Mothers and Daughters: Moving Into The Next Millennium

Date : September 1997

During the last decade, the topic MOTHERS AND DAUGHTERS has emerged as a central issue in feminist scholarship. Writers and theorists have explored the ways in which mother-daughter relationships both empower and disempower participants, act as sites of identity construction, emerge as social and historical constructions, and reflect cultural norms of femininity. While patriarchal culture divides mothers and daughters, they in turn develop strategies in resisting this separation to achieve a lasting politics of empowerment. Differences of race, class, culture, ability, age and sexual orientation provide frameworks within which relationships are shaped. By bringing together the major scholars in this field with students, community activists, mothers and daughters, we offer a space in which to celebrate feminist scholarship.

Our opening Friday plenary session on MOTHERS-DAUGHTERS AND FEMINISM explores the ways in which feminism has problematized mothering and the actual processes and practices of feminist mothers providing care. Historical, political and economic constructions of mothering are examined, noting the particular place of mothers’ relationships with daughters within social contexts which have idealized domesticity, reifies women’s natural maternal instincts, and exacerbated women’s dependence on traditional relationships.

Saturday offers two plenary sessions: MOTHERS AND DAUGHTERS: RACE, CLASS AND SEXUALITY, and MOTHERS, DAUGHTERS AND REPRESENTATION. The first session looks at differences of age, sexual orientation, race, class, ability and considers how mother-daughter relationships are shaped in, and through, these differences. Deconstructing colonial myths allows African Canadian and African American mothers to explore the impact of racist social structures on their child rearing imperatives. The lesbian “baby boom” of the past fifteen years gives prominence to the emergence of new family forms. Mothering a daughter with disabilities, or being the daughter of a mother with disabilities, challenges stereotypes. The second session investigates how representations in film, photography and literature both reflect and construct lived relationships.

Part of the cultural meaning of motherhood is found in the counter identity of “non –mother.” Embedded in definitions of womanhood are themes of “good” and “bad” mothering. Using narratives, diaries, interviews, films, theatre, novels and statistical analyses, presenters unravel the complex intersection of history, culture and social forces on the lives of girls and women.

Our closing plenary session TELLING OUR STORIES builds on Adrienne Rich’s lament that “the relationship between mother and daughter – essential, distorted, misused – is the great unwritten story (Rich 1976: 225). Using the theme of the motherline, participants explore how mothers and daughters may, through stories, achieve connection and empowerment, or alternatively, separation and demoralization. The separation-connection perspectives signify different traditions in Anglo American feminist writing on motherhood and the mother-daughter relationship. Various cultural practices are examined as sites for strengthening and understanding mother-daughter identification.

There has never been an international conference on the subject of mothers and daughters. We have experienced an extraordinary display of interest and the program reflects the strong regional, interdisciplinary and student interest in the topic. We welcome you to this event and look forward to a happy and productive weekend. Enjoy!

Rich, A. Of Woman Born: Mothering as Experience and Institution. New York, Winston: 1976.

By Andrea O’Reilly, Conference Organizing Co-ordinator