push and breeder
January 27, 2008 § Leave a comment
i read the book ‘push’ when i was 19 and loved it. it is a short clean book. an unforgettable first person narrative. i read ‘breeder’ when i was pregnant. another short book. an anthology of alternative mommy-lit.
Forced to see the world from the margins through the eyes of Precious, my students expressed feelings of alienation, frustration and disgust. Their outrage, however, was more directed at Precious than at the interlocking systems of oppression that constrain her. They disliked Precious’ lack of options and control (why doesn’t she leave? they asked) and support (why don’t the teachers/police officers/social workers/nurses help her?), her lack of self-knowledge (how can she not know she’s pregnant?), her lack of control over her body’s reactions (why does she respond sexually to being raped by her father?), and her lack of control over the future (if she knows she is being tracked by social workers towards a GED and dead-end job, why doesn’t she resist?). Most shocking to them, however, was the realization that those who are most marginalized in society are often not even aware of the choices from which they are being excluded. Early in the novel, when she arrives at the alternative school, Precious asks a staffer, “What alternative is?” [sic] (26), an emblematic question that aptly expresses the extent of limitations on her options.
the good mother:
…when i read this part of the article, i started to get angry and frustrated with mary thompson’s students because they dont understand that part of the experience of oppression is the lack of control and choices in ones life. the ‘why doesnt she just leave’ ignores the unspoken other half of that question: where is she supposed to go?
During class discussion, I learned that while my students pitied Precious and admired how her abuse did not prevent her from loving her children, they were very skeptical of her ability to be a “good mother,” as they had defined it: how would she get an education, a job, and break the cycle of welfare? how would she survive AIDS? they wondered. While their concerns were expressed in terms of class and economic issues, the unspoken issue of race is clearly interwoven. My students were evasive in placing blame for Precious’ situation. They did not fault Precious, and instead saw her as a caring mother, but one who faces the insurmountable “obstacles” of being black, poor, young, under-educated, and having HIV, which in their assessment prevent her from being an adequate mother.
who is this ‘good mother’? the good mother is one who makes ‘good choices’. and precious doesnt have a ‘good choice’ a good option. none of the options that she has according to these students (and yes in society in general) are good enough to be a ‘good mother’. so admiring precious for being strong for surviving sane, is not enough for her to be a good mother. because choice is hinged on how much money and access you have.
i can understand this. i just finished having a conversation with someone who asked me how could i expect to do human rights work and be a mother. and it wasnt until the end of this conversation that i realized that she assumed that i was going to do the primary caretaking for theresa during work hours. automatically. this is strange coming from her since she has shared a house with us and know that we alternate caretaking , my partner and i. she couldnt seem to imagine that i would leave my child with my partner and work or with a babysitter or daycare.
before she walked out of the conversation she said algo asi: you have to be fully dedicated to being a mother and you have to be fully dedicated to the person who you are accompanying (in the sense of doing human rights accompaniment work) and i think those two are in conflict…
what does it mean to be fully dedicated? if i allow another woman or man to take care of my child is that full dedication to my child? if i leave my child at a babysitter am i still being a mother?
thompson looking at the history of the word ‘breeder’, really resonated as to why i so heavily resent being called one. when i first found out i was pregnant (actually before i found out while i was carrying the pregnancy test in my pocket) my friend started going off on ‘breeder’ and how immoral it is to have children…and thompson with the help of angela davis and patricia hill collins (2 kisses) deconstruct who and what a ‘breeder’ is. our modern day image of the welfare mother is a continuation of the slave african woman breeder. hypersexualized, physically exposed, images created during slavery by slave master society to justify the institution thereof.
i want to go to this book ‘breeder’ to see if the writers and contributers to the anthology actually are responding to the term breeder. i dont remember any overt references. but i also want to see if ‘breeder’ can be read as black face performance of the jungle bunny, the welfare mother, etc…
Gore and Lavender’s text’s celebration of the choice to become breeders, rather than challenging dominant power arrangements, performs what Susan Bordo (1993) calls a postmodern effacement, a moment when “the rhetoric of choice and self-determination…efface […] the inequalities of privilege, money, and time” (247).
The problem, I believe, when young feminists (I’m thinking here of some of my students, many of the authors in Breeder, and many third wave writers) accept the idea of having choices as being synonymous with having rights, it is difficult to see the fact that systems of oppression can come together in such a way that women such as Precious are prevented from exercising basic rights, and it can then appear that these women are simply being bad choice-makers (hence my students’ urge to question and second-guess their actions).