After four days, AMIRCI’s 8th International Conference, “Negotiating Competing Demands: 21st Century Motherhood,” has come to a close. The gathering was full of conversation, debate, and excitement, and I am left awed by all of the thoughtful and inspiring people doing work around maternal scholarship and activism.
I feel very fortunate to have presented a talk called “Aging Activisms: Unsettling Apolitical (Grand)motherhood Narratives,” bringing fierce stories of and reflections on aging and activism to this powerful conference. Based on research carried out with many women from our Aging Activisms Collective, this presentation aimed to destabilize over-simplistic assumptions that depict motherhood and grandmotherhood as times of life during which women are disengaged from social or political struggle. I brought forward the many, rich life histories of women from the Aging Activisms community to show that, rather, these periods of the lifecourse can be at least as political, diverse, and complex as any other time of life. Rather than an apolitical period, motherhood is a time when women’s social and political struggles often become deeply personal. Rather than being disengaged and passive, women’s later life activisms point to how, for many women, this is often a time of new and renewed political engagement. Later life activisms deeply challenge such ageist narratives as women often, instead, find themselves with a sense of greater time and space to turn towards social justice struggles as well as a sense of urgency to heighten this engagement.
The presentation was well-received and generated a great conversation about the importance of an aging lens in considering how mothering and caregiving is a process that continues throughout the lifecourse. We also noted that it is crucial to create more space for teasing out and challenging the ageist and sexist nexus that older women face. After this experience, I am left with the realization that not only is the aging lens critical to maternal scholarship, but also there is so much potential in connecting the Aging Activisms work with a feminism that centrist on the concerns of mothers, what Andrea O’Reilly calls “matricentric feminism.”
The days of this dynamic conference were so full of “a-ha!” moments and diverse ideas that I am still unpacking and reflecting on my experiences. In the coming weeks, I will share some more blog posts drawing on what I saw at the conference, but for now here are some takeaways.
Andrea O’Reilly’s presentations and presence were powerful and transformative. Her work beautifully articulates the importance of feminist theory which includes and recognizes the specific needs and concerns of mothers, pointing out how, historically, mothers have often been disregarded. She argues that the complexity of mothering as practice and motherhood as an institution (an idea first introduced by Adrienne Rich) demands more attention for gender equality and justice.
The very serious and detrimental impact that neoliberalism is having on mothers in particular was discussed repeatedly over the span of the conference. The repercussions of this ideology are felt in restrictions to work and wages, access to childcare and services, the individualization of parenting and caregiving, and the reduction of state support. Anne Manne spoke to how efforts to include women in the workforce across the world – which are supported and often led by institutions like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund – are not in service of gender equality but instead further the economic advantages of the wealthy. Petra Bueskens spoke powerfully about the potential of the Universal Basic Income to transform not only mother’s lives but also our global, national and local societies.
This is just a glimpse into the ideas and topics brought forward at this incredible conference. I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to go to Melbourne, Australia to attend such a gathering and share some of the stories from Aging Activisms. I am feeling blessed to have spent four days with marvelous people, challenging ideas, and vibrant dialogue.