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Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution Paperback

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Norton Pbk. Ed edition (April 17, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393312844
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393312843
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.5 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #40,095 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


Asking "But what was it like for women?" with "painful consciousness of my own Western cultural perspective and that of most of the sources available," Adrienne Rich examines pregnancy, childbirth and motherhood from historical, physical, religious, institutional, political, and personal angles. In her introduction to the 1986 edition, she explains "I did not choose this subject; it had long ago chosen me... I only knew that I had lived through something which was considered central to the lives of women... a key to the meaning of life; and that I could remember little except anxiety, physical weariness, anger, self-blame, boredom, and divisions within myself..." Written with a stimulating combination of poetic rhythm, scholarly precision, feminist perspective, and personal reflection, Of Woman Born is both an engrossing read and an affirmative, potentially life-changing examination of what it means to be of woman born. -- For great reviews of books for girls, check out Let's Hear It for the Girls: 375 Great Books for Readers 2-14. -- From 500 Great Books by Women; review by Jesse Larsen --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Widely read, widely anthologized, widely interviewed and widely taught, Adrienne Rich (1929–2012) was for decades among the most influential writers of the feminist movement and one of the best-known American public intellectuals. She wrote two dozen volumes of poetry and more than a half-dozen of prose. Her constellation of honors includes a National Book Award for poetry for Tonight, No Poetry Will Serve, a MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant in 1994, and a National Book Award for poetry in 1974 for Diving Into the Wreck. That volume, published in 1973, is considered her masterwork. Ms. Rich’s other volumes of poetry include The Dream of a Common Language, A Wild Patience Has Taken Me This Far, An Atlas of the Difficult World, The School Among the Ruins, and Telephone Ringing in the Labyrinth. Her prose includes the essay collections On Lies, Secrets, and Silence; Blood, Bread, and Poetry; an influential essay, “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence,” and the nonfiction book Of Woman Born, which examines the institution of motherhood as a socio-historic construct. In 2006, Rich was awarded the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters by the National Book Foundation. In 2010, she was honored with The Griffin Trust for Excellence in Poetry's Lifetime Recognition Award.

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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

54 of 58 people found the following review helpful By DesertVisitor on January 18, 2004
Format: Paperback
Those who have criticized this book thus far here are women who derive their sole identity and sense of importance, sadly, from their role as mothers. I know women who thoroughly enjoy being mothers, but they are few and their circumstances are unique. And even some of them still have a clear need to have another identity and a life of the mind they aren't permitted within the "institution" of motherhood. I myself, and most other mothers I know, struggle with the impossible expectations placed upon us to be perfect mothers/providers/etc., struggle to create a new and healthy understanding of motherhood, struggle to do right by our children and yet hold on to our own personhood, thinking, humor,... finding ourselves too often battling with self-hatred, resentment and guilt, knowing inside that no matter what, someone will criticize us for doing it all wrong. This book exposes this unfair situation in which many women who are mothers find themselves in. If to some Rich comes off as "angry," well of course she is. It's a righteous anger. My only criticism of this book is the lack of attention it gives to the experiences of women of color and working-class women.
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50 of 54 people found the following review helpful By Charleen Touchette on January 15, 2005
Format: Paperback
When I first read OF WOMAN BORN, in the mid-seventies, it was a Godsend. Rich's feminist critique of the institution of motherhood elucidates the source of so many of the world's problems. When women, the source of life, the life givers, the ones who bear each one of us into the world, whether man or woman, are denigrated, oppressed, abused, imprisoned, and exploited by governments, religions, and cultures - everything is off-kilter. Rich accurately describes the state of motherhood in the mid-20th century and the toll it took on mothers and children. She helped me understand that the pressures mothers put on their daughters to conform to sexist stereotypes were part of the oppression they themselves were enduring. Re-reading this book over the decades, I've seen that while some things have improved for women since Rich wrote OF WOMAN BORN, we still have a long way to go before women are treated equally or given the respect they deserve for their role as life givers and nurturers. The worldwide upsurge in the revival of Fundamentalist religions that institutionalize the oppression and second-class status of mothers and their daughters is frightening, as is the rage expressed by some reviewers of this book. People who are threatened by the ideas in OF WOMAN BORN want to return to the days when women were chattel and children were seen but not heard. In the 21st century, don't we owe our children, grandchildren and the world more than the tired, worn-out worldviews that brought women and families so much pain?
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70 of 81 people found the following review helpful By Kathy on December 6, 1999
Format: Paperback
We were asked to do a term paper on Adrienne Rich and some of her poetry. During my research I found this book and it changed my entire view of motherhood..or rather the institution of motherhood. I have never realized how literally confining motherhood is. I look back at what my mom used to tell me about how kids held her back from what she wanted to do, and I realize (with the help of this book) what she ment. Not that was being rude when she said this, just that it is a fact that our patriarchal society uses motherhood to put women in 'their place'. Please if their is one book you take time to read make it this one. Rich writes this analytical book in such a way as to make it sound personal and interesting...not dry and dull. Highly, highly recommend it if you are trying to understand your mother or mothers in general. What an EYE OPENER!
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48 of 55 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 7, 1999
Format: Paperback
Right after the birth of my second child I was in a poetry class at the local community college. We were assigned to find a poet and give a presentation of their poetry. I found Adrienne Rich and it was a Godsend. I was in a postpartum depression, I was so angry at the world, at my children, and this made me feel guilty and thus angry at myself. Her poetry and the book Of Woman Born, helped me realize that I was not the only mother who felt like this. I was not alone. This did not change my circumstances, once a mother forever a mother. But, I started accepting my life and the roles that I was required to play. She will always be one of my favorite poets. If she is ever in Minneapolis on a lecture tour or for a book signing, I would love to meet her and tell her in person how much her work has meant to me.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Hermine on August 3, 2008
Format: Paperback
This book is a miracle. I have read dozens of books about pregnancy, birth, babies and motherhood, and this blows them all out of the water. Rich's prose is poetry, and her research and scholarship are vast and impeccable. The critical reviews that report that she "didn't like motherhood" missed the point by a long shot (and misquote her). Rich's love for her three sons is clear throughout the book, but she does not shy away from acknowledging and facing the struggles that she faced as a mother. With this book, she explores the profound historical and cultural context in which all Western women experience both the bliss and the difficulties of motherhood. Of Woman Born is a huge gift to all people-- mothers, daughters, and sons. Read it and understand.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Joyce on September 24, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
If you want one book that tells the whole story of patriarchy, feminism, and religion in a relatively
short readable form, poet Adrienne Rich's Of Woman Born is hard to beat.

Let's begin with Chapter III, "The Kingdom of the Fathers." Here is her opening: "For the first time in history, a pervasive recognition is developing that the patriarchal system cannot answer for itself; that it is not inevitable; that it is transitory; and that the cross-cultural, global domination of women by men can no longer be either denied or defended." She goes on: "When we acknowledge this, we tear open the relationship at the core of all power-relationships . . . the sexual understructure of social and political forms. " And finally: "For the first time we are in a position to look around us at the Kingdom of the Fathers and take its measure. What we see is the one system which recorded civilization has never actively challenged, and which has been so universal as to seem a law of nature." To explain her title of Motherhood, she notes that "Patriarchy could not survive without motherhood and heterosexuality in their institutional forms: therefore they have to be treated as axioms, as `nature' itself, not open to question." She demonstrates: "In the American colonies an ordinary family consisted of from twelve to twenty-five children. An `old maid,' who might be all of twenty-five years of age, was treated with reproach if not derision; she had no way of surviving economically, and was usually compelled to board with her kin and help with the household and children. No other `calling' was open to her.
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