Feminism has played a vital role
Sir, – We feel obliged to set the record straight on Maria Steen’s ill-informed and inaccurate depiction of “feminism” (“Feminist ‘sisterhood’ still has no room for those who choose domesticity”, Opinion & Analysis, March 14th).
Your columnist uses the piece to depict a tired stereotype of the man-hating, child-hating feminist who rejects motherhood and anybody who embraces motherhood. Too bad she hasn’t read Adrienne Rich’s incisive account of the “exquisite suffering” her children caused her, both the love and the political challenges. A pity she hasn’t engaged with Carol Gilligan’s writings on the moral reasoning that emerges from the performance of the social role of motherhood, or indeed Sara Ruddick’s reflections on the ways in which men too can perform the role we have come to call mothering.
She is oblivious to the enormous feminist literature on the need to properly value and reward caring work, particularly work in the home – Silvia Federici’s Wages for Housework campaign would have been instructive here. She seems entirely unaware of Jacqueline Rose’s 2018 study of mothers and mothering – reviewed in the pages of this newspaper by Susan McKay – which presents the very critique of neoliberalism that Maria Steen offers as a critique of feminism.
If Maria Steen is truly concerned about women’s freedom to reproduce and mother, she must recognise that the main force constraining and controlling female bodies and autonomy in Ireland over the last hundred years was the coalition of the Irish Catholic Church and the Irish State. Not the idea that women should have reproductive choice, certainly not the feminist movement. It took feminism to ensure that women were not forcibly separated from their children, were not imprisoned for pregnancy, were not forced to participate in adoptions against their will or to remain trapped in violent and abusive marriages, and that they received any share of family assets in return for their caring contributions, in the event of marital breakdown.
Such injustices are by no means a thing of the past. They persist, as evidenced by the difficulties faced by mothers on the margins of Irish society: in direct provision, in domestic violence shelters, in emergency accommodation, on halting sites. This also includes the survivors of what James M Smith terms Ireland’s “architecture of containment” who are still fighting for redress decades after the last Magdalene laundry and mother-and-baby “home” shut their doors.
As activists and educators, as teachers of feminist theory and practitioners of feminist research, we easily see through the nonsense that Maria Steen offers as a critique of feminism.
Not all readers have had the advantage of our immersion. The Irish Times can do better than to publish an inaccurate take-down of a complex body of philosophical, political and sociological literature. At this critical moment for our country and the global community, if we truly wish to understand and improve the conditions of mothers in modern Ireland, we need feminist thinkers urgently. – Yours, etc,
Prof URSULA BARRY,
and Dr Deirdre Flynn, UL
Siobhán McGee, CEO ActionAid Ireland
Dr Caterina Gardiner, NUIG
Dr Mary McAuliffe, UCD
Mary McGill, NUIG
Dr Anne Mulhall, UCD
Dr Miriam Haughton, NUIG
Dr Rachel Hilliard, NUIG
Prof Kathleen James-Chakraborty, UCD
Dr Róisín Kennedy, UCD
Dr Sinéad Kennedy, Maynooth University
Prof Kate Kenny, NUIG
Dr Su-Ming Khoo, NUIG
Assoc Prof Emily Mark-Fitzgerald, UCD
Aoife Moore, Stay-At-Home Mother
Ciara Murphy, NUIG
Prof Diane Negra, UCD
Dr Andrew Ó Baoill, NUIG
Dr Tina-Karen Pusse, NUIG
Dr Shivaun Quinlivan, NUIG.