This is St. John’s Day and I’d like to have been in Recife seeing the quadrilles and dancing forró, or at a bonfire far enough north to see the northern lights. Next year I should actually go to a beach on St. John’s Eve and have the Danish celebration. I am glad Clarissa reminded me how important this day is, since I need some powerful magic — as well as a much larger measure of order, beauty, luxury, calm, and pleasure.
This morning after day and a half dealing with broken things of all kinds and many varieties of shoddy work — why does my life involve so much of this, what can I do to increase the levels of luxe, calme, et volupté I experience daily — I followed and participated in a very interesting discussion on feminism on Historiann. Here are some things I learned:
Motherhood has been used to give women authority for nigh on 300 years now, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that this continues. Firstly … women in the late eighteenth century used motherhood to claim citizenship. They made male citizens in the home through their child rearing and so were contributing to the polity. This contribution also made them citizens. We see this argument made in the US, the UK and France from the American Revolution onwards.
Secondly, in the nineteenth century, we carry this further by arguing that because women are mothers and homemakers they have a right to be in the public sphere to ensure women’s role is protected and because they have ‘specialist knowledge’ on particular areas. This argument is used to put them on education boards, poor law boards, local government and eventually get the vote. Female citizenship (and so political power) in a western context has been powerfully tied to motherhood.
Now, if you want to follow the single, motherless ladies in the nineteenth century, you can argue your authority comes from your innate mothering instinct and your role in the public sphere is providing this vital ‘female’ contribution, without neglecting your home duties (because you don’t have any)! But, I think this is where feminism impacted on this discourse. We quite effectively argued that motherhood is not an innate skill, but in doing so, we inadvertently allowed the discourse on mothering and citizenship to be connected to the physical act of giving birth, rather than of being female.
Of course, this is why we should all grab our Wollstonecraft and claim our rights based on our humanity!
Feminist Avatar provides a great brief explanation for the history of invoking motherhood as a kind of authority. It actually has a clear feminist genealogy, because at the birth of feminism women had no other sphere of expertise than domesticity and children. It makes perfect strategic sense that feminists 200 years ago made the argument that motherhood authorized women as citizens, activists, voters, and so on.
Much as I believe in patriarchal equilibrium, times for most of us have changed. Moreover, these days it seems to me like many mothers who identify as feminists (or vice versa) are invoking motherhood not as a wedge into the public sphere, but as an excuse to remain enclosed in the private sphere, but of course they say they’re feminists so how dare anyone challenge the politics of their choices….
This is where “choice feminism” leads us, friends. Anything a woman chooses is necessarily feminist because it’s her choice, and it’s bad, bad, bad for anyone to suggest that some choices are more feminist than others, or that some choices are in fact not feminist at all. In fact, we can’t have this conversation because it’s so wrong.
Now it is afternoon already but I have the materials I need to make the evening auspicious, since the June festivals are not over. I hope also to find clear, recent forró videos so Stringer Bell can see how the music and the dance are related to zydeco. Then we might see vallenato, where you also play accordions and dance close — pegadito, collé — tu le ton son ton.