Subverting motherhood

Silvia Federici, one of our favorite feminist theorists, has explored the different aspects of reproductive labour and carework. In the conference 'Subverting Motherhood as an Institution and Re-Imagining Mothering as Radical Political Practices' she proposes to extend the notion of motherhood beyond the fact of being a biological mother, and to explore the notion of 'rebel mothering'.

Something interesting has happened from the 1980’s and 1990’s to the present that can give us hope for the future. This is the development of what I would call ‘rebel mothering.’ It has taken different forms. One is the struggle for self-determined procreation. This is deciding not only if and when we want to have children, but how we want to give birth. There is a movement now in the US opposing the industrialization of birth-giving, i.e. the fact that delivering is often done in an assembly-line fashion. You are given a few hours – this at least in hospitals for low-income people – and if you cannot deliver within the allotted time you are given a Cesarean cut.

There are also other forms of struggle. In particular we have been inspired by the struggle the women in Latin America have made in the ‘80s and ‘90s in response to the liberalization of their economies that has caused mass impoverishment. Already in Chile, after the Pinochet coup – which marked the beginning of the neo-liberal regime, as well as instituting a regime of terror – women who came forward, protected by the fact that they moved as mother, as providers for their families. In a conservative regime committed officially to the celebration of motherhood, they were able to engage in activities that over time transformed not only the society, but their experience of motherhood. They began to organize their reproduction collectively. They set up shopping and cooking committees. They began shopping together, as this would reduce the cost of food; they set up popular kitchens, and then gardening committees, sowing committees. They did that as a survival mechanism, but it helped them as well to break down their isolation and the sense of paralysis that the brutality of the repression had generated. They broke down their isolation at a time when in Chile nobody could come together without being arrested, without being tortured, disappeared. It took a long time for the government to understand what was going on, to understand that through these activities women were creating a new reality. A point came in fact when the government began to accuse the women and these activities as communism. The same experience was repeated in Peru, in Argentina where women brought pots and pans to the piquetes. Much has been said about self-managed factories, but not enough about the self-managed reproduction that women have created, which we now recognize as a sort of political motherhood. ‘Political motherhood’ because even though women fought in the name of mothering in reality they transformed what mothering means. In the words of one woman: `Today to be a good mother you have to make a struggle`. To be a good mother you have to go out of the home, to connect with other people, and confront the authorities, the institutions, because nothing is guaranteed any longer.

1 year 17 weeks
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