I've enjoyed a lucky confluence in my reading and some conversations lately, and I think it's helped me gain a tiny bit of new insight.
Last night, I went to a talk of a writer who writes about mother-daughter relationships extensively. (I know, I should have warned you about the potential shock of me having any knowledge of a living writer!) I've read some of this author's works, but last night's presentation really brought home to me that focus.
At a talk earlier in the day, I'd heard someone talk about how the Harry Potter series had originally been about a girl growing up, but that at some point, Rowling had changed it. (I don't have external evidence of this, so don't quote me as your expert.) And I thought about how little girls are taught to read stories about boys, because little girls are expected to recognize that boys' stories are important. But little boys aren't generally taught to read girls' stories nor to consider them important.
And there was a blog post I read recently by a mother considering whether she could have friends who didn't value her children highly; much of the discussion centered on whether one could claim not to like children without being a bigot.
In both the blog post and the author's discussion, there's an undercurrent that one who isn't a mother can't understand how visceral and strong the mother-child relationship is, or in the case of the author, how visceral and strong the mother-daughter relationship is.
I'm sure if you're reading this blog, you've read or heard someone say that the mother-child relationship is unique and special and people who are sans child just can't understand. Taken to its extreme, which it often is in the general culture, women who are sans child are less (less in whatever sense) than those who have a child. (And I'm using "sans child" here because being French, even though it means "without child" it seems less loaded than "childless" or "childfree," the one term which seems to imply a negative in one way, while the other implies a negative the other way.)
In our general culture, we tend to romanticize the relationship between mother and child. People such as myself, I'm told, just don't understand the wonderful bond between a mother and child.
But if there's a unique and wonderful relationship, then both parties to the relationship should be involved, should experience the relationship as something wonderful and positive. And I am a child. Surely, I've got some experience of a mother-child relationship? And I'm a female child. Surely, I've got some experience of a mother-daughter relationship?
What does it mean that culturally, we tend to talk about that relationship in a totally one-sided way? What does it mean that we don't acknowledge the child in that relationship as having an experience of the relationship?
I'm not sure. But one thing that asking those questions makes me realize is that the one-sided approach signifies a power relationship. Mothers have extraordinary power over their children, and we should explore what that power means and how legitimate it is.
Listening to the author speak, I heard a hint of critique from the daughter's side, but mostly there was a romantic sense that of course the mother knew best and should tell the daughter what is what. And suddenly, that sounded lined up with patriarchy in strong ways: women's limited authority comes in having power over children, and lasting power over daughters, and so the patriarchy will support their exercise of that limited authority. And if we romanticize that power relationship, then it can be enjoyed, at least by one, and the other voice can be silenced. And it can't easily be questioned or critiqued.