This year in university I took a course called Mothering and Motherhood and it completely shifted my perspective of the world. The focus of the course was to unravel the patriarchal institution of motherhood and teach us students that although the experience of becoming a mother is biological, “motherhood” is an unnatural, socially constructed institution that is (literally) man-made. The construction of “motherhood” and the conceding crippling expectations society enforces upon “mothers” has evolved across history in response to economic shifts.
On the very first class our professor posed the question of what qualities characterize the “good mother”. We timidly raised our hands and offered suggestions such as “empathetic”, “nurturing”, and “kind”, but then we began to understand the deeper significance of her question. This list written on the blackboard at the front of the lecture hall grew to: white, suburban, middle-class, financially stable, married, able minded/bodied, age 29-34, self-less, all-giving, non-sexual, heterosexual, biological mother in a nuclear family, no more than 2 kids, and we only count “ethnic” mothers as the alternative or special circumstance.
Before patriarchy and capitalism, motherhood was a collective responsibility. Women (and the two-spirited) were valued sexually, economically, politically, and spiritually. We had a harmonious relationship with nature and it was valued, respected, and seen as an essential life force. Women’s connection to nature through birth, her shape, monthly bleeding, and her three cycles of life was honoured as the closest connection that we have to the divine. But this all changed with the rise of capitalism. Women and children were deemed property of the nuclear family’s father figure because inheritance of land began to be legally passed paternally. And this has led us to where we are today.
But now, on Mother’s Day of 2020, it is time for us to flip the script. To re-write the definition of motherhood to honour and respect ALL mothers. To recognize that “mother” is a verb. To view a person’s ability to carry life as a rite of passage rather than a medical procedure. For partners to step up to the plate (studies show that the oxytocin rush that birthing people experience which connect them to the baby equally occurs in their partners, but ONLY when the partner is ACTIVE in caring for the infant).
So to the mothers, the frontline workers whose shifts never end, whom we are always the last to thank, I honour you.