[The Impossibility of Motherhood: Feminism, Individualism & the Problem of Mothering]

By DiQuinzio, Patrice; Driver, Susan | Resources for Feminist Research, Winter/Spring 2001 | Go to article overview

[The Impossibility of Motherhood: Feminism, Individualism & the Problem of Mothering]


DiQuinzio, Patrice, Driver, Susan, Resources for Feminist Research


Patrice DiQuinzio's The Impossibility of Motherhood: Feminism, Individualism, and the Problem of Mothering analyzes feminist theorizing about mothering within Western ideological contexts of liberal individualism. Dominant norms of masculine rational individuality are challenged for the ways they exclude, preclude and distort women's diverse modes of being and thinking involved in caring for children. At the same time DiQuinzio examines how feminist responses which specify mothering in terms of female corporeality and empathic relations often end up essentializing feminine-maternal qualities. She argues that feminists must confront the dilemma of either reiterating the sameness of individualism or entrenching essentializing maternalist claims, of either asserting equality-based notions of abstract identity or valorizing women's bodily and affective differences as mothers. The general structure of her argument has been rehearsed many many times in discussions over how to achieve equitable institutional entitlements and rights without forgoing recognition of women's particular material, cultural and subjective lives. This marks a quintessential double-bind of modern feminist thinking which has tended to result in either/or conceptual and political approaches. DiQuinzio wants to displace the bipolar tendencies of these debates by insisting on the "impossibility of motherhood" as a productive locus of questioning and reinterpretation that refuses to accept a single solution but rather works through the undecidability and contradictions of mothering within Western post-industrial capitalist societies. She argues that hegemonic ideological formations are never totalizing but are always already overdetermined and contingent discourses through which it is possible to dis/rearticulate maternal values, powers and social norms. Following deconstructive poststructuralist approaches, she rereads feminist texts on mothering for contradictions, gaps and slippages that point to inescapable tensions of being implicated within individualist ideologies while also exceeding and calling them into question.

DiQuinzio's methodology involves close symptomatic readings that operate from within feminist texts on mothering for how they do and undo the ideological work of reification from a range of social and historical perspectives. Comparing texts within and between disciplinary fields including philosophy, sociology, psychoanalysis for relations of convergence and dissonance, The Impossibility of Motherhood traces out and enacts critical reading strategies for rethinking maternal subjectivity. This book does not undertake primary empirical research, but rather reevaluates and interconnects theoretical texts on mothering that are widely taught, circulated and quoted amongst academic feminists. Lines of commonality and contrast are drawn between writings by Simone de Beauvoir, Sara Ruddick, Julia Kristeva, Adrienne Rich, and Patricia Hill Collins, as part of an ongoing process of reinterpretation, turning back upon, repeating and juxtaposing discourses so as to learn new ways of understanding them against the grain of their normative tendencies. Each text is unfolded in several directions, for the ways it forecloses maternal differences and how it simultaneously makes room for signifying mothering otherwise. DiQuinzio seeks out various accounts of maternal subjectivity that reveal overlapping social, discursive, psychic and corporeal activities as opposed to static identities, eliciting a series of contextual and permeable interactions between body, language and material worlds that defies bifurcated metaphysics of liberal individualism. This foregrounds attempts within Western Feminism to theorize the "partial, divided, fragmented and even incoherent" aspects of maternal experiences as a basis for man[Symbol Not Transcribed]uvering between and resisting the predicaments of individualism and essentialism.

DiQuinzio presents a compelling case for a difference-based feminist approach to mothering capable of decentring unified and totalizing truth claims. …

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