Saturday, June 21, 2014

Writing on mothering/motherhood - a review in LRB

An article here by Jacqueline Rose, about mothers, published in the London Review of Books. It’s a long article, covering a number of texts, but worthwhile. Here are some excerpts.

There was a time when becoming a mother could signal a woman’s entry into civic life. In ancient Greece, a woman was maiden, bride and then, after childbirth, mature female, which allowed her to enter the community of women and participate in religious ceremonies. Established in her household as a mother, a woman gained new economic and affective power (she had ceased to be an object of exchange). She could fulfil her destiny only by becoming a mother, but according to one account of Greek motherhood, in doing so she became more rather than less engaged in the polity. Having a child ushered the woman on a path that led to something other than motherhood itself – an idea which modern times seem progressively to have lost. This version of motherhood expanded horizons. It gave women a voice. ..

But why in modern times is the participation of mothers in political and public life seen as the exception – Great Britain lagging behind the rest of Europe and the US? Why are mothers not seen as an essential part of a contested polity? Why are they exhorted to make their stand in the boardroom – to ‘lean in’, as the ghastly imperative of Sheryl Sandberg’s bestseller has it – as if being the props of neoliberalism were the most mothers could aspire to, the highest form of social belonging they could expect. Today we are witnessing what Angela McRobbie has described as a ‘neoliberal intensification of mothering’: perfectly turned out middle-class, mainly white mothers, with their perfect jobs, perfect husbands and marriages, whose permanent glow of self-satisfaction is intended to make all the women who don’t conform to that image – because they are poorer or black or their lives are just more humanly complicated – feel like total failures. This has the added advantage of letting a government whose austerity policy has disproportionately targeted women and mothers completely off the hook...

‘What we have, for the most part,’ Daisy Waugh writes in I Don’t Know Why She Bothers: Guilt-Free Motherhood for Thoroughly Modern Women, is a repressive sentimentality, a smiling acceptance of female martyrdom, which teeters, at times, beyond martyrdom into a sort of approved, mass-culture masochism.’ But Waugh’s insights are trounced by her breeziness, which makes you feel that mothers have only themselves to blame – that ‘thoroughly modern’ in the title is the give-away…

Perhaps, then, we should be asking a slightly different question: not what a mother is or should be, but what version of motherhood might make it possible for a mother to listen to her child? For if Western culture in our times, especially in America and Europe, has repeatedly conspired to silence the inner life of the mother by laying on her the weight of its own impossible and most punishing ideals, if the term ‘mothers’ is a trigger for a willed self-perfection that crushes women as mothers, then how can mothers be expected to hear their children’s cry – the cry not of wailing babies, which is hard enough, but the cry of protest and plaint? How can they bear to watch their child cast off the yoke of false mental safety, turning on its head what was meant to be the psychic legacy of their own version of motherhood?...

Cultural Diversity in Education

I’ve just done a unit of study on cultural diversity in education. Because I’m an external student I didn’t get to discuss all the interesting issues I wanted to talk about, so I’m raising them here.

Multicultural Public Speaking Competition

I wonder how much about multiculturalism the primary school students understand. I wonder if the topics the students can choose from are really suitable. It’s all a bit more complex and confronting than primary school students, and their teachers, might be comfortable with. And although I’m all for disrupting the norm, I’m not sure this is the right way to go about it. The topics don’t point to the idea that white culture is a culture, but they do assume that, and assume that every other culture is ‘other’. The topics don’t touch on white privilege, although I wonder how far any discussion on multiculturalism can go without mentioning it.

I have reservations about telling my children about racism. Although I’ve told them about issues in history, I don’t want to plant the ideas that people of some races have been regarded as lesser human beings. I don’t think they’ve ever heard an Irish joke. My instinct is to let these ideas die out. The research says they should be acknowledged and  addressed. Some say that being colourblind is the way to go - to stop talking about racism. Researchers disagree. I can make a comparison with sexism. It won’t go away by ignoring it.

I suspect there is a market in selling speeches for this competition. I know that a lot of parents write them for their children, because the concepts are difficult. Writing a speech is difficult. We need to teach multiculturalism in primary schools but surely there is a better way to do it than having a public speaking competition.

How to engage migrant parents.

This question was raised at a P&C meeting recently, and is something I’ve thought about before, noticing that it is usually the white parents who volunteer and participate at school. (This doesn’t hold true for the selective school, where parents are more into the concerted cultivation style of parenting.)

Schools are white institutions. Parent bodies at schools are white institutions. Some cultural groups may not be comfortable with the model of sitting in a circle and everyone having their say. Some may  want to hear only from elders, or those in authority, or may make their point more circumspectly, taking more time. Their style may not suit a fast talking, let’s stick to point and make a resolution type of meeting.

In some families, parents aren’t available in the evening. They may consider this family time, or be working shift work, or be single parents and have no babysitter. It is possible that migrant parents see no value in attending school meetings and functions. If they considered it to have value, they would come. It may be worthwhile asking migrant parents why they don’t attend. If they want to come, but don't feel comfortable, then that is something to work on.

For some families, the family comes first. That may mean helping with younger children or helping with the family business. Education may not be a priority. It is also possible that migrant families may be helping their children’s educations in way we don’t see. For some cultures the school is expected to manage all school related issues, and if parents are at the school it is only because there is a problem. There may be a sense of shame associated with the parent being at school.

It is much easier to involve migrant parents when there is a large culture group at the school. Most studies that have been done in the USA are about Latino or African-American families. Where there is a large parent population who speak another language the school can translate announcements and newsletters to that language, such as Spanish for Latinos. For African-American students they can talk about code switching between Standard English and Ebonics. It is more difficult to address the issue when families are from a wide range of cultures, such as the situation in my local area.

To involve migrant families most schools immediately reach for celebrations of festivals and food. This is now regarded as shallow and tokenistic. If we want to really engage migrant parents then we need to listen to them. We need them to know that their culture is reflected in school materials. We need to invite parents to schools to tell us about themselves and their culture. The way to go is probably to follow the policy guidelines for Aboriginal Education, which states that elders must be invited to the school, and be involved in the school community. But, having listened, we might not always like or agree with or be able to deliver what people want. We can’t assume that involving migrant parents is going to end happily for everyone. Do we really respect cultural diversity or do we want everyone to do things the white way?

The situation may improve with the new Australian curriculum having intercultural understanding as a General Capability.

What is a minority?

If a group claims to have minority status, even if they seem quite powerful, does that mean they do? I remember in the late eighties or early nineties, when minority groups were gaining more attention and receiving funding support. White males were saying they were a minority, and were discriminated against because, according to them, you needed to be lesbian in a wheelchair to acquire funding. Another example would be a religious group that once was persecuted but now is powerful. At what point do you stop being part of a minority? If you identify with the original persecuted group, are you still a minority?