As she makes clear in this book-length essay, Rose is a fearless and erudite thinker on the topic of womanhood in general and motherhood in particular ... Rose asks what it is about motherhood that is threatening to so many and why expectations for its success must be raised to such unassailable heights. Thoroughly literary and bracing in its intensity, Rose’s Mothers cannot be ignored.
Rose is a calm and stylish writer ... Mothers is a useful synthesis of and loving engagement with many of the writers who have shaped our thinking on motherhood—[Toni] Morrison, Simone de Beauvoir and Adrienne Rich, whose unsurpassed Of Woman Born (1976) is a template for Rose. Mothers follows the same arc, arguing for the radical potentialities in motherhood, how women’s initiation into the relentless, often invisible labor of caretaking produces not the solipsistic, bourgeois creature of myth but something close to the ideal citizen—more responsive to the community and naturally inclusive.
Since the imaginary order of motherhood is essentially an elaborate fiction, Rose routes her argument about the perversions of maternal love through representations of abject or homicidal mothers in fiction. The archive she draws from is rich and varied ... For Rose, the failures of mothers become legible as the failures of society at large, placing motherhood at the heart of contemporary debates over immigration policy and ethno-nationalism, racism and police brutality, and the future of the welfare state in the United States and United Kingdom ... Yet ... Rose at times seems so absorbed by her psychoanalytic approach that she ignores many of the structures of power that regulate how individual mothers move through the world ... Rose’s solution to the overtly political problems faced by mothers begins and ends with self-perception ... It is perhaps unfair to expect Mothers to provide a blueprint for the future, but then again, what else is a mother but a kind of soothsayer—someone whose sense of time is always forward-facing?
If we still want to have children, are we selfish to do so? It’s an attack that neatly reverses the cruel stereotype of child-free women as too self-absorbed to care for other people. In reality, this argument goes, bringing children into the world without their consent is a callous infliction of our own reproductive urges on helpless innocents ... Rose toss[es] this argument out there almost casually, never really pursuing the full ramifications of it ... I’m left unconvinced by the question itself: Some people might wish they’d never been born, but others might be grateful. It seems useless to try to weigh one group against the other ... Mothers prodded me to think about my possible role as a mother in new, challenging ways.
There’s a pervasive suggestion in this book that our contemporary culture in the west might actually be the most anti-mother yet ... Rose is no doubt right to take issue with something saccharine and sanitised in many contemporary representations of motherhood, and she wants us to listen more to the dark side, to what mothers 'have to say—from deep within their bodies and minds' ... The net of this argument is cast so wide and so loosely ... Her story is too totalising, its passion can feel like a free-floating indignation, drawing anything and everything up into its complaint ... There’s a logical difficulty with treating mothers as an oppressed minority: mothers are also punishers. They too may be neoliberals, anti-immigration, hostile to asylum seekers using maternity service ... Of course it would be unequivocally an excellent thing if here in the UK we became a less patriarchal society, more oriented to the needs of mothers, listening more respectfully to their stories—though Rose doesn’t have much to say about how we might achieve that. But it wouldn’t be an end to all our problems.
Mothers is a passionate polemic, not just against that obligation—bound as it is to fail—but against its personal and political implications ... Ms Rose’s intellectual range is dazzling; perhaps, for some readers, exhausting. Yet woven through her analysis is a simple proposition. Motherhood is messy, physically and emotionally. Like nothing else, it acquaints women with extremes of feeling. It reaches parts most never thought they had.
...she laments the undue symbolic burdens we place on mothers ... Rose cites startling statistics ... Rose, however, thinks that motherhood can be a model for a broad and inclusive politics. 'To be a mother . . . is to welcome a foreigner,' she writes ... Rose is not naïvely suggesting that holding someone else’s baby makes you feel the same as holding your own. She’s asking us to see 'a mother’s body and the public world all around her' as 'indissolubly linked' ... Mothers, for Rose, are the 'original subversives'; they give the lie to the clichés and myths that would suffocate them. One myth: that they exist only for their children. Another: that they neither hate nor desire. (Rose is very good on the romance of breastfeeding.)
Among other topics, Rose tackles the difficult terrain of mother and child affection; the responsibility of the mother to guide her child toward adulthood; and society’s changing expectations of working (and single) mothers ... For those readers interested not just in feminist theory, but also gender theory as it relates to parenting, this will be a rewarding reading experience. Clever, insightful essays on motherhood as 'the ultimate scapegoat for our personal and political failings.'
In this intellectually rigorous exploration of motherhood in Western culture, British essayist Rose (The Haunting of Sylvia Plath) urges readers to rethink what they expect from mothers ... Rose’s wide-ranging thought experiment probes contentious questions both political...and domestic ... Readers of Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts will be drawn to Rose’s rumination.