‘UNFIT’ MOTHERS: THE BURDEN OF STEREOTYPES

By Srilagna Majumdar

During everyday conversations and discourses, we come across labels given to mothers that are burdened by stereotypes and fraught with sky-touching expectations limited by narrow definitions. Aimed at the welfare of others, this focus is seldom targeted towards women’s wellbeing. There have been so less frequent moments when fathers, and children, or people, in general, look at mothers as separate and independent human beings. Writing as an Indian student, engaged in feminist studies, it appears that the stereotypes that mothers are often corralled into can be organized into three main categories: Mothers as (a) primary caregivers, (b) teachers or role models, and (c) household workers or homemakers (Tessier, Gosselin, 2018). It would be safe to say that these categories are most often applied to biological mothers.

As a college student, contemplating the subject of motherhood, it appears that media depictions as well as the general tenure of social expectation dictate women caregivers must give exclusive priority to their children. Certainly, babies require much care and mothers are often the primary sources for expressions of love as well as providers of food and shelter. Being a good caregiver involves balancing many roles, including that of nurturer and a disciplinarian (as required). These qualities are highlighted in society with the expectation that mothers put everything on hold to be more available to their children and devote all of themselves to motherhood as the primary obligation. This belief reflects a deep internalization of an intensive mothering ideology. The mothers I know see themselves as purveyors of wisdom, important teachers- not exclusively in the academic sense- but as a source of information about how to get along in the world, which contemporary women are often encouraged to do.

But, within the home, many mothers are managers of the household. Women who are mothers are seen by some to embrace this duty to family almost exclusively. Many of the mothers I studied perceived themselves as very loyal toward their families. The chores associated with maintaining a stable home were a signifier of demonstrated loyalty. While divorced mothers might be perceived as failures: cowards, frivolous, weak for not persevering or enduring in the marriage (even whoreish, and easy-prey for free sex), promiscuous, irresponsible, selfish, not trustworthy, lacking courage, incapable of maintaining a family, alone and without protection, disrespectful of God’s rules, and without moral values – a heavy burden to contemplate, indeed (Aneja, Vaidya, 2016).

Outside the home, working mothers, portrayed by the media, or judged generally through a negative lens by society as well, are accountable not only to themselves but to the public at large. It is presumed that a mother, who works outside the home, would be incapable of managing the necessities of her children. If a mother keeps her child in the custody of a nanny, or a crèche, while she goes for work, society apprehends that it will affect the upbringing of the child and that full responsibility of any perceived outcome, is to be taken on solely by the working mother.

As in the previous two examples, mothers have a difficult time performing in the “correct” manner expected of them. Deviations from perceived “norms” are prone to accountability and assessment. Lesbian mothers, i.e. same-sex mothers are viewed as unfit, by society, in cases that I have read about or heard of. These negative conceptions appear particularly rooted in religious doctrine. Stereotypes regarding lesbian mothers as not normal are promoted by entrenched beliefs that children should be raised by a mother and a father, not by two mothers. The argument for this lack of a male parent, doctrine asserts, might confuse children, especially regarding their own sexual preference when they become teenagers (Tessier, Gosselin, 2018). Participants of interviews conducted by Vadiya, in 2016, reported different cultural norms influencing their attitudes. This included coming from a conservative Catholic religious background, uncontested and unchecked concepts of machismo, and the fact that interviewees did not know any lesbian parents personally, further polarizing them from actions outside of hegemonic ideals and further entrenching erroneous assumptions about “good” parenting.

The themes of deficiency and lack, good and bad mothers, the burden of care, and the valorization of the mothering role that have been explored here acquire a new dimension when we take into account a different kind of embodiment, namely, disability. When the mother in question is a disabled woman, the discourse of motherhood becomes even more complicated. Sexuality, conjugality, and motherhood are associated with normative, desirable, fertile bodies, whereas the disabled body is regarded as defective, undesirable, and thus, devalued (Aneja, Vaidya,2016). Motherhood denotes caregiving, while disability suggests a person in need of care herself, and thus, being unfit to assume the caring role for another, especially of one as vulnerable as an infant. We can certainly see how difficult it is for mothers to avail themselves of additional scrutiny.

Disability has historically been viewed as a ‘problem’ or aberration in need of fixing or remediation, suggesting that something is missing or lacking. The personhood and agency of women who are deemed ‘the other’ on account of their bodily differences are denied in the context of their reproductive needs and rights. Women with disabilities are regarded either as asexual beings incapable of becoming sexual companions or as hyper-sexual and unregulated ones (Aneja, Vaidya, 2016). In some cases, disabled mothers were abandoned by husbands, who later got married to able-bodied women at the behest of the man’s family. Many times, it is revealed that disabled mothers experience violence within the family, both emotional as well as severe physical violence in some cases. It can be imagined, how these disabled mothers also have to explain to their children why they can’t participate in an activity, attend a field trip, or use the same door [as their children do]. They might even have to spend a great deal of time explaining themselves or educating other people, and that can wear a person down (Scroll,2018).

In most societies, the predominant image of the family is represented by a middle-class, first-marriage nuclear family with two heterosexual parents, including a working father, a stay-at-home mother, and biological children (Routledge, “Marriage and Family review”, 2018). Social institutions, including mass media, language, legal systems, and religion, convey the message that this family configuration is the norm. As a student who wants to arrive at a finer feminist perspective, I feel this is how agency over the body and consent for the things done to it are appropriated by medical, legal, and social practices that challenge the very personhood and humanity of the mothers who want to break away from the society generated idea of how a mother should be.

Citations:

A Literature Review of Cultural Stereotypes Associated with Motherhood and Fatherhood, Sophie-Claire Valiquette-Tessier, Julie Gosselin, Kristel Thomassin, 2018

EMBODYING MOTHERHOOD-Perspectives from Contemporary India, Anu Aneja and Shubhangi Vaidya, Yoda Press, 2016

‘Your priority is your baby’: Why does India have a culture of demonizing working mothers?, Article by Scroll, 2018

Edited by M. Joy Rose

About Srilagna:

Srilagna Majumdar is a student of History, third Year in Jadavpur University, Kolkata, India. She is a keen student of social sciences and wants to pursue her future in Museology. She is currently working with 1947 Partition Archive and Stanford University for a project regarding interviewing Partition witnesses. She is also a Digital Content writer and editor at the same Archive. She wrote papers on Redefining gender roles to get a wider perspective of gender relations in the Global South. Srilagna Majumdar lives in Kolkata, West Bengal, India. She is also working for developing the proper ways of editing Partition witness’s stories and preparing them for digitization. She is also working with the Partition Museum to archive Partition history and find how women were affected during the same. She interns with Daak, a nonprofit organization for promoting lesser-known artworks and artists of South Asia. Srilagna is also the research authenticator at India Lost and Found, a heritage conservation initiative by Amit Pasricha. She is an oral histories and research intern at Kashmir Untold, an initiative to archive stories of Kashmiri migrants and is also working for exploring various aspects of motherhood in society and trying to arrive at a finer feminist lens by being an intern at the Museum of Motherhood, Florida.

MAMA 43: International Expressions – Justice & Remembrances

María Linares is a visual artist and researcher born in Bogotá, who lives in Berlin. She studied Fine Arts and Philosophy in Bogotá and holds two postgraduate studies, one in Art and Public Spaces at the Academy of Fine Arts Nuremberg and the other in Art in Context at the University of the Arts in Berlin. Currently, she is doing a practice-based Ph.D. in Fine Arts at the Bauhaus University in Weimar. Her main interests are interpersonal relations and her fields of work are public art, video, and participatory art practices.

x
As a mother, María Linares’ artistic work is guided by a consciousness of legacy and the need to dismantle structural racism in everyday life and contribute to building an empathetic world for future generations.

x
As we know, there are a number of prejudices related to each nationality. But, what does it mean “to be German”, “to be Colombian”, and how do we define the term nationality? What characterizes Colombian, German, Italian, Polish, or Indian people?

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Colombian artist María Linares considered applying for German citizenship, but according to German law, this meant that she had to give up her Colombian citizenship. This circumstance raised questions about her own identity, as well as about the meaning of nationality. Out of these reflections, the artist developed VIDEO PORTRAITS, a series of videos based on prejudices around certain nationalities. For this series, María Linares did several street surveys on the images people have about different nationalities, like e.g. German, Italian, or indeed Colombian. Interestingly, Africa became a nationality and many of the prejudices collected about “nationalities” mentioned the African continent. After recollecting various testimonies, she developed scripts for performers that should play the roles of these stereotypes in their mother tongue. The exaggerated statements of the performers on the prejudices around their own nationality were intended to provoke the public and at the same time offering a way to reflect on the own prejudices concerning “the other”. During the development of this project, María Linares became pregnant and gave up for a moment the idea of applying for German citizenship. It was important for her that her child could have the option to have both German and Colombian citizenship.
x
Moreover, focusing on issues of identity through artworks is a much more complex and challenging task for the artist than just questioning “nationality” and citizenship. This initial research, lead María Linares to continue with works such RE-ENACTING OFFENCES, an on-going project started 2016 in Recife (Brazil) and followed by stations in Dresden (2018), Bogotá (2018) and Berlin (2019), that questions and explores established notions of racism and discrimination present in everyday life. The project is based on a sensitization exercise by Berlin’s Anti-Bias Werkstatt (a network that follows an anti-bias approach and makes people aware of the “white privilege” in society). In this on-going project, the participants discuss their own passive and active experiences of discrimination in front of the camera. Linares’ projects are characterized by a growing sensibility on the importance of language and the numerous racist expressions present in our daily life, for instance, the initiative to rename the so-called Day of ‘Race’ and Hispanicity, a holiday celebrated on October 12 in Colombia and other Latin American countries, that reminds a supposed “discovery“ of the Americas. RENOMBREMOS EL 12 DE OCTUBRE (LET’S RENAME OCTOBER 12) consists of a petition (www.change.org/12deOctubre) to rename this day, and of a database (www.renombremosel12deoctubre.org) that collects options for renaming this holiday. The database offers the users the option to participate and give their preferences on the alternatives for Renaming October 12. This project is also part of her research on the invention of human ‘races’. According to the Jena Declaration of 2019, the concept of ‘race’ is obsolete and should no longer be used.
x
An essential part of the project is to hold encounters with representatives of black and native communities, activists, ombudsmen for the rights of black and people of color, as well as representatives of institutions that could submit a renaming law, with the aim to accomplish an official name change. The encounters are documented via photographs, videos, and in a record book.

x
Special thanks to Katerina Valdivia Bruch for editing the text on behalf of the Procreate Project.
x
What I Wish I Could’ve Done
By Margie Shaheed
if i had the words of a dictionary
in my pocket i would shake them out
onto the floor piece sentences together
to form language to tell you the mysteries
of a mother raising nine children alone
i would stockpile all of the synonyms, adjectives and verbs
for “there’s not enough food” and “we have to move again”
in a raggedy white box with one thousand lit
sticks of dynamite erasing their charred tongues
from the human lexicon forever
x
The Hough Riots
it was 1966 mama told us hough avenue was on fire
ignited over a ‘no water for niggers’
sign posted at a white owned bar
burn baby burn rang out for six days
to neighborhood an urban war zone
at night mama cut off the lights in the house
darkness forced us to whisper
gathering at the windowsill like baby ducks
we peeked out hoping to catch glimpses
of army tanks rolling down our street
mama made it clear whose side we were on
we were black folks fighting for our rights
i wanted us to win
x
“What I Wish I Could’ve Done” and “The Hough Riots” were originally published in Mom Egg Review Vol. 17, 2019.
x
Margie Shaheed was a community poet, writer and teaching artist and the author of seven books of poetry and prose, including Playground (Hidden Charm Press) and Onomatopoeia, Mosaic, and Throwback Thursdays (all from Nightballet Press). Her “Playground” stories can be found at http://www.timbooktu.com. Margie Shaheed passed away in 2018.
x

The Museum of Motherhood, the ProCreate Project, the Mom Egg Review, and the Mother Magazine are pleased to announce the launch of a monthly international exchange of ideas and art. M.A.M.A. will celebrate the notion of being “pregnant with ideas” in new ways. This scholarly discourse intersects with the artistic to explore the wonder and the challenges of motherhood. Using words and art to connect new pathways between the creative, the academic, the para-academic, the digital, and the real, as well as the everyday: wherever you live, work and play, the Art of Motherhood is made manifest. Download the Press Release here or read about updated initiatives#JoinMAMA @ProcreateProj  @MOMmuseum @TheMomEgg

Making Space for More Than One Mother

By Aster Woods

Shelley Park in “Queering Motherhood” discusses her personal experience with being both a birth-giving mother and an adoptive mother in an extended family. She considers her children’s own perspectives on the way in which she mothers them; her adopted daughter in particular is resistant to her claim of motherhood, screaming “You’re not my real mother!” at her through a slammed-shut door. This leads Park to consider:

“ If child’s affective psychology might be queered to allow “room in her mind” for two (or more) mothers.”

Which begs the question, how do children absorb and interact with monomaternalism as it intersects with the heteronormative hegemony? This is the “teleological script – mythological life script” It is the pervasive system of indoctrination to the idea that a nuclear family is the only worthwhile family. It is tempting to see this as an outdated concept – and it is – and yet it remains with us, a shadow cast by our confusion and doubt. This concept of a perfect family is flawed in so many ways; as Park says, it:

“Ignores historical realities of genetic families divided by poverty, war, and slavery. It is further contested by the now common forms of family created by adoption, divorce, and remarriage, and new reproductive technologies such as surrogacy and in vitro fertilization (IVF)”.

Intuition is arguably an infant’s most profound sense of ability. Babies have no other reliable sense, no way of understanding the things they do perceive, but they can intuit accurately and consistently from birth. Furthermore, as a child begins to learn about the world around them, they are devoted to classification and organizing systems; particularly child-friendly systems such as color-coding. Have you noticed the extent to which we classify children’s gender? Before they have any concept of it their clothing, toys, books, games, and TV is telling them exactly what they are and how to behave based on that. This is compounded by what they mirror from the people around them (predominantly parents, although teachers and extended families play a huge role also) their intuition leading their development in a subtle but insidious way toward conformity. The “unlearning” of this comes in fits and starts later and throughout life; girls of 7 or 8 will ritualistically destroy their barbies, disavowing simultaneously their child-ness and their female-ness. Young boys have less permissivity in their experimentation of rejection; in a world where femalehood is seen as defective, a young girl aping boyhood is seen as unproblematic whereas a boy rejecting boyhood is cause for serious concern. The teenage years, with their turbulent uncertainty, are often marked with a return to gender norms which are then re-negotiated in emerging adulthood.

And so, to revisit Park’s question – How to “queer a child’s affective psychology” to refute the heteronormative one-mother fallacy?

From an adopted child’s perspective, these two frameworks are irreconcilable; loyalty to either script requires the child to be disloyal to someone in her life. Hence, as I suggest here, neither script’s notion of a “real” mother is adequate and the adopted child—indeed all children with multiple mothers, including children of divorce and remarriage, children of lesbian partners, and children birthed with the aid of new reproductive technologies and relationships—need to learn to deconstruct the nature/culture dichotomy that gives rise to these notions.

The nature vs nurture debate leads to some difficult ideological areas. One argument supporting genetics and privileging gestation and birth as the only valid path to motherhood, can be uncovered as problematic when you consider the child is a person in their own right, who cannot be owned or controlled unless ethical structures are seriously breached. However, are children blank slates? I don’t believe so. Genetic and epigenetic factors aside, how much do we pass on to our children?
As Uma Narayan (1999) states, perhaps the most ethical form of parenting holds “the virtue of privileging a child’s interests above those of competing parents, treating children more as ends-in-themselves than as objects of property-like disputes between contending parents.”

Furthermore, by rejecting the teleological, monomaternalistic and heteronormative life-script we are able to engage again with other historical and cultural forms of child-rearing, which involve:

“maintain[ing] as many . . . parental connections with adults who wish to maintain these bonds as is . . . feasible in any given case”

And, when done responsibly and ethically, have been proven to be beneficial for the health of all children and adults involved.

Sources:

Park, Shelley M. Mothering Queerly, Queering Motherhood. State University of New York Press, 2013.

Petrella, Serena. 2005. A geneology of serial monogamy. In Geneologies of identity: Interdisciplinary readings on sex and sexuality, eds. Margaret Sönser Breen and Fiona Peters, 169–82.

Narayan, Uma. 1999. Family ties: Rethinking parental claims in the light of surrogacy and custody. In Having and raising children: Unconventional families, hard choices, and the social good, ed. Uma Narayan and Julia J. Bartkowiak, 65–86. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press.

MOM Museum: Reedy Press & Joshua Ginsberg’s New Book Secret Tampa Bay

The Museum of Motherhood is proud to be included in Joshua Ginsberg’s new book, Secret Tampa Bay: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure, published by Reedy Press.

This guide to the obscure helps unlock secret spots in and around the city including some of the most intriguing and entertaining surprises.

Join in a pirate parade, see live mermaids, or catch a flamenco dance performance at the oldest and largest Spanish restaurant in America. Wander through secret gardens, listen to bagpipe music, and sample a seemingly endless variety of hidden treasures in Tampa Bay. Also, of course, you can discover the art, science, and history of mothers, mothering, and motherhood at MOM in the historic neighborhood of Kenwood in St. Petersburg, Fl., “where art lives”.

Secret Tampa Bay: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful and Obscure provides a deeper dive into the local culture, history, art and one-of-a-kind attractions as alternatives to the usual beaches and theme parks, you are sure to find it here.

Join author Joshua Ginsberg as he narrates his explorations through Tampa, St. Petersburg, Clearwater and the surrounding areas in search of hidden history, strange monuments, museums, oddities, antiques in this truly invigorating guidebook that is sure to provide many memorable experiences.

Secret Tampa Bay: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure is available wherever books are sold.

Thank you too, for the shout out from Natalie Taylor and Josh August 26th, 2020 on Tampa Bay Morning Blend News Show (ABC).

Please stay safe and stay strong. WE LOVE YOU ALL!!!
Order copies of the book: https://secrettampabay.com/
If you are interested in stocking the book at their place of business, write Reedy Press or Josh at the above website 😊

Please contact Don Korte at dkorte@reedypress.com to arrange an interview or appearance.

Book Details: Secret Tampa Bay: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure, by Joshua Ginsberg, ISBN 9781681062860, paperback 9 x 6, 208 pages, $22.50

Accepting Help

By Aster Woods

Can you imagine a scenario that would finally push you over the edge?

Or do you just keep telling yourself you can handle anything?

For people who care for others, hitting rock bottom is often an abstract principle. You do whatever it takes to keep on going. Because what’s the alternative? Really? People you love are counting on you. If you’re exhausted, you have to keep going. If you’re overwhelmed, you have to keep going. If your hands are shaking so badly that you break the plate you’re trying to clean, and then you burst into tears because you’ve failed to clean that plate, and then can’t stop crying, and then go numb and sometime later realize you’re still sitting on the kitchen floor…you stand up and finish the washing up, hands wrinkling in the cold water. Because you have to keep going.

I care for my mother. I need a break, I tell her. She doesn’t understand why; I explain that I’m struggling with my mental health, that I’m tired and stressed all the time. That I have been for a long time and it’s taking a serious toll.

She suggests I try chilling out.

I leave the room and scream into my pillow.

A few days later she hangs up the phone and beams at me. Your sister has agreed to help out while she’s visiting! Anger wells up inside me, hot and dry. Why on earth is it up to her? My sister knows the least about this situation, has no knowledge of how hard it is. Why on earth is she the one to decide if I get to have a break or not? Why does she get to choose when she takes care of our mum, but I don’t?

I know this is supposed to be a good thing. But panic overwhelms me. I have been resenting my caregiving but I can’t let it go. I have held it too tightly for too long. It’s who I am. Can I trust my sister to do it right? Is she going to mess up my carefully organized systems, making more work for me in the long run?

Or worse. Is she going to tell me that this is all easy, that I have nothing to worry about really, that my stress and frustration and despair and isolation are not valid emotions, but rather a symptom of my weakness and failure?

Why is accepting help so difficult?

Why can’t we put down this toxic burden of control? I want to relinquish this weight of responsibility so badly. I want to be able to move freely within my life. To do things that are only about me. I know that I can be a better person if I manage to do this and that it will mean I take better care of my mum; as people are so fond of telling me.

You can’t pour from an empty cup.

But people are not cups. Filling yourself up again is difficult.

And this is what I think of as the heart of the problem: The stress is the only thing that enables you to get stuff done. The most sustainable option is to remain stressed, like a plane using less fuel to cruise than to land, refuel, and take off again.

Stress gets you out of bed in the morning, gets the kitchen cleaned. I can’t relax while there are the bins to take out; I can’t sleep properly if I’m also listening out for mum’s call for help.

To let go of my stress is to relinquish my responsibility; and that is an impossibility as long as I have people relying on me.

HAPPY 100 YEARS OF THE VOTE FOR WOMEN IN AMERICA

Today is the 100 year anniversary of WOMEN GETTING THE VOTE in America. This is such a big deal!

Hard to believe, I was born only 37 years after this law was enacted.

Suffragette Sitting Room, MOM, NYC

At the Museum of Motherhood in NYC, we had an area called the Suffragette Sitting Room, where mothers would come and gather with their infants under the banner of these fearless warriors who marched, protested, and even starved for the right to be considered equal citizens.

I always find a way to include these foremothers of the feminist waves in the college classes I teach and remember fondly

Housewives On Prozac Band

the days when my band, Housewives On Prozac, was privileged to play the great city of Seneca Falls, New York, raising awareness about many of the issues mothers in America face. Those outstanding problems continue to include a continued lack of federally mandated paid parental leave, affordable childcare, accessible & adequate healthcare, as well as the issue of those who are home caring for loved ones without pay or social security in America today.

Let us not forget also, the simple willingness to declare “All people are created equal” according to the as-of-yet unratified ERA Amendment.
Thankfully, the fight for equality, access, and respect are continuing. From the Women’s March in Washington in 2016 thru the present, I  am so grateful to those worthy and peaceful activists at work in the #MeToo and #BLM movements who also see goals worth striving for. Let freedom ring.
~ Martha Joy Rose, Founder MOM