“Few subjects so provoke anxiety among feminists, ” Robin Morgan writes, “as the four-letter word sons” (38). “We've thought and talked about, written and read about, mothers and daughters, ” Morgan continues, “but with a few notable exceptions we've averted our eyes from The Other Touchy Subject. Yet that subject goes to the heart of practicing what we claim to believe, that 'the personal is political.' It goes to the crux of power and of patriarchy-even though it also grazes the living nerves of love” (38).
In September 1997 the Centre for Feminist Research at York University hosted an international conference entitled “Mothers and Daughters: Moving into the Next Millennium” attended by more than one hundred and fifty speakers from around the world. Throughout the weekend, as participants probed the myriad and complex issues that mothers and daughters face at the start of a new millennium, we also, over coffee and at dinner, began to talk about our sons. The women, those who were mothers of sons and others who were concerned about boys today, began to ask, at first with some hesitation and then with increasing urgency, whether we, in our academic and personal interest in the mother-daughter relation, had in some fundamental way wronged our sons, let them down or simply forgotten them. Had we, in our negligence or disinterest, academic and otherwise, given our sons up to patriarchy, done to them what we have spent our lives fighting against for ourselves and for our daughters. Has feminism, as Babette Smith argues in Mothers and Sons, “failed the mothers of sons?” (ix). Whether feminism has failed sons or not, it has, as Nancy Backes suggests in