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Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution

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Motherhood as Experience and Institution.

"In order for all women to have real choices all along the line," Adrienne Rich writes, "we need fully to understand the power and powerlessness embodied in motherhood in patriarchal culture." Rich's investigation, in this influential and landmark book, concerns both experience and institution. The experience is her own - as a woman, a poet, a feminist, and a mother - but it is an experience determined by the institution, imposed in its many variations on all women everywhere. She draws on personal materials, history, research, and literature to create a document of universal importance.

One of our most distinguished poets, ADRIENNE RICH was born in Baltimore in 1929. Over the last forty years she has published more than seventeen volumes of poetry and five books of nonfiction prose, including Arts of the Possible: Essays and Conversations; On Lies, Secrets, and Silence: Blood, Bread, and Poetry; and What is Found There: Notebooks on Poetry and Politics. She has received numerous awards, including the Ruth Lilly Prize, the Lambda Book Award, the National Book Award, and the Lannan Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award. She lives in California.

322 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1976

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About the author

Adrienne Rich

118 books1,230 followers
Adrienne Cecile Rich was an American poet, essayist and feminist. Born to a middle-class family, Rich was educated by her parents until she entered public school in the fourth grade. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Radcliffe College in 1951, the same year her first book of poems, A Change of World, appeared. That volume, chosen by W. H. Auden for the Yale Series of Younger Poets Award, and her next, The Diamond Cutters and Other Poems (1955), earned her a reputation as an elegant, controlled stylist.

In the 1960s, however, Rich began a dramatic shift away from her earlier mode as she took up political and feminist themes and stylistic experimentation in such works as Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law (1963), The Necessities of Life (1966), Leaflets (1969), and The Will to Change (1971). In Diving into the Wreck (1973) and The Dream of a Common Language (1978), she continued to experiment with form and to deal with the experiences and aspirations of women from a feminist perspective.

In addition to her poetry, Rich has published many essays on poetry, feminism, motherhood, and lesbianism. Her recent collections include An Atlas of the Difficult World (1991) and Dark Fields of the Republic: Poems 1991–1995 (1995).

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 142 reviews
Profile Image for Simone.
16 reviews4 followers
June 3, 2007
This book is an essential read for anyone interested in feminist and or gender related issues. An absolute classic. Here are a few memorable excerpts:

1. "Partiarchy is the power of the fathers: a familial-social, ideological, political system in which men - by force, direct pressure, or through ritual, tradition, law, and language, customs, etiquette, education, and the division of labor, determine what part women shall or shall not play, and in which the female is everywhere subsumed under the male."

-a nice definition since so many fumble with it usually

2. "A crucial moment in human conscioussness, then, arrives when man discovers that it is he himself, not the moon of the spring rains or the spirits of the dead, who impregnates the woman; that the child she carries and gives birth to is his child, who can make him immortal, both mysticallyl, by propitiating the gods with prayers and sacrifices when he is dead, and concretely, by receiving the partimony from him. At this crossroads of sexual possession, property ownership, and the desire to transcend death, developed the institution we know: the present-day patriarchal family with its supernaturalizing the penis, its division of labor by gender, its emotional, physical, and material possessiveness, its idea of monogamous marriage until death (and its severe penalties for adultery by the wife), the "illegitimacy" of a child born outside wedlock, the economic dependency of women, the unpaid domestic services of the wife, the obedience of women and children to male authority, the imprinting and continuation of heterosexual roles"

3. "The pig, declared an unclean animal in the Koran and the Old Testament, was a reiterative figure in goddess - religion; the sow was sacred in Crete, sometimes appeared as an embodiment of Isis, was sacrificed at the feast of Aphrodite, and was a symbol of the Eleusinian cult of Demeter. "Wherever the eating of pork is forbidden and the pig is held to be unclean, we can be sure of its originally sacred character""

-something I never knew

4. "Women who refuse to become mothers are not merely emotionally suspect, but are dangerous. Not only do they refuse to continue the species; they also deprive society of its emotional leaven - the suffering of the mother"

5. "As her sons have seen her: the Mother in patriarchy: controlling, erotic, castrating, heart-suffering, guilt-ridden, and guilt-provoking; a marble brow, a huge breast, an avid cave; between her legs snakes, swamp-grass, or teeth; on her lap a helpless infant or a martyred son"


Profile Image for Rebekah.
6 reviews1 follower
June 15, 2016
I only made it to the half way point in this book. I may finish, but I'm not sure yet. While this book is praised by many feminists, many of whom I have read, I am not loving the tone Rich takes when writing about motherhood. While it shares real expereince, which I appreciate, it also tends to demonize the 'mother.' I was especially put of by a section where she writes that motherhood is essentially a power trip for women and a way to exercise control. As a mother and a woman I take offense to this. While I can see how this may be the case with some parents (not only mothers), it is definitely not the case with all mothers.
The parts of the book that attempt to shed light on some of the more painful expereinces women have as mothers, as well as the sections where she discusses how women's relationships with their own mothers affect their parenting is interesting, at times even valuable, but at other times it is again a bit demonizing.
I'l update if and when I finish this book.
Profile Image for GeekChick.
194 reviews13 followers
October 26, 2007
Rich details how motherhood and childbirth were subjugated as people transitioned from matriarchal or equal societies to patriarchy. She traces how patriarchal systems then drastically lowered women's role and value, and how childbirth was 'stolen' from midwives and turned into a 'medical procedure.'

Rich is clearly angry about all this, and given the era she grew up in, it is understandable. And remember that the book was written in the mid-1970s. Still, the anger only rises to the surface now and then. It is an excellent, empowering book for any woman who struggles to define herself outside the role of 'mother' or "woman without children." Her point of, "why do we define women who aren't mothers by something they don't have, rather than something they do?" rings true. We have been reduced to the sum of our reproductive capacities.

The situation has been improving in recent decades, but depending where one lives there is still a long way to go. As a working mom struggling to add motherhood to her self-definition (rather than becoming it), I found this book extremely liberating and empowering.

I've read a few other books on this subject, but this one is the best.
Profile Image for Aubrey.
1,270 reviews695 followers
February 11, 2018
Those who speak largely of the human condition are usually those most exempt from its oppressions—whether of sex, race, or servitude.
At the end of this book, Rich says something about women, even at the time of her writing, thinking in ways that were ignored, derided, or actively suppressed by mainstream ideologies. I don't know whether she intended this to be self-reflection or irony, or if she had any intent at all that reflected on her own building of structures rather than the broadside and seemingly exterior targets of patriarchy and gynephobia. To put this in a way less oblique, between the time I read On Lies, Secrets And Silence and now, I have become increasingly and horribly aware of the connotations of the phrase "radical feminism" with all its TERF and SWERF offshoots that invest certain "women" the divine right to define what "woman" is. If this were in anyway conducive to social justice movements, I would be perfectly right in defining woman as only those who undergo the risk of bleeding out every month as the result of perfectly natural biological processes, in addition to the uterus, in addition to the vagina, in addition to the breasts and the hormones and whatever else the gendered social construction has imbibed over the years. However, I don't. My main reason why? I'm not interested in participating in genocide.

Reading this while trying to factor trans women in is like trying to take a wolverine for a walk through the park. It's not just the difficulties of getting any use out of all the assumptions of shared commonalities of physiognomy that make the experience a tightrope. It's also that there's a history of radical feminism humiliating, violating, and ostracizing trans women in the streets, on the podium, and in the halls of US Congress, a violence that is more than healthy on the modern trails of the Internet. Rich may have published this in 1976, but the Stonewall Riots that were spearheaded by a trans woman of color occurred nearly a decade previous, and I find it extremely hard to believe simple ignorance could have lasted so long. Throw in the fact that Rich is acknowledged as having aided in the murderous horror that is The Transsexual Empire by the author herself in 1979, and you have a cis writer who's more comfortable referencing cultures in Kenya and China than with looking in her own backyard when it comes to concepts of mother, motherhood, and the impact of it on women. Every so often a quote would appeal, but not enough to post it outside of the context of a willful calcification of the idea of womanhood around what science, up till this point so suspicious in its preponderance of (cis) men participation, at the time proposed.

Beyond the transphobic construction of this entire thing (you could say it's aged badly, but the fact that Rich never bothered to go back and comment on her thinking before her death in 2012 shows that it hasn't so much aged as poisonously survived), there are smaller individual matters about her vilification of birth control, abortion, insanity, and a relationship between mother and child where the child is not in anyway owned by the parent. As someone whom eugenics would have eagerly purged out of the womb, the last thing I need is a portrait of child abuse that seeks apologisms and an analysis of infanticide that considers gendred physiognomy as the only plausible factor. In terms of birth control business, I agree there needs to be more review of the science, but considering how Rich glosses over the coercion of Puerto Rico women, followed by the enforcement of incarcerated women with the former connected the horrible side effects to the drug trials they were undergoing, her critique comes off less as invested and more as ableist as fuck. There's also the random allusions to woman of color (black women more like), slavery, incest, and other issues that weren't intersectional so much as the bare minimum of covering all of one's bases.

In short, I like Rich far better when she talks about herself. That's what the beginning of this book was, a misleading introduction that led to me looking to recapture the tone of someone who's actually experienced what she's talking about till, disappointingly, the very end. I'll still be looking to acquire another book of her poetry/prose/writing compilations, but to put it plainly, those who had reservations about mourning her without qualm back in 2012 were right to have such.
Profile Image for Rebecca.
3,508 reviews2,507 followers
March 1, 2018
This is an excellent book about the myths and stereotypes surrounding motherhood, contrasted with the reality of Rich’s experience as a mother of three sons. It is an academic-level work and can be fairly heavy going, which is why I started skimming at about page 55 (though I did slow down and read in its entirety the late chapter that felt most relevant to me, “Motherhood and Daughterhood”). Though it was originally published in 1976, we’re still in thrall to the patriarchal system of motherhood that Rich describes and dates back to the dawn of monotheistic religion. She writes about the bodily reality of motherhood and the crisis of purpose for both mothers and non-mothers: is becoming a mother really the only marker of a woman’s success? How can a separate identity as an artist be carved out and sustained? New books about motherhood arrive every year – I’m looking forward to Sheila Heti’s, for instance – but it’s hard to imagine one more complete and profound than this.
Profile Image for Jenny McDougal.
34 reviews4 followers
June 18, 2018
Adrienne Rich has again rearranged me. 'Of Woman Born' should be required reading for all: Rich interrogates the violence inherent in the institution of motherhood, how it infiltrates every aspect of our lives, how it limits our conception of who and what women are, and how this institution must be destroyed in order to mend not only our culture but our selves. "There are ways of thinking we don't know about yet," Susan Sontag tells us, and Rich expands on this: "We need to imagine a world in which every woman is the presiding genius of her own body. In such a world women will truly create new life, bringing forth not only children (if and as we choose) but the visions, and the thinking necessary to sustain, console, and alter human existence -- a new relationship to the universe. Sexuality, politics, intelligence, power, motherhood, work, community, intimacy will develop new meanings; thinking itself will be transformed."
Profile Image for Joanna.
345 reviews8 followers
June 16, 2016
Good thing I didn't read this in college, or I would never have gotten married and had a child. Or, maybe I should have read it then and sacrificed everything for my poetic career.

A reminder of what being a gifted writer, committed feminist and serious thinker really means. Some of it is a little dated, but it's still like having a bucket of cold water poured on your head--infuriating, terrifying and enlightening all at once.
Profile Image for Kenya Wright.
Author 94 books2,140 followers
December 13, 2013
I read this long ago in one of my Feminist Theory courses. It basically changed my life and I believe I was lucky to read this before actually becoming a mother. I have so much less mother's guilt as I pursue my writing career.
Profile Image for Eliana Sofía.
38 reviews4 followers
August 17, 2021
Creo que mi tesis de maestría acabará siendo una reseña muy muy larga de este libro.
31 reviews
June 13, 2021
Essential read for all women, regardless of whether they choose the path of motherhood or not. Such insightful perspectives on the ways in which patriarchy as institutionalized motherhood and as a result trapped women into standards, ideals and experiences that perpetuate patriarchy and the control of us as women. I could go on and on, I’m a clinician and already finding that many of my patients who are mothers are burnt not from childrearing itself but from patriarchy and their relationship with it.
Profile Image for Raquel Casas.
279 reviews171 followers
May 27, 2019
«Cuando pensamos en una institución la imaginamos instalada en un edificio (...) Lo que no vemos son los medios con los que el poder se mantiene y transfiere detrás de las paredes. La maternidad se asocia con el hogar».
Y Rich derriba esas paredes y saca la maternidad y la no maternidad, la disposición de la mujer, en definitiva, de su propio cuerpo, a la luz. La examina con sus componentes psicológicos, como la culpa («la herramienta más eficaz de control sobre las mujeres»), o sociológicos, como la presión («cualquier cosa que hagamos está mal»), o políticos, como ese control de la natalidad en función de la necesidad de mano de obra.
No hay prisma bajo el cual Rich no analice la condición de mujer, de madre, de hija, de ciudadana. Nos coloca unas gafas políticas para que examinemos la realidad que nos rodea y todo ello lo acompaña de rigurosos estudios, referencias literarias y experiencias propias.
Un ensayo, fruto de cuatro años de trabajo, que usaré como referente siempre. Será mi compañero, mi lugar de consulta, mi apoyo para la reflexión, para abrirme nuevos debates, ampliar horizontes. Porque, como dijo Susan Sontag: «Hay formas de pensar que no conocemos aún»; porque, como me dijo mi librera: «Aquí está todo».
#AdrienneRich #Nacemosdemujer #misimprescindibles #MaternidadesLit #misescritorasreferentes #leoautorastodoelaño #creandoredes
Profile Image for Pia Sophia.
Author 2 books11 followers
October 14, 2018
This book is such a heavy, yet necessary and thought-provoking read. It shows motherhood from a whole different perspective- gone are the assumptions that motherhood is the rosy, fluffy, ‘all-is-well-in-the-world-now’ picture society teaches us it is. Some of Rich’s anecdotes and statements might seem anti-motherhood, but once you read between the lines and actually understand what she’s talking about, it all makes sense. The thing that startles me most is that this book is more than 40 years old and still so relevant to today’s society. Scary, actually. We still have such a long way to go.
Profile Image for delphiansybil.
8 reviews
January 16, 2008
This is an amazing book -- Rich discusses the experience of motherhood and daughterhood from pre-birth to adulthood with exquisite language and emotion. Every mother and daughter, and every daughter who is thinking of becoming a mother should read this book. It is fantastic and really one of the most important feminist books of its time.
Profile Image for Isla McKetta.
Author 6 books50 followers
May 24, 2015
This is the book I should have started reading when I found out I was pregnant, but I'm so glad I finally got to it. It's an insightful look at womanhood and motherhood with no agenda except for women to find their own best journeys. I really appreciated Rich's blend of academic research and personal insight.
Profile Image for Lois.
159 reviews3 followers
March 29, 2012
Adrienne Rich died today. She had a profound impact on me when this book was published, when I was 26 and not yet thinking about becoming a mother. Her poetry, especially "Diving into the Wreck" and "Dreaming a Common Language" moved me and challenged me.
Profile Image for nastya .
400 reviews211 followers
June 13, 2020
To destroy the institution is not to abolish motherhood. It is to release the creation and sustenance of life into the same realm of decision, struggle, surprise, imagination, and conscious intelligence, as any other difficult, but freely chosen work.
Profile Image for Madhubrata.
106 reviews6 followers
March 29, 2019
Torn between a 3 and a 4 really. Rich has her shortcomings, but this says so much that is important, and so powerfully so.
Profile Image for  SaЯRah Muhammad.
24 reviews264 followers
March 24, 2015
Adrienne Rich's book, Of Woman Born, is a book about Rich's own experience of being a mother. She writes from a feminist perspective, and explains how the motherhood institution that is imposed on them through society determines a woman's motherhood experience. At one point in the book, Rich tells a story about a woman who killed and decapitated two of her children in her front yard. When Rich discusses this story with her poetry group, the women all agreed that they felt a direct connection with the woman`s desperation. Rich wrote that every woman in her poetry group that had children could identify with her. It seems as though all parents have a breaking point when it comes to their children, however it seems highly unlikely that those parents could ever imagine doing what that woman did to their own children. Rich also discusses the hatred that mothers feel towards their child, and the depression she felt throughout raising her three children. The book also seems to be a bit outdated. At one point of the book, Rich writes "I had no idea of what I wanted, what I could or could not choose. I only knew that to have a child was to assume adult womanhood." When relating this quote to the 50's, it is very fitting. However, it is not so true for this time period. Women are no longer expected to bear children. Women can now go to college, achieve a degree, and obtain virtually any job a man could get. It is much more accepted now if a woman does not want to have children. There are many women who chose not to have families now a day, but who are still assumed into adult womanhood. She continues to express that her children held her back from being able to do what she wanted to do in life. I know plenty of women who are able to have jobs while also caring for their children. I feel like by Rich saying this, she is stating an untrue generalization that no woman wants to be a stay at home mom, and no woman is able to live her life to the fullest if they have children. These generalizations may be true for some women, but there are plenty of women out there who do not fit into this mold that Rich describes. Rich also writes "women have been both mothers and daughters, but have written little on the subject; the vast majority of literacy and visual images of motherhood comes to us filtered through a collective or individual male consciousness." For the time this book was written, Rich was completely right. However, women writers are now as common as men.The one part I did find interesting in the book was when Rich discussed the history of women. She theorizes that women bear the weight of Eve's transgression, since she was the first women offender. She also goes on to talk about how the relationship between sexual acts and pregnancy went unrecognized. Men had an active denial to their paternal role; therefore they believed that women were impregnated by spirits of the dead. I also thought it was interesting when Rich mentioned how Ancient Mid-Eastern tombs were deliberately designed to resemble the body of the mother- with labyrinths and spirals intended to represent her internal anatomy- so that the spirit could be reborn there.I have read a lot of positive reviews for this book, so maybe I do not have the same connection to the author that others have. I am not a mother so there may be some parts of the book I cannot fully relate to and have some bias towards.
Profile Image for Alex.
28 reviews
December 19, 2021
I was not expecting Of Woman Born, a book originally published in 1976, to be so relevant when I read it for the first time in 2021! Despite being uncomfortable with dismissive attitudes towards second wave literature among contemporary feminists, I had still internalised the idea that this book isn't on every feminist's bookshelf today is because it's too outdated to be essential. In other words, that the book is at fault. I was so wrong! This is a phenomenal book about motherhood as an institution with enormous relevance for today's women (and for anyone who wants to understand the social condition of half of humanity, I suppose). I'm ashamed that I went so long without reading it.

It's worth noting that the edition of the book that I'm reviewing is a later one, in which Rich demonstrates intellectual growth by revisiting the work and amending some of her original statements. In doing so, Rich takes into account criticism the book had received from other feminists on account of her standpoint as a white, American woman who allows her privileges to obscure her understanding of the different subject positions of Black and white women vis-a-vis motherhood and mothering. I'm not going to pretend that this is a perfect book, even with Rich's amendments. But it's a classic in feminist theory, and it's also endlessly quotable (Rich is perhaps best known for her poetry elsewhere).

A new edition seems to have been published recently if you'd like to get yourself a copy (linked below). I can't say I recall having ever seen this book in a bookstore or library in the UK before, an indictment of the publishing industry if I ever heard one.

Profile Image for Catherine Livesley.
4 reviews1 follower
June 29, 2022
Disclaimer: elements of this book are, unfortunately, associated with the TERF movement and its transphobic elements. Reading this book from a modern feminist perspective, there are a very few references which I discounted on this basis.

Having said that I still feel that after reading this book my understanding of the world is fundamentally altered. While there may be outdated elements that we find painful to read with current perspective, I don't think these should discount the incredible wisdom of this book. The entire section on the history of birth and mid-wifery was stunning to me: a whole section of history never recorded that resulted in the death of so many thousands of women.

We now recognise that not all women have uteruses and, if they do, not all women choose to have children. However we also know that, historically, childbearing, motherhood and reproductive health has been a hugely influential aspect of gender politics over the years, and it deserves to be given a full examination in that context.

The philosophical and historical expositions were challenging and fascinating, but I also loved the personal reflections woven in. I have never read another book that combines the academic and the personal in this way. I felt it provided an insight into all facets of a complicated author and an even more complex subject which is very much personal.

Go in with awareness of the issues around transphobia that can be attributed to this period in feminism, and the troubling things that could come up in the writing. Don't let this put you off reading this very important book - a must-read for everyone interested in feminism and gender studies.
Profile Image for B.
67 reviews15 followers
December 28, 2021
really enjoyed this read and will probably be obsessing over it for the foreseeable future — i’ve highlighted, bookmarked and screenshotted so many excerpts. my poor friends had to deal with a lot in our gc as i read it.

anyways, i have thoughts and they are messy! the one thing that keeps me from giving it a full 5 stars is that i got an apologist vibe for maternal abuse to children from this. kinda. let me explain.

i do understand where the anger comes from — how the institution of motherhood (etc etc) can form resentment, how it can be a “desperate response from a mother on an invisible attack on her being”.

but guess what? you’re still the adult and that’s still a child. and as someone (w/o getting into details) who was at the receiving end of a mother’s frustration for much of her life? that’s traumatic, hurtful and while i acknowledge that motherhood-the-institution plays a big part on how we got here, at the end of the day, it is what it is: abuse — verbal, physical, “just a spanking”. it’s abuse, and coating it with academia doesn’t make it less bad.

it may be the book’s age (my own mother was a child herself when this came out) showing — but i think, that in order to heal and dismantle this institution, this “release of frustration” has to be acknowledged as abuse. it needs to be spoken and acknowledged or cycles of it will never be broken & resentment will continue to be passed on from mother to daughter.

anyways. good book. it’s 5:30am.
everyone go to therapy if you can and don’t use systematic oppression to pretend you have no fault in hurting your children.
Profile Image for Sucheta.
44 reviews9 followers
April 14, 2022
The central thesis of this book, as the title suggests, is to delineate the institution of motherhood, which is essentially a tool of the patriarchy, from the experience of motherhood. The latter is often the price paid in order to perpetuate the former. In a roundabout way, the women’s liberation movements of the era the book was written in didn’t truly liberate women but alienated them further from their bodies. True choice (of whether, when, where, with whom and at what stage of life to have children) evades women because the deification of motherhood clouds our vision of the truth of motherhood. Motherhood is a state of being none of us can escape- either by being bodily born of, raised by, or becoming one- but is neglected as a complex human experience by the institutional expectations created around it.

To me it felt like an older sister (as Adrienne Rich suggests, sisterhood is a form of motherhood too), guiding me through the mental muddle of biological female-ness in the swamp of everyday patriarchy.
Profile Image for Dawn.
Author 4 books36 followers
August 14, 2022
Rich has played a large role in my personal life ever since my high school English teacher gave me her selected poems. I deeply respect the reading/research that (while dated) went into this book — but I find the section that most reverberated (w me) is almost absent of that scholarship: ‘motherhood and daughterhood’ is a masterpiece. If you only have time for one essay, read that one. It’s a gift. The rest of the book has been slowly filtering into cultural and political thinking for the past 40-50 years… note: I read the re-release where Rich does try to situate the racial and economic realities a bit more but it’s definitely (still) a white woman’s perspective. However, the tenacity and vulnerability of her work does outshine (in many ways) its privilege.
Profile Image for Pamela.
578 reviews26 followers
January 31, 2019
There were some chapters that took my breath away, notably the two about raising sons and raising daughters. Mostly this is a book about the mythological underpinnings of the patriarchy and motherhood, and I won't lie, there are some eyebrow-raising conspiracies along the lines of IVF as a patriarchal strategy of disenfranchising women (?). But there are also incredible reminders that the best way to raise feminist children is for women to love, respect, and nurture themselves. Also, come on, Adrienne Rich was preaching intersectionality in the 70s like it was a given, and we're still struggling with the concept.
5 reviews
February 13, 2022
Beautiful, life-changing. Told with an uncomfortable yet refreshing frankness. A necessary read, even decades after it was first published.
Profile Image for Abby.
1,395 reviews178 followers
February 11, 2019
“The woman’s body, with its potential for gestating, bringing forth and nourishing new life, has been through the ages a field of contradictions: a space invested with power, an an acute vulnerability; a numinous figure and the incarnation of evil; a hoard of ambivalences, most of which have worked to disqualify women from the collective act of defining culture.”

A beautifully written and strident account of the trappings of the institution of motherhood. There is graciousness and honesty here too, as Rich recounts her own experience as a daughter and as the mother of three sons. It is rare to find someone like her: a gifted poet who is an equally compelling scholar. I enjoyed and learned from this far more than I expected; I thought it would be gloomier than it is. There is hope here, even amid the darkness of women’s long-suffering history in human civilization.
Profile Image for begoña ml..
6 reviews53 followers
February 24, 2020
En algunas cosas ha quedado un poco anticuado y tiene ciertas carencias, pero creo que, en general, por ahora sigue siendo el libro más completo sobre el tema.

Eso sí, la edición que he leído yo —la de Traficantes de Sueños de 2019— está llena de errores ortotipográficos: erratas, nombres de autoras mal escritos, frases en las que faltan palabras...
Profile Image for Simone.
88 reviews
August 13, 2019
Such an important book about everything female 💕 women empowerment! 🙌🏻
Profile Image for Deborah Siddoway.
229 reviews7 followers
February 26, 2021
I feel like I have come to feminism far too late in life. It is only now, with the reading I have done, my research into the proto-feminist movement of the nineteenth century for my studies, and my engagement with current feminist issues relating to the erasure of the language we use to define women that the urgent need to embrace feminist issues has been enflamed in my heart.

This book is one that I should have read a long time ago. It is a book about motherhood - the author's experience of it, her view on motherhood as a social institution, and it is a book about being a mother - or not - and how that impacts on women. She is very careful to distinguish between the two meanings of motherhood that she discusses: 'one superimposed on the other: the potential relationship of any woman to her powers of reproduction and to children; and the institution, which aims at ensuring that that potential – and all women – shall remain under male control.' In making this distinction, she begins to tear away at the conflict that all women who become mothers face.

I will be dealing with this book in greater detail as I begin to write my doctoral thesis, so this is not an academic review of the issues that she addresses. However, on a personal level, especially as a mother to sons, as Rich is, I found that what she had to say resonated. Her observation that the male view of women seems to be binary - that that 'the female body is impure, corrupt, the site of discharges, bleedings, dangerous to masculinity, a source of moral and physical contamination', yet at the same time, as a mother 'the woman is beneficent, sacred, pure, asexual, nourishing; and the physical potential for motherhood – that same body with its bleeding and mysteries – is her single destiny and justification in life.'

When I consider her words in the context of the modern day battle ground for women's rights, where the very words women and mother are under threat, subsumed within gender neutral language where women's bodies are commodified to our component parts, I understand that much of this dichotomy that Rich discusses has been swept aside without consideration. On some level this should be a good thing, however, the lack of any tolerance for the discussion of the potential consequences that follow for women is telling. Just because you erase the words used to define the issue, it does not follow that the issue itself will disappear.

If we are women no longer, but uterus havers, bleeders, menstruators, pregnant people, it allows this idea of the female body as a contaminant to dominate, and it reduces us to body parts that can be harvested or scrapped. Then, if we take away words such as breast feeding and replace it with chest feeding by lactators this in turn also eats away at the opposite end of this binary that Rich discusses - the sacredness of "woman" as one who nourishes and nurtures.

This erasure of our language, of our words - of women - seems to me to be part of that innate jealousy that man has for woman, as Rich describes it, 'the ancient, continuing envy, awe, and dread of the male for the female capacity to create life has repeatedly taken the form of hatred for every other female aspect of creativity.' Is taking away our words evidence of that hatred?

Rich observes:

Patriarchy is the power of the fathers: a familial-social, ideological, political system in which men – by force, direct pressure, or through ritual, tradition, law, and language, customs, etiquette, education, and the division of labor, determine what part women shall or shall not play, and in which the female is everywhere subsumed under the male.

Today, law and language relating to women are under attack in a manner in which has never before been seen. Rich's book has helped me to contextualise what is happening, even as I still want to explore the discourse around the imperative to modify our language.

Well written, her research evident on every page, drawing on history, on her own experience, and the experience of mothers everywhere, this is a book that is worthy of reading, if only because it gives you a starting point to understand why we continue the fight for women today. But sitting in silence is not an option, to have our words taken from us without our consent. To borrow from Rich - while it can be dangerous to move, to speak, to act, in silence, she is putting another stitch in her own shroud.

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