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Category: Feminism, International

Mothers Linked World Wide

| December 8, 2008

They met in Toronto and cemented a movement of mothers that now promises a global network, with a website and a wide-ranging set of objectives. The author helped film a documentary tracing their progress.

Beginning December 1, 2008, mothers around the world have had access to the first global consortium of motherhood organizations. Marking ten years after the Association for Research on Mothering (ARM) was founded, mothers’ organizations in North America and around the world came together in October for the ARM annual Toronto conference on motherhood and emerged as an International Motherhood Network (IMN)

The website is live and inviting members to join, but IMN does not officially launch until May 8, 2009 (International Woman’s Day). At the Toronto conference, the founding organizations agreed to hold off the launch in order to include as many mothers’ organizations around the world as possible on the big day. With 35 founding organizations already linked and committed to publicize events in the month of May, and a conference planned for 2011, IMN plans to influence public discussion for a more mother-centered world.

My husband, Marcarthur Baralla (Defendshee Production), and I filmed the conference and interviewed more than 30 women for a documentary—“The Motherhood Movement: You Say You Want a Revolution”—being produced for the Museum of Motherhood. Exploring the movement’s evolution over the last 50 years, the documentary will be a highlight of the museum, which was established online in 2003 and will soon be a physical museum located in Seneca Falls—home of the first U.S. women’s rights convention in 1848. The museum, founded by ARM and the Motherhood Foundation, is a long overdue project to honor the achievements of mothers.

For the documentary, Andrea O'Reilly, founder and director of ARM and York University professor, spoke about the effect of motherhood on her work in women’s studies. “I realized that the topic of motherhood had scarcely been mentioned. Violence against women, health, work, education, beauty myth, sexuality were the topics under discussion in the women’s studies curriculum,” she said, explaining why she designed her own course on motherhood. “The few times motherhood was mentioned, it was usually done so negatively…a patriarchal trap.”

What was obvious from our interviews is how wide-ranging the movement has become. From LiteraryMama to Mamapalooza, Mothers Acting Up to CODEPINK, SisterSong to Welfare Warriors, organizations raise awareness about the impact of mothers on their communities. MomsRising in particular has made great strides over the last year with an activism that combines swift online force with in-person delivery, taking action against toxic toys and demanding that politicians improve workplace policies.

For the camera, Joy Rose (Mamapalooza, Motherhood Foundation) spoke to women about the economic value of mothering, mothering the differently-abled and the feminist mothering of boys. In Toronto, not every mother in the room would identify as a feminist, but a common theme was empowerment. Amy Richards (co-founder of Third Wave Foundation, author of Opting In) referenced the long history of media hype, pitting feminism and motherhood against each other, leading people to ask, as Richards does in her book, “Can you be a feminist and a mother?” Richards offers her own definition: "Feminism is about realizing that we aren't different, but our definition of what is normal is skewed. Most of us have something that makes us feel insecure… We continue to let these experiences or facts diminish who we think we are… Feminism is changing that—both by making these ‘facts’ less ridiculed and also by re-framing what we consider normal. If we are all exceptions, there are no rules." Certainly a broader, more welcoming definition of feminism from what I was raised with, but then, my definitions on just about everything have expanded with my life, beginning with motherhood and family.

It is this open sensibility that roots the Third Wave Foundation and, I would argue, the mothers’ movement on a whole, as the National Association of Mothers’ Centers have exemplified for more than 30 years. In an interview for the film, NAMC Executive Director Linda Lisi Juergens spoke of the “louder voice” now possible through “mutual support for common issues.”

The International Mothers Network is sure to boost awareness of and support for mothers’ organizations around the world, ensuring that mothers can find each other—and themselves. No matter how marginalized an issue may be, motherhood is the connector: I was able to collect resources and research to use as a noncustodial mother (see my website, NonCustodial Parent Community). One thing for certain, there will be an extremely rich Mothers’ Day to celebrate in May 2009.

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