45 years after Adrienne Rich published Of Woman Born, two authors are tackling the issue of motherhood and the new orthodoxies that surround it
The publication in 2022 of Eliane Glaser’s Motherhood: Feminism’s Unfinished Business and Lucy Jones’s Matrescence in 2023 demonstrate that writing about motherhood remains urgent and topical. Although for the last two decades a steady stream of books on the topic have been published, those two recent works have caught my attention as they bring a fresh outlook on the issue of motherhood and prove that many questions remain unaddressed. In 1976, when Adrienne Rich wrote what remains today the seminal work on motherhood, the priority was to expose the way women had been robbed of the experience of mothering by the patriarchal institution of motherhood. 45 years later, as more and more women are coming out to share their experience of becoming a mother, the impact it has had over their lives, we seem to have come a long way indeed. Childbirth is no longer the preserve of a male-only scientific elite who treat mothers like so many pieces of machinery needing to be fixed. Similarly, it is no longer unheard of for a woman to claim to become a mother after 40, to juggle her career and her family, and mothers are not expected to remain at home to focus solely on the care of their children. Yet, Jones and Glaser remind us, much work still needs to be done. Not only have we not completely defeated the patriarchal forces which constrain the experience of motherhood, but, they claim, we have replaced the old discourses with new, more seemingly empowering ones, which focus on giving women the possibility to make the right choices for themselves and their babies. Yet the rhetoric of choice, the two authors say, is often a scam which gives women the illusion they can make their own decisions while setting them up for failure.