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Thursday
May122011

Motherhood Activism, Advocacy, Agency



Right now I'm in Toronto at the Motherhood Activism, Advocacy, Agency Conference organized by the Motherhood Initiative for Research and Community Involvement. According to the conference description, this conference:
...will examine the subject of maternal empowerment from the perspective of both scholarship and activism, drawing from and building upon Motherhood Studies research and the activism of the 21st century Motherhood Movement. It will bring together scholars who research maternal activism as well as activists who work with and on behalf of mothers. Grounded in a long history in which women activists, writers, and feminists focused much effort on strengthening the social, personal, and political power of mothers, this conference will examine deployments of women's power as mothers - and mothers' power as women - that afford women greater authority, resources, and status so that they may adequately care for their children while living full and purposeful lives. This conference brings together the fields of economics, health, law, sociology, political science, humanities and women's studies to examine how to empower mothers from a variety of perspectives and in a multitude of contests including community activism and engagement, politics, law, public policy, the economy, education, mental and physical health, the family, maternal practice, discourse, ideology and cultural expression. The conference will pay particular attention to the ways in which issues of race, class, nationality, sexuality, age, ability, religion and ethnicity affect (positively or negatively) the ability of mothers to advocate for and achieve authority, agency, respect and empowerment.

The conference has been fascinating and exhausting so far (from first thing this morning until 9:45pm tonight) and continues for another two days. I'm sure it will provide me with plenty of food for thought as well as theoretical and practical background for my future posts here.



What I Learned


I'm too exhausted from the conference to write an exhaustive post on all of the things that I learned from the dozen plus presenters I saw today, but I thought I would share a few of the observations I noted over the course of the day:

  • Part of the value statement for the Mother's Program at the Women's Health Clinic in Winnipeg is that it "acts AGAINST the conventional constructions of motherhood, by introducing a vision of mothering that is woman defined and centred, empowering and promotes social change."

  • The Museum of Motherhood is doing a Mama Blogger 365 for 2011, putting up a post each day from different mothers sharing their thoughts on mothering. You can submit a post too.

  • Sara Epstein from Deakin University in Australia talked about the relationship between mothers and sons in feminist parenting. She mentioned that the dominant discourse positions the son and mothers as bipolar opposites and requires that the son separate himself from his mother and that he have a father role model to teach him how to be a man. She talked about how feminist mothers reject  this mainstream approach and are raising their sons differently.

  • Lynn Kuechle from Minnesota State University talked about empowerment. She explained that empowerment is a process. It involves first becoming aware of power dynamics in our own life context. It also involves developing skills, capability and capacity to gain some reasonable amount of control over our lives. Empowerment also requires that we do not infringe on the rights of others -- i.e. we should not empower ourselves by squashing others. Finally, empowerment involves actively supporting the empowerment of others in the community (it is not just a selfish act).

  • Gaisheda Kheawok talked about the matriarchal tradition in aboriginal societies and shared her "all things come from the mother" approach, values and beliefs.

  • Amber Kinser from East Tennessee State talked about forgiveness. She talked about the need for us to forgive our own mothers, to forgive our children and to forgive ourselves. Examples of the questions she asked included: Can we forgive our mothers for not being omnipotent? Can we see imperfect children (including ourselves) and not blame the mother? If we could forgive our mothers for not being perfect would that make it easier to forgive ourselves? Can we forgive our children for coming into our lives at the wrong time? For being too needy? For not being needy enough? Can we forgive them for remembering things differently than we do (especially if that paints us in a bad light)? Can we forgive our children for having a better life than we did and not appreciating it? Can we forgive our children for not being all the things we wanted to be but weren't or can we forgive them for being the things we wanted to be when we couldn't? Can we forgive ourselves for all of our imperfections, poor choices, failures and inadequacies?

  • Fiona Green from the University of Winnipeg talked about interviews she did with feminist mothers years ago and recent follow-up interviews she did with their now adult children.

  • Lynn O'Brien talked about resisting and rethinking generational differences among feminist waves, which was fascinating. In her conclusion she said something that really resonating with me. She noted that mutual responsiveness between the mother and a child allow them both to achieve their own identity/potential while still retaining a connection with each other.

  • Erika Horowitz from the University of British Columbia talked about resistance and motherhood and examined the reasons why women resist the dominant discourse of motherhood.  Resistance is empowering, complex and not always easy. Moms who resist in some ways likely comply with the dominant discourse in other ways.

  • Finally, in the evening panel, there were presentations by several women on the work that they are doing to help women in specific communities, including Aboriginal communities and moms who have had their children taken away from them.

  • There was also a presentation by Ariel Gore from Hip Mama, who mentioned that the transition of radical writing from print to online has resulted in it having a different (broader, whiter, more mainstream) audience and that it also resulted in the writing being less radical than it was in print (likely due to the level and volume of scrutiny that online writing gets and also the silencing techniques that are often used in online discussions).


That was just today and just part of today. There are still two more full days of the conference and I hope my brain is big enough to fit it all.

An Observation: Swag-free conferences are great!


When I go to conferences, I don't go there to be marketed to. I go there to network and to learn. In the past, I haven't been impressed with the over the top commercial presence of sponsors who want to market to women at the blogging conferences I have attended. This conference is also a conference for women, by women, and about women, but there are no big corporate sponsors to be seen. There is a local feminist bookstore running the book table. There is a convention centre providing catering for the event. The conference fees were only $275 for a 3 day conference or $125 for students, so obviously this is possible. I just wish it was more common.
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Reader Comments (17)

I happen to be reading Amber Kinser's essay in Feminist Mothering right now, and it's been challenging, bringing up issues in my relationship with my mother, who died years before I became a mother myself. I'm therefore very curious about her presentation! Do you know if papers or video from the conference be made more generally available?

Sounds like an amazing conference! I can't believe you took in so much in just one day! Enjoy!

May 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRachael

The conference sounds very interesting.Thanks for sharing your notes. At least we can read the speakers books or other published writings.

May 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterIsil

As an expatriated Torontonian, I would have loved to attend something like this and am looking forward to reading about it on your blog!

May 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDaniela

I also would love to have been there. I hadn't even heard about it. I'm looking forward to reading about it also.

More books to add to my reading list! I just ordered two by a keynote speaker at my last conference, a Symposium on Education hosted by OTF. The books are by Dennis Shirley, "The Mindful Teacher" and "The Fourth Way". Conferences can be so inspiring. I've never been to one with swag as mine have all been education conferences hosted by Unions. It does seem distasteful.

Thanks for sharing.

May 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterErin@MultipleMusings

Annie, It is great that you are sharing some of this through twitter. The mothering conferences have been running for over ten years (I went to their first one and a few in between, and also their 10th anniversary one where I keynoted and was the ONLY presenter speaking about fathering). Across those years, they have attracted the most amazing people to them from all walks of life and all corners of the globe. Many of the messages are not new ones, but they get heard in different ways across time and by different groups.

Social media, and your tweets in particular will help to broadcast some of these stories out even further - and, more important, to remind people how much excellent work there is on mothering. It does not seem like the MIRCI is tweeting out from the conference. My guess is that since they tend to publish so much from their conferences, their approach is to wait and tweet out the full papers for people to consult.

As for the marketing, that is typical for most social science and humanities academic conferences. Learning and networking, exactly. No swagger. Except for books which we all love. Sounds like you should be in academia :^)

May 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAndrea Doucet

Add me as another mama who wished she could have been there. Thanks for keeping us non-academics in the loop!

May 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterShannon Drury

[...] doesn’t-snore and doesn’t-kick-me-out-for-coughing roommate has her own post up about day one, with more reflections and a couple links you should check out. Also a picture. Because she’s [...]

[...] the Motherhood Activism, Advocacy and Agency Conference we have been talking a lot about the expectations that are put on mothers and the expectations [...]

Rachael -- there will be a http://www.motherhoodinitiative.org/journalmotherhoodinitiative.html" rel="nofollow">journal out later based on the topic(s) and work presented in this conference, but there are no video or audio recordings. Many presenters were speaking from works/books they're in the process of publishing, but I don't think Kinser was one of them.

May 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterArwyn

Thanks, Arwyn!

May 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRachael

wowowow. why is all the good stuff in canada :(

Wow, I would have loved to have attended this conference. It's right up my alley at the moment, being sandwiched in birth activism and parenting mashed up with feminism and this whole journey of perfectionism... wow. Really interesting, and I look forward to seeing what writing comes out of your experience and new knowledge base. Fascinating!

May 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRhonda

Such an amazing conference and a great opportunity for me to connect with women I don't get the chance to in my every day life of running a business and raising six kiddos! I left feeling inspired and refreshed. Of course, great to see you there Annie!

May 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJulie Cole

please join MIRCI! I've been a member (when it was the Association for Research on Mothering, or ARM) for a decade, and it has so enriched my life, especially my writing. Go to the website!

May 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSerena Pattersond

[...] I was at the Motherhood Activism, Advocacy, Agency Conference in Toronto in May, I picked up a copy of the Motherhood Initiative for Research and Community [...]

[...] Involvement (MIRCI). I’ve mentioned MIRCI on my site before, like when I attended their conference on Motherhood Activism, Advocacy and Agency, when I wrote about our (over)investment in parenting highs, and when I talked about the new book [...]

[...] (MIRCI) for a long time. I’ve written about some of their books, their calls for papers, and have attended their conferences. If you want to get beyond the stereotypical “mommy blogger” image, you really need to [...]

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