Revolutionary Mothering: Love on the Front Lines by Alexis Pauline Gumbs, China Martens and Mai’a Williams (editors)

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Revolutionary Mothering is an anthology comprised of essays and poems by radical, revolutionary mothers. The voices in this book are the voices that are so often ignored in mainstream conversations about motherhood: queer and trans mamas, mamas of color, single moms, poor mothers, young mothers.

Inspired by This Bridge Called My Back, a collection of essays by radical women of color, published in 1981 and now a classic feminist text, Revolutionary Mothering is similar in tone and substance. The essays range from the academic to the personal. Some read like memoir, others are mostly feminist/radical analysis, and some lie more in the realm of manifesto.

While this was absolutely a worthwhile read, I found many of the pieces too vague or too short. I felt many of the contributions lacked a narrative arc, central theme, or organizing structure. I understood the importance of what these women had to say, but found it hard to connect to on a gut level. At times, the writing felt dry and vague; instead of sinking into the stories of radical motherhood, reading it felt more like being at a university lecture.

That said, I still think this book is absolutely worth reading. It brilliantly busts open all gatekeepers of motherhood, the idea that being a mother means being white, finically stable, straight, partnered, biologically related to your child. We so often put mothers on a pedestal, and when people dare to live whole, complicated, imperfect lives, lives that include parenthood, we chastise them for not doing it right, for not being perfect parents, for being poor or single or queer or living in the wrong neighborhood.

The women who contributed to this anthology represent a beautiful diversity of ways to be a mother. Their experiences are not the same, but they all share a commitment to motherhood as a radical action. These are mothers who have built all kinds of non-biological family, who have given birth or chosen not to, who are poor, who had children as teenagers, who love their children deeply, and who struggle with how parenthood redefines and rearrange a life.

They write about the deep joy they’ve experienced as mothers as well as the injustices they’ve faced as people of color, queer people, and mothers who don’t fit the mainstream mold. They write about motherhood as being revolutionary, about the various ways mothering is part of a larger struggle for justice, about the importance of nurturing, of raising children in activist communities, of building movements that include parents and children.

Even though I was not wowed by the collection as a while, a few pieces stood out:

  • Bindy K. Kang’s essay about raising her daughter in the South Asian community in Canada, the history of female infanticide in the Punjab region of India where her family is from, and the ways in which this history, and the racism and prejudice toward the South Asian community, has affected her life as a mother.
  • Victoria Law’s essay about remaining engaged with political activism while mothering. She writes about how having a child forced her to rethink what it means to be an activist, and to remake movements that are inclusive of parents and children.
  • Rachel Broadwater’s essay about mothering her sister’s child, and how the experience changed and expanded her own ideas about family and motherhood.
  • Katie Kaput’s essay about being a young trans mama. This may have been my favorite essay in the whole collection; it was full of joy and heartache and really conveyed the contradictions inherent in parenting. She writes about the joy and the pain her unconventional path to motherhood has brought her, about the struggles she’s faced as a trans mama, and about building queer family.
  • Terri Nilliasca’s essay on adopting children from the Philippines as a Philippina-American woman. She dissects the international adoption process and lays bare all its ugly racism and “white savior” attitudes, while at the same time telling a moving personal story about choosing and building a family and a home.

Revolutionary Mothering wasn’t a five-star read for me, but it centers marginalized voices and tells honest stories about parenthood that we’d all do well to listen to. It certainly got me thinking. I recommend it to anyone interested in expanding their ideas about motherhood and what it means–not just for parents, but for all of us humans.

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