Which Mothers Do We Honor?
As many folks paid homage to their mothers on social media yesterday, I worried a bit (okay, a lot) about the way that their public sentiments papered over the ways in which societies (and yes, “we”) dishonor mothers around the world: the ways in which judges and juries refuse to acknowledge and protect women who kill their spouses in self-defense–spouses who are violent and abusive toward their wives and children. I wonder about the tension where the respect for mothers gets invoked in the breath in which we neglect to support black and brown and undocumented mothers who are un/under-employed or making insufficient wages. I question the ways in which we (myself included) chirp Happy Mother’s Day while legislators annul the reproductive autonomy of poor women, or women with few social or material resources to abort pregnancies.
I can’t help but contrast the ways that “we” honor “our” mothers in individual and highly public ways while we simultaneously uphold a political and cultural system that punishes children who mention sexual or physical abuse–by refusing more feasible options than removing children from the household and depriving them of parents altogether.
I worry about the ways in which the state (yes, even the pre-Trump state) criminalizes women who engage in prostitution because there are no better ways to make an income needed to care for their children. I worry about the ways in which women’s pleas for economic, psychic, emotional assistance, or the need for networks gets ignored by their families, friends, neighbors who are “too busy,” to help, or read these pleas as pathologies, as reflecting an unwillingness to “buck up and deal” or “pull themselves up by their bootstraps.”
I am concerned about the ways in which “we”—both on the right and the left disparage abused women who refuse to leave their spouses. Disparagement even when they and the subjects of their derision—the women who are already injured and suffering—know that leaving their spouses, while providing relief from a daily onslaught of abuse, still invites an open-ended future-often an indefinite future in which they flail about through insufficiently funded battered women’s and homeless shelters, where they unceasingly try to shield their children from the trauma, the stigma of having left their father, left their school systems, left their routines and beds. All of this–while suffering yet again, through social and familial ostracization for having breached patriarchal normative frameworks of relationships
Lest y’all think I’m being too cynical: Anna Jarvis, daughter of Anna Reeves Jarvis (founder of Mother’s Friendship Day in the1850’s—a much more structural political battle), died penniless trying to fight the commercialization of Mother’s Day. Still, Jarvis Jr.’s was less of a political celebration of Mother’s Day than was her mother’s vision.
I don’t begrudge those who wish to observe various moms on this Hallmark holiday (I’ve done so as well). But as we know, the point of Hallmark holidays is to render a deeply political, often oppressive structure “apolitical,” sentimental, devoid of power, injustice, and hierarchical politics. When we honor mothers on Facebook, or elsewhere on social media, we are submitting to the political economy of Hallmark. Buying cards, making breakfast, cleaning the house, offering a gift to one’s own mother offers a joy to both mother and child—but it is a fleeting joy. It enjoins one to forget the political structure in which “we” incarcerate mothers who enter the country illegally, or break up those families by deporting undocumented parents, or insist that applicants for asylum (often mothers) need to prove even harder their dire need of refuge from gangs, or rapists, or civil war, or famine—when in fact all of these are real and often caused through our United States foreign and economic and energy policies: whether structural adjustment polices through the World Bank, or loopholes in climate protocols, or through the introduction of war in the name of National Security.
All of this to ask: which mothers are we honoring?