Weekend conference examines motherhood

by Suzanne Leonard | 5/16/93 10:00pm

A conference on motherhood hosted by the College this weekend began Friday evening with a panel discussion on the role of motherhood in feminist politics.

The three-day conference called "Redefining Motherhood: Mothers, Politics and Social Change in the 20th Century" involved women speakers from across the country and around the world.

This opening panel discussion, entitled "Theorizing Radical Motherhood," sought to examine "how motherhood has affected our ability to act collectively in a wide range of social contexts," according Dartmouth English and Women's Studies Professor Ivy Schweitzer, who moderated the panel.

In a speech called "Some Thoughts on the Uneasy Relationship of Feminism and Motherhood," French Professor Marianne Hirsch said, "The conference places mothers in the context of radical politics."

"We live in a culture that romanticizes motherhood and idealizes children," Hirsch said. But she said feminists often view motherhood as a barrier to women's equality.

Advocating change in the 90s, Hirsch called for a "feminism that includes maternal voices without sentimentalizing or de-valuing motherhood."

Philosophy Professor Sara Ruddick of the New School for Social Research in New York City, echoed this sentiment.

"Mothers who acquire a feminist conscience will be more able to act politically," she said.

In her talk called "Maternal Thinking and Radical Politics: A Contradiction in Terms?" Ruddick also spoke of the implications of mothers entering politics.

Ruddick said mothers often unintentionally reinforce traditional stereotypes of women. Themes such as maternal love, fear and loss are common in the realm of maternal politics, she said.

Ruddick also said because mothers are on both sides of many causes, there is no set platform for maternal politics. She emphasized, however, the need for women in politics.

"Mother-identified politics bring the passions of mothering into the world," Ruddick said. "If mothers don't engage in politics, others will."

Temma Kaplan, a professor of Women's Studies and History from the State University of New York at Stony Brook, described some of the women engaged in political battles.

She spoke of progressive women's movements in the United States, Africa and Latin America, which challenge liberal and conservative authority by protesting health, consumer and environmental issues.

Kaplan said activist housewives "accept their roles as mothers and speak for the community."

Dartmouth Religion Professor Susan Ackerman discussed the role of women in the Bible. There is at least one shrewd female activist and militant present in the Bible though she is somewhat hard to find, Ackerman said.

The biblical figure Deborah rendered judgements, sought liberation and was involved in military action to protect her community, according to Ackerman.

"Mothers mean business," Ackerman said at the end of her speech.

History Professor Annelise Orleck and Spanish Professor Diana Taylor organized the conference.