I’m reading bell hooks’ Feminist Theory; From Margin to Center. Coincidentally, I started reading Chapter Ten, “Revolutionary Parenting”, just after reading this thread at Feministe, “Sacrifice, Parenting, and Feminism“, particularly bfp’s comments (21-24, 41-42).
It also serves as an important privilege check, and a reminder that the recent work of white feminist mothers isn’t anything new; bell hooks was doing this back in 1984, as no doubt were those before her.
Chapter 10: Revolutionary Parenting
During the early stages of contemporary women’s liberation movement, feminist analyses of motherhood reflected the race and class biases of participants. Some white, middle-class, college-educated women argued that motherhood was a serious obstacle to women’s liberation, a trap confining women to the home, keeping them tied to cleaning,cooking, and child care. Others simply identified motherhood and child-rearing as the locus of women’s oppression. Had black women voiced their views on motherhood, it would not have been named a serious obstacle to our freedom as women. Racism, lack of jobs, lack of skills or education, and a number of other issues would have been at the top of the list — but not motherhood. Black women would not have said motherhood prevented us from entering the world of paid work because we have always worked. From slavery to the present day, black women in the U.S. have worked outside the home, in the fields, in the factories, in the laundries, in the homes of others. That work gave meager financial compensation and often interfered with or prevented effective parenting. Historically, black women have identified work in the context of family as humanizing labor, work that affirms their identity as women, as human beings showing love and care, the very gestures of humanity white supremacist ideology claimed black people were incapable of expressing. In contrast to labor done in a caring environment inside the home, labor outside the home was most often seen as stressful, degrading, and dehumanizing.
These views of motherhood and work outside the home contrasted sharply with those expressed by white women’s liberationists. Many black women were saying, “We want to have more time to share with family, we want to leave the world of alienated work.” Many white women’s liberationists were saying, “We are tired of the isolation of the home, tired of relating only to children and husband, tired of being emotionally and economically dependent; we want to be liberated to enter the world of work.” (These voices were not those of working-class white women who were, like black women workers, tired of alienated labor.)