By Ca Hoang
The pile of work I had felt endless. As soon one was completed, another followed. Letting out a deep sigh, I allowed myself to take a break, to do anything that did not involve staring at the laptop screen for the next hour. I fetched a broom and a dustpan and began sweeping the floor of the shared area in my apartment. It was my new found mode of tending to myself. While looking after my living space, I was also greeted with a sense of calmness that I craved. Almost every time I embark on this simple act of self-care, I am reminded of an incident with my once close friend when we were in middle school. It was our turn that morning to handle class cleaning duties and I remember vividly how the moment I started sweeping, my friend gasped and scolded, “That’s not how you do it!” She grabbed the broom from my hands and continued, “You should at least know how to sweep the floor as a girl!” I was eagerly sweeping dust into the air and surely learned a thing or two about housekeeping from my friend then and there. I used to laugh off her reaction to how inexperienced I was with chores, but lately, I cannot help but think about her latter exclamation. Why must I know how to sweep the floor as a girl?
Recently, I was introduced to Sara Ruddick’s Maternal Thinking. In her book, Ruddick engages the readers in discussions of mothering as a practice informed by maternal thinking and how it relates to politics of peace. One of the many ways in which Maternal Thinking proved significant is that rather than viewing motherhood as an identity, maternal work is proposed to be studied as an experience, which thus de-genders motherwork (O’Reilly, A., 2009). Through the lens of maternal thinking, no longer would caring for a child or taking care of household matters such as sweeping, or ironing clothes be seen as exclusive to women. In an article written before the publication of Maternal Thinking, Ruddick shares that one of the goals she had when developing the concept was to unite mothers and feminists (Ruddick, 1983). Ruddick expresses her beliefs that, in spite of how feminism and motherhood may seem contradicting to some, maternal work can contribute to the feminist perspective, while “feminist transformation of maternal thinking was in the deepest interests of mothers”, which I think has become increasingly evident. Although dated, the concepts introduced by Sara Ruddick then continue to be relevant today.
Learning about maternal thought and how it separates gender from labour has changed my internal dialogue from questioning why certain labour are gendered the way they are, to seeking how the understanding of feminism and motherhood can be transformed. I am only beginning to internalize how gender norms and idealization of motherhood has shaped the environment that I grew up in, but I am glad that Maternal Thinking has provided me at least a starting point. Perhaps maternal thinking can also be applied to the way we mother ourselves, as tending to our personal needs also involves preservation and growth. Nonetheless, I think I can now comfortably sweep the floor or partake any other housekeeping activity without obsessing over how engaging in them would relate to my gender and instead focus on myself as well as the activity in its own right.
Featured Photo by Jan Kopřiva
O’Reilly, A. (2009). “I Envision a Future in Which Maternal Thinkers Are Respected and Self-Respecting”: The Legacy of Sara Ruddick’s Maternal Thinking. WSQ: Women’s Studies Quarterly, 37(3–4), 295–298.
Ruddick, S. (1983). Thinking about Mothering—and Putting Maternal Thinking to Use. Women’s Studies Quarterly, 11(4), 4–7.
Ca is an international student from Vietnam at the University of South Florida. She is pursuing a dual degree in Statistics and Public Health with aspirations of working in the field of biostatistics in the future. Ca learned about the Museum of Motherhood through the Reproductive Health, Rights and Justice class instructed by Dr. Singh and was inspired by the work the Museum has and continues to engage in. As an intern, she has created blog posts that share activities and perspectives about caregiving, self-care, as well as the lessons we can learn from each activity.