MOM Art Annex: Exhibition & Education Center

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Sociology Opens Our Eyes to New Ways of Seeing the World!

This summer, extreme weather rocks America and pundits debate while August arrives all too quickly. Since July 1st, accounting majors, economics majors, and students of literature have been increasing their knowledge and vocabulary about important issues that affect us all by studying sociology. These students are hard at work exploring theoretical assertions about race, class, and gender in an online summer intensive Introduction to Sociology course, specifically framed around the Sociology of Family.

Using texts that explore gestation, birth, and caregiving, authors Barbara Katz Rothman, Phyllis Chesler, Patricia Hill Collins, and Keisha Goode (to name a few), explore women’s experiences, racial disparities, and gendered labor. This week, we read the latest media stories on wombs, trans-birth, uterus transplants, and self-identified men as mothers. We have all been scrambling for new definitions and fresh ways of thinking about gestation as well as parenting.

As part of a service-learning portion of an Intro to Sociology class, students were asked to take a piece of construction paper or plain white paper and mark in bold words a minimum of 5 words that best describe “mother” and “father”. We have been complicating those basic notions ever since.

Thinking about the authors we are studying assert about biology and gender, coupled with recent medical and policy developments, motherhood is more complicated than ever! The students were invited to revisit their original posters and articulate some of the information that has influenced their perspective in recent weeks. Some of their notes are below:

Words Added:

–       Gender Neutral:

·      The readings from this week highlighted the problems associated with gendered parenting

·       Mothers struggle with work because of the perception that they are obligated to care for their home and children

·       Men do not feel obligated to do any parenting work but feel an overwhelming obligation to provide economically for their families

·      Both genders are equally capable of parenting in the form of motherhood and fatherhood

·      everyone including children would be better off if parental duties were split equally

·      All other words on the poster represent things my mother, grandparents, and stepfather did and that I wish my father had participated in

·      Not parenting is a personal choice not a gendered choice

–       Parent:

·      Added for reasons listed above

·      Parent should imply the same duties regardless of the parent’s gender

       Present:

·      Being present is an essential part of parenthood that I did not think about until I watched “Glen Henry got his Superpowers Through Fatherhood”

–       Care:

·      “Mothering is most likely done by a female due to our society’s definition of the word ‘mother.’ The action of mothering however is simply caring for another.” [Castaneda and Oware]

–       Guide

–       Educate

·      Guide and educate were both terms I did not think to put until I though in the context of parenthood rather than motherhood

·      Gendered expectations affect us all and are very pervasive

Assertion Statement:

Replace motherhood and fatherhood with parenthood

Father
• Tenderhearted
• Empathetic
• Compassionate
• Honest
• Supportive
• Sacrificing
• Wise
“A healthier masculinity can only be achieved if we acknowledge that “Tough” and “Strong” aren’t the only 2 characteristics men can be.”

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Reflections on Introduction to Mother Studies Course – by Zairunisha Jnu

Zairunisha photoAbout a month ago, I posted my reflections on the summer intensive course taught through the Museum of Motherhood. I invited my comrade, Zairunisha Jnu, to do the same and offer her impressions from Introduction to Mother Studies.  Zairunisha is a PhD. candidate in the Centre for Philosophy, School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India.  She is presently working on her research project entitled ” Rhetorics of Choice and Coercion on Motherhood: Revisiting Bioethical Debates from Feminists Perspectives.”

Here is what she said:

I am a student of philosophy and my research area focuses on issues in the field of bioethics with special reference to the impact of new reproductive technologies on motherhood.  During my studies on my research project, I hadn’t studied motherhood in such a broader perspective before doing the Mother Studies course offered by the Museum of Motherhood. The Introduction to Mother Studies course provided a panoptic platform for mothers, students, scholars, professional, etc. where the participants are encouraged and motivated to critically examine, analyse, and correlate problems faced by mothers in their day to day lives from various perspectives, especially from a sociological lens within historical, economic, political and sociological frameworks. Also sometimes we were asked to try to find out solutions to the problems and challenges.  

For me this course was very enlightening in the field of motherhood. I have a knowledge of mother-related problems, issues not only from an American perspective, but an Indian perspective too. Different tools and methods of teaching for instance video lectures, mind blowing movies, news reports, reading materials, writing assignments (hardest part of the course 🙂 etc. made a great combination of practical and theoretical knowledge which encouraged and forced me to rethink about the situation of mothers in the society and question on the pre-established image of women and the role they perform in the family.

As I mentioned above that I am a philosophy student, just familiar with the name of some feminist thinkers such as Adrienne Rich, Sara Ruddick, Patricia Hill Collins, Barbara Katz Rothman and a few others. I have come to learn more about their work and contributions through the Mother Studies course importantly on mother, mothering and motherhood.

In the book Of Women Born, the issues of sexuality, childbirth, child care, and women’s health, Adrienne Rich questions and critiques male-centric cultures and practices. The articleUndivided Rights: Women of Color Organize for Reproductive Justice” by Jael Silliman, Marlene Gerber Fried and others, focuses on women’s awareness in the field of reproductive rights and gender inequality. Additionally, Barbara Katz Rothman’s book, Recreating Motherhood shows the perpetuating condition and coercion over ignorant women still continuing in modern technological time and world. It is so hard for competent women to save themselves from the milieu of the society and perform their choices as a free being where mothering is always considered a personal activity and unconsciously become political matter. The crude reality is, only society will decide about you, being a woman  how threatening it is! Nevertheless in this scenario, Mother Studies offers a positive approach and hope for action.  

In this manner, I agree with Jenny’s view that the emerging Mother Studies course is a revolutionary step in the way of making the personal political and academic. It was such a wonderful and unique experience for me working together throughout the coursework with our teacher and classmate/friend. I am keenly looking forward to the possibility of a workshop regarding Mother Studies where we can meet again and explore more prospects and opportunities for our Mother Studies work.   

Written by: Zairunisha Jnu
Arranged by: Jenny Nigro, MoM Online Intern

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On My Experience of Motherhood Studies

PatriciaHillCollinsYou may have seen some of my blog posts over the last several weeks that came from the response papers I wrote for the Introduction to Mother Studies course offered through the museum. With a capstone paper using research on current topics related to reproductive technology, the class culminated three weeks ago last Sunday afternoon. I promised myself that I would not begin watching the newest season of Orange is the New Black until the course finished, and I have since been relishing these moments of TV consumption.

Other than satisfying my Netflix addiction, I have been able to reflect back on the course since finishing it. I was a Sociology major in college but took a lot of classes in the Women’s Studies department. Adrienne Rich and Patricia Hill Collins contributed foundational texts to our study in Introduction to Mother Studies. The names and works of these scholars were familiar to me from undergrad. However, studying them in the context of Introduction to Mother Studies, I began to see them in a new light…as mothers. Because of the strength of their words and power of their knowledge, I had always identified them as feminist first, whatever else second. But in a movement where “the personal is political” has been a rallying cry, perhaps for them, they would see themselves as mother/sister/self first, feminist second.

In “Beyond Mothers and Fathers,” Barbara Katz Rothman, a pioneer to the movement, said: “Mothering is an activity, a project…[M]otherhood…is not just a physical or emotional relationship – it is also an intellectual activity.” Scholars and writers have known this and have been doing Mother Studies work for a long time. Whether we have seen it as such or not, the personal has always been political. When women gave birth in their homes attended by practiced midwives, and then again when slander campaigns saw the shift to in-hospital births, Mother Studies was in action. When white middle-class housewives’ alienation derived from raising children in suburban America gave way to the rise of second-wave feminism, Mother Studies was in action. When the eugenics movement created a legacy of racist and anti-poverty sterilization policies, Mother Studies was in action. When images of the super-mom were contrasted with social commentary on the decline of the American family, Mother Studies was in action. When feminists came to the defense of Mary Beth Whitehead, a surrogate who refused to give up her baby, questioning what makes a mother, Mother Studies was in action. We are not recreating the wheel. Our Introduction to Mother Studies is the first time that we are calling it such and the first time we are carving out a space for it as a legitimate discipline. We are making the personal political…and academic.

Find out more about classes in Mother Studies online here.

By: Jenny Nigro, MoM Online Intern