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Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution

4.19  ·  Rating details ·  1,878 ratings  ·  84 reviews
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
Paperback, 322 pages
Published April 17th 1995 by W. W. Norton Company (first published October 1st 1976)
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4.19  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,878 ratings  ·  84 reviews

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Apr 09, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: everyone, of course
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
Dec 04, 2012 rated it did not like it
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 ...more
Oct 26, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: women who want to be defined as more than their reproductive parts, new mothers
Shelves: womens-interests
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 a
Feb 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
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 motherhoo ...more
Kenya Wright
Dec 12, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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.
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 an
May 18, 2016 rated it it was amazing
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.
Jenny McDougal
Jun 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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 wh ...more
Isla McKetta
May 24, 2015 rated it it was amazing
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.
Jun 20, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone interested in the mother/daughter paradigm
Shelves: main
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.
Mar 28, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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.
Madhubrata Bhattacharyya
Torn between a 3 and a 4 really. Rich has her shortcomings, but this says so much that is important, and so powerfully so.
Oct 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 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 ol ...more
Feb 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
“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 to
Jan 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
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, Ad ...more
 SaЯRah Muhammad
Mar 18, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: women-s-rights
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 wit ...more
Jun 15, 2008 rated it liked it
This is a 2nd wave feminist standard, and it adds fuel to the argument that 3rd wave feminism hasn't added nearly as much to the dialoge as we young gals who don't listen to our elders might think.

The first few chapters focused on the inherently speculative history of ancient societies that might have been women- and specifically mother-centered. While that is interesting (even if it isn't true, it offers visions of ways of viewing motherhood that differ from the modern sentimental view), it wa
Jan 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Reading this book after just having my second child was certainly timely and made it all the more relevant. A very thorough examination of women and motherhood in history up to present day. I enjoyed the historic element of the book in particular the analysis of the development of medical help in child birth and contrasting the approach of midwives verses OBs. Having recently received midwife care I could closely relate to the difference in approach despite some of the examples Rich cites occuri ...more
missy jean
Oct 05, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Fascinating. I love how Rich combines her feminist critique with anecdotes and reflections from her own experiences as a mother. I don't necessarily agree with all of her conclusions (and some of the information is dated, since the book was written in the '70s), but I really related to her language. Rather than dismissing the challenges of motherhood as minor frustrations, Rich really delves into the confusion and identity loss and overpowering sense of inadequacy that many mothers feel. It was ...more
Mar 06, 2008 rated it it was amazing
With sturdy intelligence and an astute layering of research, personal experience and fresh insight, Adrienne Rich has created a timeless text that even at the beginning of the twenty-first century stands as a fascinating and thought-provoking study of women's challenges in modern societies. The reader is continually drawn into the text and its visceral world of examples from literature, scientific texts and real life testimonies. Throughout the book, I was in constant awe of Ms. Rich's ability ...more
Jun 01, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Το μόνο που έχω να πω είναι ότι είμαι πολύ χαρούμενη που το βρήκα μεταφρασμένο στα ελληνικά και κατάφερα να το διαβάσω στη γλώσσα μου και να το κατανοήσω καλύτερα. Η Rich, της οποίας το έργο γνώρισα πριν λίγο καιρό στο πανεπιστήμιο, με αυτό το εξαιρετικό έργο της με προβλημάτισε σε σχέση με την μητρότητα αλλά και τον φεμινισμό. Αλλά και γενικότερα για τους ρόλους των γυναικών και των ανθρώπων μέσα στην κοινωνία. Με τη δεύτερη ανάγνωση σίγουρα θα ανακαλύψω περισσότερα!!!!!
Rose Gowen
Dec 15, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I wasn't that into the mother-goddess bit, and I would have liked to have more of Rich's personal story/experiences. Otherwise, this book made me mad (in a good way). I wish I'd read it years ago.
Nicolas Lontel
Feb 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Ayant lu rapidement le résumé, je m'attendais "simplement" à une réflexion sur la maternité et le rôle de mère, mais je ne m'attendais vraiment pas à la réflexion approfondie sur l'enfantement, la maternité et la femme, sociologique, historique et un peu personnelle aussi, qu'Adrienne Rich nous livre ici.

Autant elle s'inscrit à la suite des réflexions anthropologiques de Margaret Mead et Johann Jakob Bachofen sur les sociétés matriarcales, gynocratiques et/ou patriarcales et les éléments qui la
To have a child, to not have a child. To give birth, to embrace motherhood, to find oneself feeling trapped in it, to choose not to have a child, to struggle with infertility and remain childless, to struggle with infertility and have a child through IVF or adoption...if you are a woman, there is a part of you that will always define itself by how it relates to motherhood. I cannot speak for the experience of men and their relationship to fatherhood, and that isn't what this book is about anyway ...more
Matthew Gurteen
Feb 04, 2019 rated it it was ok

I firmly believe that if aliens were to visit Earth and only pick up this book, they would come away with the impression that men live in a kind of Eden in which they force women to be their slaves because 'patriarchy.' I disagreed with at least 80% of what was in this book. It not only demonises fathers but also mothers as well. On top of this, Adrienne Rich offers barely any solutions to the 'problems' she proposes and even the ones she does suggest she disputes herself at the end of the bo
Mar 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
In the canon of great feminist thinkers, particularly from the second-wave, Adrienne Rich is less a household name than Betty Friedan or Gloria Steinem. She shouldn't be. Her treatise on motherhood and what it means in the history of society, not just relationally, but as a social construct, is profound. To read words written in the mid 1970s that still ring true today is both comforting and horrifying. Rich connects us to our history - mothers to daughters - and provides a path forward that, 45 ...more
Apr 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Insightful, honest, compelling, and still very relevant, Rich is the comforting challenge of a grandmother who finds you lost in the woods. Here is where you came from, here is where you are, and now where will you go?
Elly Prawito
Mar 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
no words needed: this book brainwashed me.

It really helps for all the mothers, any kind of mothers who want to raise the children. However, it also helps the children to know why the mothers have depression, angry all the time and those such a thing.
May 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
Some parts are dated/dry as dust, but when Rich is incisive and brilliant, no one writes like her.
Oct 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Boom!!! Still radical. No one thinks deeper, or with more active conscience, than Rich.
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Adrienne Rich (b. 1929). 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 ...more
“Probably there is nothing in human nature more resonant with charges than the flow of energy between two biologically alike bodies, one of which has lain in amniotic bliss inside the other, one of which has labored to give birth to the other. The materials are here for the deepest mutuality and the most painful estrangement.” 135 likes
“There is nothing revolutionary whatsoever about the control of women's bodies by men. The woman's body is the terrain on which patriarchy is erected.” 31 likes
More quotes…