Is the silencing of mama anger a feminist issue?

I have been thinking much the past few days about mama anger…after my post at the weekend. My dear girls are down with chicken pox, part of me is feeling bad about being angry, part of me is relieved that there was a reason for the hellish nature of last week.

Part of me is glad to have shared- I feel an ethical duty not just to show the sunshine on this blog, I certainly do not want to hold myself up as someone who has “got it all figured out” – far from it… the reality of life in my world is not always shiny, not at all…

I am glad I touched a chord with many…

I worry that some think I am perhaps a danger to my children or setting a bad example of acted out anger…The comment that that worried me most was the last… I had been expecting it…

I have just discovered a seminal feminist text on mothering: Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution by Adrienne Rich. I didn’t know that there was such a thing, nor did any of my feminist friends, so perhaps you didn’t either. One of my major issues with feminism was the lack of acknowledgement of mothering (as I explained here and here). And so I wanted to share an extended extract from it with you on the topic of mothers’ anger:

Opening with a quote she takes from a 19th Century manual for mothers, written, yes, by a man:
“can a mother expect to govern a child when she cannot govern herself?… She must learn to control herself, to subdue her own passions; she must set her children an example of meekness and equanimity… Let a mother feel grieved, and manifest her grief when her child does wrong; let her, with calmness and reflection use the discipline which the case requires; but never let her manifest irritated feeling, or give utterance to angry expression.”  

She goes on to detail Marmee’s instructions to the hot-tempered Jo in Little Women: 

” I am angry nearly every day of my life, Jo; but I have learned not to show it; and I still hope to learn not to feel it, though it may take me another forty years.”

“Mother love” Rich concludes ” is supposed to be continuous, unconditional. Love and anger cannot coexist. female anger threatens the institution of motherhood.”

Seems like not much has changed…

I definitely think when we, when I, scream at my kids, it is more than just screaming at their behaviour. It is screaming at the frustration which motherhood and children bring. The seemingly closed off world and opportunities which the children brought with them, which I didn’t fully understand or anticipate. No one can understand the totality of the mother lode until she is up to her eyeballs with no way out: the lack of support, the drudgery which no one can, or will, take from your shoulders.This is the institution of motherhood as our society has built it: isolated, moralised, judged, the mother expected to be almost everything to her charges. I scream at the walls of Jericho, willing them to tumble down.

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  1. talkbirth

    I’m a feminist mama and long time fan of Adrienne Rich–I read her book during my early months postpartum with my first baby (that time I write about in my “Birthing the Mother-Writer” post that you commented on, which, in turn, led me here!). One of the thing I love about that book is how it clarified for me that there is a difference between how you feel about your *children* and how you feel about *mothering*. I always love my children, I do not always love the experience of mothering them. And, most of my gripes about mothering have to do with the INSTITUTION of motherhood, not with my actual children (though, sometimes it IS the actual little darlings, of course ;-D) I hope to write more about this soon, since you reminded of it with this post!

  2. Motherfunker

    Linked to this song on the comments of your previous mama rage post, but here is a fantastic song about using your voice and not being afraid of it. Meant to be for kids but is sooooo good, I love it!!! It’s on an indie compilation album called see you on the moon with tracks by folks like sufjan stevens and kid koala. Comes highly recommended by this here reader if you like surreal, funny, moving, kooky, real music for kids as opposed to the wheels on the bus crap.

  3. Things Hand Made
    Things Hand Made06-16-2011

    I find motherhood to be so claustrophobic. there is little space left for me.

  4. Dreamingaloudnet

    Hey talkbirth – funny, the Adrienne Rich bit didn’t consciously register – I had probably received my copy of the book through that day – i was focused on the mother voice bit as I am writing a book about creative mothers at the mo and so my antenna are out for that aspect!

    Thanks Mf, look forward to listening to it – you are SO great at discovering exciting resources.

    Things Hand Made: yes, totally…

  5. Rachael @ The Variegated Life
    Rachael @ The Variegated Life06-17-2011

    Rich’s book is on my to-read list of books on feminist mothering. And that quotation from Little Women is one I’ve been wanting to write about for a long time. There is a middle ground between suppressing anger (as Marmee does) and expressing it: simply experiencing it. But I have a really, really hard time just experiencing it: I’m a big yeller and sometime thrower of tantrums.

    Something that some of the monks I train with sometimes mention is that part of trusting yourself is knowing when you’re not behaving in a trustworthy way; one of them once said that the best thing to do then is to retreat (temporarily) from the situation. But, so often in our isolation as mothers of little ones, we simply can’t retreat. There’s nowhere to go, and meanwhile who will stay with the little ones?

    Anyway, I posted my own post about anger that has been brewing for a couple weeks or more. Glad you’re writing about it, too.

  6. Dreamingaloudnet

    Hey Rachael, heading over to read it now. I TOTALLY agree with your monks and with you – the issue as a mother is that I NEED to retreat and my children do not let me when they are feeling high need and I am feeling high need and it is just me and them at home, on the scene, tired, without a car, half dressed, perhaps ill and it’s raining outside. This is why I can keep my anger back from everyone else, because in most adult situations one can retreat, make space, one doesn’t have to carry on and on and on way part one’s own limits – with most adult situations the option to walk away is there. With children the at of walking away draws them further in, makes their need even more acute…

  7. Karien

    I love your blog! I just read your last paragraph over and over again… It is as if I wrote it. Also your other post, before last, it is all me, down to the wrongly cut toast. I am a yeller myself, with a 3, 2 year old and a baby at home, and on top of the anger there is the guilt, the guilt about the yelling.
    I am really struggling right now with my not even so new anymore role, being a mother, the love and hate, the overpowering intensity of it. It helps to read how there other mothers like me. I am going to scroll down, red some more, get inspired (I feel a blog coming on myself….)

  8. Dreamingaloudnet

    Thank you Karien – glad you found me!

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