Jesse Whattam will be presenting on activism across the lifecourse at Negotiating Competing Demands: 21st Century Motherhood in Melbourne, Australia.
Title: Aging Activisms: Unsettling Apolitical (Grand)Motherhood Narratives
Date: July 13th - 16th
Both motherhood and grandmotherhood are frequently conceptualized as apolitical periods within women’s lives. While feminist scholars have brought attention to the diverse ways motherhood and activisms interact, fewer scholars have analyzed the dynamics between grandmotherhood and activisms. Based on 35 life histories generated with older women from across North America, this paper examines women’s social justice efforts across their lifecourses. It reveals insights into how socio-‐political and personal contexts shape how women construct (grand)motherhood and practice social change work. Far from a time of retreating from political struggle, participants described how, as mothers, their activism became intertwined with their personal circumstances. Several decades later, they likewise portrayed grandmotherhood not as a period of decline but as a time of new and renewed engagement. Unlike their earlier activisms, though, their later-‐life engagement was less interwoven with their own struggles. Furthermore, many strategically mobilized grandmotherhood as a means of legitimizing their efforts, where they did not previously deploy motherhood in political ways. The paper thus contributes an important aging lens, challenging simplistic assumptions about the supposedly disengaged nature of (grand)motherhood, while providing a nuanced analysis of the continuities and changes in women’s social change work across their lives.