Matricentric feminism – the feminism you should be talking about

by Amy Gray 

There are moments in our lives that make us a feminist or confirm our subscription – and one the biggest ones is becoming a mother.

This differs from when a man says “of course I’m a feminist, I’m a father”, who can trot out the line and then go back to enjoying higher wages, greater professional opportunities and less housework than women while doing absolutely nothing to advancing women’s rights they apparently adore. Put it this way: a mother will embrace feminism because, unlike men, she cannot escape sexism she or her daughters will face.

The reason for this milestone is that motherhood can be an accelerant for abuse, especially when it’s compounded by existing discrimination based on their gender, race or ethnicity, sexual identity, disability or class.

Take it a step further and add motherhood into the mix and you have a situation where discrimination can increase on top of identity. It’s not so much that motherhood is an identity, rather, an identity lens, not unlike a magnifying glass under the sun focusing its burning intensity to increase discrimination ten-fold.

This is where matricentric feminism comes in: feminism that is centered around the experience, discrimination and skill involved with mothering work.

It’s an avenue of feminism that feeds into the larger movement of women’s liberation, one that touches upon other areas – as there are people devoted to queer feminism, there are queer parents with experiences unique to motherhood; so too with women of colour who are parents and face another set of historical and current discrimination explicitly centered around both their race, their children and their status as mothers.

Matricentric feminism looks at motherhood as a lens that can increase the experiences and discrimination women face – because motherhood is not only what society often demands of women, it’s also what they use to punish them or make them more vulnerable to existing discrimination.

Because motherhood is when women’s unpaid labour increases and job security decreases, it’s when women begin to leave their jobs, leaving their superannuation to stagnate. It’s when domestic violence can ramp up, medical issues become fraught or when the very ability to keep your children with you depends on the lottery of unearned privilege.

And that’s just the start.

Yet, as I’ve stated before here at QVWC, motherhood requires serious structural feminist analysis we don’t see in the mainstream press.

In the process of writing a book about this topic, I’ve been honoured to read the work of academics and researchers who are experts in matricentric feminism. Like Dr Andrea O’Reilly, who not only coined the phrase matricentric feminism, but has been its loudest and most prolific advocate in academia and her specialist publishing arm, Demeter Press. Researchers who dive deep into data to measure the impacts government policy have on Australian mothers, like  AMIRCI who dedicate themselves to researching motherhood and how it is impacted by politics and society. Dr Petra Bueskens constantly writes about the psychology and reality of motherhood, most recently about the rise of homeless mothers raising their children on extended “holidays”.

It is tempting to lay much of the blame on mainstream media uninterested in the wealth of experts who exist beyond the veil of hot takes and quick columns. But feminism isn’t performed solely in op-eds to an enraptured audience of women, employers or politicians.

This is an issue that requires more than a simple solution – it requires the courage to dismantle and rebuild everything from how we hire, promote and pay, to a legal system that favours male protection and women’s labour, to our concept of families and who does the work and the unpaid work we all unwittingly take on to uphold society’s uneven standards.

But 2018 is just around the corner and, as we make our resolutions for a brighter year, let’s include a vision for a more just and curious society, one that questions the assumptions we’ve carried for far too long.



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Amy Gray is a Melbourne-based freelance writer currently working on Mother’s Ruin, a book exploring the feminist politics of motherhood. .

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