Mothers, an Essay on Love and Cruelty, by Jacqueline Rose

For such a slim book (210 pages without the notes), it is amazing how much Jacqueline Rose covers in Mothers. While my research focuses on establishing the rights of women to choose motherhood or not, she reveals the profoundly unfair system that sets mothers up for failure. Whether it is lack of access to reproductive care, poor maternal care, or the entirely absent maternity leave and early-childhood development support (at least in the U.S.), women with babies and young children are too often forced to struggle to survive, let alone help their children thrive. In addition to that, Rose discusses the mythical burden we place on mothers, expecting them to be perfect guardians even without any support system in place: “The idea of maternal virtue is a myth that serves no one, certainly not mothers, nor the world whose redemption it is meant to serve.” Rose devotes an entire chapter to an incisive look at the novels of Elena Ferrante and how she observes mothers and motherhood, and of course covers the writings of Simone de Beauvoir, Betty Friedan and Adrienne Rich (some of my personal heroes). Through various studies taking place across the globe, Rose reveals how the myth of motherhood (what Angela Carter called the “deluded priestesshood of holy reproductive function”) is dangerous for society, for women, and for their children. She argues that women and their children deserve support and understanding, adequate medical care, access to careers if they want them, and above all, the truth about what it means to be a mother. Summarizing it this way, it seems a very small and painfully obvious request.  Three stars.

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