Sigal Spigel and Lisa Baraitser
Although this open issue draws together papers and artworks that were gathered without a specific theme, it is perhaps indicative of the present moment that it could be subtitled 'maternal politics'. It includes contributions from artists, sociologists, psychosocial scholars, philosophers, literary scholars and social anthropologists – work that is not marked out as political in a disciplinary sense. But, each contribution poses a question about how the maternal can itself constitute a form of politics, whether thought of as a form of collective action, collective making, or a metaphor for a political mode of sharing words and deeds in the public space.
In the first issue of SiM, back in 2009, we asked contributors to share their thoughts about why we might study the maternal and why now (SiM 1(1), 2009). Though the responses were diverse, they all attested, in one way or another, to a lacuna in contemporary culture, theory and in political life that could itself be named as the 'maternal'. As an aspect of culture, the maternal marks the limit of knowledge or representation, that is tied up with, but not reducible to the fleshy substance we call the body, and that disturbs notions of oneness through its insistence on at least twoness, signalling an area of experience that is ethical without that ethics being a form of self-abnegation. The maternal therefore proposes alternative models for subjectivity. This 8th issue of SiM consolidates our conviction that elucidating the precise forms of cultural dereliction and over exposure of the maternal generates a force that alters its marginalisation. Many of the papers and the artwork presented here attempt to put into dialogue an interplay between the personal and the communal; the maternal as a realm of experience that is shareable, and that creates the cultural realm. It is these meeting points that bring to the fore the maternal as a radical way of thinking and of relating.
Irene Lusztig's haunting and powerful interactive artwork The Worry Box Project opens this issue and a pandora's box of maternal anxieties. The Worry Box Project invites us to share anonymously our waking or dreaming anxieties with regard to motherhood. It aims at archiving, and thus making public, a record of the most intimate maternal worries, shifting anxiety from an individualised and isolated experience, to a collective one. As an archive, it is a never-ending project of collecting the unspoken agonies of relation, dependency, vulnerability, longing, fear and separation that resists understanding and yet nevertheless pushes for recognition and acceptance. Both opening up, and simultaneously containing these wild and wandering worries in a virtual box, the piece locates anxiety and desire as proximal and productive aspects of motherhood. As well as creating a commonality of maternal anxieties as Lusztig suggests, The Worry Box Project stems from the distinct and excluded experiences of maternal torments that then become available for authorship. Where Derrida argues that 'there is no political power without control of the archive, or without memory, Lusztig suggests a more creative relationship to archive, one that entails authorship, but also the act of collective making that is synonymous with motherhood itself. We hope that you will enjoy sharing your own waking or dreaming anxieties and find solace and pleasure in reading others.
Ana Grahovac's captivating piece Aliza Shvarts's Art of Aborting: Queer Conceptions and Resistance to Reproductive Futurism discusses the artist Aliza Shvarts's controversial maternal art project. During a period of nine months, Shvarts reportedly artificially inseminated herself and then self-induced a series of miscarriages using abortifacient drugs. Shvarts, an undergraduate student at Yale University at the time, proposed to show a video documenting the miscarriages as her senior performance art project. As Grahovac describes, the proposal ignited national controversy across the lines of pro-life and pro-abortion groups. Many of the responses highlighted the ethical implications of Shvarts's provocative acts and questioned whether they really took place or were in fact part of a fictional art-work. The Dean of Yale Art School attempted to ban her from displaying the project unless she wrote a confession attesting that the project was a fiction and that no human blood would be used. In her paper, Grahovac explores Shvarts's project as an ethical intervention that opens up the possibility of imagining an 'otherwise' reality. Grahovac is not suggesting this radical refusal of reproduction ascribes women with agency but rather with authorship. The latter assigns the act of refusal as an act of disruption and by doing so exposes the 'fundamental instability of our subject positions'. It enables imagining a social order within which the reproductive body is not an object that is obliged to follow a preordained reproductive future. Following Judith (Jack) Halberstam, the paper suggests that art has the power to destabilise the real. Contemplating the unthinkable might or might not give rise to new forms of maternal subjectivities but it certainly has the potential to '[c]omplicate an assumed relationship' between gender and reproduction.
Imogen Tyler and Lisa Baraitser's major new paper Private View, Public Birth: Making Feminist Sense of the New Visual Culture of Childbirth describes a shift in cultural representations of the maternal body where abject aesthetics are challenged by current images and visual material documenting birth. Tyler and Baraitser consider the growing visibility of childbirth as manifest in both 'childbirth reality TV' and in the birthrites collection, a unique art collection in the UK dedicated to the subject of childbirth. The paper provides a novel theoretical conceptualisation of the new visual culture of birth and explores how it challenges feminists' earlier accounts of the 'abject' birthing body. In particular, they claim the new visual culture opens up an opportunity for natal politics that enables political action by the same merit that blocked it previously. Further, natality/birth should, following Hannah Arendt, be thought of as a powerful metaphor for a political mode of 'sharing words and deeds in public space'. Thinking of the new visual culture of birth along these theoretical lines constitutes it as a potentially transformational political act rather than a mere peeping site into the births of others.
Ruth Cain's paper 'This growing genetic disaster': Obesogenic mothers, the obesity 'epidemic' and the persistence of eugenics explores the construction of the abject body of the obesogenic 'underclass' mother who, within these discourses, presents a threat to both her children and national body through her own poor diet. Cain's paper demonstrates how the emphasis on mothers' personal responsibility assists in obscuring the structural-social dimensions of obesity as an experience that is largely related to poverty and social inequality. The paper is timely, given the recent UK government scheme that offers cash to new mothers living in socioeconomically depressed areas of Britain if they sign forms declaring that they have breast-fed their children for six weeks, with a further payment if they do it for six months. Cain's argument illuminates how this scheme participates in the ongoing monitoring of maternal feeding behavior for the sake of protecting future citizens from obesity, as well as other potential risks, while ignoring the political structures that maintain these 'risks'.
Rozanna Lilley's paper Crying in the park: Autism stigma, school entry and maternal subjectivity combines theoretical considerations with moving personal accounts of mothers of children who are diagnosed with autism. Lilley's ethnographic project describes a longitudinal qualitative study with these mothers and presents data on their experiences of finding primary school places for their children; a point in time when both the children's 'functioning' and consequently maternal characteristics and the quality of their parenting are scrutinised. Lilley's innovative theoretical conceptualisation of 'attachment stigma' (in contrast to Goffman's 'courtesy stigma') demonstrates how the experience of these mothers is shaped by both psychic and social/cultural processes. Though discussing mothers of children diagnosed with autism, this paper sheds light on the intricate relation between intersubjective mother-child experiences, and blaming/stigmatising discourses that judge mothers more generally through their children's experiences, (as for instance the papers by Ruth Cain and Abigail Lee Six, in this issue, demonstrate).
We are delighted to be including a special cluster of papers, 'Motherhood in Post-1968 European Literature' that brings together work that was originally presented in a workshop entitled 'Changing Models of Motherhood' organised by the AHRC-funded Network Motherhood in Post-1968 European Literature. The network, led by Professor Gill Rye, aimed to raise the profile of literature and highlight its distinct contribution to Maternal Studies. In Oedipus Interrupted Victoria Browne, the Research Network Coordinator, gives a general description of the network's activities and outlines the main themes discussed at the workshop. Browne acknowledges that while literary scholars draw upon theoretical models and concepts from a wide range of disciplines, there isn't much use of literary texts and/or literary analysis in these disciplines. Further, she argues that drawing upon maternal metaphors in particular when these are extended to include a post-oedipal imaginary that can enrichen our understanding of maternal subjectivities rather than reproduce and perpetuate Oedipality. Browne then illustrates how the workshop's participants made use of maternal metaphors in their extended meaning. Abigail Lee Six's Changing Models of Motherhood? Hideous Progeny and Mother-Blame in Ana García-Siñeriz, Esas mujeres rubias (2011) explores maternal blame in the Spanish novel, Esas mujeres rubias (2010) [Those Blonde Women] by Ana García-Siñeriz. The paper discusses the way three generations of women deal with maternal guilt and blame and portrays the construction of maternal 'imperfection' through three stories of supposedly maternal failure associated with the loss of either a baby or a 'perfect' child. The paper aims at exploring whether there are any changes, through time, in the way maternal failure is constructed and perceived. It concludes that there are no significant changes: mothers are still being judged and consequently judge themselves using similar standards. Katarina Carlshamre's paper Helper and Obstacle; the image of the father in four Swedish mother-narrated novels of the early 21st century: Myrén, Nordin, Sandberg and Sveland looks at the interaction between the motif of the mother and that of the father in four Swedish novels. Carlshamre discusses the images of both mothers and fathers that emerge from these texts while reflecting on the Swedish equality politics. The workshop's papers exemplify how looking at literary texts in their relation to socio-historical realities extend our understanding of both the texts and of these realities.
Roberta Garrett's Novels and Children: 'Mum's lit' and the public mother/author offers a critique of representations of the maternal as they are portrayed in five British 'mum's lit' novels. Garrett's paper shows how, while claiming to go against the current trend that demands perfect mothering, in reality, the seemingly less-than-perfect mothers who are the protagonists of the genre demonstrate a perfect, white middle-class model that undermines any other form of mothering. Garrett suggests these novels promote neoliberal and neo-conservative values thus perpetuating the current patricidal social order. By so doing, they actively conceal the immense difficulties, ambivalence and conflicts women who mother face at home and at work. Like other contributions to this issue, Garrett's paper alerts us to the political and personal implications of the validation of maternal experience as individualised, portrayed here in the 'mum's lit' genre.
Natalie Wreyford's thoughtful review essay The Real Cost of Childcare: Motherhood and Project-based Creative Labour in the UK Film Industry is part of a larger project aimed at exploring the gender imbalance amongst screenwriters working in the UK. Wreyford attends to the literature describing the longstanding relationship between gender and labour, exemplifying the well-known fact that motherhood is the most important driver of gendered inequality in the labour market. Traditionally, creative work is described as potentially 'appropriate' for women who can mother alongside work, thanks to the flexibility and autonomy it offers. Wreyford shows the tensions, hidden costs and hidden inequalities amongst screenwriters in the UK film industry. Further, she demonstrates that gendered assumptions about women as potential mothers and primary carers for their children impact on their career opportunities in creative industries. Wreyford shows how flexible working pattern for mothers, while possibly welcomed, reinforce the assumption that the responsibility for childcare is in the hands of mothers.
The In Conversation section brings fascinating testimonies from Brazil. Jacqueline Pitanguy and Iáris Cortês are prominent Brazilian feminists activists, who acted during the late 1980s as public policy makers. Both were members of a committee that worked to ensure the implementation of women's rights during the elaboration of the new Brazilian Constitution of 1988. They speak to Maria Collier de Mendonça and Patrícia Fonseca Fanaya about the past, present and the future of feminism and motherhood in Brazil. They reflect here on their achievements and their bitter yet optimistic account of what still needs to change.
Marianna Leite's paper: (M)Othering: Feminist Motherhood, Neoliberal Discourses and the 'Other' also discusses motherhood in Brazil though from a very different social and theoretical perspective. Together, these two pieces of work offer an acute glimpse into the complicated political situation in Brazil. Leite studies maternal health policies and strategies as they are portrayed in Brazilian feminist activists' discourses regarding maternal mortality in Brazil. Her conclusions are far from optimistic. Leite argues that while seemingly favouring feminist agendas these discourses tend to reconfigure patriarchal values into neoliberal agendas, which if at all feminist, portray 'feminist' motherhood as the only legitimate avenue for women. Appropriating feminist motherhood allows the rejection of any other feminists' forms and claims for rights including those based on non-motherhood. Leite calls on feminists and non-feminists alike to acknowledge and accept all concepts of motherhood in order to avoid further marginalisation of non-motherhood as a way of challenging neoliberal policies and discourses that perpetuate the subjugation of women.
The review section covers two recently published titles and an exhibition dedicated to photography and motherhood. Mathew Geary reads Jan Campbell's Freudian Passions: Psychoanalysis, Form and Literature (London: Karnac, 2013). Sara De Benedictis discusses Imogen Tyler's Revolting Subjects: Social Abjection and Resistance in Neoliberal Britain (London/New York: Zed Books, 2013). Lastly, Rebecca Baillie writes about the current exhibition at the Photographers' Gallery and The Foundling Museum Home Truths: Photography and Motherhood.
The visual section presents the work of Cara Judea Alhadeff, Sally Barker, Paula Chambers, Jessica Ackerman and Abby Fletcher, and Rebecca Baillie. The section offers an illustrative discussion about being a mother artist, pregnancy, birth and maternal ambivalence through photography, sculpture and drawings. Interestingly, though very different in style, all the works in this collection re-position images and scenes that are traditionally used to denigrate mothers, assigning them new meanings. The story behind Jessica Ackerman and Abbe Fletcher's collaboration, 7 position in 2 hours, is a documentation of a familiar experience of producing work under the constraints of childcare thus ending up with a product which hasn't been necessarily planned. 7 position in 2 hours attests to the fact that nevertheless this product can be funny and stimulating.
We hope you would enjoy the issue and encourage you to continue to send us work and post responses on Facebook, Twitter and the blog. We would like to thank all the contributors. Special thanks go to Naomi Bain who designs SiM and to our invaluable collaborators: Marianna Leite, Sara De Benedictis and Tom Ue for their commitment and hard work.