Patriarchal, Empowering, and Feminist Mothering

In lecture on February 22, my Mothering and Motherhood professor Andrea O’Reilly said empowered mothering is better for children. She also says that empowered motherhood is mothering in disloyalty to patriarchal culture. On March 14, in tutorial, we discussed the differences between patriarchal, empowering, and feminist mothering.

Patriarchal motherhood is defined by men and is oppressive to women, inherent to patriarchal systems. This kind of motherhood not only defines what mothering is, but a woman’s identity. Throughout the year we have discussed how when talking about women and mothering, it seems completely acceptable to use “woman” and “mother” interchangeably. This is the language we know because we have learned under the patriarchy. A woman with children is not only a mother, and women without children are not “barren” or defined as “childless.” Yet, this labeling and setting expectations to meet these assigned labels is how patriarchal motherhood functions. Making “woman” and “mother” synonymous is also trans gender exclusionary.

Empowering motherhood works against patriarchal motherhood. It allows women to define mothering. Single mothers, low-income mothers, women of colour, queer mothering, communal mothering, any mothering that challenges the white, middle-class, heteronormative, Standard American Family structure is empowering motherhood. Empowered mothering, as discussed March 14, is not necessarily a purposefully feminist act. As well, activism is not required to be involved with empowered mothering. However, as O’Reilly says in the February lecture, empowered mothers tend to be political activists.

Feminist mothering is similar to empowered mothering, and is part of empowered mothering, but it is still a different category. Feminist mothering is especially different from patriarchal mothering. As discussed in the March tutorial feminist perspective theory is the understanding of what is not patriarchal. This type of mothering is activism by nature, recognizing that the personal is the political. Feminist mothering challenges gender inequality. In addition to re-defining gender roles, if not abolishing them completely, feminist mothering introduces thought that challenges intersectional forms of oppression like racism, classism, heterosexism, ableism, etc.

Empowered mothering puts the power in the hands of the mother, instead of the patriarchy. This empowerment is better for a mother’s health. This good health extends further to their children.

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