Matricentic Feminism: Feminism That Prioritizes The Needs Of Mothers

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Maternity leave, abolishing the “mommy track” at work, and advocating for parents are all priorities with matricentic feminism — another division of contemporary feminism aimed to address the needs of moms. “Matricentic feminism” is a term developed by Dr. Andrea O’Reilly, an associate professor of women’s studies at York University and the founder as well as director of the Motherhood Initiative for Research and Community Involvement. Her anthology The 21st Century Motherhood Movement: Mothers Speak Out on Why We Need to Change The World and How To Do it outlines the motherhood movement as it stands now and its relationship to the larger work of feminism.

Why are motherhood and feminism so closely linked?

Women still overwhelmingly do the bulk of mother work. Mother work is predominantly globally performed by women. It’s often said that motherhood is the unfinished business of feminism and that’s not faulting feminism at all. Mothers have specific needs and concerns above and beyond that of women.

How would you define the motherhood movement?

I think that it’s emerging as we speak so it’s very hard to define. It’s still in the gestational stages. What makes it different from say second-wave is that it’s far more micro-based.

In the introduction, you write that motherhood and feminism have acquired some detrimental distance from one another. You write that modern motherhood and the struggles of mothers appear to be the new problem with no name.

Originally, feminism was largely single unmarried childless women but I think some issues got lost a long the way. Just like women of color got lost along the way or queer women got lost along the way and there have been measures to correct that. That’s what mothers are doing now. They’re not faulting feminism, they’re just saying you should include these things and get them on the agenda.

You write about technology and how that’s a really big part of the motherhood movement. So many women with children have taken to maintaining blogs and mothers with young children tend be very active on social media.  Do you envision social media being a vehicle for the motherhood movement?

I do, absolutely. Organizations require money and social media enables activism at very minimal cost. Social media has some restrictions obviously- geographically – but it enables organizations with very limited funds to do activism which would have been unthinkable 20 years ago. But what we’re seeing very recently is that social media can organize more traditional activism — taking people to the streets and engaging in real front line activism. So I think it’s a really nice mix. One example is SlutWalk. That is the perfect example. It happened online but it’s actually on the streets. If it hadn’t gone to the streets, none of this would have happened.

We can’t forget the importance of conferences, gathering, letters to politicians, or organizing sit-ins around breastfeeding issues. It has to be spontaneous and organized and fun. Like with SlutWalk — it’s provocative, creative, fun, and artistic and I do think that the organizations that are succeeding are engaging in that more performative type of activism that gets the media’s attention, that gets people engaged.

Why do you think it’s important to distinguish the motherhood movement with the term “matricentic feminism?”

The term really suggests a mother-centered perspective or focus. Just like we have queer feminism and third-wave feminism — it now becomes another road of feminism that leads to the larger movement.

It is very difficult because in this book, I did not want to validate the new momism. It’s dangerously bad for women and children. I didn’t want to make another requirement of mothers. Not only do they have to raise the perfect kid but now they have to change the world!

But a lot of the organization of the book is not just talking about mothers — it’s talking about women who are caregiving with children. A lot of those organizations are clear that they need moms but they also make it clear that they’re talking about anyone who cares about children and the world we live — and that’s everybody hopefully. We’re talking about mothers strategically but that doesn’t exclude other people that care about our children such as fathers, aunts, the government. So it’s tricky. It’s just like feminism. You use the term “feminism” which implies women but we would hope that we have men. We would hope that we have people who are pro-mothers, pro-children whether or not they are mothers or have children themselves.  I see “mother” more as a verb — something that you do, something that needs to be done, something that needs to be done well and can be done by anybody.