to be able to make it.

Introduction

This blog is a space to think aloud about issues of motherhood and feminism. The aim is to unravel and re-figure what the intersections of the personal and the political look like when talking about feminism and motherhood.

We will explore different themes, such as the politics of feeding, embodiments and interventions during pregancy and labour, body image, gender socialisation, life-work issues. Throughout the different themes, we will try to bring out the issues that these themes bring up in terms of  the meanings and practices of feminist motherhood, the intersections of the individual and the collective, of the personal and the political, of the boundaries of the public and private spaces.

Our background is academic work, and this blog will reflect that, but hopefully will be able to weave personal experiences, theory, and critical media commentaries, as well as be open to the experience and work of others.  The idea is to have a different space, one in which we can experiment, be more tentative, show our thoughts in process, in ways that maybe academic work does not leave space for.

We, Natalia and Lucila, were both mobilised by our experiences as mothers and we found that feminism helped but also sometimes hindered us in trying to frame many of our concerns. Although we started reading avidly anything related to the subject we realised that without writing, sharing and without working with other women we will never be able to think through all the questions and issues that trouble us. This is why we decided to start this blog. Hope you can join us in this undertaking.