On the Feminist Mother’s Bookshelf

by Rachael on April 7, 2011

This is what a feminist mother looks like.

Even as it seems to be taking me 10,000 years to finish Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth, I have been compiling a to-read list of books on or related to feminist mothering.

Books I’ve Already Read, Either Partially or Completely

Mother Nature and Mothers and Others by Sarah Blaffer Hrdy. It should be obvious how much I love these books. I’ve written about them again and again.

The Second Shift by Arlie Russell Hochschild. A classic. But I’ve never finished it, in part because the first case study is so disheartening.

Kidding Ourselves by Rhona Mahony. I’ve written about this one, too. Twice.

Feminist Mothering, edited by Andrea O’Reilly. I’m reading essays from this book in between all the other books on my to-read list (as I try to keep up with the Writers Studio craft class, thus the Roth). I fear that I’ll never actually finish this, because as it is I’m finding I want to go back and reread the two essays I’ve already read, to glean further insight into ideas that have surfaced since I first read them….

Books to Read

Of Woman Born by Adrienne Rich. In my post at the Natural Parents Network on Monday, I forgot to include Rich in the list of poets I read and re-read in my teens. I haven’t read much of her work since, but this book comes up again and again in O’Reilly’s book; O’Reilly writes, “It has long been recognized among scholars of motherhood that Rich’s distinction between mothering and [patriarchal] motherhood was what enabled feminists to recognize that motherhood is not naturally, necessarily, or inevitably oppressive, a view held by some Second Wave feminists. Rather, mothering, freed from motherhood, could be experienced as a site of empowerment, a location of social change if, to use Rich’s words, women became ‘outlaws from the institution of motherhood.'” Outlaws! I love it already.

The War on Moms by Sharon Lerner. The author is a neighbor, and I attended a reading and discussion of the book shortly after its publication. Frankly, I’ve been avoiding it, because I’m afraid it’s going to be a painful read.

Radical Homemakers by Shannon Hayes. I’ve been curious about this book for a while, having first heard of it via (I’m pretty sure) Erin of exhale. return to center. And then I read Lucy’s post about it at Dreaming Aloud; from her post:

Domestic work was valued, requiring skill, creativity and ingenuity, and was satisfying. But economics changed this, first drawing men, then women out of the home. No longer would home be a place of family, food production, education, work and leisure — instead all of these functions were externalised, and bought, requiring money, and thus further work outside the home, and round the circle goes.

The Invisible Heart by Nancy Folbre has actually been sitting in my to-read list for quite some time. I have no idea where I first heard of this book, but in a recent guest post at PhD in Parenting, blue milk provided an excellent explication of many of Folbre’s ideas about patriarchal capitalism and the economics of care. Her post has revitalized my interest in reading this book; sounds like it might be great to read alongside Hayes’s book.

The Price of Motherhood by Ann Crittenden is recommended by a commenter on the blue milk post. (The commenter’s name is also Rachael, but it’s not me. Obviously.)

The Way We Never Were by Stephanie Coontz. Remember those good old days, when all papas were breadwinners and all mamas were homemakers? If you do, you’re hallucinating, because those days just never happened.

Never Done by Susan Strasser. All those time-saving housekeeping technologies haven’t really saved us any time; they’ve just encouraged us to raise our standards for cleanliness (though not in my home!).

Birth Matters by Ina May Gaskin. My birth center just hosted a reading with Gaskin, in celebration of this book — but I couldn’t go! Lucy at Dreaming Aloud also recommended it.

Maternal Desire by Daphne de Marneffe. This one is recommended by blue milk.

Cinderella Ate My Daughter by Peggy Orenstein. I don’t have a daughter, but I could. Plus, how might princess culture affect the Critter’s perceptions of girls — and women?

Female Chauvinist Pigs by Ariel Levy. Has nothing to do with mothering, really, but I wonder how it might read alongside Orenstein’s book. This one was recommended to me by Brittany.

Dreamers of a New Day by Sheila Rowbotham. This one is recommended by Laura at Apt. 11D.

OK, OK, I know that it will take me 100,000 years to finish reading the books on this list. But anyway — I know that I’m forgetting some books, possibly even some obvious ones! What would you add to the list? Please do tell!

A couple notes: The links to IndieBound are not affiliate links, though I do hope that you support your local independent bookstore. Also, tomorrow I’m heading to a silent meditation retreat, and I will not be back to moderate comments until Sunday afternoon. I trust you all not to get all spammy or trolly in the meantime! xox, Rachael

Photo credit: Richard Nevins

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Christine April 7, 2011 at 8:57 AM

War on Moms is on my list too. And we must live in the same neighborhood. Price of Motherhood is excellent and infuriating. Reading Cinderella Ate My Daughter now and considering moving to like…Barbados? With no TV.
Christine recently posted… You Gotta Know When to Hold ‘Em…


Michelle @ The Parent Vortex April 7, 2011 at 11:31 AM

Thanks for a great list – I haven’t read much about feminist mothering but I would like to read more. Radical Homemakers is good, and expands the value of homemaking to those who are not mothers, single women and male partners alike.
Michelle @ The Parent Vortex recently posted… Playful Self-Discipline- Dealing With Uncertainty


6512 and growing April 7, 2011 at 4:40 PM

I am hoping to read Peggy Orenstein’s book too. I loved her book “Waiting for Daisy.”

My friend and I were just talking about the feminist movement, and how when women flooded the workforce, it might have been helpful if part of the movement was about men staying home more to hang out with kids, cook, clean etc…
6512 and growing recently posted… Homestead happenings- april


Rachael April 13, 2011 at 11:17 AM

Though one book represeneth not the entire feminist movement, Kidding Ourselves does talk about men staying home — Mahony devotes an entire chapter to a case study of a stay-at-home dad (who is probably a composite of more than one stay-at-home dad). Her argument is that true equality won’t be achieved until there is an equitable division of labor between men and women — not within each household, but across society. She talks about many of the same things that Hochschild does in The Second Shift, but her book is much more can-do and hopeful.


Lucy @ dreamingaloudnet April 9, 2011 at 10:26 AM

Looking forward to checking out some of those books, and thanks for the mentions! Still feel a little uncomfortable in my stomach combining the words feminist and mothering, a visceral shrinking, so would be curious to see how these authors combine the ideas.

Ha, interesting 6512 and growing. My hubby’s dad was in a tiny minority who did, and I am forever grateful.
Lucy @ dreamingaloudnet recently posted… Sex after birth


Rachael April 13, 2011 at 11:30 AM

Of the books on the list, I think that only Feminist Mothering and Of Woman Born use “feminist mothering” as a term. I’d be curious what you’d think of the Rich book. I haven’t read it myself, but from what I’ve read about it in O’Reilly, it seems a shame that boomer feminists apparently didn’t pay more attention to what Rich had to say.


Lucy @ dreamingaloudnet April 9, 2011 at 10:26 AM

Oh and silent retreat- wow, wow, how long ago my days of silent retreat feel. I wish you wonderful, blissful, challenging SILENCE! Well done for taking time.
Lucy @ dreamingaloudnet recently posted… Sex after birth


Rachael April 13, 2011 at 11:31 AM

Oh, and the retreat was badly needed, very painful, and very good. Also, I have a commitment mechanism for taking these retreats: the order in which I am a lay student requires that we do two sesshins each year.


Zoie @ TouchstoneZ April 18, 2011 at 4:30 PM

Thank you for the list. I’ve only read Ina Mae’s and O’Reilly’s books and I’m excited to read the rest (with all my extra time, of course. But the intention is there)
Zoie @ TouchstoneZ recently posted… Breastfeeding Flavors


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