Sunday, May 17, 2015

A Radical Motherhood

By Mehreen Kasana
16 May, 2015
The re-publication of my 2012 Mother's Day submission for Dawn had a lot in store for me. I, however, while sitting in Brooklyn three years later, had little idea of the flood of delighted to disgruntled messages awaiting me in my inbox.
The “in a country like Pakistan” phrase had positioned me as a traitor – without my knowledge – among the holier-than-thou patriots of my motherland, and I had insulted scores of people by making the unmentionable point to mention the obvious: existing patriarchal constrictions placed on the brilliant women we know as our mothers in our country.
This was misunderstood as maligning the country but what people forgot was how patriarchy – male-dominance – is not a Pakistan-only phenomenon; patriarchy is practically global.
It was this gender-driven inequality and humiliation that Anna Jarvis, founder of the Mother's Day holiday in US, wrote to Woodrow Wilson about in 1914, spearheading a campaign to persuade the US President in setting aside the second Sunday of May as a national day for recognising the unpaid and unrewarded labour of mothers throughout the country (that, in case one forgets, still remains the case today).
Hers was a strategy embedded in populist politics and like most populist causes it won the approval of the public. Later on, in the 1920s, Jarvis grew rapidly disturbed by the commercialisation of the once-working-class day for mothers, and in letters bequeathed to Mary Baldwin College in Staunton, Va., her embittered difference with the commercial carnival Mother’s Day had accrued was more than just plain irritation.
It was justified scorn.
So emboldened she was by her rightful indignation toward the vulgar consumerist takeover of Mother’s Day that Jarvis would annually crash floral company conventions and demand that the money accumulated through floral purchases be handed to poor mothers who could barely provide for their children.
Shortly before her death in Philadelphia, with penury-ridden late years spent in an asylum, hopeless and penniless, Jarvis told a reporter:
I devoted my entire life to Mother’s Day and the racketeers and grafters have taken it over.
Now, back to my perceived offensive phrase “in a country like Pakistan”. It is patriarchal anger that demands a woman to soften her criticism of male dominance in society, and it is hyper-nationalism that seeks an apology from sceptics in the nation. This is prevalent in both countries, Pakistan and the US, where questioning the order of affairs – political, social, economic, and religious – is viewed as disloyalty.
But we conveniently forget something on Mother’s Day: Not all mothers are equal, and those on the shorter end of the rope owe no one loyalty.
So the sons and daughters of these unequal mothers will question the ‘harmony’ of Mother’s Day. Nationalist patriarchy, be it American or Pakistani, dictates women to obey a love based on suffocating ultimatums.
Be it Brooklyn, Baltimore, Phoenix, Staten Island, Cleveland, St. Louis, LA, San Bernardino, Ferguson, Beavercreek, Iberia Parish, Bastrop, Houston – these cities where black and brown men and women have been slaughtered by police brutality – or Quetta, Peshawar, Karachi, Lahore where the dead bodies of Baloch, Shia, Christian and Ahmadi youths coat the streets, these sons and daughters belong to mothers shunned by the State. These mothers seek answers.
In a country like Pakistan or in a country like the US, Mother’s Day – I have realised years later – is far more political than we would like to believe.
Jarvis set Mother’s Day for unequal mothers. Unequal mothers cover landscapes in both countries.
Unequal mothers await the reward for their labour for it is labour to raise a child or five, tend to a spouse and endure the systemic hierarchy of affairs within the household, as well as the external society, and it is labour to run exhausting errands and responsibilities on a quotidian, seemingly endless basis.
Unequal mothers are the mothers who bid final farewells to the coffins of their children, be it in Waziristan or New York, denied dignity and life by systematic inequality and wars of their many and terrifying kinds.
It was this neglected motherhood that Jarvis, not Tom Heflin, demanded justice and love for.
In 1948, at 84, Jarvis passed away but her message remains ever more relevant today as neoliberalism induces wider and more violent rifts between classes, turning nearly all sectors of life privatised and inaccessible; justice is a privilege and a rare one at that; mobility – physical, psychological, sexual and more – remains available to a few.
Yuri Kochiyama – a Japanese-American human rights activist and good comrade of Malcolm X, Grace Lee Boggs and Angela Davis – would often speak of ‘radical motherhood’ – a kind of motherhood that demanded social revolution in favour of marginalised women. It was in her philosophy, among others, I learned that Mother’s Day should not be left to pleasantries; Mother’s Day demands that we ask why our mothers live in abject conditions.
If motherhood is so sacred and revered by those who claim to be our state guardians, why is it that some mothers are deprived of social autonomy and basic respect – whether it is in this country or that?
Mehreen Kasana is an American-Pakistani blogger and academic who enjoys writing humorously about politics and cultures. MS Paint is her best friend.

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