Our Symposium Transcription

Good afternoon, everyone! Here is the transcription for my essay "Feminism's Great Amnesia: Reclaiming the Fact of Motherhood." If you are reaching this through my blog and would like to see my video, here is the link.

Hi, everyone! My name is Ashlea Adams Hernandez, and I’m a graduate student in the English Dept at UWF. I am also a stay-at-home mother to two amazing little boys, who are currently outside playing while Mommy does her video. In the Fall of 2019, I took Dr. Blyn’s feminist theory class, where I explored what my fellow feminists have to say about being a mom, which I am sharing with you today. There is a link for this essay in the description below. It includes a transcription of the video as well as a list of the resources I used. I hope you enjoy.

Feminism’s Great Amnesia: Reclaiming the Fact of Motherhood

by Ashlea Adams Hernandez

When my first son was born, I was working as a private school teacher, making roughly $29,000 annually. Eighteen months later, my second son came along, and we now had two children under two years old. To put my youngest son in infant care in Florida, I would pay on average $9,238 per year, and for my eldest, I would pay close to $7,282 (“Child Care”). Those numbers come out to be about 57% of my salary, leaving me with roughly $240 per week to add to my husband’s salary. If I were a single mom, that would be $240 for me and my children to live on each week. Because of the cost of childcare, my husband and I decided together that I would stay home. It’s a privilege and a blessing, but, as you can imagine, it’s also hard financially.

My situation is not an anomaly. Mothers face not only societal pressures to conform to their roles as parents and workers but also major economic issues in becoming mothers, issues like unaffordable childcare, unpaid maternity leave, and low-paying, inflexible jobs. Second-wave and Marxist feminism have worked together to ensure women can join the work-force; however, they have done little to alleviate the underlying issues mothers face as wage-earners. I argue that feminism as a whole presupposes that motherhood is a bondage from which all women must escape; it does not grapple with the patriarchal image of the ideal worker; and it presupposes that all mothers desire to work. I will explore concepts like institutional motherhood, wage-earning, and others as well as how these unaddressed concepts affect the intersectional identities of mothers, resulting many rejecting feminism as a whole.

Through most of history, the patriarchal institution of motherhood relegated women to be solely responsible for childrearing and forced mothers to put their families first, at the risk of their own mental health and wellbeing. Second-wave feminist Adrienne Rich says, in her book Of Woman Born, that “I realize that I was effectively alienated from my real body and my real spirit by the institution—not the fact—of motherhood” (Rich 39). Betty Friedan, in The Feminine Mystique, explores “the problem that has no name” (Friedan 19). Rich gives a name to Friedan’s nameless problem: the institution of motherhood. In these texts’ passages alone, there are strong descriptors for the institution of motherhood: alienating, desperate, quieting. Rich wasn’t alienated from her husband or children or extended family members or friends: she was isolated from her own body and her spirit, her self. Another way to interpret alienated is to say that she transferred ownership of her self to someone or something else: the institution of motherhood, “the foundation of human society” (Rich 39).

Rich exposes the façade of institutional motherhood. For Rich, the institution of motherhood used everything from booklets in her obstetrician’s office to artwork and novels to guilt her into being an ideal, compliant housewife and mother (Rich 39). In effect, the patriarchal society assaulted women with venerate images like the perfect, silent Madonna when reality shows that Mary had to change diapers and clean spit-up like every other mother. By second-wave feminists sharing their personal experiences, by breaking the gag order, Rich and others are illuminating the effects of the institution of motherhood. The patriarchy, after suffering a blow when women gained rights, the vote, and a brief glimpse into the workforce, resituated the battlefield to the place where women had always complied in the past: motherhood. Suddenly, the patriarchy said that white, middle-class women—because lower-class women had to work whether or not they were mothers— that white, middle-class mothers could certainly have a career, but a “good” mother would stay home to rear her children to the point of sacrificing her self to the needs of her children. The workforce, once again, became the escape from her stifling life as a mother.

Marxist feminists, like Heidi Hartmann, fought for women to join the workforce and explored how men have used motherhood as a means of controlling women’s labor and wage-earning. Hartmann addresses the fact that mothers in the workforce are doubly burdened by both motherhood and wage-earning. She says that “the material base of the patriarchy, then does not rest solely on childrearing in the family, but on the social structures that enable men to control women’s labor” (Hartmann 12). I take issue with the term women’s labor. It’s just not enough: a more pointed term would be women’s wage-earning. Women have always labored, but they have not always been compe