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Images of motherhood

August 9, 2012

I have been interested in the roles assigned to adults in YA fiction for some time: what roles are available to adults? In what ways do they perform caregiving / kindliness / individuality within their role in the fiction? (etc.!)

Anyway, I just read an article about the changing image of mothers and motherhood in Chinese fiction over the last century…
Jiang Haixin writes:

Of the ““ one-child-per-family” policy” (which she points out is not as strict as commonly thought) “one may say that the family planning policy succeeded in the cities where traditional concepts of childbearing and mothering receded because of urban women’s economic independence and the rising of their self consciousness.” (94)

“It is this traditional aspiration for sons that has largely controlled women’s fertility in the countryside. The situation is different in the cities, where residents are generally aware that China’s huge population is detrimental to the improvement of living standards and an uncontrolled population growth will be disastrous. This awareness aside, most urban women have full-time jobs, which will provide them with a retirement pension, therefore, they do not have to depend on either their husband’s nor their children’s financial support. Closely associated with their financial independence is the rise of their self-[-96]consciousness which, in turn, further orientates them to opt for self-fulfilment rather than a big family. Besides, given the fact that most Chinese men still do much less housework, these working women are well aware that working and mothering could very likely mean a dual burden. All these factors would have contributed to their willingness to follow the family planning policy or even not to have children at all.” (95-96)

I found this connection with the cities unanticipated and interesting!

Chinese mythology suggests the existence of mother worship, in which the mother’s image is more identifiable with the power of nature than with tender love.” (96) Further, with regards to ancient Chinese mythology, she writes that “the mother image …is basically established on the mother’s reproduction function rather than on her tender love.” (97)

“Ancient and dynastic Chinese texts, historical or literary, do not particularly describe a tender and loving mother’s nature. However, in the May Fourth cultural rebellion against Confucianism and patriarchal ideology, the mother image was reconstructed with national and revolutionary significance. It was during this period, Sally Taylor Lieberman points out, that “ an idealized maternal figure became a staple of China’s New Literature”:  ‘A gentle, nurturing figure, selflessly and naturally loving, sometimes suffering, occasionally joyful, her image, voice, and movements were evoked in a sentimental linguistic register. Opposite her was the child, usually male: the infant, a new, as-yet unformed being unfolding in her embrace; the schoolboy making his first forays into the world; or the adult-child yearning for, and sometimes finding, solace and strength in her love.’  Women writers, newly emerged on the literary scene at the time, also participated in the idealisation of the mother.” (99)

“…even if there is a mother nature in women, as shown with some mammals for a limited time period after they give birth, that nature would inevitably go through cycles of ideological process to be relentlessly reshaped by existential needs and, therefore, mother love is not an innate characteristic of women but an acquired emotional commitment, depending on the mother’s access to ethical education, living circumstances, and many other personal and social factors.” (110)

“In a world where self-interest reigns, should we not keep a myth that may be conducive to better human relations?” (111)

This last is an interesting question…

Questions raised…

Anyway, her article got me to thinking about how mothers are represented in New Zealand Young Adult fiction

– Is there a repeated image of maternal love? rebellious daughters? mother figures? What about pregnancy/gestation? The patriarchal mother? revolutionary mothers? Victims? Victimizers? Maternal bodies? Fertility? Mother-hating? Mother tyrants? Gentle, loving, self-sacrificing mothers? ‘Warping vicious forces’ (110)

– Are multiple mothers represented (suggesting norms, contrasts, etc.)

– Do the mothers provide examples of female roles to aspire to? Or to avoid/liberate one’s self from?

– Are mothers ‘complete women’? (thinking of the “conventional idea holds motherhood as an indispensable component of womanhood.” (103)

– Is maternal womanhood focused on family relations? (I thought of Margaret Mahy’s The Changeoverwhile wondering these questions – Kate is a different mother in fiction…)

– do maternal duties destroy the woman’s “physical beauty – an artwork of nature which should be protected and preserved for what it is.” (105) How is physical beauty connected to maternal duties or to other roles…?

– What roles are available to women before/after motherhood?

– how are mother/baby relationships portrayed? (Jiang refers to the myth of ‘mother/baby oneness’ (101)) Is the mother a speaking subject in this relationship? If pregnant, does she remain “dumb and mute about a physically uncomfortable process of bodily change which would eventually lead, among other things, to physical pain or even life-threatening danger in labour and exhaustion in child-rearing while working for an income.” (101) (I thought of Patricia Grace’s Baby No-Eyes on this page). What voice is used? (first-person/third- …)

– what about stories of first menstruation… are these connected?

– What of cycles in regard to all this? the cycles of nature…???

Ref: JIANG HAIXIN (2005) ‘AGAINST MYTH AND HISTORY: A NEW WRITING OF MOTHERHOOD IN CONTEMPORARY CHINESE WOMEN’S LITERATURE’   New Zealand Journal of Asian Studies  7, 1 (June, 2005): 93-111.

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