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Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution Paperback – April 17, 1995
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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.
From the Back Cover
'In order for all women to have real choices all along the line, ' Ardrienne Rich writes, 'we need fully to understand the power and powerlessness embodied in motherhood in patriarchal culture.'
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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."
This isn't too far from 1952 when I graduated from high school as valedictorian and was sent to college only as "insurance" in case something happened to the husband it was assumed I would `catch' and whose children I would bear. Rich's experience of that time was mine: "I had no idea of what I wanted, what I could or could not choose. I only knew that to have a child was to assume adult womanhood."
Rich's love for her three sons is clear throughout the book, but she directly faces the powerlessness that women face as mothers in the cultural context of patriarchy. As she says, " The woman's body is the terrain on which patriarchy is erected." (Note events in the U.S. Congress as well as around the world if you doubt that.) At the core of feminist issues is the hatred men have for women, which is clearly documented worldwide. Rich suggests that "it is the adolescent ego that is still so uncertain of itself that it perceives the female as threatening." She notes that it isn't a matter of chronological age but "an aspect of male sexuality, which in a great many (probably a majority) of men, continues into middle life and beyond." She says patriarchy is always trying to "kill the dragon" in negating women. It is the adolescent aspect of the male who wants woman for emotional sustenance while also fearing castration and death at her hands. Rich says that this fear is the dragon to be slain.
Rich says, "Few women growing up in patriarchal society can feel mothered enough; the power of our mothers, whatever their love for us and their struggles on our behalf, is too restricted." After all, it is the mother who is expected to teach the female her proper role in patriarchy. The bequest we can give to our daughters (meaning all young women) is the quality of our lives, "however embattled and unprotected. Because a woman who can believe in herself, who is a fighter, and who continues to struggle to create livable space around her, is demonstrating to her daughter" (to all daughters) " that these possibilities exist."