BLS 385: American Motherhood

Across cultures, classes, races, and generations, a contentious debate is continuously evolving over the defining values and practices of motherhood, over the question of what makes a “good mother.” Since the publication of Adrienne Rich’s Of Woman Born in 1976, mothers, their rights and responsibilities in the family and in society, their challenges and choices, their career paths and character, have been endlessly analyzed, theorized, criticized and sensationalized. In this course, we will examine how motherhood has been represented in the media, evaluated in scholarly and creative literature and experienced by mothers from all walks of life. We will explore how each of these different discourses (generated by the media, academia and popular literature/the blogosphere) informs the other as we attempt to further our understanding of how ideas and experiences of motherhood have changed over the past few decades.

Among the questions we will consider: In what sense are the struggles of mothers an identity issue or, as mother and scholar Miriam Peskowitz argues, a labor issue? Who is to blame when mothers are overwhelmed or dissatisfied with their options for a fulfilling work and home life—society’s expectations? The culture of the workplace? Men/patriarchy? Women themselves (our peers or our own mothers)? What has been done and can still be done to address the burdens and inequity of the “institution of motherhood” so powerfully and incisively described by Rich? If much of feminism’s deconstruction of motherhood has come from “mainstream” white feminism, what vital perspectives and counternarratives can we draw from the traditions and analyses of African American motherhood and the mothering practices of other ethnicities and cultures? And lastly, how has the Internet equipped women to overcome some of the isolation and voicelessness of motherhood and provided a creative outlet from which to put forth a more positive picture and egalitarian practice of “mothering” today?


  • Morrison, Toni. Beloved.