“Third Wave Feminism and the Politics of Motherhood”

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“Third Wave Feminism and the Politics of Motherhood” is the title of an essay by Mary Thompson, a literature prof at James Madison U, that was published in the Genders Online Journal. Below are the first two paragraphs:

[1] The publication of Breeder: Real-Life Stories from the New Generation of Mothers (2001), co-edited by Ariel Gore and Bee Lavender, marks a shift in the attention of third wave feminists away from the role of rebellious daughters to the role of motherhood. This essay investigates the politics of motherhood in Breeder by extension the third wave’s thinking on reproductive rights and motherhood. While Breeder recounts the experiences of young women carrying on the feminist struggle for reproductive rights and childcare, it also reveals the third wave’s problematic celebration of”choice.”Breeder’s mission falters when compared with Sapphire’s novel PUSH (1996), a feminist work of fiction about an African American teenage mother with two children living in Harlem. Sapphire’s novel conjures the genealogy of the term”breeder”as a racist label for black mothers from slavery through welfare reform. My comparison of Breeder and PUSH shifts the term”breeder”out of Gore and Lavender’s counterculture space by invoking this older, racialized use of the term. The haunting of the term”breeder”by this older use is emblematic of how Gore and Lavender’s collection is haunted for me, as I will explain, by Sapphire’s novel.

[2] While the explicit message of Breeder is a feminist celebration of reproductive choices, the text also asserts that young (counterculture) women, typically assumed too financially unstable to parent, participate in what Douglas and Michaels term”the new Momism,”and, as choice-making consumers, are thus culturally acceptable mothers. By performing their legitimate claim to motherhood through their consumer choices, the young authors in Breeder mask how class-based and race-based privileges”trump”the disadvantages of youth in the cultural struggle to define”good mothers.” From my use of these two texts in the classroom, I came to realize that the legitimization of the mothers in Gore and Lavender’s text is based upon an invisible, cultural de-legitimization of other”breeders.” Based on student response to Sapphire’s novel and to Gore and Lavender’s text, I argue that Breeder’s celebration of the choice to follow unconventional paths to motherhood celebrates the privilege to make reproductive choices and, as Ricki Solinger argues, does the ideological work of distinguishing legitimate choice-making mothers from”bad”choice-making mothers.

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